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Conclusion Of NASA Kecksburg Lawsuit

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <post.nul>
Date: Wed, 11 Nov 2009 07:08:16 -0500
Archived: Wed, 11 Nov 2009 07:08:16 -0500
Subject: Conclusion Of NASA Kecksburg Lawsuit

Source: The Coalition for Freedom of Information


November 9, 2009


Concerning the Kecksburg, PA UFO case of 1965

By Leslie Kean


On December 9, 1965, an object landed near the small town of
Kecksburg, PA. Moments earlier, a fireball was observed in the
sky across several U.S. states and Canada.

Four witnesses provided independent, corroborated descriptions
of the object and its location in the Kecksburg woods. Dozens of
others - including fire fighters, newspaper reporters, and a
radio news director at WHJB (who was on the scene taping
interviews) - describe the large military presence at the crash
site and the cordoning off of the area. Some observed the
retrieval of an object that was transported by an army truck.
Many witnesses signed statements for investigator Stan Gordon of
Greensburg, PA, who has been working on the case since it began.
At the scene, officials told residents a meteor crashed. But the
next day, both local authorities and the U.S. government
declared nothing fell that night and nothing was found. Project
Blue Book Book - the official Air Force investigation into UFOs
terminated in 1970 - says that no space debris entered our
atmosphere that day. Data from the U.S. Space Command and the
Russian Space Agency indicates that whatever came down that day
was not a Russian satellite or space probe.

In 2002, I was asked to spearhead a Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) initiative sponsored by SCI FI Channel, which attempted
to acquire government documents on the Kecksburg case. The next
year, I ended up as the plaintiff in a federal, FOIA lawsuit
filed against NASA in Washington, DC. After previously promising
to conduct an expedited search for files related to the 1965
Kecksburg UFO crash case, NASA had stonewalled and was
withholding documents, leaving no recourse but this one. A
settlement four years later, in October, 2007, required NASA to
provide hundreds of new documents and pay my attorney's legal
fees. NASA's resulting search, monitored by the court, was
completed in August, 2009.

For a more detailed article - including background on the 1965
Kecksburg UFO case; why we focused on NASA during this FOIA
initiative; and the interesting twists and turns of the lawsuit
- please see my MUFON paper of July, 2008 "The Struggle for
Government Openness" at:


That paper was written before any of the documents were received
after the settlement (others had been released previously at
various stages), and it covers events up to the arrival of these
NASA documents in the summer of 2008.

This paper completes the story, describing what we received (and
didn't receive) and offering final comments on the whole


Nov. '07 - Jan. '08

Two notebooks totaling 689 pages of SF-135 forms (inventory
lists of files) were sent to me in late Nov. 2007. NASA marked
the files it intended to locate and send, asking me to note any
additional files I wanted, pertaining to the terms of the
settlement agreement. I studied these detailed lists carefully
and made numerous additional selections which were responsive to
the search terms but had been overlooked by NASA. In late
January I sent a five- page list to NASA specifying these
additional requested files, covering a broad range of relevant
topics. I also asked for a new search for the files in form
68A2062 - "NASA Fragology Files" - which, as we were previously
told, had been missing since 1987. The SF 135 for these files
should have been included in the notebooks but was not. The two
boxes of fragology files from 1962 to 1967 are described as
"reports of space objects" recovery, [and] analysis of fragments
to determine national ownership and vehicle origin." They would
therefore be of special interest to the Kecksburg case (see
MUFON paper for more details).

Other SF 135s that should have been included in the notebooks
were not. (We knew this because we had previously worked with a
professional archival research firm which had acquired some that
should have been included.) For example, the form for two boxes
"pertaining to NASA/DOD Liason, 1966-74" were not included. Box
1 included Orbital Debris; Policies & Procedures; Box 2 included
DOD Army, DOD Air Force. Both of these were of interest to us.


Feb. '08 - July '08

NASA received my list in January, 2008 and began searching for
the documents initially selected by the agency and the
additional ones selected by me.

In May, 2008, NASA informed me that three new searches had been
conducted for the two missing boxes of fragology files, which
were unsuccessful. In addition, NASA Headquarters was searched,
but that too failed to locate anything.

In June, NASA informed me that 291 boxes had been searched so
far, but no files were found pertinent to the 1965 event. Most
of the documents so far were related to "fragments," "debris,"
and some correspondence. 3 In mid June, NASA sent a few hundred
pages of responsive files to me after searching 297 boxes. All
documents requested from other agencies for evaluation and
processing were released subsequently in July 18, 2008.

After reviewing the documents, I noted the following:

1. There was nothing at all related to Kecksburg here or in the
many hundreds of pages released by NASA at earlier stages.

2. The documents included news stories and reports about other
fireball meteors around the same time, but none on Kecksburg.

3. There were no policy or procedure manuals included, which
were requested, related to rules or laws governing the
collection of space debris from private property.

4. There were 20 boxes missing which we had requested, including
four pertaining to NASA/DOD relationships and agreements.

5. Also missing were many attachments, appendices and photos,
which were referred to in the files as being enclosed or
attached, but weren't.

6. Missing also were a lengthy series of letters written to NASA
from citizens about UFO sightings and questions, some occurring
in 1965. NASA sent form-letter replies to each person then
forwarded copies of these letters to the Air Force's Project
Blue Book. NASA sent me copies of both its reply to the citizen
and each cover letter sent by the agency to Blue Book saying
that the enclosed letter was being forwarded. However, none of
these letters from citizens, referenced as enclosed, were in the
files. It is quite possible that interested citizens could have
written NASA about the fireball seen widely that night, or the
landing of something in Kecksburg.

To illustrate the complexity and detail of my attempts to
acquire missing documents, and to address other issues, here is
one email which I wrote to my NASA contact for the search, Judi
Hollingsworth, in July 7, 2008:

You wrote re Accession number 67A1866 that 7 boxes were checked
out by Paul Willis, a NASA employee now retired, on 12/4/96, and
that they are now missing, apparently never returned. I am
particularly interested in two files from these missing boxes:
Agreements: NASA/DOD from Box 1; and DOD-NASA Relationships from
Box 3. This group of files covers the time period June '65 - May
'66, which is very relevant to my search about the Dec. '65
incident in Kecksburg. 4 It is interesting to note that Paul
Willis was the recipient of the letter from the National Records
Center stating that the fragology files (68A2062) have been
missing since 1987. The letter to him is dated 3/28/96, in
response to his inquiry requesting the files. His middle initial
is M. (Paul M. Willis), and he was Headquarters Records/Forms
Manager for NASA. His phone at the time was 358-0621.

Would it be possible to conduct a further search for these
missing boxes, retrieved by Mr. Willis and not returned, by
tracking down Mr. Willis? It would also be interesting to find
out if he conducted a further search for the fragology files at
the time, or if he may know anything more about their

I was told that since Mr. Willis was no longer a government
employee, it was beyond what is required by the FOIA or the
settlement agreement to try to find him and see what he may or
may not know.


Sept. '08 - June '09

The settlement stipulation allowed me to request a further
search for more documents, possibly in new locations, under
certain requirements and conditions. See the settlement at:


In September, 2008, I requested a further search for additional
responsive documents, all for very specific reasons which arose
during my study of the documents already received.

I requested the following, covering the period 1965-1967, and
included detailed explanations as to why these requests were
made and what I was seeking:

A. Specific agencies and referencing methods:

Goddard Space Flight Center

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's (SAO) Project Moonwatch

National Aeronautics and Space Council (NASC)

General Dynamics/Astronautics (GD/A)

Space Tracking and Data Acquisition Network

Bureau of the Budget

"Space Fragment Disposal Act of 1963"

B. Documents on State Dept. liaisons, such as to the State Dept.
Office of Outer Space Affairs

C. A search of SF 135 accession #90-0663, which had been missing
from the original notebooks, containing:

NASA/DOD documents, 1966-74.

Box 1 includes Orbital Debris; Policies and Proceedures

Box 2 includes DOD files, including DOD Airforce (sic).

D. A new search for six key boxes that were missing, of
particular interest and greatest relevance to our search:

67A1866 Box 1: Agreements: NASA/DOD

Box 3: DOD-NASA Relationships

Box 4: International Contacts

International Space Cooperation

68A 2878 - Box 2 and 3, Jan. 65-Dec. 65

70A 4099 - Box 7, NASA - DOD 1964-66

74-637 - Box 1, NASA/DOD Relationships

This final search was completed in June, 2009, taking almost
nine months. I received four more files, which, like all the
others, were irrelevant to the Kecksburg incident. None of the
missing boxes were located. I was informed that Box 7 - NASA-DOD
1964-66 had been destroyed.

To put this in perspective, however, over 300 boxes were
searched, plus hundreds of pages released along with more from
State Department. More had been released during the court
process before the settlement. So the missing files constituted
only a tiny fraction of the total. The fragology files stand out
as potentially the most important missing boxes, which we had
been told were missing before we began.

The documents I received concerned, by and large, the recovery
and analysis of fragments and space debris here and abroad;
orbital debris; policy formulations for above; discussions of
hazards and liability due to falling space debris; clarification
of NASA's role in relation to other government agencies and its
role overseas; some Project Moon Dust documents; Gemini and
Apollo missions; correspondence and meeting files. Files from
the State Department included UFO cases and reports of
sightings. These documents shed light on the history of the
time, but overall, that's as far as they went.

In August, 2009, we filed the joint motion for dismissal in
federal court, as there was nothing more we could do; the search
was completed. The post-settlement phase had lasted almost two


The lengthy process of the NASA lawsuit highlights the problems
inherent to the Freedom of Information Act for the average
citizen, and shows that much of our history is not available to
public researchers. When we sent our first FOIA request to NASA
with a list of five specific search items, the agency replied
that it had no documents responsive to our request. This simply
wasn't true, as was shown later. It was only through the
pressure of our appeal and then a federal lawsuit that hundreds
of documents - responsive to our initial request and therefore
rightfully ours under the law - were provided.

Judge Emmet Sullivan's admonishing of NASA in federal court in
2007 highlights this problem and is well worth reading - See my
paper at:


for excerpts). It was very clear he sympathized with our side,
and at various points he wondered out loud if he would be forced
to implement the last resort: a FOIA trial, something which has
never occurred before. Exasperated, he repeatedly asked the
attorneys on both sides what they thought he should do. He
declared at one point that "heads should role" at NASA, and he
called NASA's case a "ball of yarn," stating that he sensed my
frustration, because he felt it too.

Even though we did receive documents eventually, we discovered
that NASA's historical records have been inventoried in a
cursory, seemingly arbitrary way. In general, FOIA offices are
overwhelmed, understaffed and unable to responsibly and
accurately respond to requests. And, of course, we had no way of
monitoring any of the searches NASA told us it conducted for us
- whether all files were actually searched and all relevant
documents pulled. We were simply required to accept what we were
told, as is anyone who makes a FOIA request. And, not being
allowed access to the boxes NASA was searching, we also have to
recognize that someone not familiar with all the complex details
of the Kecksburg incident might overlook a file that has
something very relevant in it, but which we may not have thought
to include in our list of search terms. Historical archival
research needs to be conducted by those who know the minutiae of
the subject being investigated, but in this case, that wasn't

That being said, I want to be clear that I am in no way blaming
any of the NASA search team for the problems we faced - problems
stemming from haphazard filing in the 1960's, or misplaced files
later on. Judi Hollingsworth, my contact at NASA during the
search, was consistently professional and cooperative, and I
believe she conducted the best search she could. In fact, Ms.
Hollingsworth told me she would have been delighted if she had
been able to find something on Kecksburg, and I have no reason
not to believe her (she had nothing to do with the legal
process). She too was operating within the limits of the system,
and the restrictions inherent to it. While highlighting the need
for reform of FOIA procedures, this effort also accomplished
something unprecedented on the positive side. Even though we did
not solve the Kecksburg mystery, a FOIA lawsuit concerning a UFO
case was settled in federal court in favor of the plaintiff - an
historic development. See CFi press release "Landmark court
settlement requires NASA to release documents on mysterious UFO


udge Sullivan was continuously supportive of the public's right
to information; the fact that this involved an unidentified
object was not at the forefront, nor did it seem to prejudice
him in any way. After our settlement, John Podesta commented:
"Leslie Kean's victory is a triumph for open government and the
spirit of inquiry." Our attorney Lee Helfrich pointed out that
"It is unprecedented to have achieved success at forcing an
agency to do this kind of extensive historical search under the
FOIA without Congressional intervention." Actually, this was
Helfrich's victory, not mine, since she was responsible for all
the remarkably complex legal work which is what swayed the
court. The fact that no Kecksburg documents were released from
NASA could mean many things. They could be accessible, but filed
under some obscure search term or code name, that we didn't
include or couldn't have known. Maybe some additional SF 135
Forms listing an inventory of relevant files were not included
in the initial notebooks, so we never pointed NASA to the right
place. Or, files related to the Kecksburg incident could be
stored somewhere else in NASA's massive bureaucracy beyond the
offices we approached. They could be classified, or otherwise
inaccessible to the employees conducting this search. They could
have been destroyed, or even lost; maybe checked out by someone,
such as NASA employee Paul Willis, and never returned. Without
additional, very extensive work, we'll never know the answers,
and even with the work, we still might never know.

However, there are still many stones left unturned for future
research. Since NASA was responsible for collecting and
analyzing space debris at this time, and also had a great
interest in fireball meteors, it seems highly unlikely that the
agency has absolutely nothing in its files about the Kecksburg
incident (for more background on this and the role of other
agencies see IUR,




It's worth noting that NASA sent no news articles or clippings
about this fireball that was seen over at least four states; was
noted by astronomers; and was considered to be a spectacular
meteor when it occurred. Seen by thousands, it was covered in
major papers all over North America - in Boston, Toronto, Ohio,
San Jose, for example - and of course throughout Pennsylvania.
NASA did send newspaper stories about other meteors and
fireballs and related events around this time, but not this one.
Yet, I suspect this was a bigger, more widely reported story
than the ones I was sent. The story of the brilliant orange
fireball was widely distributed through UPI and the Associated
Press - even picked up by the New York Times - and also made it
into the Times of London. Why were none of these news stories in
NASA's files, even though clippings of much lesser, but similar,
events were?

We also now know for sure that the missing fragology files will
never be found, since four new searches were conducted on our
behalf. We have to accept that they were destroyed in 1987, as
NASA says, despite the handwritten notation on one SF 135,
previously released through the FOIA, that the files were still
at the Federal Records Center in 1994. Other files we requested
remain missing or destroyed as well. We learned for the first
time that important files were checked out by a NASA employee -
one who wanted also to get the fragology files and was perhaps
the first to learn they were missing - and when he didn't return
them, no one followed up to request that he bring them back. Why
were these files not returned, and what happened to them?
Despite our concern about this, NASAwas unwilling to attempt to
answer this question by finding this former employee and
inquiring about the files.

In summary, we'll never know whether any documents in the
missing or destroyed boxes might have shed light on the
Kecksburg incident, even if only by providing a small lead that
could open doors for researchers. It only takes one page to
change everything.

However, some documents did reveal interesting bits of
information, even if not about Kecksburg. For example, a one
page "memo for record" was prepared by Richard Schullherr, a
NASA engineer whose responsibilities included fragology (he was
custodian of the fragology files) and who was a liaison to
Project Moon Dust, the federal program involving the retrieval
of space debris and objects of unknown origin. Dated January 18,
1969, the memo records a visit Schulherr made to the Foreign
Technology Division (FTD) of the Air Force Systems Command at
Wright Patterson AFB. The purpose was to identify some space
debris which had been sent to NASA, and to "re-establish
personal liaison with newly assigned FTD Moondust personnel"
headed by Lt. Robert McGill.

Schulherr also met with Col. Richard Bagnard of Project Blue
Book. Since both Project Moondust and Blue Book were FTD
projects based at Wright Patterson, this memo confirms the fact
that were two Air Force projects that had some responsibility
for the collection and/or analysis of objects fallen from space.

Shullherr states that Bagnard "was particularly interested in
the potential of decaying space objects being reported as
UFO's." His notes on his continuing conversation with Bagnard
are fascinating. "I advised him that all UFO reports to NASA
were referred to the AF. The observable phenomena of reentry
were easily recognized and our response in general was to
identify the particular decay. When a particular decay could not
be identified with an observation, we stated that it was a
meteorite or a satellite which was not of sufficient importance
to warrant tracking by NASA or NORAD."

This practice of conveniently stating that the phenomenon was a
meteorite or satellite, when in fact it was unidentified,
relates back to one of the Project Blue Book files, dated
December 10, 1965, written the day after the Kecksburg incident.
This "memo for the record" states that Major

Howard from the Pentagon called Major Quintanilla, the head of
Blue Book, to ask what he could tell the public about the
"meteor" seen over Pennsylvania. Quintanilla replied that a team
had been out to search for a fallen object, but had been
unsuccessful. "Major Quintanilla said that it was Ok to call it
a meteor that entered the atmosphere. He said that investigation
is still under way. There was no space debris which entered the
atmosphere on 9 December 1965." It seemed to be an unwritten
government policy that objects would be publicly explained as
meteors or whatever worked best, even before it was actually
determined what they were, and before investigations were

Another document sent by NASA lays out the four "international
commitments" of NASA in 1964; one of them is "investigation of
extra-terrestrial life." It's a little curious that
"investigation of" is used here instead of "search for," as if
we know there is something there to investigate. This is
probably simply a semantic oddity that was later changed. NASA's
disinterest in studying physical evidence related to UFO
sightings and landings - to explore whether these objects could
possibly be probes from outer space - would suggest that this
goal did not last very long.

So many questions remain unanswered about the Kecksburg
incident, many of them not involving NASA, but still important,
as discussed in my referenced 2005/2006 papers in IUR, and as
have been highlighted by Stan Gordon for many years. I attempted
to locate the still unfound report on the event, written and
filed at the 662nd radar squadron headquarters in Oakdale, PA
after its team returned from a search for the object. This
should have been with the Project Blue Book files, but wasn't;
its author provided us with a detailed affidavit to assist our
efforts to find it. I also received contradictory reports from
members of the 662nd radar squadron who were on the scene that
night, when I interviewed them by telephone.

I am still convinced that something came down in Kecksburg and
that the object was not Cosmos 96, or any other Russian object.
It also seems highly unlikely that it was a secret American
capsule of some sort, as stated by NASA's chief scientist for
orbital debris Nicholas Johnson - see:


Extensive research has been conducted for decades, and Gordon
has followed numerous leads towards determining what this object
may have been. So far, no conclusive determination has been

In one instance, NASA came out with an unexpected statement that
momentarily turned the lawsuit on its head. In 2005, a NASA
staffer - this time, not an expert scientist like Johnson, but a
media spokesman - contradicted the statement of the renowned
Johnson through bizarre comments provided to the press which was
covering the 40th anniversary of the incident. NASA spokesperson
David Steitz told an AP reporter that "the 'UFO' [Kecksburg
object] was a Russian satellite, but government records
documenting it have been lost" "NASA under pressure over UFO,"
Dec. 9, 2005,


Steitz said that NASA experts studied fragments from the object,
but records of what they found were lost in the 1990s. "As a
rule, we don't track UFOs. What we could do, and what we
apparently did as experts in spacecraft in the 1960s, was to
take a look at whatever it was and give our expert opinion," he
said. "We did that. We boxed (the case) up, and that was the end
of it. Unfortunately, the documents supporting those findings
were misplaced."

Naturally, our team was stunned by this announcement. We had a
lawsuit in federal court because NASA had never given any
answers to questions about the Kecksburg object, and now,
suddenly, the agency was saying it was a Russian satellite -
even when NASA's own leading expert checked the records and said
it couldn't possibly be any satellite from any country! Steitz
was never willing to reply to my many requests for further
information about this statement, such as where the information
came from, since he said the documents about it were lost.
Without the documents, how would he know? (This contradiction
with Johnson and the lack of a source for Steitz's claim has not
been followed up by any other journalist, and could be an
interesting story.)

In another vein, we were also hoping to learn what authorization
government agencies such as NASA had at the time to enter
private property for the purpose of seizing or investigating a
fallen object, but we did not receive answers to this question
either. No policy directives or procedures were provided, yet
NASA must have its own policies on this issue, and somewhere
they must have been spelled out in 1965. Through the historical
documents we did receive, the Kecksburg lawsuit added to our
general body of knowledge of that time period even while raising
new questions and unresolved contradictions about the Kecksburg
case. Most importantly, it illustrates what we're up against as
citizens advocating for greater government openness, and
justifies a re-examination of what access we as a people within
a democracy actually have under the FOIA.

Special thanks to Larry Landsman, then an executive at SCI FI
Channel, for launching this FOIA initiative and pulling the team
together; attorney Lee Helfrich for brilliantly handling all the
many rounds of litigation and extensive legal briefs, way beyond
the call of duty; and researcher Stan Gordon for spending over
forty years investigating the case and providing me with
extensive information, assisting every step of the way.

Leslie Kean November, 2009

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