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The best documents of 2014, according to the CIA

UFOs, pigeons, George H. W. Bush—this list has it all!


Alex La Ferla


Posted on Dec 30, 2014   Updated on May 29, 2021, 9:12 pm CDT

The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t exactly give off warm and fuzzy vibes. That’s especially true now that we know the CIA misled the American public about torturing detainees. But that hasn’t stopped the intelligence-gathering agency from taking to Twitter for a little bit of light-hearted PR.

On Monday, the CIA, with tongue firmly in cheek, announced number one on its list of most-read documents of 2014: a report that takes responsibility for over half of all UFO sightings throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s.

According to the document, titled “The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974,” the CIA flew U-2 spy planes at altitudes of 60,000 feet and above at a time when ordinary civilian aircraft often flew no higher than 10,000-20,000 feet. Since many at the time believed manned flight at such altitudes was impossible, some became convinced they were seeing flaming UFOs shooting through the skies, when in reality they were only noticing the sun glinting off the silver-bodied U-2s above them.

Needless to say, the CIA was not about to announce the existence of spy planes over the Soviet Union, but it still wanted to assuage fears of imminent alien invasion. Rather than tell the truth, the CIA came up with a plan dubbed “Operation Blue Book,” in which they cataloged UFO claims and attempted to write them off as natural phenomena. This report, originally written in 1998 for government officials, claims that over half of all the sightings included in Blue Book during the ‘50s and most of the ‘60s can be attributed to the U-2 program.

Number four on the best of list is a report that the CIA’s Office of Research and Development created a special camera to be strapped to pigeons and used to capture photos of unsuspecting targets.

Pigeons were used because of their size, multitude, and ability to get more detailed images while avoiding detection than humans, spy planes, or satellites might have been. Details of the pigeon missions are still classified, but the very knowledge that they occurred seems to have tickled many readers this year.

Many of us are by now familiar with the term UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, but in the 1990s the CIA developed a UUV, an unmanned underwater vehicle, in the guise of a large fish they called “Charlie.”

Charlie contains a pressure hull, ballast system, communications system in the body, and a propulsion system in the tail. This robotic catfish can be controlled by a wireless line-of-sight radio handset and was used primarily to collect water samples undetected.

Rounding out the list are articles that state that the CIA created China for a fake airliner during the Vietnam war, and a full firsthand account of the real Argo, and a plan in the 1950s for an aerial retrieval program called “skyhook.”

Photo via exoimperator/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 30, 2014, 7:23 pm CST