Air Force Deceived and Threatened Child over UFOs
A US Air Force Colonel at the Pentagon, writing on behalf of a sitting US President, lied to a child who had inquired about the existence of a government intelligence agency that monitors space. He then threatened the child with prosecution, fines and imprisonment for having disclosed a military family friend’s UFO sighting. I know this incredible scenario really happened because it happened to me. I was that child.
I have held on to this USAF letter for decades. It is included here for public review and the story behind it is now told for the first time.
UFOs, JANAP AND ME
As a pre-teen in 1974, I was told a fascinating story by a neighbor friend. He said that his father had been in the Air Force as a decorated pilot. His Dad often regaled his son with fascinating military stories. But there was one tale that he related to me that was especially impressive.
He said that his Dad was on a mission as a pilot in the Air Force and that during that flight he had seen a trio of shiny metallic disks that moved incredibly fast. As he tried to approach them, they became “fuzzy” and more like globes of light, shooting away at an even more extraordinary speed. His Dad told him that no manmade aircraft could ever have done such things. When his son asked him for more details, the father replied that he had already said too much and that he could not tell him anything else. He’d get in trouble if he did because of “some sort of special military regulation called JANAP.”
That strange word “JANAP” stuck in my head. What did it mean? I would soon find out.
THE KID ALSO KNOWS ABOUT A SECRET INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
Not more than a month after this startling story was related to me, my mother had a lady visit her who was very elderly and who was new to our town. She was from the Virginia/DC area. Being a little nosy about the woman, I eavesdropped on their kitchen conversation.
The lady told my mother that her late husband had worked for a “secret agency” that “could listen to and watch everything using space satellites that go around the Earth”. I couldn’t believe my ears! She said he had worked for the NRO, which, she explained, stood for the National Reconnaissance Office. I remember hurrying to my bedroom to write it down and of having to look up the word “reconnaissance” to make sure that was the word I heard, and to get its correct spelling. And I found a brief reference to rumors of a secret spy satellite agency in an issue of a UFO oriented magazine from the ‘70s, now lost due to many subsequent moves.
THE CHILD CONTACTS THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF
For a boy who was already enamored by the possibility of interstellar visitors, these two events – our family friend’s UFO story and the mysterious widow who spoke of secret scientists who tracked things from space – set me off on a course of lifelong investigation.
Not knowing what to do with this information, I asked my father. He, perhaps jokingly, said to me, “Why not write to the President?"
And writing to President Gerald Ford is exactly what I did…
In December of 1974, I sent a registered letter to President Ford in care of the White House. In the letter, I asked the President about the regulation called “JANAP”. I wanted to know why, because of this regulation, military people could not openly or publicly report their UFO sightings, even after they are out of the service. I explained that a neighbor told me that his father had seen UFOs as an Air Force pilot, and I related the details of this amazing sighting in the letter. I suggested that pilots would be the people who are best able to observe such things up close. Why was the public not being told about these sightings? Would they ever be? Was there gun camera film taken of the objects?
I also asked Ford about the NRO. I mentioned that I “was aware of the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office” and what the agency did because I knew about someone who used to work there, as related to a trusted neighbor. I stated to him that such satellite capability, like the pilot film suppressed by JANAP, could help in the study of UFOs. I wondered why there was never any mention of the agency or of anything that they may have found out about the phenomenon. Perhaps these cameras too have taken pictures of the objects entering and leaving the atmosphere?
I first received a general ‘form letter’ reply acknowledging receipt of my letter to the President, from the White House Press Office.
THE REPLY: A LIE AND A THREAT
Then, about a week later, in a letter dated January 25, 1975, a Colonel M.L. Sorrentino of the USAF states:
“On behalf of President Ford, this is in further reply to your December 27 letter regarding the investigation of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs.)”
“Moreover, officials are not aware of any federally-sponsored studies regarding UFO phenomena and have no knowledge of the existence of a ‘National Reconnaissance Office.’ “
Sorrentino then addresses my mention of my Air Force pilot neighbor’s UFO sighting while in the service, and my inquiry about gun camera film. Sorrentino admonishes me:
“Due to the strictly military nature of these matters, both JANAP-146, as well as the reports which it prescribes, must remain within official channels. Therefore, Chapter 37, Title 18 of the United States Code stipulates that any person who makes an unauthorized transmission or disclosure of such a report is liable to prosecution.”
A scan of the full letter (minus my address) can be seen below. Last name is birth spelling:
1975 Letter of Lies and Intimidation
My young mind worried: Did the Colonel, on behalf of the President, just threaten me that if I publicly disclosed my knowledge of the Air Force pilot’s UFO sighting that I could be prosecuted?
I later learned more about “JANAP”. It stood for “Joint Army, Navy, Air Publication”, and JANAP 146 was issued in 1953.
Colonel Sorrentino included in his letter to me a form-letter attachment on Project Blue Book that explained its closure in 1969 had formally ended government interest in UFOs, and that there were no other involved federal agencies. This was the first lie that he told me.
We now know that this is untrue, given documents obtained under FOIA relative to secret or continued UFO study including by NORAD, the NSA, Project Blue Fly, Project Moon Dust, and the UFO investigations by the 4602d at Fort Belvoir, VA and its predecessors and successors. Most importantly, in a Memo issued by General Carroll Bolender on October 20, 1969, he stated that the reporting of UFOs which affect national security are made in accordance with JANAP 146 “and are NOT part of the Blue Book system”, and are handled by other authority. This Memo was made publicly available in 1979 through a FOIA request placed by the late researcher Robert Todd.
But Sorrentino also sent something to me that was threatening and intimidating:
He included a colored insert that referenced the Code of Laws of the United States and the Espionage Act. It instructs that disclosure of military pilot UFO reports outside of official channels is a criminal act. Penalties for mention of such UFO sightings by any unauthorized party included heavy fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment in jail for up to ten years!
I also found out that JANAP didn’t relate to merely unidentified missiles or potential enemy aircraft, as skeptics suggest. As seen in the document below, UFOs are specifically singled out as a distinct type of military sighting report:
JANAP, UFOs and Pilots
Not until this very day have I ever dared to mention the details of my neighbor’s sighting to anyone, such was the level of fear instilled in me as a child.
And my faith in the government and truth telling diminished forever when the Air Force flat-out lied to me that no officials knew anything about the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office. And remember, the Colonel was replying to me “on behalf of President Ford.” Such an agency simply did not exist.
But of course it did, and Sorrentino had told me another lie. And the old widow, whose conversation that I had heard about the NRO, had told my mother the truth!
I was elated when, in 1992, seventeen years after the government denied its existence to me, the US Government finally publicly and officially acknowledged that the NRO did indeed exist.
In fact, the NRO had been operational since 1961, nearly a decade and a half before I asked the President about it! It has the largest budget of any intelligence agency. The agency provides imagery and signals intelligence through operation of a vast network of orbiting spy satellites. It is thought by some that the NRO may be positioned to conduct surveillance and photography of UFOs in space.
COLONEL SORRENTINO’S SECRETS
And what of the Colonel who wrote me when I was a boy, who lied to me about the existence of the NRO, and who admonished me to not say anything about my neighbor pilot’s UFO sighting? Who is “Colonel M.L. Sorrentino”?
He is Michael L. Sorrentino. A deep search reveals that he was situated in The Pentagon in the 1970s. He was in Room 2C255 and was a “Pentagon Liaison Officer” and a military intelligence agent who was close with then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. A found document in the Rumsfeld Library shows Sorrentino was invited by Rumsfeld to a September 15, 1976 NATO ceremony. Sorrentino was seated with such luminaries as Henry Kissinger, General Alexander Haig and Sir Peter Hill-Norton, Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy (and UFO advocate.) And President Gerald Ford was in attendance. Sorrentino, now elderly and in retirement, went on to help lead Overlook Systems Technology, Inc., a major contractor providing engineering services to the US Air Force. Sorrentino was an expert in early military Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and a NATO intelligence leader, making his proclaimed ignorance of the NRO all the more unbelievable.
I would not want to shame the now nearly ninety year old man about why he deceived and threatened a kid all those years ago.
I would not want to have to tell him about how his letter to me had made my parents, my mother in particular, visibly upset. They worried about what could happen to me over this.
But they appeared especially concerned for our neighbors who could be easily found – my friend’s pilot father who said things he should not have about his UFO sighting while in the Air Force, and the widow who had talked out of turn about the existence of the secret intelligence agency, the NRO.
There can be no doubt that Sorrentino, in the weeks following receipt of my letter to Ford, had me checked out thoroughly. He knew that I was a child.
He must have been concerned that this child knew of JANAP; related details of a USAF UFO pilot report; speculated about any associated gun camera film; knew of an unacknowledged spy satellite intelligence agency; and inquired about the existence of any captured UFO footage by these satellites. More so, this kid was writing directly to the President of the United States about all of this!
VALUABLE LESSONS LEARNED
Sorrentino taught me that governments can secretly establish, operate, cover up and deny the existence of entire agencies that employ thousands and spend billions over many decades.
He also taught me that government can threaten their military with loss of freedom for publicly mentioning their UFO encounters. And the same goes for kids who mention what they may have heard about such things.
But mostly, I’ll always remember the Colonel because, unbeknownst to him, he helped to set this kid off on a lifelong path of UFO exploration.