Open records • Agency documents now can be read with relative ease.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
On April 4, 1949, FBI agents in Utah sent a cable marked "urgent" to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. It said an Army guard at the Ogden Supply Depot, a Logan policeman and a Utah Highway Patrol officer in Mantua each saw from miles apart a UFO which they said exploded over Utah.
Under the title "Flying Discs," the cable said they "saw a silver colored object high up approaching the mountains at Sardine Canyon" that "appeared to explode in a rash of fire. Several residents at Trenton … [reported] seeing what appeared to be two aerial explosions followed by falling object."
That and other documents show the FBI was investigating whether UFOs were real, and it figured they could be. Such documents are now available in "The Vault," vault.fbi.gov, a revamped FBI website for documents that have been released through the Freedom of Information Act and have been recently or often requested.
Besides talking about Utah UFOs, other Utah-related documents on the website look at such things as FBI snooping into whether the Salt Lake City NAACP had been infiltrated by communists; a death threat in Utah against Lady Bird Johnson; and Hoover lambasting W. Cleon Skousen a Utahn who has become an icon of the tea party movement.
"The new website significantly increases the number of available FBI files, enhances the speed at which the files can be accessed, and contains a robust search capability," David Hardy, chief of the FBI's Record/Information Dissemination Section, said in a statement.
One document shows that the Logan UFO incident occurred two weeks after the FBI told bureaus that a "reliable and confidential source" reported that "flying discs are believed to be man-made missiles rather than natural phenomenon. It has also been determined that for approximately the past four years the USSR [Soviet Union] has been engaged in experimentation on an unknown type of flying disc."
Documents show that an earlier UFO sighting had been investigated in Logan in September 1947. It said numerous witnesses told the FBI they saw "flying discs" in formation that were "circling the city at a high rate of speed."
Most interestingly, on March 22, 1950, Guy Hottel, the agent in charge of the Washington Field Office, sent a memo reporting that an Air Force source said that flying saucers had crashed near Roswell, N.M., and had been recovered.
"They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed flyers and test pilots," it said.
Documents on the new website also show such things as a letter that Hoover wrote to a nun in 1962 criticizing Skousen, a former FBI agent who then was writing books and giving speeches on communism and conservative principles that later would make him vocally admired by many tea party leaders today, including TV and radio personality Glenn Beck.
"Former Special Agents of the FBI are not necessarily experts on communism. Some of them have sought to capitalize on their former employment with this Bureau for the purpose of establishing themselves as such authorities," Hoover said in replying to questions from Sister Mary Shaun about Skousen.
"I am firmly convinced there are too many self-styled experts on communism, without valid credentials and without any access whatsoever to classified, factual data, who are engaging in rumor mongering and hurling false and wholly unsubstantiated allegations against people whose views differ from their own. This makes more difficult the task of the professional investigator," Hoover wrote.
Other documents show the FBI in the 1950s was looking at whether the Salt Lake NAACP was infiltrated by communists, and was keeping track of its leaders and their backgrounds.
A memo said the Communist Party wanted the NAACP "to win leadership among negro organizations," and "various attempts have been made by the CP [Communist Party] to infiltrate and dominate certain NAACP branches through the country."
Another document shows that a threat against Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, was sent to the FBI's Salt Lake City office in 1988 in an anonymous letter saying she "must die." Agents found it was likely sent by a New Mexico woman who was mentally ill, and no charges were filed against her.
Look inside the FBI's "Vault"
O Old secrets of the FBI can now be seen at its new website, "The Vault." > vault.fbi.gov
It shows digital images of FBI documents that have been released through the Freedom of Information Act and have been recently or often requested.
It contains Utah-related files that discuss such things as UFOs in Utah; snooping into whether the Utah NAACP had been infiltrated by communists; a death threat in Utah against Lady Bird Johnson; serial killer and one-time University of Utah student Ted Bundy; and former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover lambasting W. Cleon Skousen (a Utahn who has become an icon of the tea party movement).