Jacques Vallée and the Strange Mystery of the Pentacle Memorandum

Unidentified flying object at night with fog and a light below. Triangular UFO, 3D illustration.

The French astronomer, computer scientist, and UFO researcher Jacques Fabrice Vallée is one of the important figures in the study of unidentified flying objects, long a proponent of pushing the legitimacy of ufology as a viable scientific pursuit. A legendary icon in the field, he not only increased the legitimacy of the study of UFOs, but also pushed at its boundaries, introducing many ideas that were considered groundbreaking in their time, notably the idea of extraterrestrials as interdimensional travelers. He is so important that he was the inspiration for one of the main characters in Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and his contributions to the field are innumerable. He is also known for uncovering a mysterious lost top-secret document that pointed at a grand conspiracy of the government controlling, twisting, and even fabricating the output of information on the UFO phenomenon.

In the summer of 1967, Vallée was living in the United States, and at the time was tasked with helping astronomer J. Allen Hynek get his documents in order. This is notable in that Hynek was then one of the most recognizable authorities on the UFO subject, and had been the top scientific advisor to three UFO studies carried out by the U.S. Air Force, with those being Project Sign (1947–1949), Project Grudge (1949–1951) and Project Blue Book, which he was then overseeing. Indeed, the documents that Vallée was helping to organize were composed of UFO reports under investigation by Project Blue Book. It was apparently quite the task, since Hynek was notoriously disorganized with his files, something Vallée complained about profusely. One day, he unloaded some boxes of Hynek’s files, and as he went through them trying to make some sense of the chaotic mess, he came across a document that was dated 9 January 1953, stamped in red ink “SECRET – Security Information” and signed by a person he would later only refer to as “Pentacle.” What he would find within would change his whole outlook on the UFO phenomenon, shake him to his core, and inspire debate and discussion that has continued to this day.

Jacques Vallée

Among the many revelations allegedly held within what would be called “The Pentacle Memorandum,” perhaps the most shocking had to do with what was called the Robertson Panel. Headed by Howard P. Robertson, a physicist from the California Institute of Technology, and organized in response to a recommendation to the Intelligence Advisory Committee following the Central Intelligence Agency’s own review of Project Blue Book, the Robertson Panel was convened in January, 1953, by a committee of expert scientists who had been asked to consider the UFO phenomenon for the purpose of weighing the threat that such objects might present to national security. These experts included Luis Alvarez, Nobel prize in physics; Lloyd Berkner, space scientist; Sam Goudsmit, nuclear physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and astronomer Thornton Page. Although the Robertson Panel was meant to be an impartial, open discussion on the matter that considered all angles and held nothing back, and this was what the public had been told about it, what Vallée supposedly discovered in this mysterious file cast a sinister light on it all.

According to the Pentacle Memorandum, which was addressed to a Miles E. Coll at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and meant for transmittal to Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the panel of scientists convening for the Robertson Panel were being manipulated and not told the whole story. Not only had a secret study of thousands of UFO reports carried out on behalf of the United States government by an organization called the Battelle Memorial Institute been withheld from them, but under what was referred to as “Project Stork” they were also told in no uncertain terms that, far from an impartial discussion, there were certain things they were not allowed to talk about. This was basically cherry picking and preselecting evidence, which would guide the conclusion the scientists would reach, and they even suggested postponing the Robertson Panel until it could be decided how much information would be made available to the committee. Vallée would write of this to UFO researcher Barry Greenwood:

The greatest implication, which is perhaps not obvious on first reading but which amounts to a scandal of major proportion in the eyes of any scientist, has to do with the outright manipulation of the Robertson panel. Here is a special meeting of the five most eminent scientists in the land, assembled by the government to discuss a matter of national security. Not only are they not made aware of all the data, but another group has already decided “what can and cannot be discussed (Pentacle’s own words!)” when they meet. Dr. Hynek categorically stated to me that the panel was not briefed about the Pentacle proposals.

Vallée found that this mysterious Project Stork extended beyond merely manipulating and guiding the Robertson Panel. There was also referenced a plan to exploit areas of supposed high UFO activity in order to carry out an experiment to secretly and purposefully manufacture UFO phenomena in order to gather reliable physical data on eyewitness testimony, essentially creating what Vallée would call “a carefully calibrated and monitored simulation of an entire UFO wave.” A portion of the document explains of this project:

We expect that our analysis will show that certain areas in the United States have had an abnormally high number of reported incidents of unidentified flying objects.  Assuming that, from our analysis, several definite areas productive of reports can be selected, we recommend that one or two of theses areas be set up as experimental areas. This area, or areas, should have observation posts with complete visual skywatch, with radar and photographic coverage, plus all other instruments necessary or helpful in obtaining positive and reliable data on everything in the air over the area. A very complete record of the weather should also be kept during the time of the experiment.  Coverage should be so complete that any object in the air could be tracked, and information as to its altitude, velocity, size, shape, color, time of day, etc. could be recorded. All balloon releases or known balloon paths, aircraft flights, and flights of rockets in the test area should be known to those in charge of the experiment. Many different types of aerial activity should be secretly and purposefully scheduled within the area. We recognize that this proposed experiment would amount to a large-scale military maneuver, or operation, and that it would require extensive preparation and fine coordination, plus maximum security. Although it would be a major operation, and expensive, there are many extra benefits to be derived besides the data on unidentified aerial objects.


The question of just what would be accomplished by the proposed experiment occurs. Just how could the problem of these unidentified objects be solved? From this test area, during the time of the experiment, it can be assumed that there would be a steady flow of reports from ordinary civilian observers, in addition to those by military or other official observers. It should be possible by such a controlled experiment to prove the identity of all objects reported, or to determine positively that there were objects present of unknown identity. Any hoaxes under a set-up such as this could almost certainly be exposed, perhaps not publicly, but at least to the military. In addition, by having resulting data from the controlled experiment, reports for the last five years could be re-evaluated, in the light of similar but positive information. This should make possible reasonably certain conclusions concerning the importance of the problem of “flying saucers”. Results of an experiment such as described could assist the Air Force to determine how much attention to pay to future situations when, as in the past summer, there were thousands of sightings reported. In the future, then, the Air Force should be able to make positive statements, reassuring to the public, and to the effect that everything is well under control.

None of this had been revealed to the Robertson panel. Vallée saw all of this as an insidious government plan to spread misinformation and manipulate the truth, to obfuscate the honest search for true answers and mislead the public. He also wondered why the panel hadn’t been briefed on this and whether this was just one small part of a greater conspiracy to obfuscate the truth and construct just what the public knew about UFOs. In his opinion, this revelation potentially posed the threat of causing huge shockwaves in the UFO field and beyond into society itself. Vallée was quite alarmed by all of this, and would write.

Perhaps the Pentacle memo only proves that scientific studies of UFOs (and even their classified components) have been manipulated since the fifties. But it also suggests several avenues of research which are vital to the future of this field: why were Pentacle’s proposals kept from the panel? Were his plans for a secret simulation of UFO waves implemented? If so, when, where and how? What was discovered as a result? Are these simulations still going on? Hynek once assured me that if it ever turned out that a secret study had been conducted, the American public would raise an unbelievable stink against the military and Intelligence community. It would be an outrage, he said, an insult to the whole country, not to mention a violation of the most cherished American principles of democracy. There would be an uproar in Congress, editorials in major scientific magazines, immediate demands for sanctions.

Making it all even more ominous was that when Hynek found about the document, he had known nothing of any of this, meaning that Project Bluebook itself was being manipulated. Hynek went to directly confront members of the Battelle study about it, to which their reaction was quite volatile. Vallée would say of the incident, “The man I have called Pentacle snatched his notes away and told him in no uncertain terms that the contents of the memo were not to be discussed, under any circumstances. Why should Pentacle worry so much about a simple letter written fifteen years ago?” Indeed, why would they have such a reaction and what did this mean? All of this disturbed Vallée greatly, and he would later say of the document’s profound effect on him:

The discovery of the Pentacle document had a major impact on me. It gave me an uncomfortable insight into the practices of government agencies and the high-powered consultants who serve them. It was the main reason for my return to Europe in 1967. It made obvious some unsavoury aspects of scientific policy at the highest level. It provided quite an education for an idealistic young astronomer.

It would not be until 1992 that word of this secret document came to light for the public, with the release of Valee’s four-volume series titled Forbidden Science. Not long after this, a purported leaked copy of the Pentacle Memorandum came into the possession of UFO researchers, and Vallee would confirm that this was the very same document he had seen back in 1967. The document would ultimately end up hitting the public with a whimper, not creating nearly the sort of uproar that Vallée had been expecting. Most people just didn’t really seem to care all that much. Even within UFO circles it got a mixed response, with some sharing Vallée’s alarmist and paranoid interpretation, while others said the document was not particularly significant in the grand scheme of things. Still others took the more extreme stance that the document “proved” that the government was behind the whole UFO phenomena, and that there were no aliens or spaceships, just a large-scale psi-ops scheme. All of these various interpretations have managed to make the Pentacle Memorandum a controversial and much debated document right up to the present, with no general agreement on what it all means or what implications it might have. It remains an odd footnote in the history of ufology that we may never truly understand for certain, its ultimate implications unknown to us.

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