Above Top Secret, But Not Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Timothy Good’s career has seen him make a mark on two distinct fields. In the world of music, he’s an experience violinist who has played for an extended period of time with several highly regarded orchestras, and has worked as a session musician for major stars. In his other career, he is a UFOlogist, whose Above Top Secret was one of the more prominent tomes to emerge from the British UFO scene.

Over the course of Above Top Secret, Good wants to persuade the reader of two things:

  1. Various governments around the world have looked into the UFO phenomenon, but have played down or actively covered up this interest on their part.
  2. At least a portion of UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spaceships piloted by aliens, and some governments have proof of this they are concealing.

Good plays a clever rhetorical trick with this book; to my eyes, the materials he offers do substantiate his first point, but point 1 can be true without point 2 being also true. His evidence offered for point 2 is much more tenuous, but if you are not reading carefully you may find yourself buying into 2 on the basis of how well he’s sold you on 1.

Structurally speaking, the book is in 3 chunks. The first part focuses on the UK, which as Good’s home country is naturally the place he’s had most opportunity to do research in; the chapters here are broken down in a chronological fashion spanning from the World War II foo fighters to more recent cases. The third part focuses on the US, both the birthplace of the modern UFO movement and, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, a place where extensive documentation can be obtained from; the chapters here are split up mostly to deal with different sections of the American government (so the CIA gets its own chapter, for instancre). The second section does a quick survey of various other countries, in less detail than the UK and US sections, broken up largely by country. A big chunky appendix reproduces a bunch of the documentation Good relies on.

In each section, Good takes broadly the same strategy: he recaps a bunch of UFO cases from the place/time in question which had some form of real or apparent involvement of the government/agency in question, and he recaps a bunch of instances where the government/agency in question has made public statements about UFOs or been shown to have had behind-the-scenes discussions about UFOs. Good’s view here is partisan, and he has a tendency to take the interpretation of a case which favours the nuts-and-bolts extraterrestrial hypothesis most, though there are instances where he decides the evidence for something is so flawed that it there probably isn’t anything to it.

When Good is at his most scrupulous and careful about which evidence he puts on the table, he is at his most convincing – but this doesn’t correspond to the times when he is talking about dead aliens kept in US Air Force hangars or stuff like that. The citations he makes from official sources – both the public record stuff like Hansard and bona fide declassified material – is able to convince me of some things.

I am persuaded, for instance, that UK government ministers were much less sure of the truth of the UFO phenomenon than their sceptical public pronouncements made clear, but I am also inclined to believe the excuse which Good’s own sources document – which is that at least one Minister in question admitted that the subject of UFOs was so touchy that unless he had absolute, concrete proof which he could readily show to all and sundry, he couldn’t publicly give it any credence, because then the Opposition and media would have a field day painting him as a crackpot and he’d need to resign to avoid damaging confidence in the government.

Similarly, I am persuaded that the CIA did look into UFOs just to rule out the possibility that they were Russian high-tech spy devices or something wilder, and also investigated UFO organisations (though their motive for the latter may well have been to ensure that they were not being used as cover for spying on US aerospace projects). The documents Good is able to cite seem to say as much, and again they also give a plausible reason for the CIA playing down their interest in the subject which doesn’t require them to have alien corpses: namely, they thought that if the public found out they were investigating, the public would jump to the conclusion that UFOs were a big deal, exacerbating the UFO flap enormously.

Likewise, I am persuaded that something fucky happened in Rendlesham Forest – the official reports from high-ranking base personnel establish this – but whether this was alien contact, some sort of espionage situation with a hasty cover story applied, or base personnel behaving wildly unprofessionally in such a manner that would embarrass the US and UK governments if it came out… well, that’s less clear.

The problem is that whilst Good sometimes comes up with interesting nuggets, sometimes he relies on much more tenuous sources; there’s at least one claim made based solely on the assertion of a friend of a friend, presented in such a way that it is impossible for a reader of the book to do their own checking for corroboration.

And unfortunately, such checking is necessary – for, even though he does spot some blatant fakes, in other cases it seems like his willingness to believe overrides his objectivity, and he has a tendency to believe that the material he presents carries more rhetorical weight than it actually does.

For instance, Good seems to believe that at least some of the material offered up by infamous contactee George Adamski was genuine. Good’s first book, before he went solo, was a collaboration with Lou Zinsstag – George Adamski: The Untold Story. Zinsstag had been one of Adamski’s secretaries, and therefore had access to others in Adamski’s circles. The 1983 book was reportedly a valiant bid to redeem Adamski’s public image, despite the fact that he’d been extensively discredited in his own lifetime and the intervening 18 years since his death hadn’t exactly exonerated him, but even Good couldn’t wholly give Adamski a pass.

The book is now a rarity, but Marc Hallet has produced an exhaustive rebuttal of the claims of Adamski and his apologists which cites several instances of Good and Zinsstag being forced to admit that Adamski had been hoaxing – in particular, an instance where they discovered that information Adamski had been selling that claimed to be from the “space brothers” was just recycled stuff from Adamski’s 1930s occult teachings he produced through his “Royal Order of Tibet” (which itself might well have been a bid to exploit the religious exemption to Prohibition – through the Royal Order, Adamski got a licence to make wine, and apparently made decent money off of that).

Good doesn’t go into detail on that here, however – largely because he seems to want to cling to the reality of Adamski’s experiences. Instead, he makes much of an infamous film that Adamski and a bunch of witnesses claimed captured an actual UFO in flight. This film, after it was developed, largely appeared to be an obvious fake, but for a few frames; Adamski claimed, and Good seems to want to back up the claim, that shadowy forces had tampered with the film, replacing some of the footage with deliberately fake-looking footage in order to discredit him.

Now, which alternative is more likely:

  • A real film of a spaceship was replaced with mostly obviously faked frames, but with some real frames left in place, rather than being replaced entirely?
  • A fake film of a spaceship looked utterly fake for the most part, except a very few frames looked OK, at least to the extent that the obvious evidence of faking isn’t visible in them?

Good argues that there seems to be little motivation for Adamski and the circle of witnesses who supposedly witnessed the UFO as it was filmed to all make up the same lie, not mentioning the fact that Adamski was using his contactee status to promote spiritual views he had previously propagated in the 1930s. A group of independent witnesses have little reason to cover for each other, but a collection of people who are all members of the same cult or secret society absolutely do.

The problem Good has is that, for the sake of trying to cling to as much evidence of extraterrestrial visitation as he possibly can, to the point where he will only let it go if it is 100% clear that something is fake, rather than accept the possibility that once a sufficient amount of the information someone has offered you is shown to be fake, it’s legitimate to default to not trusting the rest unless there’s some truly convincing form of exterior corroboration on the table.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Good is willing, in his personal sphere, to admit a wider range of evidence than he knows the general public will swallow. Check out this (typos left intact) quote from an interview cited on Good’s own homepage, in which he describes some experiences of his from two decades prior to Above Top Secret‘s publication (and which he still gave credence to at the time of the interview in 2008):

Yes, in fact I’ve had several encounters with beings I believe were from elswhere. The first occurred at a diner near the Arizona/California border in November 1963 while I was on tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It would take me too long to go into all the details, but it involved an unusual young woman who – in the presence of three of my colleagues – responded very positively, but non-verbally, to my telepathic question as to whether she was from elsewhere. Just after we left the diner in our convoy of three coaches, I was astonished to see a road sign for Desert Center – I’d no idea we were anywhere near there. Quite a coincidence!

The second encounter took place in the lobby of a hotel in the middle of New York in February 1967, between a rehearsal and concert with the London Symphony Orchestra. About half-an-hour after I’d transmitted a telepathic request for definitive proof that some aliens were living among us, an immaculately suited man walked into the lobby then sat beside me. Following my telepathic request to indicate by means of a certain sign if he was the person I was looking for, he did so immediately. Neither of us spoke. It was a cathartic experience for me.

By and large, Good does not rely on such telepathic communications in Above Top Secret, restricting himself to more credible evidence – which suggests, in itself, that he has some understanding that documented evidence is more persuasive than psychic anecdotes.

Now, I’m not citing this to make fun of Good – though the notion of him getting awfully excited when he misinterprets some random non-verbal act on the part of a total stranger as confirmation of telepathic communication with them is amusing. I’m citing this because if you believe that this sort of thing is real, but are aware that the general public won’t buy it, then it seems quite likely you will believe yourself to be in possession of all sorts of information which you cannot use in your book due to it having come to you in a telepathic flash or a daydream or something. One can imagine, under those circumstances, someone being very reluctant to abandon any piece of more concrete physical or documentary evidence if it confirms something which they believe to be true as a result of psychic evidence, but can’t otherwise substantiate.

As well as clinging to the Adamski case decades after it stopped being remotely sensible to do so, Timothy Good was also on the cutting edge of credulity here, for Above Top Secret was the first public presentation of the infamous Majestic-12 documents, which supposedly substantiate the existence of a secret 12 member committee established to conduct UFO research in the wake of the Roswell incident. (The document mentions in passing that a UFO and several alien corpses were retrieved at Roswell.)

These documents, along with a memo apparently planted in the national archives for the researchers that discovered them to find (after being pointed in the right direction) to give them “confirmation”, are generally held to be a hoax – they get some people’s ranks wrong for a document supposedly dated when it was, there’s some odd use of language (use of “media” instead of “press”) that suggests a post-1940s origin, and generally they’re fake as shit. Good is taken in almost entirely, and relies on them heavily to push his points.

That said, he’d at least been scammed by professionals – maybe. One of the people who “discovered” the MJ-12 documents was William Moore, who I’ve talked about before in the context of Greg Bishop’s Project Beta, a fascinating account of the destruction of Paul Bennewitz and William Moore’s involvement in it, as disclosed by Moore himself at the 1989 MUFON conference.

Moore had specifically claimed that he’d run a disinformation campaign against Bennewitz, and later on Richard Doty, who was also involved in trying to push the truth of the Majestic-12 documents (as attested by researchers like Linda Moulton Howe), would also admit that he was a hoaxer. Moore claimed that he did is deeds as part of a collaboration with AFOSI – the Air Force Office of Special Investigations – which Doty was a part of, and supposedly this was official policy, but it’s tremendously difficult to know how much credibility to give to people when they are trying to persuade you that they are liars. You can assume that previous outlandish claims they promoted, which have clear evidence of being fake, probably were indeed fakes – but how do you know what they are telling you now is the truth, and not just another lie they’ve made up to amuse themselves? Once someone has adamantly told you that they are not trustworthy witnesses, you have to take everything else they say with a grain of salt.

Good was actually in touch with Bennewitz during the writing of Above Top Secret; the book came out in 1987, a year prior to Bennewitz being placed in psychiatric care by his family. It is notable that Good is fairly circumspect about Bennewitz’s information, not mentioning any of Bennewitz’s wilder claims about the Dulce Base and goings-on there – possibly another example of Good filtering the information with an eye to maximising the credibility of the assertions made in the book by overlooking information which might undermine it, though it’s possible that Bennewitz held back information from Good.

Above Top Secret is a fabulous collection of anecdotes, but can’t be relied on to be any more than that – because Good was as undiscriminating as he was about the evidence presented, more or less everything here would need to be corroborated through other means if you wanted to rely on this as something other than a sourcebook of tall tales.

I quite like it, despite its shortcomings, largely because it feels like a much more innocent and entirely un-hateful instance of conspiracy theory. Whilst others did latch onto the “UFO coverup” idea to try and turn it to political ends – Bill Cooper was shameless about it – Good genuinely doesn’t seem to have any wider agenda here beyond “governments should level with us about what they know about UFOs”. That’s not something I disagree with, though I think full disclosure would be far more disappointing to Timothy Good and others in the UFO community than they hope it would be.

And as ground zero of the Majestic-12 theory, which would inform pop cultural artifacts ranging from The X-Files to the Delta Green RPG, it has a certain historical value all of its own. It might also make a useful jumping-off point for a more sociological investigation of how different governments treat the UFO subject, or how the UFO folklore of different countries vary.

As proof of what Good is trying to assert, however, it isn’t quite there, though Good does have his adherents; Tom Delonge, former Blink-182 member turned UFO expert, credits Good with inspiring his interest in UFOs, and Lord Hill-Norton, the former Chief of the Defence Staff (the most senior uniformed military officer in the UK) and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who went so far as to write an introduction to the book expressing the view that information about UFOs had been concealed from him during his professional career. Maybe it was – but if the truth is out there, it’s not in here.

8 thoughts on “Above Top Secret, But Not Beyond Reasonable Doubt

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