Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
February 23, 2011

On the night of February 24, 1942, less than three months after Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor, anti-aircraft artillery and searchlights filled the skies of Los Angeles in response to a supposed attack. What was presumed to be another Japanese air raid was quickly dismissed as a false alarm that had been exacerbated by public nervousness over the war. This incident became known as "The Battle of Los Angeles," and it was not long before pundits speculated on a government cover-up concerning national security. To this day, many UFO investigators believe that the target in the LA sky that fateful night was, in fact, extraterrestrial in nature.

In the action flick Battle: Los Angeles, this historical footnote and concept of the City of Angels under attack from an invading alien force is ramped up to Hollywood proportions. Blending sci-fi material with a traditional war film, this action-packed blockbuster follows a group of Marines who engage extraterrestrial conquerors in the streets of Los Angeles. The film is directed by Jonathan Liebesman (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the upcoming Wrath of the Titans) and features an ensemble cast including Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, and Michelle Rodriguez.

In support of the film, we had the opportunity to speak to a panel of four individuals with a background in UFO investigations: Bill Birnes, publisher of UFO Magazine and creator of the TV series UFO Hunters; Mark Easter, director and national spokesperson for the Mutual UFO Network; retired U.S. Air Force captain Robert Salas, who documented his 1967 UFO experiences at Malmstrom Air Force Base in his 2005 book Faded Giant; and retired U.S. Air Force colonel Charles Halt, who was one of the primary eye witnesses to the Bentwaters UFO encounters.

In this interview, Bill Birnes talks about the real life Battle of Los Angeles and the UFO phenomenon throughout the centuries.

MEDIA: You've been very specific in your use of the phrase "UFO" and your avoidance of words like "aliens." Is it your belief that the majority of UFOs are extraterrestrial?

BILL: Depends on who you ask. The point is that for people who really investigate the phenomenon seriously, what we all try to do--and let the military witnesses try to do--is not jump to a conclusion about the nature or the origin of things they're seeing. So the whole point is look at it from a strictly logical perspective. If it's flying, if it looks like an object, and if you don't know what it is, it's a UFO. If it walks like a duck, it's a duck. To say that it's a flying saucer when it's a crescent, or to say that it's extraterrestrial when you don't know where it's coming from, is to be conclusory. So in order not to be conclusory, generally people who investigate this call it UFOs or unidentified aerial phenomenon. [But] because of semantic creep, UFOs have come to be known as flying saucers.

How did the historic Battle of Los Angeles come to be linked to the UFO phenomenon?

Well, first of all, when you talk about the history of UFOs, you try to go on what's documented. And so this is outset of World War II, and the whole west coast of the United States, but Los Angeles specifically, was under this absolute panic after Pearl Harbor that, immediately, there was going to be a Japanese attack. And in fact, there was a Japanese attack up around Ventura County. After Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine fired on something on shore. So when this object appeared--they called it a balloon, somebody else called it an aircraft--immediately, the newspapers jumped on the fact that it was a flying saucer, or a UFO, or an unidentified object. Immediately was considered something extraterrestrial, while everybody else was kind of downplaying it. And if you look at the military's point of view, the one thing you don't want is to panic a civilian population. I mean, the whole point of the military (and I'm sure our officers can basically affirm this) is not to panic civilians, because it's like a human cattle stampede. How can you fight a war with hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing in terror? So what you do is calm the situation. Well, how do you calm a situation? Easy. "It's not a flying saucer, it's not a UFO, it's not anything. It was a balloon, and the balloon flew over and we couldn't see it, and it flew out to sea. No problem, everybody go home, nothing more to see here." So that's really the attitude that they took in 1942. Later on in the war, there were these orbs. They were called foo fighters, after the French "feu" for fire. They were glowing orbs. They intercepted our planes in the bombing over Schweinfurt and Dresden, and they also intercepted our B-29 bombers over the South Pacific. In fact, this was such a phenomenon that TIME Magazine, in I think 1944 or '45, actually ran a cover story about a B-29 firing on a foo fighter and shooting it down. So they were not illusions. We thought, at the very first, they were secret German weapons. And we knew the Germans had incredible rocket plane weapons that they never deployed. We thought they were German weapons, the Germans thought they were our weapons. Then we thought they were Japanese weapons, and the Japanese thought they were our weapons. The point was, we never found out what a foo fighter was. But I'll tell you this: glowing orbs have appeared ever since the 1940s. They're appearing to this very day in places like Kokomo, Indiana or Marley Woods in the Ozarks. They're appearing in Utah near the Dugway Proving Ground. They have not gone away. They are still here, and there's a lot of thought that they're not craft, but actually objects. So that's kind of the history of this phenomenon.

If these UFOs are extraterrestrial conquerers, why haven't we been overtly attacked?

Just ask yourself, if you wanted to take over a planet--seriously wanted to do that--and we had the ability to do that, what would we want to do to take over a planet? What we would do is try to find the least invasive way to basically insert ourselves into positions of power on that planet. And so quite frankly, the one thing that I would [do], if I were an E.T. in charge of taking over a planet, is I would inject that planet with DNA from my own race and basically grow a colony on the planet. And our own history of colonization, from the 15th century to the present, has not been to send huge invading armies across the sea. From the colonization of North America, starting with Spain all the way through the British Empire in India, it's "do business first, fight the war second."

Have documented reports of UFO sightings increased in the last decade or so, given the rise of cell phone cameras and social media?

The answer is an absolute yes. Now, a lot of these, by the way, are delusional events and hoaxes as well. So not everything you see on YouTube has a basis in absolute reality. The Jerusalem sighting just recently...It's a hoax. But the answer is absolutely yes. And the corollary question is "Are there more UFOs now than there were in the 1950s?" And the stock answer is "Well, only because more people with cell phone cameras and video cameras are taking pictures of the UFOs." The answer is yeah, there are more sightings now that are being reported. And this goes straight to the disclosure question about "Will the government ever disclose UFOs?" Well, the fact is the existence and reality of UFOs have already been disclosed. You could see it on YouTube, you could see it on the internet, you could see it on cell phone cameras. The Rex Heflin photos were disclosure of the UFOs. What most people want to know is "Will there be a confirmation of the disclosure of UFOs?" And I think that's the bigger issue than "Will UFOs be disclosed?"

Are there any significant differences in reports of UFO sightings from different parts of the world, particularly in their appearance? And how have reports changed throughout the decades?

Historically, UFOs have been reported in North America ever since before the Revolutionary War. [It goes back to] Governor Winthrop's history of New England when a couple of people saw a flying pig. And they weren't looking at a Windows screensaver, they were looking at an orb in the sky. That was, I think, in the late 1600s. It was the first mention of something called missing time. These people in a boat north of Boston saw a "flying pig"--an oval--and suddenly, from seeing it, they followed it, and then they found themselves back on shore and they couldn't account for the loss of time. But the most consistent shape has always been an orb. Today, people are seeing flying triangles--huge football field-sized flying triangles over Phoenix, over the Nevada desert (they're probably ours), over Belgium, over China, and over Russia. But in the 1950s, as you saw from the Rex Heflin photos, in the 1960s as well, people were seeing [what] looked like flying hubcaps, and they were basically disc-shaped flying saucers. But the first flying saucers, the ones that crashed at Roswell and the ones that were seen in 1947 [by pilot Kenneth Arnold] over Mount Rainier, were flying crescents. They were like slippers. So the shape has changed. Usually in the United States and in Western Europe, we're seeing flying triangles, we're seeing orbs all over the world. But in the Soviet Union and in China historically, they've also seen flying cylinders. And one of the most famous crashes on the border between Russia and China in Kyrgyzstan was of a cylinder that basically made a controlled landing. And the Soviets were so panicked by it because when they went to that site, their clocks stopped, their wristwatches stopped, their equipment didn't work. And they took the cylinder on a huge skycrane and disappeared. And to this day, if you go to that site--it's on the old silk trading area between Mongolia and Russia--you will find that's an area where there's physical trace evidence, in terms of the way your watches and electrical equipment work. So yeah, different shapes around the world, to be sure. But usually, currently, there are orbs.

Have other governments been more open than the United States about UFOs, or are they equally secretive?

Around the world, Mexico has been very forthcoming, Brazil has been very forthcoming. And they've had some stunning UFO encounters. The British have released [information], the French COMETA Report ten years ago was a report really urging the French government to take defense steps against UFOs. But quite frankly, if you were the President of the United States, if you were Barack Obama, would you actually stand up at a press conference with all the world's media looking at you and say, "We've been visited by flying saucers"? I mean, you wouldn't. So I think that disclosure has already happened and we all know they're here. The majority of the American public believes that we've been visited by UFOs, five Presidents have admitted to it from Jerry Ford all the way to George H.W. Bush. And it's a matter of "Will enough public weight create a tipping point that it will be an established fact, so what we're calling disclosure happens by itself?"

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