The Protocols of Frank Warren
Frank Warren runs the UFO Chronicles web site. This site collects and reposts UFO information from various sources, sort of a clearing house of reports and opinions in this field.
I have corresponded with Frank on many occasions and he is uniformly polite and civil (something I really have to work at!) and seems to be willing to answer questions and defend his opinion in a good-natured and truthful way.
Frank is also the source of the nice quality scan of the famous Battle of Los Angeles photo that appears all over the internet. Prior to his 2002 release of the image, the only versions that seem to be available are newsprint quality scans or microfilms from the WWII-era Los Angeles Times.
The Battle of Los Angeles is a truly engrossing episode in U.S. history during WWII. On the night of February 24th, 1942, the city of Los Angeles was thrown into panic as people believed a Japanese attack of the city was underway. Over 1400 anti-aircraft shells were fired, searchlights raked the skies, and a total blackout of the city was ordered. Three civilians were killed by the barrage.
By the next day it was realized that there was no attack and the whole episode was likely a false alarm, possibly caused by a drifting weather balloon or perhaps even just frayed nerves.
Steven Spielberg made a big-budget movie about the incident, 1941, that tanked at the box office but is still legendary for some of its spectacular pre-CGI special effects.
This brings us back to the photo. Many UFO proponents believe that they can see a suspicious shape in the convergence of the search beams. The amazing photo really captures the drama of the night but arguments that the photo shows a saucer seem particularly ill-conceived.
Bruce Maccabee, the UFO photo analyst who apparently thinks most any photo submitted to him is anomalous, published a paper that supported the idea that photo showed a solid craft of some kind. The paper tried desperately to appear scientific but the conclusions made were unsupported by the evidence at hand. And the Photoshop manipulations he presented, contained no revelations except the bias of the writer. Incidentally, Maccabee also recently used his skills to unconvincingly try to show that a trail-cam photo of an owl was more likely something else, like maybe a Bigfoot.
Tim Printy, in his excellent journal of UFO skepticism, SUNlite, ran a recent piece (Pages 17-22) that clearly shows, using archival photos unrelated to the BOLA, that the shapes UFO believers see are just an artifact of converging beams of searchlights in the cloudy or smoky sky. On page 22, of that issue, you can see a searchlight photo that clearly shows the same elliptical white shape that the UFO buffs are so excited about. But that photo is not a UFO photo.
I have always been interested in the BOLA photo but in August of last year, I decided to write to Frank Warren and inquire about the photo and how he secured the negative:
I recently saw a piece attributed to you about the famous Battle of Los Angeles photo. In the piece you say that the somewhat low resolution scan was taken from a print made from the original negative.
I am inquiring about the negative itself.
Did you obtain the print from the LA Times?
And did you witness the negative itself? What else can you say about the negative?
Were there other shots on the same roll.
Do you know what type of film was used, etc.In short, I would appreciate any details about the negative you used to make the print.
I assumed that, even though Frank is well aware that I am a skeptic, such information would still be forthcoming. Most legitimate researchers are only too glad to provide references for their work. So I was taken aback by Frank's reply:
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to divulge that information... The methodology used to find it, as well as its local [sic] confirms its provenance."
I was surprised but, after dealing with other UFO researchers, I wasn't shocked. I have often seen a rather silly need among UFO researchers to jealously guard their work. Indeed, Frank, in a later letter, told me:
"My work on BOLA is ongoing; my experience in sharing pertinent case information has always been detrimental to said research--in short it has always come back to 'bite me in the ass.' (No offense intended to you)."
Frank did confirm for me that he had not seen the negative. In which case I replied, he could not confirm that actual negative had been used. Frank assured me that I was wrong:
“The authenticity of the negative, and the print I have from it along with its provenance and or bona fides has been established (and isn't in question) to my satisfaction (and then some), and would be to anyone, including you "if you were cognizant of the methodology used to locate it, along with its location.”
Sounds official, no? At any rate, I had a reason for asking about the provenance of the negative, which I told Frank about:
"The reason that I was even asking was that I had some reprints of photos made from several newspapers when I was researching Otis T. Carr. It was obvious when I got the prints that they were not printed from the negatives and they were often crudely retouched (this was apparently common for newspapers last century). The low quality newsprint hid the alterations, I think."
This reached deaf ears, apparently. Frank was sure that he had an authentic print from the original negative. Frank (along with many other UFO buffs) had already decided that the photo showed an “elliptical shaped craft.” But his “work” on the photo (eight years after the release of the print!) was still ongoing.
So stymied by Frank’s secrecy, I tried to locate the photos myself. I quickly determined that most of the LA Times photos had been turned over to the UCLA photo archives. I was able to get a coordinator there to do a cursory search for the photo but she was unable to find it. I could have paid to have a more thorough search done but I was only casually interested and didn’t want to spend the money. And anyway, I thought, ‘surely Frank isn’t trying to hide the fact that the negative is just in the collection where anyone would expect it to be. How dumb would that be?’
All of this conversation happened last year.
Flash-forward to 2011 and the release of the (apparently rather bad) science fiction film, Battle: Los Angeles. Over at the LA Times, Scott Harrison, a photographer, perhaps seeing an angle on the new film, decided to look into the original BOLA incident and the famous photo.
A researcher immediately located the negative in the the UCLA archive (damn it!) but even more interestingly, he located another negative! It seems the famous photo that appeared in the paper and was "analyzed" by UFO proponents wasn't real. It was a heavily retouched concoction: exactly what I warned Frank about a year earlier! The original unretouched (and unseen) negative was also found and looks much different than the published version.
"In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.
In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky.
Thus my conclusion: the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. But man, I wish the retouching had been more faithful to the original. With our current standards, this image would not be published."
Upon learning of this development, I admit that I was mad. If Frank had been more forthcoming, I might have pushed further in my search and uncovered all this myself. But since I would have been doing everything long distance, who knows?
I also admit that I was quite amused at how starkly Frank's protocol of not sharing information had made his solemn pronouncements of authenticity look supremely foolish.
With sad predictability, UFO buffs now say that they can see a different anomalous shape in the convergence of the lights of the real image. Bruce Maccabee, bravely hid his old (and now completely discredited) "analysis" of the retouched photo and substituted a new "analysis" of the real negative. Of course he still sees something in there.
And so it goes.
To his great credit, Frank immediately admitted his mistake but stands unrepentant for sticking to his protocol of not sharing information with other researchers. He says that he lives by this protocol.
The sheer hubris of having (and living by!) a protocol for not sharing information without apparently having any protocols for even insuring the authenticity of that infomation is amusing. But this is UFO "research" and so, par for the course.
For me this episode is sort of a snapshot example as to why so many consider UFOlogy a pseudoscience. And why it will always be that way.