Leslie Kean, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record (Three Rivers Press, 2011).

I read Leslie Kean’s book a few months ago but haven’t gotten around to a review until now. Readers should not take that delay as a sign of my own reticence or the book’s quality. UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On the Record has earned a place on my (very) short list of books I’d recommend to anyone who is either new to the UFO subject, perhaps thinking it a waste of intellectual time, or those who want to read only serious material. In short, this was a very good read and worth the time invested.

As other reviewers have noted, the content of Kean’s book is restricted to the testimony and opinions of a select group of experienced pilots and high-ranking government officials and military brass whose positions put them at the forefront of official UFO investigations in their airspace. Several also have scientific backgrounds. In a nutshell, if one wanted to arbitrarily assemble a “dream team” of serious, technical witnesses to UFO phenomena, it would look a lot like the panoply of individuals featured in Kean’s book. Examples include Major General Wilfrid de Brouwer (tasked with the military investigation of the Belgian UFO wave of 1989 and 1990) and Captain Julio Miguel Guerra of the Portuguese Air Force, whose testimony of a harrowing experience chasing a UFO that ultimately (and literally) flew circles around his fighter jet in 1982. The episode was also witnessed by another pilot.

Due to the nature of the witnesses involved, Kean’s book is not propelled by speculation, weird theories of alien visitation, overly technical descriptions of UFO aerospace capabilities, or conspiracy theories. The recollections are mercifully void of breathless histrionics and New-Agey pablum about aliens so common in other UFO books. The book features highly credible people telling their stories, part of which involve the inner workings of how real government agencies pursue UFO investigations — collecting evidence and analyzing that evidence. The book is committed to factual reporting, something not surprising given Kean’s background as an investigative journalist.

Beyond the reports of the experiences of her star witnesses, Kean spends several chapters discussing the questions that naturally arise from such material. These chapters feature coherent discussion of the efforts to debunk the events in which the witnesses were involved. This is a strength of the book. The weak point of the book, in my view, is Kean’s chapter outlining an action plan that governments ought to follow if they are serious about investigating the phenomenon with a goal toward some sort of resolution. The points of the plan are, on the whole good ones, but Kean is naively optimistic, especially in respect to the current American administration. If Kean spent a tenth of the time looking at the faux transparency of the current administration, she’d temper her optimism. But that is a minor complaint.

Kean’s book is also a very good illustration of why I don’t think that the case for an ET presence is a slam dunk for the UFO phenomenon, even with this cadre of witnesses. That may sound odd. Time and again, those witnesses who come down on the side of the ET explanation do so on the basis of one, and only one, argument: the technology they have witnessed. Since these witnesses know of no analogy to the technology in their own military hardware, or that of other nations they have witnessed, they feel compelled to opt for the ET explanation. I find this understandable, but not coherent or compelling.

Ultimately, the technology argument requires omniscience of the witnesses. Those of us who listen to them and take them as truth-tellers (and I do) are required to believe that since they know of no human analogy for the technology, then none must exist. That is an argument from silence. That argument also cannot be used as proof for ETs since that would mean it seeks to prove something on the basis of what it is assuming. In other words, it is circular (“There must be aliens because the UFOs I’ve seen must be using alien and not human technology”). This is, bluntly, bogus logic. But it’s a genuine, natural response. I seek only to point out its ultimate inefficacy, not to criticize it for its own sake.  And that is where we are. We cannot know for sure (and neither can these witnesses) that if human technology of this sort existed, they would surely know about it. That’s just a guess, and one with a tiny bit of ego infused. We also cannot be sure that nations would share such technology if they had it with their allies. History is filled with such inconsistencies, as military-industrial complexes habitually want to maintain advantages.

So what does Kean’s book give us beyond lots of credible witness testimony? In sum, while it cannot prove the ET hypothesis, it at least informs the reader that, while an explanation for them is not immediately forthcoming and satisfactory, UFOs are demonstrably real and deserving of serious study.