Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for August, 2010

Trindade Island case photographer admits hoax


This Sunday, a major TV show in Brazil, “Fantastico”, aired a bombshell about the Trindade Island’s UFO (click for the original video and transcript in Portuguese). This is one of the most celebrated cases in ufology, so when a friend of the author of the famous photos, Almiro Barauna, tells in a recorded interview that she:

“heard from the photographer himself: he hoaxed the images, it was a montage. ‘He got two spoons, joined them and improvised a spaceship, using as background his home fridge. He photographed on the fridge door and object with a perfect lighting, because the calculated everything, he wasn’t dumb. He laughed a lot’, said Emilia Bittencourt.”

So this is a bombshell, especially because the TV show also reported that “Barauna’s files are with a niece, who didn’t want to record an interview, but she confirms the hoax.” A friend says she heard from the photographer details of how he hoaxed the world-famous UFO photos, and the niece who guards his files confirming it. A bombshell.

Since 2003 we have been calling attention to evidence that the photos may have been hoaxed, going from the inversion of the images of the UFO in different shots, to radical changes in background clouds while the elapsed time was claimed to be less than 20 seconds. In the years since then we have been ongoing on our research and found several new pieces of evidence, which will soon be presented in full.

Even so, the detail revealed by “Fantastico” and Bittencourt that the model used for the hoax was made up of two metallic spoons caught us by surprise – just as anyone else.


What a twist!

In another twist of the story, a little more than a day after the TV show aired, Barauna’s niece, through Jose Americo Medeiros, states that she actually didn’t confirm the hoax. And while some are already suggesting the TV show concocted the whole thing, one has to take all these statements with due caution.

I spoke with the responsible for the news report, Luiz Petry, an editor for more than a decade in one of the most viewed shows in the country. Petry has actually been the editor-in-chief of mostly all news reports about ufology from the beginning, being in close contact with researchers and knowing very well the field. And he stated very clearly that he stands by what has been aired: Barauna’s niece didn’t want to record an interview, but she did confirm the hoax to the TV show.

And while she is denying having said that, we still have Emilia Bittencourt’s clear statements of how she heard directly from Almiro Barauna how he hoaxed the photos. She may have more to say, and if she’s telling the truth, there may be other witnesses who also heard this story from Barauna, be they relatives or just close friends. Otherwise, her story, especially the details about how the hoax was accomplished may not hold up.

What we do know for certain is that Almiro Barauna did confess hoaxing a series of photos to fool a newspaper. And we are not talking about the “Mundo Ilustrado” humorous article where, four years before Trindade, he showed how to hoax flying saucer photos.

No, this was a confessed and deliberate hoax.


baraunatreasurehoax02“I sold a hoaxed story”

It was a spectacular success – and it was a trick”, says with a smile in his face Almiro Barauna on a video interview given in 1997 to Marco Antônio Petit, who sells it on a DVD. Barauna is referring to a series of four news reports about the alleged discovery of a buried treasure, complete with a chest and a skeleton.

We did this in agreement with Ubiratan Fernandes from ‘Cruzeiro’, Dalécio Vanderlei and another one. They were chatting on Cruzeiro that Calazans Fernandes [from ‘Tribuna da Imprensa’] was a very keen guy, that no one was able to fool” recalls Almiro.

I said ‘I will fool him’. I will make a trick and sell it to him. I did the trick and he bought it”, he says, again with a big smile in his face. “He then disliked me a lot”.

Barauna then say that Calazans, when the Trindade Island UFO photos showed up in 1958, tried to debunk him by publishing on ‘Tribuna da Imprensa’ details about his treasure chest trickery.

In fact, it was indeed a trick”, he admits once again. “But one thing had nothing to do with the other”, he concludes after thinking for a few moments.

You can see the subtitled video excerpt below, click on “cc” if the English subtitles don’t appear automatically.



Treasure chest hoax

Thanks to the work of historian Rodolpho Gauthier, you can see here three of the photos Barauna hoaxed for the treasure chest story. The alleged buried treasure in Espirito Santo was actually photographed in Saco de Sao Francisco in Niteroi, near his house, the skeleton was borrowed from the local Medical School and an old chest was used. Barauna himself appears in one of the photos, posing along with the hoaxed discovery.

By another amazing coincidence, besides having taught how to fake flying saucer photos shortly before Trindade, this fake tresure chest story was allegedly in Espirito Santo, but more precisely in Franceses Island. An island. Trindade Island, by the way, is also part of Espirito Santo state.

Another interesting coincidence is that as soon as he got authorization to sell the photos, he sold them to Diarios Associados, from the same folks of the Cruzeiro magazine with whom he concocted the treasure chest hoax. Cruzeiro magazine was also the responsible for the Barra da Tijuca hoax, which to end this series of coincidences in a full circle, was what Barauna was making fun of when he joked about how to create flying saucer photos.

But, there’s more. One could have the impression that Barauna revealed the treasure chest hoax shortly afterwards. But when the Trindade Island case reached the news in 1958, he stated to Jornal do Brasil:

Can you imagine, even that story about the treasure I photographed on Espirito Santo they say was blackmail”.

In 1997, Almiro Barauna, laughing a lot, finally admits that the treasure chest story was a hoax he photographed near his home, that “it was indeed a trick”. Did he confess the Trindade Island photos as a hoax to his family and friends? The bombshell may explode in stages. Or fizzle.


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[This story about Barauna’s treasure chest hoax had already been published in SUNlite in the beginning of the year. Now, with a video excerpt of the DVD “Caso Trindade” by Marco Antônio Petit, and the collaboration of Rodolpho Gauthier]

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Brazilian Air Force X-Files? What they didn’t tell you


This last Tuesday (10), the Brazilian Air Force Command published a regulation about “the recording and treatment of subjects related to ‘unidentified flying objects’” [full text at the end].

Ufologists have been hailing the regulation as “a major step to openly recognize the UFO Phenomena as serious and worthy of immediate actions in Brazil”, “a turning point in history to say the least”, as discussed on UfoUpdates.

In fact, the regulation points to the exact opposite direction. A press release by the Air Force makes it clear:

“the Air Force Command doesn’t have a specialized structure to conduct scientific investigations regarding these aerial phenomena. It restricts itself to recording these events and forwarding them to the National Archives”.

According to the release, the aim is to make these documents available to society, as in effect, the Brazilian Air Force (BAF) takes no responsibility on the subject beyond that.

The regulation isn’t really anything new”, says researcher Jeferson Martinho, responsible for Vigília, covering UFO information for more than a decade. “Even the press release is nothing new. In 2000, when former representative Joao Caldas tried to approve a project to end UFO secrecy, he received from the BAF the same reply”.


Open X-Files

Besides forwarding current and future UFO reports to the National Archives, the BAF has in fact already been releasing all past files to the same destination, in line with policies in the US, UK and other countries. As a matter of fact, the BAF just completed sending all UFO files it had until the end of the 1990s to open access at the National Archives, as Ademar Gevaerd confirms.

While in France and the UK the authorities went as far as making the files openly available for download through the Internet, in Brazil the files are just sent to the National Archives, as in the US, and private UFO groups are making them available electronically for easy access.

So, while the Americans have the “Project Blue Book Archive”, the Brazilian groups CIPEX and CBPDV, from the local UFO magazine, have files available for download in sites like “Fenomenum”. There anyone may download several folders and thousands of pages of documents.

This is an ongoing process developing for years, finally reaching a conclusion. Not much has changed. “As the secrecy policy hasn’t changed, COMDABRA may classify a document and there’s nothing in the regulation that would undo that”, evaluates Martinho. “I believe the transit of documents to the National Archive will keep following the same rules of limits and deadlines established by law”.


Air Force Minister falls for “Uranus” joke

So what is in those released files? Well, what one finds is actually extremely revealing, but not about aliens. It’s revealing about humans. In particular, those working as military men in Brazil.

The recent regulation revokes two previous ones about UFOs, and one of them just shocked this author. It’s note #C-002/MIN/ADM, April 13, 1978, signed by none other by then Air Force Minister Joelmir Campos de Araripe Macedo.

There, Minister Macedo recommends to the Higher Command the creation of a “secret UFO record, where phenomena would be archived chronologically … at the same time, an Evaluation Comission would give each record a grade of credibility”.

Later records, which make reference to this note, suggest that the recommendation was put into effect. The damning thing is, to give support to this recommendation, the Minister wrote that:

“Though speculations about UFOs date as long before as the existence of the humankind, acquiring traces of pure fantasy, the truth is that in the last years of the Second World War, in 1944, the Luftwaffe High-Command created a specific control to investigate several reports made by war pilots about UFO sightings. Said control was denominated ‘Sonder Buro Nr. 13’, and the codename was ‘Operation Uranus’.

I was shocked to read the terms “SonderBuro 13” and “Operation Uranus”, as I had read Kevin McClure’s work on the Nazi UFO Mythos. Quoting Andy Roberts:

“We have at least one outright hoax in foo-fighter lore. For years rumours had been flying round that the Germans had been fully aware of the foo-fighter phenomenon and that they had a special study group formed to look into the problem under the name of “Project Uranus”, backed by a shadowy group by the name of Sonderburo 13. This was first detailed in La Livres Noir De Soucoupes Volantes (The Black Book of Flying Saucers – 1970) by French ufologist Henry Durrant. … When I checked this out with Durrant he informed me that the whole “Project Uranus” affair was a hoax which he had inserted in his book precisely to see who would copy it without checking. The hoax apparently had been revealed in France some years before but hadn’t percolated its way through to English speaking ufologists.”

The hoax was revealed in English in Roberts book along with David Clarke, “Phantoms of the Sky” (1990). Clarke kindly confirmed the hoax and shared the letter Durrant addressed to Roberts:

“Here in France, when I informed [the] ufologists, by means of an ufological bulletin, that ‘Sonderbüro Nr 13’ was a trap, it was suddenly a real furor, and I was accused [of hiding] the truth and [of releasing] false information. … For me, it was very funny [and] very instructive, because I had there the [opportunity] to see where were the serious ufologists… and the others!”.


It seems almost unbelievable, but a Brazilian Air Force Minister fell for an Uranus joke, going as far as using it to recommend to the Higher Command the creation of a UFO investigation record. He didn’t check his source, a popular UFO book by Durrant, “and the fisherman has hooked his biggest fish”, as Clarke pointed.

Could there be a Great Cosmic Conspiracy when a Minister during military dictatorship sends a secret recommendation to the Higher-Command based on a joke? And yet, there’s more. Or less.


Severe lack of resources

During the year of 1977, UFO reports in the Amazon sparked panic among the locals, leading to the creation of the so-called “Operation Saucer” by the BAF. The Operation’s aim was to investigate the nature of the events, but contrary to what one would imagine for such an investigation dealing with cosmic secrets, the operatives dealt with many basic problems.

The written documentation of the Operation has already been officially released, and one of the most relevant excerpts comes from the conclusion of a report from September 1977:

“Our film and photographic records do not portrait our certainty [that the objects and lights are "driven by an intelligence"], because we lacked much technical and material resources and personnel. On other times, we lost the chance, photographing useless material. We believe that with better resources we could get to the reasonably acceptable.”

Why such a severe lack of resources? According to the Air Force Command, the operation was in fact the result of personal interest on the subject by some of its officers. That claim is supported by statements of the commander of the Operation, Uyrange Hollanda. He reminded that “it was very fortunate that at the COMAR I, at that time, in that region, there was an Air Force officer, a brigadier, who believed in flying saucers. Had it been another officer, another brigadier, maybe the Operation wouldn’t have happened.”

At the same interview Hollanda also complained that of four film rolls used to record UFOs, three were bought with his own pocket money but were nevertheless sent to the Air Force Minister. Later we revealed that many of the photos from this Operation were developed at one of the officer’s house, by his son, who hoaxed some of them as he was then just a teenager. Just as he told, mostly all known photos are useless because they lack any point of reference, being just cropped blobs of light.

According to the Social Communication Center of the Brazilian Air Force,

regarding the Operation Saucer, the Air Force has only the records based on the data given by one of the members of that activity. A report with many testimonies was produced, apparently with no scientific base”.

Indeed, the available reports are just a compilation of reports. There’s no scientific analysis of the cases. The Operation was cancelled soon afterwards.



Personal interest

Not only has the BAF released mostly all of its UFO files. Most of them were already known, due to previous leaks. And the unimaginable, almost as incredible as the Uranus joke, also happened. One ufologist had UFO files that the military themselves didn’t have.

The IV COMAR in Sao Paulo started a UFO investigation project called SIOANI in 1969, but it was later cancelled when a new brigadier “not very sympathetic with the subject” assumed the command. Like the comment by Hollanda of Operation Saucer, SIOANI was also related to personal interest by the local command.

But not only was SIOANI closed, its files would be lost due to lack of interest, and to avoid that an officer took them to his home. Secret UFO files held not in a Top Secret Archive, but an officer’s house. Later, ufologist Edison Boaventura managed to contact this officer, who donated them to him, and recently, Boaventura finally donated them to the National Archives.

The story of SIOANI was published here in 2008: “SIOANI”: How the Brazilian Air Force Investigated UFOs Officially

From Operation Uranus to UFO investigation projects relying in UFO believers at the command, to UFO files held at ufologists’ hands – and not the military – the story is very different from what one would expect of a Great Cosmic Conspiracy.


“The phenomena are solid and reflect a certain intelligence”

Of all the thousands of released pages so far the only document of greater interest involving aliens is an Event Report dated June 2, 1986. It’s interesting to note this report refers to the Minister recommendation involving Uranus, an indication that the UFO record and investigation measures were put into effect.

Authored by Air Brigadier Jose Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque. then temporary commander of COMDABRA, this report deals with a famous UFO event days before, involving several anomalous radar plots and scrambling of jet fighters, popularly known as the “Official UFO Night”, as the authorities later went on television admitting they scrambled after UFOs.

After a description of the events, the report’s conclusion is surprising:

“As a conclusion of the observed facts, in almost all events, this Command evaluation is that the phenomena are solid and reflect a certain intelligence, by its ability to follow and keep distance from observers, as well as flying in formation, not necessarily manned”.

Is this the smoking gun evidence the military recognize flying saucers?

This document, publicized with great fanfare by ufologists at the time it was released, does not represent the official nor the final position of the Air Force”, answers researcher Rogerio Chola, Brazilian Representative of NARCAP. “It’s simply an Event Report, in which the ‘conclusion’ was that of Brigadier Jose Pessoa. It’s not even a conclusion, it’s an opinion”.

Chola calls attention to the introduction of the report, which makes it clear that:

“Due to restrictions in time and specialized knowledge regarding facts of this nature, this Command decided to limit itself, within the operational sphere, to a simple narration of the facts, in a way not to give margin to speculations involving the Air Force Ministry.”

In a letter in 1991 to ufologist Rafael Cury, the BAF officially states that the actual conclusions, with

“all the technical treatment available … pointed to magnetic anomalies which became ‘plots’ (points in the control radar screens). In the case in question, all the military air defense apparatus was mobilized without a visual contact that justified the presence of such ‘plots’.”

The case is actually very interesting, and Chola himself considers it one of the most intriguing UFO cases in Brazil. But Albuquerque’s report mentioning “solid” and “intelligent” phenomena is far from being the BAF final evaluation of the events, being written only around a week afterwards, clearly stating in its introduction its own restrictions.

If one will believe what the BAF publicly replied five years later regarding “magnetic anomalies”, is subject to another discussion. But in short, no smoking gun here, far from it.



The Public Deceived

If there’s something that could be called a conspiracy, perhaps its the omission of important information and context by media outlets when dealing with the subject. The public may reach the exact opposite conclusion regarding what is actually happening. The Brazilian Air Force is not involving itself in the UFO subject, it’s not leading credibility to the subject. It’s the exact opposite.

While the BAF states very clearly it won’t investigate UFO reports and mostly all previous documents have already been released, with no extraterrestrial bombshell, what they actually reveal is that indeed there’s evidence to support the official position that there’s no “ specialized structure to conduct scientific investigations regarding these aerial phenomena”, and past projects dealt with lack of resources, depending mainly on personal interest by local commanders.

When the commanders changed, not only did these UFO projects end, even their files were not properly preserved. In a recent message, Gevaerd himself writes that the Operation Saucer film records may have been lost, and in fact, that he doesn’t know where they are.

There’s this false idea that if something is military, then it’s immune to error. I don’t think that’s right”, says Chola. “The Barra da Tijuca case, for example, where many Ufologists claim the Air Force investigated the case, in fact they didn’t. Who investigated it were some military officers who had an interest in the subject, leaded by cornel Joao Adil de Oliveira. And even being qualified officers, they managed to reach erroneous conclusions regarding this case”.

The officers actually endorsed the crude hoax, where even the shadows are not right.

Military officers are as prone to error as the rest of the population, and they may just as well believe in aliens and flying saucers. This is not limited to Brazil: to those laughing about an Air Force Minister and the Uranus hoax, not very different examples of gullibility can be found in France, where David Rossoni, Éric Maillot and Éric Déguillaume analyzed 30 years of official studies with very critical conclusions.

Even in the US, the first UFO investigation efforts such as Project SIGN were very similar to some of the Brazilian efforts, with its first conclusions favoring the idea of an extraterrestrial origin for UFOs. Similar examples can be found in some British cases. There are believers in the military, all over the world, but so far they seem as distant as the rest of us to any actual evidence of their beliefs.

As a Brazilian, I must remark that the recent BAF regulation revoked the Uranus recommendation, along with another note which also had a gullible tone, and now Brazil may be as good – or as bad – as other countries in the relationship between UFOs and authorities.

Not much has changed, not much has been revealed, apart from a few new interesting stories.

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[With thanks to David Clarke, Andy Roberts, Rogério Chola and Jeferson Martinho. Image at the top: sxc.hu/spekulator]

Dispõe sobre o registro e o trâmite de assuntos relacionados a "objetos voadores não identificados" no âmbito do Comando da Aeronáutica.
O COMANDANTE DA AERONÁUTICA, de conformidade com o previsto no inciso XIV do art. 23 da Estrutura Regimental do Comando da Aeronáutica, aprovada pelo Decreto nº 6.834, de 30 de abril de 2009,e considerando o que constado Processo nº 67000.001974/2010-61, resolve:
Art.1º As atividades do Comando da Aeronáutica (COMAER) relativas ao assunto "objetos voadores não identificados" (OVNI) restringem-se ao registro de ocorrências e ao seu trâmite para o Arquivo Nacional.
Art. 2º O Comando de Defesa Aeroespacial Brasileiro (COMDABRA), como órgão central do Sistema de Defesa Aeroespacial Brasileiro (SISDABRA), é a organização do COMAER responsável por receber e catalogar os registros referentesa OVNI relatados, em formulário próprio, por usuários dos serviços de controle de tráfego aéreo e encaminhá-los regularmente ao CENDOC.
Art. 3º O Centro de Documentação e Histórico da Aeronáutica (CENDOC) é a organização do COMAER responsável por copiar,encadernar, arquivar cópias dos registros encaminhados pelo COMDABRA e enviar, periodicamente, os originais ao Arquivo Nacional.
Art.º Esta Portaria entra em vigor na data de sua publicação.
Art. 6º Revoga-se a Nota No C-002/MIN/ADM, de 13 de abril de 1978 e o Aviso No S-001/MIN, de 28 de fevereiro de 1989.
Ten.-Brig. do Ar JUNITI SAITO

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Solar System in 30 Megapixels


French artist Licoti created a breathtaking artwork representing our Solar System, 30.000 pixels long. Above, a very small part, click to download the full 18Mb file on Wikimedia, or navigate to the infinite and beyond through the video below.

[via Byte que eu gosto]

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Self-fulfilling prophecy


“Last fall, on Oct. 8, Gennady Osipovich met with a Gypsy woman to have his future told. He became enraged when the self-proclaimed clairvoyant informed him that he was bound for a "kazyonny dom," or "state-sponsored house," a Russian slang term for prison, regional prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.

Osipovich proceeded to employ dubious logic, according to the prosecutors. In order to prevent this fortune from coming true, Osipovich tried to kill the woman. He pulled out a knife and stabbed her, though she managed to escape.

Tragically, two witnesses were unable to flee in time. Osipovich stabbed each of them repeatedly, and the victims died of the knife wounds, investigators said.

Prosecutors said Osipovich was sentenced to 22 years in a maximum security prison.” [Moscow Times]

As incredible as the story is, and as skeptical as we usually are of such, here’s a link for an official website (in Russian) with confirmation. [via Marginal Revolution]

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Revisiting the Afghan Girl


This is off-topic for the blog, but it’s just so beautiful, interesting and relevant that I couldn’t help but post about it. You may recognize the photo above, as it’s one of the most famous and celebrated photographs in recent times, captured by Steve McCurry in June 1984. The Afghan Girl was only identified almost twenty years later and photographed again as Sharbat Gula, already a 30 year-old woman.

Only thing is, this is not just a retouched version of the original photograph, it’s a recreation done with computer graphics. Artist Hyun Kyung Up used Z-Brush, 3D Max and Photoshop to “express [McCurry’s] exquisite pieces of art work”.

Below, screenshots from the modelling process:


This recreation is beautiful, but I especially admired the partial frontal view of her face. As it turns out, Sharbat Gula was only photographed three times in her life: first by McCurry in 1984, and then in 2002 two times, as part of the search for her and then finally, the third photo again by McCurry. She only saw her famous portrait in 2003.

Hyun Kyung Up may have recreated another view of a youthful and haunting beauty that was forever lost.

26 years later so much have changed, and yet, so little. In the west, where a piercing beauty called attention for the plight of refugees during Soviet occupation, now another magazine has published a shocking cover portrait of another pretty young woman, but horribly disfigured. The intended message was very different.

This is not a political blog and I will not defend any simplistic position on such complex issues. I just had to share this fascinating reinterpretation of beauty with the aid of technology, and couldn’t help but mention some of the many thoughts that this art may inspire.

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[Suggested by Paulo Dias on Ciencialist. Also discussed on ZBrushCentral]

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