Friday, October 21, 2016

Spies and Saucers

Spies and Saucers

By Scott Corrales
(c) 2016

The “mad scientist” working alone in a laboratory – a dank subterranean facility laden with electrical equipment and beakers of strange liquids – is a one of the most recognizable tropes in the written and visual field. From Doctor Frankenstein in his many incarnations, summoning lightning from the heavens to animate his creation, to Captain Nemo in his unassailable submarine, to even the humorous depiction of the scientist Hans Zarkov by Topol in Flash Gordon (1980), it is an image that has been with us and which we have come to accept without question.

“There was this fear, because of the bomb,” says psychologist Stuart Vyse, “of the power of science to create fearful creatures or to harm us in some way. That’s the equivalent of the typical villains, Halloween movie villains’ superhuman strength or unusual power. Science has that too. And so I think that’s part of the reason why scientists are sometimes placed in that fearful role.” (Cari Romm, The Enduring Scariness of the Mad Scientist, Atlantic Magazine, 10.29.2014).

In the UFO field we come across the mad scientist and his inevitable counterpart, the mad inventor. The latter works alone, avoids kidnapping hapless passerby for experiments (one hopes) and is bent on creating a machine, substance or device that will revolutionize human transportation or at least not get rejected by the patent office. William Cooper - of MJ-12 fame - wrote extensively about Thomas Townsend Brown, the inventor who began his work on anti-gravity as early as the 1920s in his home laboratory (where else?) and failed in his effort to interest the faculty at the California Institute of Technology in his discoveries. Two decades later, the indefatigable Brown was still at it, trying to convince military and industry alike about the usefulness of his "electrogravitics" to power military and civilian aviation, and even spacecraft.

Roughly around the same time that Townsend was at his most active, a World War I aviator named W.H.S. Ashlin was approaching the government of Chile with a most usual offer. Ashlin’s offer to build a “flying saucer” for the Royal Air Force, where he had proudly served, had been rebuffed; he now turned to the Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army with a similar offer. Roberto Banch mentions this in his Guia Biográfica de la Ufología Argentina (Buenos Aires: CEFAI, 2000), adding that aside from a mention in Chile’s La Nación newspaper, no further mention is made of Ashlin or his technological marvels. One is tempted to think about the Anglo-Chilean wizard “Manuel O’Bean” from Michael Moorcock’s The Wizard of the Air.

“Mad scientists” were not in short supply across the Andes. Juan B.Leone of Argentina’s Escuela de Bellas Artes had already come up with his own flying saucer – a propeller-driven, circular device that was presented to his country’s military -- in 1944 with little success. A photo of the inventor and his simple yet effective device appeared in the Argentinean press (La Razón) in 1947.
Banch’s compilation of intriguing inventions inspired by saucer-shapes does not end here. He includes a statement from Julio Ruiz, a technician with the Post and Communications Office, stating that “the flying disk” had been in existence in Argentina since 1941. While no illustration is provided, the device in question is described as having the shape of a disk with an engine providing “vertical and horizontal motion, a rudder and an aileron”.

The “war years” of the 1940s offer researchers a treasure trove of unusual and unexpected information. One such is Dossier 1093/258 of the British Foreign Office, dated 4 April to 23 July 1943 and bearing the title: “Agents (Enemy): Eduardo Rogada Quintinho, Artur Viana Dos Santos; Oscar Liehr, Niles Christensen”. The folio contains military correspondence about the measures to be taken against enemy agents at large in the countries that had remained neutral during the war. One missive deals with “the transportation to Trinidad of Nils Christensen, a German agent detailed in Brazil”.
Christensen was a particularly lucky catch for the Allies, as his Brazil-centered espionage network kept tabs on British shipping operations from the ports on the Brazilian coast down to Buenos Aires itself, aiding and abetting the sinking of tonnage by submarines. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command (, “this was the most successful period of German espionage in the Western Hemisphere.”

This notorious spy becomes of interest to ufology for a single reason. When put on trial for espionage in Brazil, he claimed to be “the inventor of the flying saucer”, adding that between 1939 and 1941, while employed in the research division of the Wermacht’s 10th Army, he had invented “flying saucers” as observation devices, capable of being produced quickly and cheaply. A boast aimed at unnerving his captors? Or had the spy actually played a role in the creation of man-made saucers?