On April 21, 2011 the National Security Agency posted documents from their Technical Journal which had some interesting articles about extraterrestrials. Some have assumed that these documents were pertaining to messages received from extraterrestrials, an easy mistake to make with article titles such as “Key to the Extraterrestrial Messages.” These documents are actually related to exercises for practicing deciphering coded messages that extraterrestrials may send us in the future. However, there is still a story here, because these exercises were started by a prominent NSA cryptologist who believed more attention needed to be given to the investigation of UFOs and the possibility that we may be contacted soon.
The cryptologist was Lambros D. Callimahos, his biography can be read in the NSA’s Hall of Honor, which he was inducted to in 2003. They state that Callimahos, “played a crucial role in shaping cryptologic development at NSA.” He had developed a special class, designated CA-400, for elite cryptanalysts, if they passed they would become members of what was labeled the Dundee Society. The group’s real purpose was so secret that it was named after an empty Dundee marmalade jar he kept his pens in on his desk.
The recent NSA Technical Journal articles were actually obtained by UFO researchers in 2004, through freedom of information act requests. I first became aware of them watching a lecture by John Schuessler, one of the original recipients. In the winter of 1966 issue of the journal, Callimahos wrote an article titled, “Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” This was the dawn of what would later become the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and Callimahos discussed the work of Dr. Frank Drake, who had shown that the possibility of life in space was actually very large. Callimahos went so far as to state, “Unless we’re terribly conceited (a very unscientific demeanor), we must assume that the ‘others’ are far more advanced than we are.”
As a cryptologist, his interest was in the NSA’s ability to decipher any signals we might receive, and in his article he stated that, “once we receive a recognizable signal, we have a good chance of understanding the message.” He then goes into technical cryptological terms and discusses the different types of technology that they may be using to send signals, many of which we have not mastered. In the last portion of the article he gives an example, a hypothetical extraterrestrial message based on the raster principle created by Bernard M. Oliver. He discusses how to decipher the example given by Oliver, and cites other similar exercises on deciphering hypothetical extraterrestrial messages.
In the next NSA Technical Journal, spring 1966, a follow up article was written by Dr. Howard H. Campaigne, titled, “Extraterrestrial Intelligence”. It begins:
“In the most recent issue of the NSA Technical Journal- Vol. XI, No. 1 Mr.Lambros D. Callimahos discussed certain aspects of extraterrestrial intelligence and included several messages to test the reader’s ingenuity. In the following pages, Dr. H. H. Campaigne offers additional communications from outer space.”
The “messages”, we now know, were the hypothetical extraterrestrial messages. The article then goes on to describe the extraterrestrial message that, in the context of the Callimahos article, we know to be further hypothetical messages to test “the reader’s ingenuity.” Unfortunately, they do not appear to be referring to real messages received by extraterrestrials.
To add further confusion, in the winter of 1969 NSA Technical Journal, an article titled, “Key to Extraterrestrial Messages” was published. This referred to the test message that Dr. Campaigne had proposed in his article, and was just that, a key to the exercise.
Although these messages do not appear to be real extraterrestrial messages, Callimahos did have a strong interest in the subject. A declassified secret document can be found on the NSA website titled, UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions. This was a paper written by Callimahos in which he argues that the UFO phenomenon and possible extraterrestrial interaction should be taken much more seriously. He reviews how there are credible witnesses whose experiences cannot be written off.
Up until this time, the leisurely scientific approach has too often taken precedence in dealing with UFO questions. If you were walking along a forest path and someone yells, “rattler” your reaction would be immediate and defensive. You would not take the time to speculate before you act. You would have to treat the alarm as if it were a real and immediate threat to your survival. Investigation would become an intensive emergency action to isolate the threat and to determine its precise nature – It would be geared to developing adequate defensive measures in a minimum amount of time.
While these documents may not be the smoking gun to show the NSA had extraterrestrial secrets that they are now revealing, it does demonstrate the excitement among their cryptologists at the genesis of the effort to listen to extraterrestrial signals. It is an interesting behind the scenes view to the momentum that grew into the SETI project, especially at a time when funding hampers SETI’s ability to listen in on our comic neighbors.