Cable channel suing NASA over UFO documents
Tue 21 October, 2003 09:32 BST
By Michael Learmonth
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The truth is out there, and the Sci Fi Channel is determined to find it, even if that means suing NASA, the Department of Defence, the U.S. Army and Air Force for documents related to unidentified flying objects.
Sci Fi, a U.S. cable channel that airs fictional programming such as Battlestar Galactica, as well as documentaries that explore the line between fact and science fiction, is part of a group pressuring the federal government to de-classify UFO information.
Last year Sci Fi joined forces with an investigative journalist, a Washington, DC law firm, and former President Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, to gain release of documents relating to an incident it calls "the new Roswell," a UFO sighting in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania in 1965.
"Now, one year later, despite serious effort to uncover the facts, NASA and the Department of Defence are still maintaining their wall of silence," said Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. "Whether or not this has anything to do with UFOs the public has the right to know."
Now the Sci FI Channel is supporting what could turn into a series of lawsuits, first against NASA and then against the Department of Defence, the Army and Air Force, to get classified documents released to the public.
The group said it expects to file the suit against NASA within a week. Representatives from NASA and the Department of Defence were not immediately available for comment.
NASA was chosen as the first agency to be sued because SCI FI and the groups' attorney, Lee Helfrich of the Washington, DC-based firm, Lobel, Novins and Lamont, believe that they've fully exhausted their administrative options with the agency, a prerequisite for a judge to agree to hear the case.
While news organisations routinely pursue Freedom of Information Act requests with the government, it's relatively rare for a cable channel, especially one focused on fantasy, not the gathering of news, to pursue such a course of action.
But Hammer sees a great deal of programming potential in pursuing government documents related to UFO sightings, part of the channel's effort to "find the line between science fiction and science fact."
"As we grow the channel, this will become more and more important," Hammer said.
In December 1965, residents of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania watched a fireball descend into a heavily-forested area 40 miles from Pittsburgh. That night the area was cordoned off by the military, trucks and helicopters came and went, and the town was briefly placed under martial law.
The next day, headlines in the Greensburg, Pennsylvania Tribune-Review read "Unidentified Flying Object Falls Near Kecksburg" and "Army Ropes Off Area," but residents of Kecksburg were never told why the military cordoned off the area and what, if anything, was found.
The results of Sci Fi's new investigation into the incident will air Friday in a documentary hosted by Bryant Gumbel called "The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed."
In Kecksburg it hired a forestry expert from West Virginia University who discovered growth patterns and core damage to trees there that support a "traumatic event" in 1965.
Sci Fi, a unit of Vivendi Universal, is among the assets recently sold to General Electric Co.'s NBC. Hammer sees the integration with a network news operation as a potential boon for Sci Fi's newsgathering efforts.
"If it's something that seems credible, absolutely," said Hammer on the potential of working with NBC journalists. "But we're not going to do it just to create buzz."
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