MIND GAMES: ‘Mirage Men’, An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage & Psychological Warfare

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  • “…Mirage Men features testimony from true believers, close-encounter witnesses, airline pilots and highway patrolmen. But it is chiefly concerned with a more prosaic and earthbound conspiracy, which suggests that much key UFO folklore was deliberately fabricated by U.S. military insiders to discredit extraterrestrial investigators as unhinged cranks, thus deflecting attention from their own covert projects”
  • SM:...The larger question to ask here, is what would compel the government to mount such an extensive disinformation campaign to muddy the waters & discredit individuals – Unless it was to absolutely control the narrative in the hope of shielding a deeper more revealing truth….Time again will tell….

Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare

MIRAGE MEN takes you on a journey through the badlands and backwaters of America. Mark Pilkington and John Lundberg, based on their best-selling book, uncover a 60 year-old story stranger than any conspiracy thriller. For over sixty years, teams within the US Air Force and US intelligence services exploited and manipulated beliefs about UFOs and extraterrestrial visits as part of their counter-intelligence programs. In doing so they spawned a mythology so powerful that it captivated and warped many brilliant minds, including several of their own. Now, for the first time, some of those behind these operations, and their victims, speak out, revealing a true story that is part Manchurian Candidate and part Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Tantalizing documentary suggests UFO folklore was deliberately fabricated under a U.S. psychological warfare program.

Delving into the shadowy hinterland of delusion, deception and paranoia that fuels UFO mythology, this tantalizing British-made documentary has just had its world premiere at the tenth annual Doc/Fest in the northern English city of Sheffield. Mirage Men features testimony from true believers, close-encounter witnesses, airline pilots and highway patrolmen. But it is chiefly concerned with a more prosaic and earthbound conspiracy, which suggests that much key UFO folklore was deliberately fabricated by U.S. military insiders to discredit extraterrestrial investigators as unhinged cranks, thus deflecting attention from their own covert projects.

Never less than engaging and generally good fun, Mirage Men touches on some accidentally topical material, including the ethics of NSA snooping and secret unmanned drone aircraft. The evergreen theme, eccentric personalities and bizarre anecdotes here are strong enough to guarantee further festival slots following the documentary’s Sheffield debut. After that, television seems to be the most obvious platform, though the juicy subject matter and high-end production values may well attract niche theatrical business.

Mirage Men is distilled from the 2010 book of the same name by the British author Mark Pilkington, who is also involved here as writer, producer and onscreen talking head. The film’s focus is narrower, concentrating on the U.S., specifically a handful of well-known figures and events in UFO circles. One pivotal player in both the book and film is Richard Doty, a former counterintelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), who claims to have spent decades deliberately spreading disinformation about extraterrestrials: “weapons of mass deception,” as one interviewee memorably puts it. Another is ufologist and author William Moore, whose books include The Roswell Incident and The Philadelphia Experiment.

Doty and Moore initially seem plausible enough on camera, though they share a shadowy past. Both admit to feeding false information to Paul Bennewitz, a World War II veteran and electronics expert living alongside a USAF base in New Mexico. According to Doty, the NSA targeted Bennewitz in the early 1980s as a useful idiot in their black propaganda wars, beaming fake extraterrestrial messages into his house and planting bogus spaceship evidence on a nearby mountain range. Convinced he had uncovered an alien invasion plot, Bennewitz turned into a deranged version of Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, wrote warning letters to President Reagan, developed paranoid psychosis and was briefly institutionalized. Mission accomplished.

Many rich threads are woven into this colorful patchwork story: Apache folk myth, Cold War paranoia, macabre animal mutilations, top-secret stealth bombers and even an early experiment with fracking. Pilkington and his fellow directors maintain an admirably unsensational but agreeably playful tone, punctuating artfully eerie shots of the New Mexico desert with kitschy clips from vintage science-fiction thrillers.

Mirage Men takes a fascinating excursion into a twilight zone of wild conspiracies, obsessive believers and psychological double agents, even if the claims and counterclaims it stirs up never quite harden into solid investigative journalism. The open-ended finale is also disappointingly flat, leaving only the impression that USAF insider Doty is as slippery and deluded as any tinfoil-hatted UFO conspiracy nut. But Pilkington and his fellow filmmakers know their audience well. As with all paranormal myths, nobody really wants conclusive proof that little green men were fakes all along. The Truth is still out there.

Production companies: Perception Management

Producers: Roland Denning, Kypros Kyprianou, John Lundberg, Mark Pilkington

Starring: Richard Doty, William Moore, Gabriel Valdez, Robert Durant

Directors: John Lundberg, Roland Denning, Kypros Kyprianou

Writer: Mark Pilkington

Cinematographers: Zillah Bowes, Grant Wakefield

Editors: Kypros Kyprianou, Roland Denning

Music: Cyclobe, Urthona

Sales agent: Perception Management

85 minutes

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