How much do you know about UFOs? About Area 51? Maybe more to the point, how much do you think the government knows about these topics? Thanks to the efforts of one website—The Black Vault—we have more information than ever before about just what, exactly, the CIA knows about possible visitors from other planets—among other strange and unusual things.
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What is the Black Vault?
Since 1996, John Greenewald Jr. has been filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the government, pretty much all of them centered on just one thing: UFOs. Born in Tarzana, California, Greenewald got started when he was only 15 years old. His father was a welder who had worked on space shuttles and Mars landers, and Greenewald was fascinated by the stars.
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When he got online and read an account of a “mother ship” sighted over Tehran in 1976 on CUFON, the Computer UFO Network, he was hooked. Discovering that the account came about as part of a FOIA request, he decided to send his own. In no time, he was sending out dozens of FOIA requests at a time, and getting back reams of documents.
“There should be a repository for this kind of stuff on the internet,” Greenewald thought to himself, “an archive of government documents collected through FOIA.” There wasn’t, though—so he made one, and for a quarter of a century, he’s been the curator of the Black Vault, a website that archives declassified government documents obtained through FOIA requests.
He’s also hosted a podcast, produced numerous documentaries, and written two books. At the time of this writing, the Black Vault plays host to more than two million documents—many of them about UFOs and similar phenomena. In fact, having filed more than 10,000 FOIA requests, Greenewald believes that the Black Vault probably has the most complete record that exists of every report of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)—the official name given to UFOs and the like—ever investigated by the United States government.
More recently, the government itself got in on the act. When Congress passed their COVID relief bill in 2020, it included a provision that enforced a deadline for the CIA to turn over all documents related to UAPs for public consumption, leading the CIA itself to upload dozens of records to its public-facing FOIA Electronic Reading Room.
So, what kinds of stuff has Greenwald’s website and the recent CIA dump uncovered over the years? Included among the more than 2 million documents on the Black Vault website are some real humdingers, all of them obtained through FOIA requests. Here are a few of the most shocking discoveries waiting for those with the time and inclination to dig deep…
MKUltra: CIA Mind Control
While the Black Vault may be best known for its UFO documents, perhaps its greatest coup came in the form of a host of formerly classified documents concerning the illegal and long-rumored MKUltra program conducted in secret by the CIA from 1953 through 1973. For those who have never heard of it, MKUltra actually involved some 149 subprojects that were, in the words of the Supreme Court, “concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”
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In other words, they were researching mind control. What’s more, they were doing so on unwitting test subjects drawn from among American and Canadian citizens, who were often dosed with experimental drugs—including LSD and others—without their knowledge. Though the program ended in 1973 and the documents pertaining to it were ordered destroyed, an FOIA request in 1977 produced numerous records and led to a Senate hearing. In 2004, the Black Vault received additional documents related to MKUltra, the result of FOIA requests going back as far as the ‘90s.
The MKUltra collection on Black Vault contains thousands of files, originally received in unsearchable .tif formats and uploaded painstakingly into searchable PDFs. It has since proven to be one of the site’s most popular collections.
The Sasovo “Wonder Explosion”
Not every document trail uncovered by the Black Vault is as expansive as the thousands of documents pertaining to MKUltra. Take, for instance, the so-called “Wonder Explosion” that rocked the small Russian city of Sasovo in April of 1991.
“The shock wave roared down its streets, ripping off roofs in some areas and knocking out windows—even the frames—in a good half of the apartment blocks, buildings, and structures,” reads the document obtained by the Black Vault, seemingly a transcript from a Russian news report labeled “Incidents: Saltpeter Blown Up By UFO?”
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The report continues that “there are people who supposedly saw a moving, fiery sphere” around the time of the explosion. Whatever its source, the explosion left a crater 28 meters across and four deep about a mile outside the city—and a mystery that the document uncovered by the Black Vault’s FOIA request only hints at but never resolves.
Horrifying Extraterrestrial Revenge
Not all of the documents recovered by the Black Vault are… equally credible, shall we say? Take this one from 1993, which appears to be a transcript of a Russian newspaper Ternopil Vechirniy under the headline “Cosmic Revenge.” The article describes an attack on a Russian military unit conducting routine training maneuvers, resulting in a “horrific picture of revenge on the part of extraterrestrial creatures, a picture that makes one’s blood freeze.”
According to the report, the troops—perhaps inadvertently—fired a surface-to-air missile at a low-flying UFO, causing it to crash nearby and disgorge several short humanoids with “large heads and large black eyes,” which then “merged into a single object that acquired a spherical shape.” The sphere began to “buzz and hiss” and then grew larger and exploded in a burst of bright light. “At that very instant, 23 soldiers who had watched the phenomenon turned into… stone poles.”
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The remains of the craft and the petrified soldiers were supposedly transported to a “secret scientific research institution near Moscow.” What caused the remarkable petrification—assuming it happened at all? “Specialists assume that a source of energy that is still unknown to Earthlings instantly changed the structure of the soldiers’ living organisms, having transformed it into a substance whose molecular composition is no different from that of limestone.”
The report further quotes a CIA source as asserting that, “If the KGB file corresponds to reality, this is an extremely menacing case.” Given that the original report seems to make reference to the tabloid Weekly World News, however, such correspondence is probably quite unlikely.