Aug 08 2008

Hacker Claims Government UFO Coverup

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UFOs (shorthand for belief in extraterrestrial visitation – not just unidentified flying objects) have been in the news a bit recently. This is one of those pseudosciences that cycles in popularity, but never goes away. We have been in a down cycle recently, but perhaps we’re seeing a bull market in UFO news, energized by certain recent events. The first came from former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who claimed in an interview that he was “briefed” by NASA about their alien UFO cover-up.

The UFO community seems more excited, however, about a little-known British hacker named Gary McKinnon, whose hacker name is “Solo.” Recently his appeal to avoid being extradited to the US failed – so he will be coming to America and faces up to 70 years in prison. McKinnon claims that he hacked into many NASA, Pentagon and other military computers, using a dial-up modem, between 2001-2002 because he was trolling for evidence of a US government coverup of ET action – and that he has found it.

UFODigest has this to say:

In the past skeptics have been very vocal in their comments on UFOs. But recently have suddenly gone very quiet.

Could this be because several governments world wide are involved in damage limitation exercises and are now releasing? UFO files they swore for 60 years did not exist?

For this we need to thank one man, Gary McKinnon whistle blower and exposer of government lies. But he only touched the surface of what went on.

The claim that UFO skeptics have been quiet is nothing more than subjective validation – the skeptical community remains skeptical of UFOs and has been quick to point out the fallacies in the claims of Mitchell and McKinnon. But there is also an implication in this statement that skeptics are somehow in on the government cover-up – as if we know what’s coming.

This is consistent with the character of the hard-core UFO community – which is enthusiastically paranoid. Modern belief in UFOs is a mythology built upon distrust of all governments and authorities, the over-confident belief in a hidden reality, and an embrace of all-consuming paranoia.

McKinnon began hacking government computers specifically to look for evidence of a UFO cover-up. He believes that the US government knows aliens exist, that they have reverse-engineered alien technology, and that they are hiding free energy from the public. Not surprisingly he now claims that he found evidence for exactly that.

Where is his proof? Wikipedia sums it up:

In his interview with the BBC he also claimed that “The Disclosure Project” says there is “extra-terrestrial in origin and [they’ve] captured spacecraft and reverse engineered it.” He also claimed to have downloaded a low-resolution image of “something not man-made” and “cigar shaped” floating above the northern hemisphere. He said that unfortunately he did not manage to get a screenshot or recording of the image because he was “bedazzled” to see the image, could not remember the capture function in the software RemotelyAnywhere, and that he was “cut off” from his connection. It is also stated in a YouTube interview that McKinnon could not possibly have downloaded the images due to their size, as he was on a dial-up modem.

Skeptic who have dealt with UFO claims before are familiar with the routine – incredible claims from a believer are backed up only by excuses as to why actual evidence is not available. You would think one time in the last 60 years of the UFO phenomenon someone would have been able to capture an unambiguous photograph, or nab something truly extraterrestrial off a ship while being abducted, or not forget how to screen capture the smoking gun off a NASA website. Every single time truly convincing evidence is just out of reach.

The explanation above also has some holes in it. The claim is that McKinnon was able to view the image on his computer but could not download it because he was only on a dial-up. Well, I’m no computer expert, but I’m pretty sure you have to download an image in order to view it. That doesn’t mean you have to save a copy to your local hard drive – but the information has to be downloaded to your computer in order for you to view it. Try viewing a high-res picture on a website. The picture doesn’t just pop up instantly, you have wait while the picture is slowly downloaded. Once the entire picture is viewable you can then copy it quickly to your hard drive.

I also find it hard to believe that McKinnon – who was looking for evidence to copy and show to the world – was so taken aback when he found it that he forgot how to copy it. Also – this computer hacker who got into government websites couldn’t figure out how to access the information he was looking at? Once your browser renders a web page, it does not require an ongoing connection to display that information, it has it locally. The story doesn’t add up. It’s just another giant fish that got away tale.

I want to address the common UFO community claim that the government has “reverse engineered” UFO technology. I file this under, “no fu#@ing way.” The technology required to travel the vast distances from any other stellar system to the earth would be so far advanced beyond our current science and technology that we would not be able to make heads or tails of it. It would be more incomprehensible to us than a supercomputer would have been to Leonardo da Vinci. Even if da Vinci could have guessed some of the functions, he would not have had the tools to investigate a microprocessor, nor the science to understand the magnetic properties of a hard drive. Advanced technology is like a building, with the more advanced components being dependent upon the more basic pieces below. It requires an infrastructure with many sub-technologies all working together. Here we are on the third floor of the technology skyscraper looking at something from the 200th floor with no idea what is on all the floors in between. It would be hopeless.

Further, the attempt to even study advanced alien technology would require an army of experts from around the world – not a couple of nerds in a hidden lab in Area 51. Do not compare such an effort to the Manhattan Project – which was largely an engineering project based upon the known physics of the time. Exploring advanced unknown technology is a completely different animal.

So while the UFO community will have some fun crowing about McKinnon’s amazing revelations, they are really just another dud of empty claims, just like the Edgar Mitchell claims. Stories without hard evidence will never be convincing, and they shouldn’t be.

For me there is a very clear pattern, which is repeated so often it is practically a law of nature. It is an application of special pleading – extraordinary claims are backed up by only other claims and stories, but never hard and verifiable evidence. The lack of hard evidence is explained away each time by special excuses. Believers claim that it just so happens that their phenomenon has all the features necessary to render it impossible to verify (feel free to call this Novella’s Law). We see this with not only UFOs, but Bigfoot, ESP, life energy, and all other forms of woo and pseudoscience.

I also see this in more subtle forms in mainstream science – whenever data does not support a pet theory the natural reaction is to think of some special reason why this would be so, without invalidating your theory. This is OK as long as it is just used as a method of generating hypotheses – but then you have to test those hypotheses. The problem comes when you get into an endless chain of special pleading, but at the end of the day you have no actual evidence for your phenomenon. Occam’s Razor should then put an end to your claims.

The UFO community knows not of Occam.

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