Whitley Strieber with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Index magazine, Sept/Oct 1997, vol.2 no.4
Whitley Strieber ranks among my most extraordinary and eccentric friends. When we first met in the early 1980s he had written The Hunger - which was made into a movie starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie - and Wolfen. I remember Whitley telling me how intelligent wolves really are. I found him to be very intelligent too. Later I photographed him for Warday, his book about the aftermath of nuclear war.
Whitley is probably best known for his revolutionary book, Communion, which was followed by Transformation and other books about close encounters. This body of work has placed him beyond the extreme of leading edge underground thinking, and we have spent many hours together discussing his visitors.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders: I guess the first time we talked about the visitors dates back to ...
Whitley Strieber: That would have been late ' 85, right after Christmas.
TGS: You called up and asked if my in-laws had ever had any odd experiences up in Stone Ridge. And you said, Well, anything strange in the sky? I said, No I'll ask them, but why? And you said, Well, I was abducted by aliens the other night. Although I don't know if you used those words - abducted by aliens.
WS: No, I was guarded at the first conversation. Because it sounded so crazy.
TGS: But I'm so open to the possibility that it just didn't shock me that much.
WS: It shocked me. It was horrible. I mean, my flesh crawls at the memory of it, even now.
TGS: What was that experience like?
WS: It was like being grabbed into the nest of gigantic insects or something. It was just absolutely repellent. It was much worse than a nightmare. It happened on the night of December 26th, 1985. And over the following weeks, I struggled to figure out what it was, most of which involved going to the doctor. I wasn't really willing to believe, out of hand, that I had been abducted by aliens, although that's what it seemed like. I was more concerned about my mental health, and whether or not I had a brain tumor or something.
TGS: And it turned out you didn't?
WS: I was perfectly healthy. I didn't have temporal lobe epilepsy or any other disease that causes hallucinations. Not only that, all the testing that was done showed that my brain was unusually stable.
TGS: I remember asking my in-laws if anything odd had ever happened up there, and not expecting them to mention anything bizarre . But they said, Yes, as a matter of fact, we remember recently some incredibly bright lights appearing over the house in the middle of the night.
WS: Oh, my goodness!
TGS: And coming from them, I was kind of shocked because they're the last people I expect to ever say something weird like that had ever happened. But, in fact, they described a very powerful light that could not be explained, that was over the barn and ever the house, in the middle of the night, that awakened them.
WS: They're like, two miles from me.
TGS: It seems there was a lot of activity in that area.
WS: After I published my book, I thought that all my neighbors would be just horrified.
TGS: This is Communion we're talking about?
WS: Yeah. But not only was nobody in the least surprised, most of them were eager to tell me what had happened to them. The most interesting one was a State Trooper. I guess he's retired new. But about a year after my experience, he said, You know, Whitley, something happened during that time that could have involved you. We were coming home on Lucas Highway - which is not even a mile from the house - it was about three in the morning, and I saw what looked to me like the Goodyear Blimp hanging in a field beside the road.
WS: And he said, I was concerned because I thought I ought to stop and render aid. I thought that it had crashed.
WS: He was off duty, and with his wife, and she immediately became very frightened and wanted him to keep going. Then, when they stopped and they rolled down the windows, they could hear human screams coming from this thing. And he got out of the car and started across the field, whereupon it lit up with lights all over it and began moving rapidly towards him - it obviously wasn't in any distress. And he said, I became frightened, and I got back in the car and we drove off as fast as we could.
TGS: How do you explain this mixture of awe and excitement? You're terrified for your life, but it's so fascinating that it draws you in. I mean, to hear screaming On the other hand, you did survive it.
WS: I think that it would probably be equally fascinating to go to Hell, but you would want to be able to leave. This was like entering a world which had absolutely no place for me at all. And to this day, I'm not certain about what ever it was that happened because I don' t have any physical proof that this did happen. There's no video of it. There's a supporting witness, but who's to know what he really saw? Maybe he just made the story up, although I would be surprised.
TGS: What I find so fascinating is that these experiences are so similar world-wide. There's a common experience to an enormous extent.
WS: That's true. And it's not the details that are similar, but the overall structure of the experience.
TGS: How do you account for that?
WS: It suggests to me that there's some-thing unknown going on, that probably needs some serious scientific study. The overall structure of the situation suggests a presence here that is independent of the human mind, and it's something we don't understand at all. I don't think it necessarily suggests the presence of aliens.
TGS: But a lot of people certainly do.
WS: Well, they assume so, but that may only be because we don't have the words to articulate what's actually happening. It's not reported much in the UFO litera-ture, but the fact remains that we get many letters from people who have close encounters of the classic kind in connection with the presence of the ghosts of dead friends and relatives. And that means that there are major aspects of this experience that we're not understanding.
TGS: Give me an example of that.
WS: I'll give you a specific story. A man and his wife are in their living room. They have their dog with them, asleep in front of the fireplace. Upstairs, in a bedroom asleep, is their ten-year-old son. Ten o'clock at night. Suddenly the dog becomes restless - which is very unusual. And the wife decides to take the dog outside. She opens the front door and sees a ball of light shoot away from the house, across the trees. She turns to her husband, who is in the airline industry, thinking that he's going to be called because there's been an air crash. Then, their ten-year-old comes rushing down the stairs, saying, Mommy, daddy, little blue men came into my bedroom and they had Eddie - his older brother - with them, and he said to tell you that he's all right. Now, what makes this so astonishing and why it deeply moved this family, was that the older brother had died in an auto accident a week before. Now, this suggests to me that if contact with aliens is part of this, then a new kind of contact with human beings is also part of it.
TGS: Couldn't that just have been a dream the boy had?
WS: But what about the light?
TGS: The light ... I can't explain.
WS: Exactly. And the little blue man, those strange little dark blue figures, I've seen them with my own eyes.
TGS: That's a vision that has been worldwide.
WS: Absolutely. The little blue men with big black eyes,
and a couple of other forms. But the actual structure of the experience
does not look like alien contact. It looks like contact with some
thing that is presently totally
TGS: So how do you explain the government's obsession with keeping this quiet? Do you think it's just too horrifying a thought for the world?
WS: Well, I don't think so. To give you an example of the problem - recently, over Phoenix Arizona there were extensive sightings in early April, of UFOs maneuvering in formation over the city, that were videotaped by hundreds of people. And seen by tens of thousands of people. This was even carried on the evening news. I believe it was reported by Dan Rather at one point, but not extensively covered. And certainly not covered in any of the press that's made a commitment to believe this is all nonsense, primarily the print media, like The New York Times. And the Air Force base in he area issued a statement to the effect that they were just flares. Now, the problem is that anyone who saw them knew that was simply not true.
TGS: So it creates an environment of total distrust?
WS: Well, it breaks down the credibility of the Air Force, and drives a wedge between the ordinary person and the government. It's a very unhealthy response, but that's what they say because they don't have an answer. Although it's the Air Force's job to know what is going on in our air space. They don't have any more of an answer about UFOs today, in my opinion, than they did fifty years ago.
TGS: I mean, this is the fiftieth anniversary of Roswell, but with all our progress and technology, we still have no idea ...
WS: It did the same thing to the gov-ernment that it's done to the individual. That is to say, at first It seems like some kind of nonsense. But you look a little harder, and it looks like contact with aliens. Then you look a little harder than that, and you end up in a state of complete question - you don't know what the heck could be going on. And I have a feeling that's probably what happened to the government. The difference is that they recovered actual physical materials that, at first seemed to be something along the lines of the remains of alien acecraft, but later came to seem at more enigmatic, and they just don't know what they've got.
TGS: Does that material still exist? Was it destroyed?
WS: I don't know if it still exists or not. My uncle, Colonel Edward Strieber, was involved in the cataloging of the material at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio in 1947.
TGS: That's kind of an amazing coincidence .
WS: It's strange, but it's another example of why I'm saying that we don't understand what this experience is actually about. I doubt if it's coincedence. I think it probably very much part of the whole structure of the thing.
TGS: And maybe why you're involved in all of this?
WS: Probably ... yeah. In any case, he introduced me to the man who had been his closest friend and commanding officer for many years, General Arthur Exon. The two of them had been heavily involved in this whole buisiness. And my uncle died, unable to tell his wife anything about his career. He told me more than he had ever told anyone else, and it was pitifully little.
TGS: You had written Communion at that point?
WS: Yes, and he presented himself after I wrote Communion. And based on conversations I had with him and General Exon, which weren't very detailed, but sort of pointed me in the right direction, and on my own research, I wrote the novel, Majestic, which is about the Roswell incident - I think that the incident may have represented something that looked like alien contact, but was actually something else.
TGS: What else could it have been? The government said it was a balloon or something.
WS: Oh , they had a weather balloon, then a radar device, a secret weather balloon. I forget exactly what it was. That's been put out officially, but I don' t think anyone behind the scenes believes that. I know Congressmen Schiff certainly didn't believe it, nor did any of the General Accounting Office people I was aware of. Even Cav Cavett, who was the CIC officer on the station, when he was questioned by the GAO, he said something like, Nothing unusual happened out there at all, but if you find anything, you won't tell, will you? What that meant, I think, was that he was obligated not to talk and did not want to. Even now, even though he does know the secret of Roswell.
TGS: He's still alive?
WS: Very much so.
TGS: So what are the possible scenarios of what really happened there?
WS: Well, it gets to discoveries that have been made very recently about the nature of space/time. Two things have been discovered. One is that both signals and materials can move faster than light, and therefore, as Stephen Hawking said in October '93, movement in time must be possible also. Because faster-than-light travel necessarily involves movement backwards through time, this means that it's theoretically possible for someone to invent a time machine.
TGS: Theoretically possible?
WS: Yeah. But it has been postulated that time travel is impossible because of the grandfather paradox.
TGS: Which is what?
WS: If you could go back, you could kill your own grandfather, and since you can't do that, and it never happened, time travel must not be possible. Last year, however, a Russian physicist proved with equations that other physical principle, the principle of least action, actually guarantees that the grandfather paradox can never be con-fronted. In other words, time travel is possible, but it would take more energy than exists in the universe for you to kill your own grandfather. And it may be that this whole thing could be an attempt on the part of the future
TGS: Time travel?
WS: to communicate with us. And in fact, there could easily be an institute, or a whole section of some sort of future U.N. devoted to doing nothing but changing the past in order to make the present better.
TGS: But why deal with us?
WS: Because what if this future is only fifty or a hundred years from now? We may be talking about people who are alive today, and just don't realize what they're doing, what they will be doing in the future. See what I mean?
TGS: I do.
WS: And it could be an attempt on the part of the world to save itself from the consequences of things that we're doing now that we don't know are dangerous. That's just one of many scenarios, and it would be true that the presence of the grandfather paradox, as a bar to extensive invasion of past time, would mean that the time travelers would appear to us in very chaotic and equivocal ways. They would seem almost as if you could change them by the way you looked at them - They would not be fixed in reality because they would recede from any situation in which they would violate the grandfather paradox. So goodness only knows what they would actually look like to us - It may be that they even induce the assumption that they're aliens in order to give themselves more freedom of action.
TGS: Tell me about how your life changed from that moment. I know you became something of a cult figure, and there were drawbacks to that. You were certainly attacked by the press enormously.
WS: It was a nightmare. I'm living now in San Antonio, Texas, and I am socially a little bit more accepted here. In New York, after I published Communion, I was completely ostracized by the literary community. Our son's school began to persecute him because of me. We became victims of bullies in banks, tax authorities, agents, accountants - people who had a lot of free-floating anger and jealousy, which everybody has. They could justify slapping me round because they could tell themselves, well, he's some kind of fraud and he's making a lot of money from it.
TGS: Which is not really the case.
WS: Not at all. In fact, if I had stayed writing fiction I would be a wealthy man today, which I'm not by any stretch of the imagination.
TGS: On the other hand, I know when you go to speak about this experience, it's almost like you're a rock star. People are there just to touch you.
WS: I know, it's true. Sometimes people will bring their children up to touch me. It's quite weird. And to me it represents a failure of science when that happens. It's not something I think is good or approve of at all. It's the same failure of science that is, I think, directly responsible for the killing of the Heaven's gate 39. I regard that as social murder, not as suicide.
TGS: Tell me what you man by that.
WS: They were murdered by the indifference of the world around them. There should have been public and effective scientific inquiry into this whole area years and years ago, so that we would have some kind of basis of understanding, and it wouldn't devolve into mythologies and cult. I think it's a shame.
TGS: So what you're saying is that by the goverment's trying to suppress any discussion of it as a real phenomenon, it pushes it into the world of cults and kooks.
WS: But I wouldn't necessarily pin that on the goverment. I think the government's probably in a very confused state about this. And the reason is that in the early days of it, which is when I suspect that most of the physical evidence became available, the compartmentalization and the secrecy were so strict that the knowledge of this died out in the government. I don't think there's anyone in the government capable of making policy about this because I don't think anyone, including the President, knows enough about what bits and pieces of the goverment do know.
TGS: I've always felt that when you say the government, there are actually many governments within our government.
WS: Governments that aren't even legally constituted. There are also people using clasification systems to hide essentially private activities, and I think that probably the UFO stuff falls into that area. Because I don't think that any of the legally constituted organs of the government know much about this, frankly.
TGS: Getting back to Heaven's Gate, I remember that before the comet came, you told me there was this possible object traveling with it. And that they were trying to get you to talk about that, but you weren't sure it was true, and then decided that it wasn't.
WS: What happened was this - Charles Shramick, an amateur astronomer in Houston, took some pictures which he claimed to be of an object near the Hale-Bopp Comet. These pictures were discussed on the Art Bell program, that late-night radio show. And immediately after that, Dr. Courtney Brown of the Farsight Institute in Atlanta went on the air and said that it was an intelli-gently guided object, a gigantic spacecraft four times the size of the earth.
TGS: Emitting radio signals?
WS: Yeah - And Bell said, Well, that's very interesting, why don't you get some proof of that. If it's true, there must be many telescopes in the world trained on the Hale-Bopp Comet, and other telescopes will have this. Now at that point, Bell called me and said he thought there was a hot story brewing. So I investigated the matter a little bit. I went to Atlanta and met with Courtney Brown and his assistant, Prudence Calabrese, who said they had polled a number of astronomers, and found one who had the object in sight, had taken thousands of photographs of it And it was emitting radio signals which were being picked up by a radio telescope, and interpreted.
TGS: And than this all turns out to be untrue?
WS: Well, it went on. Calabrese and Brown produced photographs allegedly taken by the astronomer, taken by a professional, astronomical telescope. So we went on the air and had a long discussion about this, and I recommended that if it was true, we should all get ready to see if we could meet these people. It was quite extraordinary because it seemed, at that point, that it might be true.
TGS: And the Heaven's Gate people
WS: I think they believed it. I think it pushed them over the edge.
TGS: It set them off?
WS: Yeah. But then, immediately before that program, I telephoned the Greenwich National Observatory in England and asked if they had the object in sight. And they said, Oh, yes, we have it in view and we are going to make an announcement about it shortly. In addition, the Japanese National Observatory had placed a photograph of it an their web site, so I was pretty convinced that there was something to this.
TGS: When they said they had it in view, they were talking about the comet or the object?
WS: The object near the comet. Absolutely. And then another fellow published a fax that he had received from the Lick Observatory, that they had the object in view, as well. So it looked real.
TGS: So a lot of information was out there?
WS: At that time. But subsequently, Hale and Bopp maintained absolutely, on their web site, that there was no object, and never had been. And then this astronomer was supposed to give a press conference, but he never came forward. And I became nervous because I didn't find that to be believable. Who wouldn't take credit for such a fabulous discovery? Conceivably, one of the greatest discoveries of all time. And the reason it could have been true, scientifically, was this: if you had the amazing scientific and technical capability of creating a planetoid that you could live inside of, that had its own internal energy source, there would be only one thing you would need from the outside to keep going - and that would be water.
TGS: Of course.
WS: Where woul you get water in space? The answer is - behind a gigantic comet like Hale-Bopp. As it approaches the star it would be out-gassing water at the rate of 35,000 tons a second, which it was doing. And it would not be beyond the realm of belief that ...
TGS: ... an object had been behind it, sucking in all the water?
WS: ... it would hang in the tail of a comet, trying to get the water.
TGS: It's an amazing theory.
WS: It was very believable, and I thought, you know, all of the stuff that's gone on about aliens in the past may or may not be true but this could be a starship because this is exactly one of the things it might well be doing.
TGS: So it seemed possible?
WS: But then this scientist doesn't have his press conference, and I got real suspitious, because if I was in that position I would be rushing to announce the discovery. That would make your career. You'd be done. So then I decided to pub-lish the picture that Courtney Brown had sent me because I smelled a rat. I thought it was a publicity stunt. And I did publish the picture, and so did Art Bell, on the same day.
TGS: On your web sites?
WS: And immediately, the University of Hawaii came forward and said, We're sorry, this picture was made by our tele-scope and the object in it that looks like it's behind the comet has been added digitally. The picture is a fraud.
TGS: Oh, wow. So the picture was a fraud.
WS: Yes. By whom, I don't know.
TGS: But at that point, whether it was a fraud or not didn't matter to Heaven's Gate? They maybe weren't even paying attention to it by then.
WS: They said on their web site that they didn't care whether the object was there or not. But I think that whole thing was inspiration for these poor people . I also learned why those obseratories claimed they had it in view.
TGS: What was the reason for that?
WS: Astronomy is very competitive about discovery. The whole name of the game is discoveries. And when you call someone cold like that, you talk to a lower person on the totem pole at the observatory, who may not know what the astronomers are doing. Those people tend to be rather secretive about their work. And simply to protect the work of any astronomer, those lower people would naturally confirm that. In my opinion, that's what happened. And it was an unfortunate thing.
TGS: So where do you go from here?
WS: There's a lot of physical evidence out there. And where I'm going now is to relate the experience to physical traces. There's lots of footage that has been taken by the public, camcorder footage of UFOs that leaves you unable to conclude anything but that there are strange objects flying around in our skies. The to are little implants that have been removed under the most rigorous conditions
TGS: From people's bodies?
WS: From people claiming they were implanted by aliens. There's all of this testimony. And I want to write something that's extremely clear about the meaaning of the physical evidence. For example, I'm in possession of some metallic material, allegedly from Rowell, which is absolutely not of human manufacture. We've been testing it and testing it, and we can't even imagine how it was manufactured. I'm in possession of an implant which is also clearly not of human manufacture. So we do have some remarkable objects, and we have some remarkable testimony and remarkable photography. And I want to put that into a book about hard evidence.
TGS: Good name for a book.
WS: That's what it's called. But not hard evidence that aliens are here, hard evidence that something unusual is going on. Something unknown is happening and we need to take the next step, which is an orderly, appropriate, scientific investigation, both on the human level and in the physical world.
TGS: What do you think would happen if tomorrow the government announced that they have been hiding all this evidence all these years, that there are UFO and aliens out there? I mean, would it just be too much for us?
WS: I think the world would shrug it off. Frankly, the average person is much more interested in the stock market than they are in aliens. And will always remain thus.
TGS: But it goes against all the world religions. I mean, suddenly if there is an existence of aliens out there ...
WS: Only the Christian fundamentalists.
TGS: It destroys their foundation.
WS: But that's not going to hurt anybody.
TGS: That could be a good thing.
WS: The problem is, if the government were to say that, and they were to be wrong, it would spread an astonishing amount of confusion. It would really set us back even more than we have been. We can't assume that anything that has been done in secret, in studying this, has been very good.
TGS: But why just deny it totally? Why not just say, We are a little confused ourselves. There are things out there, things we cannot explain.
WS: For some reason, if they know for certain that there's something out there, they do not want the public to recognize it a being real.
TGS: Tell me why.
WS: I don't know why. But suffice to say that acknowledging their presence may also bring them into our physical reality in a way that we would not necessarily be able to control, and not necessarily want. It might change our world in ways that would not be even healthy for us physically. It's like opening a door we can't close again. And without knowing what's behind that door, it becomes an obligation of the highest order to keep it closed. And you keep it closed, not by military means, but by convincing yourself that they simply don't exist. This is what all the disinformation and denial would be about. Now, there are quantum physical reasons why not admitting them into our awareness would also not admit them into our physical reality. Resasons that are obscured in the depths of quantum theory, but that could be, in a sense, the glue that holds our world together. And we could be talking about an action that would cause our world to become unglued. ~
Whitley Strieber with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
© 1997 Index magazine. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the editor, Index magazine