Two Interesting UFO Documents: The “Smith Memo” (1950) and Physicist Robert Sarbacher’s 1983 Letter

In my ongoing quest, these past few weeks, to learn about the UFO phenomenon, and decide what I think about it, I’ve found that the following memo and letter are pretty important pieces of documentary evidence among UFOlogists. The first is a Canadian government official’s three page government memo, dated November 20, 1950. It was written by Wilbert Smith after he obtained information of a meeting, via “Canadian Embassy staff,” with American physicist, Robert Sarbacher. Though not mentioned in the memo, Smith also spoke to Dr. Sarbacher by phone. The key passage that UFOlogists direct one’s attention to says the following:

I [Wilbert Smith] made discreet inquiries through the Canadian Embassy staff in Washington who were able to obtain for me the following information:

a.     The matter is the most highly classified subject in the United States Government, rating higher even than the H-bomb.

b.     Flying saucers exist.

c.     Their modus operandi is unknown but concentrated effort is being made by a small group headed by Doctor Vannever Bush.

d.     The entire matter is considered by the United States authorities to be of tremendous significance.

Thirty-three years later, in 1983, Physicist Robert Sarbacher, in response to an inquiry about his UFO knowledge, wrote a letter which appears to reinforce the claims in Smith’s 1950 letter:

Washington Institute of Technology Oceanographic and Physical Sciences
Dr. Robert I. Sarbacher President and Chairman of Board

November 29, 1983

Mr. William Steinman
15043 Rosalita Drive
La Mirada, California 90638

Dear Mr. Steinman:

I am sorry I have taken so long in answering your letters. However, I have moved my office and have had to make a number of extended trips.

To answer your last question in your letter of October 14, 1983, there is no particular reason I feel I shouldn’t or couldn’t answer any and all of your questions. I am delighted to answer all of them to the best of my ability.

You listed some of your questions in your letter of September 12th. I will attempt to answer them as you had listed them.

1. Relating to my own experience regarding recovered flying saucers, I had no association with any of the people involved in the recovery and have no knowledge regarding the dates of the recoveries. If I had I would send it to you.

2. Regarding verification that persons you list were involved, I can say only this:
John von Neuman was definitely involved. Dr. Vannever Bush was definitely involved, and I think Dr. Robert Oppenheimer also.

My association with the Research and Development Board under Doctor Compton during the Eisenhower administration was rather limited so that although I had been invited to participate in several discussions associated with the reported recoveries, I could not personally attend the meetings. I am sure that they would have asked Dr. von Braun and the others that you listed were probably asked and may or may not have attended. This is all I know for sure.

3. I did receive some official reports when I was in my office at the Pentagon but all of these were left there as the time we were never supposed to take them out of the office.

4. I do not recall receiving any photographs such as you request so I am not in a position to answer. 5. I have to make the same reply as on No. 4.

I recall the interview with Dr. Brenner of the Canadian Embassy. I think the answers I gave him were the ones you listed. Naturally, I was more familiar with the subject matter under discussion, at that time. Actually I would have been able to give more specific answers had I attended the meetings concerning the subject. You must understand that I took this assignment as a private contribution. We were called “dollar-a-year men”. My first responsibility was the maintenance of my own business activity so that my participation was limited.

About the only thing I remember at this time is that certain materials reported to have come from flying saucer crashes were extremely light and very tough. I am sure our laboratories analyzed them very carefully.

There were reports that instruments or people operating these machines were also of very light weight, sufficient to withstand the tremendous deceleration and acceleration associated with their machinery. I remember in talking with some of the people at the office that I got the impression these “aliens” were constructed like certain insects we have observed on earth, wherein because of the low mass the inertial forces involved in operation of these instruments would be quite low.

I still do not know why the high order of classification has been given and why the denial of the existence of these devices.

I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply but I suggest you get in touch with the others who may be more directly involved in this program.

Sincerely Yours,
Dr. Robert I. Sarbacher

P. S. It occurs to me that Bush’s name is incorrect as you have it. Please check the spelling. —

A couple of things stand out for me regarding the above memo and letter:

  1. They seem to be consistent with one another.
  2. Sarbacher’s understanding about UFOs, as communicated to Smith, did not appear to evolve over time. Sarbacher seemed to have the same views in 1983 as 1950. And he said that he recalled his 1950 interview with Dr. Brenner of the Canadian Embassy, and that what Sarbacher told Brenner is substantially the same as what he now writes in his 1983 letter.
  3. His description of recovered UFO materials as “extremely light and very tough” accords with Roswell debris claims.

It’s sometimes said that a government cover-up of so momentous and historic an event as the recovery of a flying saucer could not possibly be sustained over so long a period (that is, over decades). Therefore, the claim of such a cover-up must be false. But if the event really occurred, there have in fact been numerous leaks of information about it into the general public, such as Robert Sarbacher’s letter and Wilbert Smith’s memo. I think that something that is “Top Secret” can endure leakage so long as sufficient doubt can be cast upon what is leaked. At this point in my UFO inquiries, I don’t think it is irrational to think that Dr. Sarbacher might have been telling the truth of what he knew (both in 1950 and 1983), and that he had not misperceived what he understood to be the case concerning UFOs.

One of the thorniest aspects (for me) of the whole UFO issue is the value and evidential weight one should place upon so dramatic and worldview overturning testimony as that provided by a respected physicist like Robert Sarbacher. Why would he lie? Was he delusional, or a fantasy driven person, or someone simply given over to rumor spreading? These certainly are possibilities. Still, such testimony makes you wonder.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Two Interesting UFO Documents: The “Smith Memo” (1950) and Physicist Robert Sarbacher’s 1983 Letter

  1. In your (what I see) careful search of worthy UFO incidents, don’t forget James McDonald since his work is probably the most important in Ufology.

    Start here.
    The Lost Files

    Nice to see someone rehashing old information in such a fashion since it does tend to be pruned from Google search occasionally.

    And, as good as it all looks, or rather looked, Trinidad was debunked by the actual photographer. Won’t find much on it on the Internet but there are in-depth explanations with him showing how it was done.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Thank you so much for alerting me to the importance of James McDonald. I actually read about him in the ONLY academic press published book on UFOs that I’ve managed to locate, and I didn’t register his specific importance as I was reading. I went back and reread that part of the book and now see what you mean.

    And thanks for the link. I’ll check out those videos.

    Your mention of the Trinidade, Brazil UFO photos being debunked is an example of the need for caution about drawing conclusions concerning UFOs. I thought those photos were rare and compelling image evidence that I was having a hard time explaining. If they are, indeed, debunked, then it’s a key piece of photographic evidence eliminated from the pro-UFO thesis. My wife, looking at the Brazil photos, hypothesized Mick Jagger’s disembodied Karmic lips floating about (she’s British with a characteristically British Monty Python sense of humor)!

    Also, it sounds like you have dug yourself much deeper into the subject than I have yet managed to do. What is your take at this point? As of today, given what you’ve learned (and it sounds like a lot), do you think UFOs are real (that is, saucers with organic extraterrestrials in them), or do you think something else is up?

    By the way, the sole academic press book that I located is: UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge (edited by David Jacobs, 2000). The book is published by the University Press of Kansas.

    Again, thanks for the link.


    • “What is your take at this point?”

      Doing just fine. I see caution all over the place and that’s a good thing so no worries.

      You’re good at how you’re approaching the subject.

      I see similar appear now and then but usually by newbies to the UFO scene that appear to be 18 or under and they have a mindset that if they read it somewhere it’s true. Fortunately, they die on the vine pretty quick.

      Re: Jacobs
      Not a Jacobs fan. Not really a true abduction researcher. Listened to him on various radio shows and he’s actually suspicious to abduction more so than not, so I guess it may depend on if he has a book to sell. He was very clear that he fell into the alien abduction thing and it was not an interest of his originally.

      I pretty much only trust the words of Budd Hopkins and of course John Mack and experiencers, but certainly not all of them.

      I’m an abductee so for me, such is read more frequently than UFO stories. In the realm of abduction there are more stories to dismiss than not of course.

      Besides NICAP, the two best sources for anything on the subject of UFOs and aliens that you can trust would be the following. They both do a pretty good job of going back into older articles if there is new information be it good or bad.

      Best UFO Resources
      UFO Evidence

  3. santitafarella says:


    One more quick question. Is there a piece of photographic evidence that you regard as unusually strong? A saucer photo (for example) or a video clip that would likely stand up as tolerable evidence in a jury trial?


    • Of the thousands upon thousands some would say McMinnville and some would say Belgium but in a Court of law, no.

      We’re pretty much dependent on the truth from witnesses. Isn’t that scary.

      MUFONs James Carrion did a great piece today (way overdue) about whistleblowers. Check it out.

      Whistleblowers: Whose Horn Are They Tooting

      That pertains to an avenue that I find very interesting. I’m a armchair psychologist so picking people apart as they speak is my forte. I believe that there are more narcissistic personalities in the realm of whistleblower than not.

  4. Nearside says:

    Hi Santi, well done on putting the article together…those are both very good evidential documents.

    The quest for the truth of UFOs is an arduous, yet fascinating one, for certain, and it looks like you’re taking a logical, no-nonsense approach to it. With so many it seems that caution and sensibility go out the window which causes a lot of damage to level-headed UFO research due to across-the-board discrediting of the subject.

    You wrote:
    “Is there a piece of photographic evidence that you regard as unusually strong?” My answer to this would be “your own”. No evidence is as convincing as what you see and photograph yourself, as well as others whom you might trust.

    Also, check out the late NASA scientist, Paul R. Hill’s book entitled “Unconventional Flying Objects”. He was a very well-respected and credible physicist in my opinion.

  5. santitafarella says:


    Thanks for the book tip.


  6. Dale Light says:

    One of the most compelling UFO testimonies I have uncovered is that of Milton Torres a retired USAF F-86 fighter pilot. His case occurred in the mid fifties and only came to light after a relatively recent disclosure of the incident by the British government. After that he was located living in Miami and after 50 years of silence finally felt he could speak on the subject. Since a government document release confirms his encounter and the fact that he remained silent for half a century I believe it is very hard to dismiss his testimony as any thing other than honest.

    I recommend any one with an interest, google “milton torres” and watch his heartfelt testimony at the national press club in 2009. While it does not provide “proof” of ET, I do not see how any open minded person would not be affected by it.

  7. aj says:

    ive been trying to find info on dr sarbacher. today, there is no washington institute of technology. perhaps its name was changed. i can find no bio on the man. was he really a respected physicist? we know very little about him.

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