The Bob Lazar Conundrum
defintion conundrum: “A complex or perplexing problem that generally has no clear solution.”
As UFO stories go, perhaps none have generated more interest and more controversy than the tale told by Bob Lazar. While the investigation of UFOs is a field of study where the weirdness often seems to know no bounds, Lazar’s story remains one of the benchmarks for both high strangeness and controversy. At first glance, Lazar’s claim – that he was hired by the U.S. government to reverse engineer the propulsion system of an alien spacecraft – is a story which never fails to send the imaginations of ufologists reeling. A highly unscientific inventory of internet forums and other web sites would suggest that a significant number of people who follow the subject of UFOs take Lazar seriously and believe that, to some extent, his story reflects an actual experience. However, the vast majority of eminently respected UFO researchers who have scrutinized Lazar’s story view it largely (or completely) as a fabrication. They note that Lazar’s accounts of both his UFO experience (supposedly reverse engineering an alien craft at Area 51) and his life (his education, career, etc.) contain few verifiable facts and, in fact, many of Lazar’s claims contain demonstrably false and misleading information.
Bob Lazar and Ken Wright Displaying
“Sport Model” Flying Disc Anti-Matter Reactor Model
Some Notable Critics
Stanton Friedman, often called the “grandfather of ufology” has been particularly vocal in characterizing Bob Lazar as a liar and a fraud. Renowned as one of ufology’s smartest and most thorough researchers Friedman visited numerous archives in an effort to verify Lazar’s claims about his education, and, employment (and about his life, generally). Friedman discovered, among other things, that there were no records of Bob Lazar attending any of the colleges from which he claimed to have earned advanced degrees. Further, he interviewed faculty members and found that not one person recalled Bob Lazar. Another individual who came to the conclusion that Lazar was could not be believed was Tom Mahood. Mahood’s name is not well known in ufology and, in fact, prior to hearing Lazar’s story Mahood was not involved in research on the subject of UFOs. While there’s not a lot of information available on Tom Mahood he’s apparently a bright guy who just loves a good mystery. Much like a gentleman named Jim Campbell, Mahood had done a considerable amount of amateur sleuthing on the topic of The Nellis Range – known, more popularly, as Area 51. When he ran into Lazar’s story he was, of course, fascinated. At some point he began doing independent research on the matter and regularly published his findings on his own web site (now defunct). While Mahood’s site contained information on Area 51, as well, it was largely devoted to analyzing the claims of Bob Lazar. Mahood’s research on Lazar seemed reasonably objective and was certainly thorough. On numerous occasions he corresponded with both Bob Lazar and his friend, Gene Huff (who had supposedly ridden to the desert with Lazar to witness, and, videotape secret test flights of a captured alien spacecraft). Mahood also spoke with people who had worked with Bob Lazar, or, who had known him otherwise. Finally, Mahood actually went back to college and studied physics in an effort to determine whether or not Lazar’s science made any sense. Once captivated by Lazar’s tale, Mahood eventually leveled scathing criticism at Lazar. Through his research Mahood ultimately concluded that Lazar was an inveterate “bullshitter”, and, someone who was “lying through his teeth”.
As noted above, Tom Mahood only became interested in the Lazar story as a consequence of his interest in Area 51. Having satisfied himself about Area 51 – and Bob Lazar – he eventually took down his web site and has virtually no association with UFO groups. While his inquiry into Lazar’s claims constitute one of the most respected efforts to look at the matter thoroughly, Mahood lives a quiet life in Southern, California and virtually never comments on Lazar nor the topic of UFOs. For Mahood, and Stanton Friedman, and many other top UFO researchers the case of Bob Lazar is a case closed – and Bob Lazar is a con man and a liar.
George Knapp: Fact or fiction, Lazar story launched new career
George Knapp, once a traditional TV newsman,
now investigates the paranormal full time
It’s worthy of note that Lazar’s story became big news after Las Vegas television news anchor George Knapp (KLAS) did a series of investigative reports which featured Lazar, in the late 1980’s. The fact that Knapp was a traditional journalist and not associated with the topic of UFOs helped propel the story to the national spotlight. While Knapp says he’s discovered evidence which corroborates Lazar’s claims of working at Area 51 – and still maintains that the other important parts of Lazar’s story are likely true – even Knapp has tacitly admitted that Lazar appears to have fictionalized a few things along the way. In a television interview Knapp seems to acknowledge that some of Lazar’s claims are certainly false by saying that, “Bob Lazar wouldn’t the first person in history to lie on a resume.” Regardless of the veracity of Lazar’s testimony the series he’d done with Lazar proved to be a career changer, for Knapp, who left traditional news reporting to focus on a variety of paranormal subjects. He’s been the host of numerous UFO, television documentaries and currently rotates as a host for the popular Coast to Coast AM radio show. Such was the power of Lazar’s story, regardless of whether or not it was true at all.
Bob Lazar’s story: the big problems
There are, indeed, various problems with Bob Lazar’s story. Depending upon who you ask, of course, the seriousness and meaning of the holes in his story can be interpreted differently. But on one thing, almost everyone agrees: Lazar’s testimony concerning his academic background appears to be a work of fiction and unquestionably constitutes a series of lies. Further, the portion of his academic background which can be verified doesn’t seem to suggest anyone with a gift of genius. Specifically:
- Lazar graduated in the bottom third of his high school class.
- Despite this lackluster academic performance in high school, Lazar claims to have attended various institutions of higher learning, including the academically esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he says that he earned a Masters degree in physics). He states: “I wrote my thesis on MHD, which is magnetohydrodynamics”. He says that he also has a Masters degree in electronics – from, well, somehwere…. At one time or another, Lazar claims to have attended the following schools:
- Pierce Junior College, California
- California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech)
- California State University at Northridge
- MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
The problems with the above: with the exception of Pierce College, an investigation conducted by Stanton Friedman revealed that not one of the schools listed above has any record of Lazar’s attendence. Further, when pressed, Lazar cannot recall the name of one instructor, academic advisor, study friend, etc. at any of these schools. And, similarly, Friedman found that virtually no staff members at any of these schools (with the exception of Pierce Junior College) remembered ever meeting Bob Lazar – no one had ever heard of Lazar. Friedman did confirm that Lazar took a few courses at Pierce College – and that was it. A bit queer, as well, is Lazar’s inability to recall the exact year of his graduation from MIT – certainly the capstone of his academic career. When asked, he’s given various dates and simply states that he can’t recall the year with certainty.
- Regarding the absence of documentation for his academic career Lazar purports that all of the important records relating to his life – academic, and otherwise – have been systematically wiped out in a campaign mounted by some clandestine force to simply “erase him as a human being”.
- While it would be certainly be a formidable task to remove every paper trace of someone’s college career (and life) one could argue that this kind of scenario is, at least, a theoretical possibility.
- Conversely it would, certainly, be impossible to erase the memories of the students and faculty at MIT (and all of the other colleges). There are extraordinary problems with Lazar’s MIT claims. As a graduate student Lazar would have worked very closely with an academic adviser (possibly more than one), been required to submit papers for peer review, and more. Lazar could also claim that aliens flew him to Mars, sold him a piece of land, gave him a deed, and that he erected a motel on the property. This may seem a stretch, as far as analogies go, but for anyone vaguely familiar with what’s involved in earning an advanced science degree from a college like MIT, it’s not much of a stretch. Again, a graduate student in physics would have a very high-profile, generally, and a great amount of interaction with faculty, peers, and – very often – the scientific community at large. A scenario in which a person completes a course of study, as detailed by Lazar, and is subsequently completely forgotten by virtually everyone seems transparently ridiculous (irrespective of the missing paper trail). Every researcher who has looked closely at the case has arrived at the same conclusion: at the very least, Lazar did not complete graduate studies in physics at MIT (whether or not he was ever a student at MIT is less clear – however that appears highly unlikely, as well).
Bob Lazar’s story: the smaller problems
While Lazar’s accounting of his academic career seems, unquestionably, to be a work of fiction it’s not the only thing which makes researchers wary of Lazar and his tale. On a more subjective level, there are things about Lazar’s personal life that work – in the minds of many – to paint Bob Lazar as someone of questionable character.
Most notably, Lazar pled guilty to a charge of pandering in Las Vegas in the early 1990’s. According to Lazar, however, the judge actually presented him with a list from which Lazar was told he could select his own charge. For reasons only Lazar could know, he chose pandering. Lazar’s arrest and conviction grew out of the fact that an acquaintance had hired him to install a computerized, camera surveillance system in a Las Vegas brothel. Lazar said he knew the owner because he and his wife had, at one time, invested in one of the legal brothels in northern Nevada. Bob Lazar laughs about the incident, in interviews, and seems to suggest that it’s all much ado about nothing. Lazar’s explanation of the episode has never been disputed and it seems clear that he simply installed the surveillance equipment. Nonetheless, it constitutes a criminal history and is frequently used by critics to further discredit Lazar and his Area 51 story.
Tom Mahood presented a variety of evidence on his web site which called into question both the quality of Lazar’s character, and, his knowledge of physics. Mahood’s investigation into Lazar’s claims was, in fact, a collaborative effort to which a number of people contributed. In an interview conducted by a gentleman named Mark Farmer – and appearing on Mahood’s site – a former co-worker and friend described Lazar as “disingenous” and stated that, while Lazar was a smart guy, he didn’t buy a word of Lazar’s Area 51 story. Lazar’s former friend explained that after he’d sold Lazar a car he had to chase him for five years to get paid. As the friend put it, “(Bob’s) very intelligent. He’s also very clever and kind of a little bit of a con man”. Mahood enlisted Dr. David L. Morgan to review Bob’s explanation of the alien propulsion system and Morgan found fault after fault with Lazar’s physics, stating that much of what Lazar described violated a laundry list of scientific laws and principles. Morgan also noted that many of Lazar’s details were vague and confusing, and, that Lazar often used the wrong scientific terminology when describing things.
In defense of Lazar
Given all the problems, why does Lazar’ story continue to generate so much interest? Beyond the fact that it’s an extraordinary and highly intriguing tale, there are things which – in the view of some – seem to suggest that Lazar just might be telling the truth. In no particular order, here are some things to consider in Lazar’s defense:
- Lazar, plain and simple, seems like a genuinely geeky dude who would have no clear motive to invent anything this far-fetched. In interviews, many people feel Lazar comes across as a straight shooter. That, of course, doesn’t mean he isn’t lying. He’s either an incredibly adept con man, or, he’s telling the truth. At any rate, Lazar’s story has legs in large part because Lazar simply appears guileless and straightforward (to a lot of people). Further, Lazar’s accounting of his bizarre adventure has generally been consistent.
- While Lazar appears to have fudged his academic record and performed poorly in high school there is, somewhat paradoxically, considerable evidence to suggest that he’s a very bright individual. Lazar was always interested in exotic propulsion systems and once converted a Honda Civic to run on a jet engine. The story of Lazar and his 200mph, jet-powered Honda were the subject of an article which appeared in the Los Alamos Monitor newspaper in 1982. The same article described Lazar as “a physicist at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility”. While there’s much debate over Lazar’s actual position at Los Alamos, he’s produced pay stubs which appear to indicate that he worked at the lab in some capacity (though, possibly, for a sub-contractor and likely not as a physicist). Over the last few years Lazar successfully developed a hydrogen powered car which he hoped to mass produce (hardly the sort of project that might be pulled off by a D-plus science student). Finally, Lazar now owns and operates a high-tech business (United Nuclear) which sells everything from radioactive isotopes to lab equipment; the US government is reported to be one of his customers.
- Lazar passed a polygraph. While some skeptics have questioned the validity of the test and results, none have succeeded in proving the test invalid. The best evidence appears to suggest that Bob was truthful when questioned about his story by a polygraph examiner.
- Television newsman George Knapp had Lazar quizzed by people who, according to Knapp, had absolutely worked at Area 51. Lazar was able to give details about the facility that led Knapp and his associates to conclude Lazar must have worked at the base in some capacity.
- Central to Lazar’s story was his claim that the alien craft relied on a super heavy, stable element which was not known to exist at at the time – element 115. In 2004, US and Russian researchers discovered the element.
- On three separate occasions Lazar led friends and family (his ex-wife) into the desert to observe, and video tape, test flights of a strange craft. The video tapes have been made public and, indeed, appear to show some sort of strange craft performing bizarre aerial maneuvers. If Lazar had no association with the base, it’s difficult to conceive of how he would have known the precise date and times of the flights.
- Lazar says that he went public with his story only out of fears that the government intended to kill him. Further, Lazar has never made any efforts to capitalize on his story.
- Lazar states that he finds abduction stories silly and refuses to correspond with anyone regarding the subject of UFOs, abductions, etc. He has effectively faded into obscurity and now (as noted earlier) owns and operates “United Nuclear” in Williamston, Michigan. The business sells various scientific supplies. It’s difficult for anyone to make the case that Lazar was seeking fame and fortune by inventing his story.
It’s difficult, for a lot of people, to know precisely what to conclude about Bob Lazar and his fantastic story. On one hand Lazar seems likable and genuine and, perhaps more importantly, he has no apparent motive to fabricate such a grandiose tale. On the other hand, it’s difficult to escape the idea that Lazar isn’t a person who periodically lies. And if you’re telling a story like Lazar’s any demonstrable lie (for example, Lazar’s account of his academic background) will see your entire report dismissed by most serious ufo researchers.
One could make a reasonable argument that Lazar is simply an imperfect witness to history – someone who’s essentially telling the truth but who is prone, at times, to exaggeration. But it’s also reasonable for ufologists, and ordinary folks, to scrutinize every detail of a person’s life when someone is claiming something so incredible. For a lot of people the flawed character of Bob Lazar leads them to the conclusion that his story is a work of fiction. Others, to use a metaphor from Stanton Friedman, hold Lazar’s claims in their “grey baskets” and are unsure of what to believe. Maybe – just maybe – time will eventually tell whether or not Lazar is telling the truth.