Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Issue #30: The Santa Tracker

"The Field Investigator's Tool Box" would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! I know young one's will be watching the skies tonight, and as aid for them here are the links for the two most popular "Santa Trackers" on the internet. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Issue #29: More On Drones

A few months ago I wrote about the uses of drones for an investigation in Issue #14. While it's true they can be very useful in an  investigation, there is another side to drones that I didn't mention, but which is equally as important to know about, and that is how often they are misidentified as something else.

Let me be clear; until I really started learning about drones, I too thought it was virtually impossible to confuse a drone with an airplane or even a UFO. You can imagine my surprise when I found out differently. Even after I was aware of their capabilities, and the multitude of different types of drones, I was still fooled (albeit temporarily) recently by a very good drone with an exceptional pilot...MUFON's own Marc D'Antonio. Of course the flight was part of our training, and it was very valuable too, as everyone at that nights skywatch was starting to believe we were looking at something truly amazing.

At first it looked just like any of the many other planes that had flown over the area. But then it started making movements that we knew couldn't be attributed to any normal aircraft, and it appeared to be dancing in the sky over an area of many miles. That is the problem with trying to identify something at night by just a moving light. If you don't know the size of the object, or it's altitude, movements can appear very dramatic, and appear to cover much more distance than they actually do. I was just starting to get to the 'well maybe' stage of my observation when I heard the drones motor. Up to that point I was truly puzzled. 

Marc D'Antonio with his "FLIR Equipped Drone" that fooled us.

Naturally the first thought in my head would have been 'drone', however since we were in the middle of the Sonora Desert, it seemed less likely that it was some neighborhood kid flying his toy. I'm sure you can see though how important it is to have a very good knowledge of the drones available now, and their characteristics.

So, knowing how easy it is to misidentify itty-bitty lights in the sky, you can imagine my horror when while shopping at the local Ralphs, I see a pyramid of square boxes in the holiday gift isle, with the catchy sign above them "Robotic UFO" and the low price of $25. Immediately my first thought was; "well, this should increase reports to MUFON significantly." Of course I had to buy one on the spot so I would know what to be on the lookout for. I even made a post on Facebook about it, and said that I would post pictures soon. Well, not to worry, this particular drone is not going to be too much of a distraction due to it's poor flight ability. Indoors it's great, outdoors not so good. Although it claims to have enough power to go high, I found that it barely could get to rooftop level, and the flashing blue light was so weak that I didn't even bother to take a picture.

Although this particular model was not anything that I think would be easily misidentified, there are plenty of them out there that can, and will be. A quick visit on the website and a search for drones will yield 65,285 results, so yes they are out there. A similar search on Youtube will get you 789,000 hits. While I would not tell anyone to watch them all, I would at least hope that any Field Investigators would take the time to watch as many of the videos as they can, so they are aware of what it is that some of our witnesses are seeing in our nighttime sky.

Come back next week for a special "Christmas Issue", and don't forget to share with all your friends. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah  from The Field Investigator's Tool Box!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Issue #28: Verification

It is no secret that the world of UFOlogy is plagued with stories that are...well, less than accurate. As investigators, we should indeed keep an open mind while receiving all reports, and doing an investigation, but there does come a time when you must verify the information you've been given.

MUFON is the world's number 1 scientific investigator of UFOs...not a spreader of fantastical stories. For some reason some people seem to think that if they spread some wild tale that could almost be believable they are helping the cause. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because of the massive disinformation campaign that has been in place for over 60 years some people are not aware of the good, factual cases. When hoaxes surface the common reaction amongst most folks is to think that perhaps  all UFO reports could be just as easily explained away. It is just as important for us to weed out these cases, as it is to investigate the real cases. A level of credibility must be maintained if we are to be believed when we finally do have "a smoking gun". So how should an investigator go about this?

Of course the best starting point is the witness, as outlined last week. If your witness is verified then it is a good first step towards verifying their account. There are some good websites that can provide you with most of the information you need about your witness, however they usually are not free. I like using, but is pretty good as well.

This brings us to the other elements of any account that would naturally need to be verified as well. Obviously any photographs or videos presented in connection with a sighting would need to be verified extensively. Fortunately all digital photographs include EXIF data, which can be used to tell if a picture has been altered in any way. Google provides some excellent image analysis tools too, which can tell you if the image really came from somewhere else. Google Image Search is an extension for the Chrome Browser which will find every example of a picture that is on the internet just by right-clicking on the picture. Google Reverse Image Search is another similar tool, and both should be used to do a thorough search of an image.

Video is also so easy to manipulate these days (just browse Youtube if in doubt) that anyone can produce a video of something that looks like a UFO. Fortunately, these are just as easy to distinguish if one just takes the time to analyze each frame. Usually this will require the purchase of a higher-end video editing app or software, but again the price is well worth the tools you will acquire. I personally use the Adobe Creative Cloud, which has every app that anyone could ever use for any type of image processing. I find Adobe Premier to be very useful with video analysis, but I also use Final Cut Pro as well.

If you can verify the identity of the witness, and the photos and videos that they submit along with their account as being valid, then you are well on your way to establishing a good case.

Come back next week for more, and don't forget to share with all your friends!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Issue #27: Interviewing The Witness

After hearing feedback from other attendees of the MUFON Field Investigator's Boot Camp, I realized that there was a need to cover the subject of interviewing the witness. Of course as we all know there are two types of interviews; by telephone, and in person. In this issue we are going to talk about the telephone interview, since it is the method most investigators will use the most. "In person" interviews work best with two investigators working together, and there is a lot more to it, so I will cover it at a future time.

The most common mistake an investigator can make is to go into the phone interview as if it was just a normal conversation. It is not. The smartest thing one can do is to be fully prepared before you even pick up the phone.

The first thing that I like to do is type the address where the sighting occurred into the Google Maps, and get a good look at the area. Then I take it down to Street View and move around a bit to see what the neighborhood looks like. It is extremely helpful to try to put yourself in the location the sighting occurred while reading the account. It really helps an investigator to visualize the setting of the sighting.

After that I like to do what I call a "Social Media Search" for the witness. You won't believe how many times I've found an "anonymous" witness who's account was perhaps a little less believable, only to find them calling all sorts of attention to themselves on Facebook over the incident, often times even contradicting what they would say in their report to MUFON, so it's worth taking the time to look and see what they are saying about the incident, if anything.

Next I do a legitimate background check on the witness, just to verify their personal information that they have supplied. If none of their personal information matches up, chances are their account won't either, so save yourself a lot of time and verify who they are right off the bat.

Then it never hurts to check out the website of the local news, or newspapers for the day of the sighting to see if anything might have occurred that could have been misidentified. I also always check out the weather data for the day in question before hand. That way if the witness says that it was a clear night out, and you know that it was cloudy and overcast, you have something to check and see if it might have led to the sighting. Remember, witness memory can be faulty, so the more information you have before you talk to them, the better off you will be.

When you feel that you have fully prepared yourself, then it is time to call the witness. I myself like to use Skype when interviewing a witness because it has a Call Recorder App that does a great job of recording the conversation. This is useful in a lot of cases because then the recording can undergo Voice Stress Analysis, which is just as good as a lie detector in most instances. The other advantage of using Skype is that then your witness will not have your personal phone number unless you give it to them.

It is very important to remember to always be courteous when on the phone with a witness. Keep in mind that you are representing MUFON, and be as professional as possible at all times. NEVER record a witness without their permission! Always ask permission twice...once before recording, and then again when you start recording. Make sure that you have both, you asking permission, and them giving permission on your recording. Then you will want to state your name, MUFON I.D. number, the date, and the time. Obviously there is no need to record every witness interview. You will have to use your judgement depending on the details of the case as to whether it warrants recording or not.

Having a list of questions already made up is a great tool, You also want to think of different ways to ask the same question. It's just one more way to check and see if witness statements are consistent, and the witness doesn't contradict themselves.

I like to start by having the witness give an account of what happened again verbally, to see if it matches what they wrote in the report, keeping an eye out for any differences. Try to not interrupt, but take notes of questions you will have for them afterwards. The witness might pause as if waiting for a verbal cue to continue, and it's okay to encourage them on, but avoid leading the witness at all costs! Let them tell the story...don't ever provide details for them. You also don't want to sound too excited about anything they might say, even if inside you're whooping with joy because you just discovered the holy grail of UFOlogy. It will not help the case if the witness gets the wrong impression, and then starts making the details fit what they think you want to hear.

Make sure that you have all your questions answered to your satisfaction before you end the interview. Chances are you will not be talking to the witness again, so make sure you have all of the information that you need from them while you have them on the phone. Also be sure to thank them for their assistance with the case. You do not want to give them the impression that you will be calling them back with the results of your investigation. You can let them know that they will be able to find out the case outcome on the MUFON website if they wish.

I hope this helps those of you who had questions about conducting witness interviews. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to answer them for you. Come back next week for more, and don't forget to share!