The Protocols of Frank Warren


Frank Warren runs the UFO Chronicles web site. This site collects and reposts UFO information from various sources, sort of a clearing house of reports and opinions in this field.

I have corresponded with Frank on many occasions and he is uniformly polite and civil (something I really have to work at!) and seems to be willing to answer questions and defend his opinion in a good-natured and truthful way.

Frank is also the source of the nice quality scan of the famous Battle of Los Angeles photo that appears all over the internet. Prior to his 2002 release of the image, the only versions that seem to be available are newsprint quality scans or microfilms from the WWII-era Los Angeles Times.

The Battle of Los Angeles is a truly engrossing episode in U.S. history during WWII. On the night of February 24th, 1942, the city of Los Angeles was thrown into panic as people believed a Japanese attack of the city was underway. Over 1400 anti-aircraft shells were fired, searchlights raked the skies, and a total blackout of the city was ordered. Three civilians were killed by the barrage. Nineteen_forty_one_ver3

By the next day it was realized that there was no attack and the whole episode was likely a false alarm, possibly caused by a drifting weather balloon or perhaps even just frayed nerves.

Steven Spielberg made a big-budget movie about the incident, 1941, that tanked at the box office but is still legendary for some of its spectacular pre-CGI special effects.

This brings us back to the photo. Many UFO proponents believe that they can see a suspicious shape in the convergence of the search beams. The amazing photo really captures the drama of the night but arguments that the photo shows a saucer seem particularly ill-conceived.

Bruce Maccabee, the UFO photo analyst who apparently thinks most any photo submitted to him is anomalous, published a paper that supported the idea that photo showed a solid craft of some kind. The paper tried desperately to appear scientific but the conclusions made were unsupported by the evidence at hand. And the Photoshop manipulations he presented, contained no revelations except the bias of the writer. Incidentally, Maccabee also recently used his skills to unconvincingly try to show that a trail-cam photo of an owl was more likely something else, like maybe a Bigfoot.

Tim Printy, in his excellent journal of UFO skepticism, SUNlite, ran a recent piece (Pages 17-22) that clearly shows, using archival photos unrelated to the BOLA, that the shapes UFO believers see are just an artifact of converging beams of searchlights in the cloudy or smoky sky. On page 22, of that issue, you can see a searchlight photo that clearly shows the same elliptical white shape that the UFO buffs are so excited about. But that photo is not a UFO photo.

I have always been interested in the BOLA photo but in August of last year, I decided to write to Frank Warren and inquire about the photo and how he secured the negative:

Hi Frank

I recently saw a piece attributed to you about the famous Battle of Los Angeles photo. In the piece you say that the somewhat low resolution scan was taken from a print made from the original negative.

I am inquiring about the negative itself.

Did you obtain the print from the LA Times?

And did you witness the negative itself? What else can you say about the negative?

Were there other shots on the same roll.

Do you know what type of film was used, etc.In short, I would appreciate any details about the negative you used to make the print.

I assumed that, even though Frank is well aware that I am a skeptic, such information would still be forthcoming. Most legitimate researchers are only too glad to provide references for their work. So I was taken aback by Frank's reply:

"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to divulge that information... The methodology used to find it, as well as its local [sic] confirms its provenance."

I was surprised but, after dealing with other UFO researchers, I wasn't shocked. I have often seen a rather silly need among UFO researchers to jealously guard their work. Indeed, Frank, in a later letter, told me:

"My work on BOLA is ongoing; my experience in sharing pertinent case information has always been detrimental to said research--in short it has always come back to 'bite me in the ass.' (No offense intended to you)." 


Frank did confirm for me that he had not seen the negative. In which case I replied, he could not confirm that actual negative had been used. Frank assured me that I was wrong:

“The authenticity of the negative, and the print I have from it along with its provenance and or  bona fides has been established (and isn't in question) to  my satisfaction (and then some), and would be to anyone, including you "if you were cognizant of the methodology used to locate it, along with its location.”

Sounds official, no? At any rate, I had a reason for asking about the provenance of the negative, which I told Frank about:

"The reason that I was even asking was that I had some reprints of photos made from several newspapers when I was researching Otis T. Carr. It was obvious when I got the prints that they were not printed from the negatives and they were often crudely retouched (this was apparently common for newspapers last century). The low quality newsprint hid the alterations, I think."

800px-Graflex_speedgraphic_medium_format,_1 This reached deaf ears, apparently. Frank was sure that he had an authentic print from the original negative. Frank (along with many other UFO buffs) had already decided that the photo showed an “elliptical shaped craft.” But his “work” on the photo (eight years after the release of the print!) was still ongoing.

So stymied by Frank’s secrecy, I tried to locate the photos myself. I quickly determined that most of the LA Times photos had been turned over to the UCLA photo archives. I was able to get a coordinator there to do a cursory search for the photo but she was unable to find it. I could have paid to have a more thorough search done but I was only casually interested and didn’t want to spend the money. And anyway, I thought, ‘surely Frank isn’t trying to hide the fact that the negative is just in the collection where anyone would expect it to be. How dumb would that be?’

All of this conversation happened last year.  Battle Los Angeles Poster

Flash-forward to 2011 and the release of the (apparently rather bad) science fiction film, Battle: Los Angeles. Over at the LA Times, Scott Harrison, a photographer, perhaps seeing an angle on the new film, decided to look into the original BOLA incident and the famous photo.

A researcher immediately located the negative in the the UCLA archive (damn it!) but even more interestingly, he located another negative! It seems the famous photo that appeared in the paper and was "analyzed" by UFO proponents wasn't real. It was a heavily retouched concoction: exactly what I warned Frank about a year earlier! The original unretouched (and unseen) negative was also found and looks much different than the published version.

Harrison says:

"In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.

In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky.

Thus my conclusion:  the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. But man, I wish the retouching had been more faithful to the original. With our current standards, this image would not be published."

Upon learning of this development, I admit that I was mad. If Frank had been more forthcoming, I might have pushed further in my search and uncovered all this myself. But since I would have been doing everything long distance, who knows?

I also admit that I was quite amused at how starkly Frank's protocol of not sharing information had made his solemn pronouncements of authenticity look supremely foolish.

With sad predictability, UFO buffs now say that they can see a different anomalous shape in the convergence of the lights of the real image. Bruce Maccabee, bravely hid his old (and now completely discredited) "analysis" of the retouched photo and substituted a new "analysis" of the real negative. Of course he still sees something in there. 

And so it goes.

To his great credit, Frank immediately admitted his mistake but stands unrepentant for sticking to his protocol of not sharing information with other researchers. He says that he lives by this protocol.

The sheer hubris of having (and living by!) a protocol for not sharing information without apparently having any protocols for even insuring the authenticity of that infomation is amusing. But this is UFO "research" and so, par for the course.

For me this episode is sort of a snapshot example as to why so many consider UFOlogy a pseudoscience. And why it will always be that way.


7 thoughts on “The Protocols of Frank Warren

  1. Hi, Lance.
    If you will permit me, I would like to address this here, so as not to take Kevin’s article too far off base, and since it would be a more direct way to approach it anyway…and thank you for writing your article as well.
    My take on this is still the same, even with this new information. The photograph should only be assessed on its own merits if there are no witnesses to accomany it. Since there are witnesses, this can not be done honestly, even if one thinks there is nothing strange or unknown in the photo.
    1. The searchlights converged on something in the first place.
    2. Witnesses were said to have mentioned they actually saw an “object” of some type that the searchlights were aiming at. Some claimed it was kind of saucer shaped, a couple even said it looked more tri-angular, I believe.
    3. After such a heavy bombardment, for such an extended period of time, even one of the new large anti-air targeting balloons would have been torn to shreds within minutes, possibly seconds, and fallen to earth. This even though there were too many searchlights converging on the object, as per the protocal of breaking off after, I believe, 4 beams (to avoid distortion of distance for proper targeting)
    4. It has been reported that some witnesses were said to have seen the object ramble away after the fact.
    Unless these have all been lies (and if they are, I would certainly like to know that) these points are why I feel there may be a mystery surrounding the incident, without relying on this photograph…alone.
    Thank you for your time, and patience.

  2. Thanks Bob!
    I have looked at the evidence beyond the photo and I find it to be like much of the evidence for these kinds of events: unconvincing. As I am sure you know, there are conflicting memories of what happened and contradictory evidence as well. There is little need to go beyond prosaic explanations like a lost weather balloon. I am sure that the searchlights converged many times (there were a lot of them). There was also a lot of debris in the sky hidden by smoke.
    These kinds of post hoc creations of new UFO mythology from old events (like Roswell, for instance) never yield anything and seem far more likely to be wishful thinking than anything else. Which is exactly what we saw in the learned “analysis” of the retouched photo and amazingly, the newly uncovered photo, too.
    People want to believe!
    P.S. I like your blog, Bob!

  3. Bob,
    I think we are not alaone in this world i do think there are many unexplained things that happen in space and sometimes to our human eyes. i do belive that what ever is out in space has been a blessing to us. by that saying I think that we would have never had the ideas for all the great movies such as star trek and many of its kinds the thought of going out into space has always deepend the minds of every human some where to run and hide, are mabe to just take a break from this mean planet. I sure hope there are many UFO’s out there cause I am willing to be there study just to see something new and get out and be a partaker and not just a spectator. I have the idea that if Mr . John Lear says may have something vauable to us all on the UFO mistery as well. and many oters out there. keep the sky looking and dreaming cause i want to be able to go into light speed and warp before i die.

  4. Hi Frank,
    I am not sure if the UCLA will release the negative to the internet but I imagine that a researcher there would be allowed to view it.
    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Sure thing Lance! Good to see you’ve hung out your own shingle. UCLA certainly should make it available. It’s one of the great UFO cases. I have to think that even the un-retouched original is a compelling photo and a genuine historical document.

  6. IRT: “To his great credit, Frank immediately admitted his mistake but stands unrepentant for sticking to his protocol of not sharing information with other researchers. He says that he lives by this protocol.” This isn’t entirely true (excepting the “unrepentant” part). From firsthand experience, I’ve discovered that Frank refuses to discuss or to allow the discussion of errors of fact when such errors appear in works that he has first publication rights to, such as articles written by other individuals that have been given central attention on his website “UFO Chronicles”. In such cases, even when the proof is easily obtained and indisputable, his refusal to either admit to the errors that he has published or to allow the open discussion of such errors of fact, is not at all to his credit and should be roundly denounced. The man’s tolerance for numerous, easily proven errors, arguments that have been repeatedly proven false, and the continued allowances of slander is disgraceful. As you’ve noted, he can be very polite one on one, but when it comes to more general authority, responsibility, and the attendance of ethical treatment of both ideas and disputes, his oft-noted silence is more than loud enough to get the message across: there is an agenda, and nothing is allowed to get in the way of it.
    I thought your article was brilliant, by the way. It was pointed out to me by the guys at Reality Uncovered. All too often, people neglect to mention the little details in a story that not only make it interesting, but reveal the possible motivations others may have for leaving them out. These are highlights of the “I coulda had a V-8” variety, that turn an entire event on its side, and show us that we haven’t been paying attention to what we should have been paying attention to — things like your personal search for the negative discussed above. This immediately tells us that nothing was hidden or lost or purposely tucked away out of the public eye for whatever reason; there were simply some unfortunate and easily understood mistakes made or attentions paid (like the UCLA archivist coordinator’s less than thorough attention to your initial search request, which was probably not as diligent, because he wasn’t being paid to do it). The fact that so few researchers even tried to look for it is far more fascinating and to the point, and reveals more details of actual interest than anything else. This is the V-8 bump in the head moment when we all collectively go “of course!” because we’ve discovered that people looking at a newspaper will go “isn’t that a flying saucer?”, write up the story for the world to pay attention to, but neglect to even ask about the original print. I’m not surprised, because it happens all the time, but I’m very thankful that you pointed it out. In my opinion, this is one of the little details of human history that Frank Warren should himself have pointed out a long time ago. That would indeed have been to his credit. Like much of the evidence discussed in relation to UFO phenomena, the evidence offered up in defense of the BOLA claims has been edited, fixed, or whatever you want to call it, and once again, those making such claims neglected to present that side of the issue. In my opinion, this is inherently dishonest.
    Frank’s general refusal to discuss such matters isn’t very surprising, however. He doesn’t discuss in public matters that reflect poorly on anything he has published, and he’s very one-sided regarding what he is willing to discuss. As a result, some of the most insulting rhetoric on the internet can be found on “UFO Chronicles”, very little of it having any appropriate response on “UFO Chronicles”. This is because much of it is almost immediately removed whenever such response is, in fact, made. And that is not to Frank’s credit either.

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