Alternative3 - Chapter 5
This digging, as Simon Butler said on television, soon revealed an astonishing fact: twenty-one other people, mainly scientists and academics, had vanished in the same mysterious circumstances. They were among the 400 researched - ostensibly for an extended version of the Brain Drain program - by the Science Report team.
Some, as Butler explained, had disappeared entirely on their own. Others, like Patterson, had gone with their families. All had told neighbors or colleagues that they were going to work abroad.
However, as we have already indicated, only part of the story was presented on television. Many facts were still not known at the time of transmission. And much material that was known was censored from the program.
The principal censor was Leonard Harman, Assistant Controller of Programs (Admin), who also tried to neuter this book.
Letter dated August 9, 1977, from Leonard Harman to Messrs. Ambrose and Watkins:
I have been given to understand that you propose writing a book based on one of the Science Report programs produced by this company, and that you plan to publish certain confidential memoranda concerning this program which I originated or received.
You should know that I am not prepared to sanction such publication, and that I would consider it a gross invasion of my privacy.
I suggest that the book you are apparently preparing would savor of irresponsibility, for, as you are undoubtedly aware, my company has now formally denied the authenticity of much of the material presented in that program.
It is to be hoped that you do not proceed with this project, but, in any event, I look forward to receiving a written undertaking that no reference will be made to myself or the memoranda. Letter dated August 12, 1977, from lawyer Edwin Greer to Leonard Harman:
I have been instructed by Mr. David Ambrose and Mr. Leslie Watkins, and I refer to your letter of the 9th inst.
My clients are cognizant of the statement made by your company following the transmission of the Alternative 3 program, and, in conducting their own inquiries, they are mindful of the background to that statement.
They point out that any copies of memoranda now in their possession were supplied willingly by the persons who either received them or sent them, and that they therefore feel under no obligation to give the undertaking you seek.
One of the first batches of memoranda we received related to a curious discovery made by researcher Terry Dickson in the middle of May 1976. By that time, despite objections from Harman, the Science Report team had been enlarged and allocated its own production office. The Brain Drain program had by then been withdrawn from the series - with the intention of the investigation being presented, as it eventually was, as a one-off special.
Memo dated May 17, 1976, from Terry Dickson to Chris Clements - c.c. (for info only) to Fergus Godwin, Controller of Programs:
We have now established that relatives of at least two more of our missing people, Dr. Penelope Mortimer and Professor Michael Parsons, received letters that appeared to have come from them in Australia. In both cases the letters, which ceased after four or five months, bore the address used in the Pendlebury case.
Photographs of Dr. Mortimer and Professor Parsons, allegedly taken in Australia, show the backdrop used in the Pendlebury shots. The birds and clouds are all identical.
As you requested, I arranged for a Sydney freelance to check the address given in the letters. He reports that it is a two-bedroomed ground floor flat near the waterfront that has now been empty for nearly a year. It was occupied, apparently, by a middle-aged American called "Denton" or "Danton" (he has been unable to verify spelling).
Neighbors say that Denton or Danton was remote and secretive. He was never known to have visitors. Our man says there are local rumors that he had connections with the CIA. Do you want him to pursue the Denton/Danton trail, and do you want me to arrange still pix of the flat?
Memo dated May 13, 1976, from Leonard Harman to Mr. Chris Clements:
A copy of Dickson's note concerning inquiries made in Australia, without my authorization, has been passed to me in the absence of the Controller of Programs.
I have already issued specific instructions that I am to be kept fully informed on all aspects of this project. Please repeat those instructions to Dickson and all other members of the Science Report team - and ensure that they are fully understood.
I am surprised to learn that, despite my earlier warnings, you are apparently still determined to waste company time and money. Let me remind you that Science Report is regarded by the Network as a serious program, and that its credibility can only be damaged by this wild goose course on which you are set.
The more I learn of this affair, the more obvious it becomes that you are losing your objectivity as an editor. Many people do disappear quite deliberately because, for personal reasons, they wish to break all contact with their pasts and make completely fresh starts. I will not tolerate this station turning that sort of situation in an excuse for silly sensationalism.
I had assumed that you were experienced enough to recognize that you are clearly being hoaxed over this business of the photographic backgrounds. Now, I gather from Dickson's note (which, I repeat, should also have been sent to me), that you are apparently getting involved in "local rumors" - supplied by a freelance journalist we have never before used - about some man whose name you don't even know having "connections with the CIA."
Have you considered that some of your so-called mysteries might have been caused by incompetence on the part of your staff?
Did Dr. Ann Clark, for example, refuse to grant Benson a second interview because she found his manner offensive during the first one?
Did Dickson confuse the date fixed for the interview with Robert Patterson and so send an expensive unit on a fool's errand to Scotland?
These are the questions which should be occupying your attention, not some nonsense at the other end of the world I am not prepared to sanction any further expenditure in Australia, and I recommend, once again, that you resume the duties prescribed in your contract.
Memo dated May 19, 1976, from Chris Clements to Terry Dickson:
CONFIDENTIAL. I attach a copy of a rollicking I've just had from Harman. It's self-explanatory, and, for the moment, I'd like you to keep it to yourself. In future don't send carbons to anyone before checking with me.
We'd better soft-pedal for the moment on Australia. Will you line up Mortimer and Parsons parents to be interviewed by Simon or Colin?
Please ignore that snide comment about Robert Patterson. Not worth getting upset over. And please don't mention that about Ann Clark to Colin. He sometimes gets a color-chip on his shoulder, as you know, and it isn't like that. This is just Harman being Harman.
Six days later, on May 25, Terry Dickson gave Clements the bad news. "We're not going to get any interviews with the Mortimers or the Parsons," he said. "They've changed their minds and are refusing to have anything to do with the program."
"But why?" demanded Clements. "They surely gave you a reason."
"None at all," said Dickson. "They just say they'd sooner not."
"You think they've been got at?"
Dickson shrugged, pulled a face. "That's the impression I got, but proving it...that's another matter."
"They're important, love...have another go at them."
Dickson did. But Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer were adamant. So were Mr. and Mrs. Parsons. Not one of them, despite having agreed earlier, would have anything further to do with Science Report. We tried to contact them in September 1977, but we were too late. Neighbors said they had gone to live abroad. And they had left no forwarding addresses.
This whole question of the staged photographs - and of the forged letters - was deliberately omitted from the television program. Clements admits that he now regrets having left them out, for, as he now realizes, they were an intriguing feature of the Alternative 3 operation. He explains that he didn't see what significance they could possibly have - and because of pressure from Harman.
He told us: "At the time I thought Harman was nitpicking. They didn't seem important enough to merit all the aggro I was getting from him. Of course, if I'd known then what I know now..."
We were equally baffled by those photographs and letters. We intended to
mention them, just as we have, simply so that you would know all the circumstances. But as for offering any explanation...we were prepared to recognize that would not be possible. That was how it seemed until January 3, 1978, when we received an envelope from Trojan. The contents provided an unexpected insight into what they call The Smoother Plan.
Trojan's covering note explained that he had discovered the attached document - an early directive to Alternative 3 cells in various parts of the world - in an otherwise empty archives file.
In fact, he had sent a photostat copy of the document. It was dated November 24, 1971, and it had been issued by "The Chairman, Policy Committee." It was addressed to "National Chief Executive Officers," and it read:
The recent publicity that followed the movement of Professor William Braishfield was unfortunate and potentially damaging. To avert and repetition, it has been agreed to adopt a new procedure in all cases where families or others are likely to provoke questions.
The procedure, to be known as The Smoother, is designed to allay fears or suspicions in the immediate post-movement period.
Department Seven will arrange for letters to be sent, in appropriate handwriting, to reassure those whose anxiety might constitute a security risk. It is usual for people to send home photographs of themselves in their new surroundings. Arrangements will therefore also be made for the dispatch of suitable photographs. These photographs will be taken immediately before embarkation.
A list of manned cover addresses will be circulated to National Chief Executive Officers by Department Seven. Officers will then allocate addresses to individual movers.
At least four addresses will be provided in each "country of destination" - so enabling Officers to "separate" any movers who may originate from the same area. There is, however, no limit to the number of movers who can be allocated to any of the addresses. It may prove necessary to change the addresses from time to time, and Department Seven will notify Officers of such changes.
The Smoother Plan will operate for a maximum of six months in respect of each individual, unless circumstances are exceptional, for that is considered long enough to provide a reasonable "break-off period."
It is emphasized that, because of the administration involved, The Smoother Plan is to be activated in selected cases only. The sole criterion will be if, in the opinion of the Officer responsible, there could be a publicity risk. Most movers, certainly all those taking families, will not merit this treatment. Components of Batch Consignments, obviously, will not be considered.
Suddenly it made sense. It was clinical and cruel. But it still made sense.
The Pendleburys idolized their son. That was why they got those cheerful and gossipy letters - written by a stranger they would never meet.
Ann Clark had left no one who would have expected letters. Friends might have been offended, perhaps, if they'd written but got no reply. But they would not have been sufficiently offended to have turned it into a great public issue.
As for Robert Patterson...well, he took his family with him.
But these people, and others like them, had apparently all gone willingly. Where had they gone? And why?
It is now clear that Brian Pendlebury deliberately took part in the conspiracy to fool his own parents. Such behavior might seem beyond any logical explanation. But we must point out, in fairness to Brian Pendlebury, that his actions must be measured against the nightmare background to Alternative 3. That background, you might feel, excuses them all. Well...almost.
Thursday, March 3, 1977. Another submarine meeting of Policy Committee.
Chairman: R EIGHT. Transcript section supplied by Trojan starts:
A TWO: Sure, Ballantine was neat enough...nobody's bitching about Ballantine...but what about Carmell?
A EIGHT: We'll find him...he's still on the loose somewhere in London...but we'll damned well find him...
R SEVEN: A man like him being allowed out of America... it was a bad, bad mistake...
A EIGHT: For chrissake...please...don't let's start that crap again...I told you last month that our people goofed...now didn't I tell you that?
R SEVEN: Yes, but it is particularly serious when...
A EIGHT: Listen...there's no need to turn this into a Federal case. He hasn't got the tape, and, as long as he hasn't got it, there's no great panic...
R THREE: Do we have any idea at all where the tape might be?
A EIGHT: No...that's just one hell of a mystery... we've turned Ballantine's place over, but there's no sign...
R EIGHT: And it was not with him in the car when he died?
A EIGHT: No...definitely not. Our man was right there with him...
A TWO: So, we don't know where Carmell is, and we don't know where the tape is...what's to say they aren't already together?
A EIGHT: Because he wouldn't have waited, that's what...he'd have blown it already.
R ONE: Has there been any sighting of Carmell? Or are we merely assuming that he is in London?
A EIGHT: He was in an hotel in Earls Court...he was there with a girl...our people missed him by about an hour...
R TWO: And now?
A EIGHT: Our information is that they're probably living rough and keeping on the jump...couple nights here, couple of nights there...but it's only a matter of time...
R EIGHT: Time is important...particularly with that tape still missing...perhaps we should put more operators into London...
A TWO: The guy's right...we ought to saturate the town...Jeez! With a character like Carmell at large...
A EIGHT: Okay, okay...so we'll step it up...
A THREE: We've got muscle to spare in Paris and...
A EIGHT: I said we'll step it up - all right...? so just let me handle the details...we'll get Carmell and that damned tape.
R EIGHT: I look forward to hearing of both achievements at our next meeting... Now, you have all seen the expediency report on Peterson?
R TWO: Entirely satisfactory...
A FIVE: I'm still not sure he deserved a hot job...
R FOUR: Very few men deserve to die, but for some it is necessary...and Peterson was one of them...
A ONE: That's right...and, remember, people don't suffer long with a hot job...it is instantaneous...
R EIGHT: Dr. Carl Gerstein...the old man...it was agreed at the last meeting that he should be kept under surveillance...what is the news on him?
A EIGHT: No news...he's been laid up with bronchitis, and, apart from his housekeeper, he's seen no one for weeks.
R EIGHT: So the situation, then, is unchanged...I recommend that we maintain observation on the old man...are we all agreed...? Good...Now, we have had a request from Geneva for more Batch Consignments of animals...
A SEVEN: Yeah...I've already got things shifting on that one...we'll be taking cattle from Kansas and Texas and ponies from Dartmoor...had a bit of a snarl-up over transport but lifts are now scheduled for the second week in July...
R EIGHT: How many beasts will be in each Batch?
We never learned the reply to that last question. That was where the transcript section ended. We have no concrete evidence of cattle disappearing in significant numbers from either Kansas or Texas during the second week of July 1977, although there were complaints of an increase in rustling at that time.
However, we do know - because it was published in the Daily Mail on July 15 - that the pony-lift from Dartmoor ended in disaster.
That section of transcript also emphasizes how close Dr. Carl Gerstein - the person mentioned merely as "the old man" in the February transcript - was unwittingly hovering near sudden death. If an Expediency order had been agreed by the Policy Committee - at either the February or the March meeting in 1977 - Simon Butler would never have been able to interview Gerstein at Cambridge. And Alternative 3 might never have been exposed.
How would Gerstein have died? Probably, like Ballantine and Professor Peterson, the aerospace expert, in what the Policy Committee call a "hot job." And, as was pointed out by the anonymous A ONE, a hot-job death is instantaneous. We have had that confirmed by pathologist, Professor Hubert Radwell, who gave evidence at the Ballantine inquest.
Professor Radwell, when pressed about the "extensive" burns on Ballantine's body, eventually made this statement:
It was technically accurate to describe Ballantine's body as having been extensively burned, although those words embrace only part of the truth. They represented an understatement. I was requested to make that understatement to not promote any unnecessary public alarm.
I was conscious, of course, that there had been some degree of public hysteria following earlier reported instances of spontaneous combustion and I agreed that it would be of no benefit for all the details to be described at that hearing.
I now regret having made that decision, and I welcome this opportunity to correct the record.
Ballantine's body was not merely burned. It was reduced to little more than cinders and scorched bones. His skull had shrunk because of the intense heat to which he had been subjected, and yet his clothing was hardly damaged.
There were small scorch marks on the leather cover of the steering wheel, obviously where Ballantine's hands had been gripping it at the time of the incident, but the rest of the vehicle showed no evidence of burning.
However, extensive damage was suffered by the vehicle, as the police stated at the inquest, and Ballantine's spine was severed by the engine that had been hurled backwards after breaking free.
This is the first occasion on which I have personally encountered spontaneous combustion in a human being, but I have studied papers relating to twenty-three similar occurrences. The effect can be likened to that seen during the microwave cooking of a chicken, except, of course, that it is far more severe. The chicken flesh is roasted within seconds, although the covering skin is not charred, and any receptacle containing the chicken remains cold enough to be handled.
There is still no known explanation for this phenomenon.
We asked Professor Radwell if it were conceivable that spontaneous combustion could be deliberately induced. He replied: "The Americans and the Russians have certainly been experimenting along those lines, with a view to developing spontaneous combustion as a remote-controlled weapon, but the results of those experiments have been kept secret. I would consider that the possibility of them having been successful is highly unlikely..."
Highly unlikely! Almost everything connected with Alternative 3 is highly unlikely. The super-powers actively pooling scientific information - that is highly unlikely. So is the conspiracy of silence about the real achievements in space. But the terrifying truth is that it has been happening. And that it continues to happen.
On Wednesday, February 10, 1977 - three days after hearing of Ballantine's - the American, Harry Carmell, telephoned the Science Report office at Sceptre Television. Colin Benson took the call and he thought, at first, that he'd got another crank on the line. The man was being so guarded and mysterious - refusing even to give his name.
And, particularly since the transmission of the Mechanical Maids program, there'd been a spate of crank callers.
It was strange, really, the way some viewers had reacted to the robot servants. One man had angrily accused anchorman Simon Butler of having stolen his invention - claiming that he'd been working on an identical model for five years in his attic. Two women had wanted to know if there was a domestic agency where they could hire these maids. And an ardent trades-unionist had given a heated tirade about Sceptre encouraging "cheap, scab labor."
This peculiar American, it seemed to Benson, fitted right in the crank category - until he mentioned knowing about scientists who had disappeared. That was when Benson switched on the tape-recorder attached to the telephone. Here is the transcript of the rest of that conversation:
BENSON: Would you repeat that, please...what you said about scientists...
CARMELL: I said I know why they're vanishing...and who's behind it...
BENSON: So tell me then...why and who?
CARMELL: Not on the telephone...I can't talk on the telephone...
BENSON: Well, really, this is a bit...
CARMELL: Listen, I'm not bulls----ng...you know what they did to Ballantine...
CARMELL: Sir William Ballantine the astronomer...
BENSON: Oh yes, I read...the car crash...
CARMELL: I met him when he came to NASA HQ in Houston... that's why he died...
BENSON: I'm sorry...this doesn't seem to be making much sense...
CARMELL: Can we meet?
BENSON: What do you mean that's why Ballantine died?
CARMELL: No more on the phone...either we meet or I go someplace else...
BENSON: Where are you calling from?
CARMELL: Public booth...about a mile north of your studios...
BENSON: Then why not come here?
CARMELL: Too risky...you know somewhere less obvious?
CARMELL: Harry. Just call me Harry.
BENSON: Fine. Now, Harry, you're not having me on, are you?...I mean, you really were with NASA?
CARMELL: A busy street would be best...
BENSON: All right...we'll do it your way...There's a big street market just around the corner from the studios...you can't possibly miss it...how's that sound?
CARMELL: Give me a spot in this market...and how will I know you?
BENSON: There's a post-box outside a fruiterer's called Drages...and you won't have any trouble identifying me. I'm wearing a dark-blue suit, and I'll be carrying a red book...and I happen to have been born in Jamaica...
The appointment was fixed for one hour later. And if you saw that special edition of Science Report you will already know exactly what happened next. Simon Butler told viewers:
What you are about to see may be considered by many of you as unethical. However, we believe that in the light of subsequent developments our action was justified. A hidden camera was positioned near the market. (Authors' Note: The camera was actually installed in a Tourist Information Kiosk). Benson was equipped with a miniaturized transmitter so that we could record the conversation between them.
We should point out that we have challenged Sceptre Television on the ethics of filming in that manner - particularly in view of Carmell's obvious anxiety for secrecy. Clements has defended his decision by claiming that the film would not have been transmitted if events had developed differently. It is a matter of record, however, that Clements and the company were subsequently reprimanded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
Here, verbatim from the transcript of that controversial piece of TV film, is the conversation that took place in the market:
BENSON: I think you're looking for me - Colin Benson.
CARMELL: Yes...hello...thanks for coming...listen, something I have to know: how far are you willing to go with this thing? I mean, all the way?
BENSON: That's what I'm here for. Can you help?
CARMELL: I can help...and if you want confirmation you'd better talk to Dr. Carl Gerstein.
CARMELL: Carl Gerstein...he's at Cambridge. Ask him about Alternative 3.
BENSON: You're talking in riddles, Harry...what's Alternative 3?
CARMELL: Later...we do this my way - okay?
CARMELL: Let's...walk on a little, hmm?
Viewers will recall that the sound quality was poor during this interview, particularly during the section when they were discussing Carl Gerstein and Alternative 3. There was a great deal of static interference, and Benson's radio microphone was also picking up the voices of passers-by and the sounds of traffic. Most of the words, however, were quite discernible.
CARMELL: I'm sorry if I seem a little nervous - it's mainly because I am.
BENSON: Nervous of what?
CARMELL: (Brief laugh) Of contracting a fatal case of measles...you know what I mean? Like Ballantine?
BENSON: But surely that was an accident...I remember reading in the papers that there was some sort of freak skid...
CARMELL: Crap! There was no way for that to be an accident...it was what they call an Expediency, and I know why it happened...and I've got to get it on record before they get to me...
CARMELL: Listen, let's just stick to me telling you what I have to tell you - okay?
BENSON: If that's how you want it...
CARMELL: Right! That's how I want it...this address, tomorrow morning, ten-thirty. Bring everything you've got - camera, tape machines, witnesses - that's the kind of protection I need. I'll have all the answers for you there...
BENSON: Hey! Hold on a minute...come back...
He grabbed at Carmell's sleeve, tried to stop him, but Carmell was too fast. He jerked his arm free, dashed through the narrow gap between two fruit stalls, and disappeared in the crowd thronging the center of the road. Benson was disappointed. The whole elaborate set-up, it seemed to him then, had been a ridiculous waste of time. He looked at the scrap of paper that Carmell had pushed into his hand. On it was scrawled an address in Lambeth.
"Well, what do you think?" he said later to Clements.
"Follow through, love, of course. I'll fix for you to have a film crew tomorrow morning."
"And what about this Gerstein character?"
"I'll talk to Simon...see if he fancies a trip to Cambridge."
So that's how it was left on the evening of February 10, 1977. Simon Butler, who had interviewed Dr. Carl Gerstein years before for Independent Television News, was to go to the university. Colin Benson was to keep the Lambeth appointment.
Both were due for surprises. Particularly Colin Benson.
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