"I have recently become aware of various interviews in which Ray Stanford has painted a picture of P.S.I. and my participation therein that is very different from the reality that I knew," writes Daniel H. Harris, Ph.D., in a just-released open letter. Dr. Harris was Research Director of Project Starlight International (P.S.I.) in 1977 and 1978.
By Douglas Dean Johnson
@ddeanjohnson on Twitter
DECEMBER 17, 2021 – Dr. Daniel H. Harris, who served as Research Director for a 1970s UFO-oriented endeavor called Project Starlight International, run by Ray Stanford, has issued an 11-page open letter in which Dr. Harris sharply disputes many of Stanford's claims about that project, and also disputes in detail some of Stanford's favorite UFO-evidence claims.
Daniel H. Harris first became involved with UFO studies as a research assistant to planetary scientist Dr. William K. Hartmann of the University of Arizona. Among other things, Harris assisted Dr. Hartmann in analyzing certain photos and films as part of the UFO study commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and run by Dr. Edward U. Condon, in 1967-1968. But, Dr. Harris told me, "It was senior atmospheric physicist Dr. James McDonald at the University of Arizona who really made me take the UFO subject seriously." Harris, while a Ph.D. candidate in the university's highly regarded astronomy program, said he had a number of conversations with Dr. McDonald regarding UFOs. This eventually led to Harris becoming involved as a volunteer with several nonprofit UFO organizations, primarily APRO and MUFON, starting in 1972.
Harris was awarded his Ph.D. in astronomy in the spring of 1977. He was hired by Ray Stanford to serve as Research Director for Project Starlight International (P.S.I.) effective September 1, 1977, at age 34. Ray Stanford at that time was age 39.
PROJECT STARLIGHT, DR. DANIEL HARRIS, AND ME
P.S.I. was based in Austin, Texas. It was an activity (labeled a "research division") of a small non-profit organization called the Association for the Understanding of Man (which had about 1200 dues-paying members at its peak). Dr. Harris was employed as P.S.I.'s full-time Research Director through the end of 1978. His tenure largely coincided with P.S.I.'s period of peak exposure in the UFO research community, and in the national news media as well. The man in the media spotlight, however, was not Dr. Harris, but Ray Stanford.
For example, in early 1978 Ray Stanford, as P.S.I.'s head ("managing director"), was presented on the Phil Donahue television program side-by-side with, and in effect as a peer of, then-preeminent UFO-investigating scientist Dr. J. Allen Hynek. The show at that time had an audience estimated at 6 million. (Incidentally, during this appearance, Stanford claimed to possess non-natural material of non-terrestrial origin, on which he said he hoped to have "some further tests done." Elsewhere, Stanford told a typically elaborate story about this sample, dubbed "the Space Material," in which the substance was described as debris from an exploded alien space-city.)
In addition to media exposure connected with Project Starlight, in 1976 Stanford had privately published a book, Socorro 'Saucer' in a Pentagon Pantry, which created a modest buzz in UFO circles. In his letter, Dr. Harris says he had read the book before he met Stanford. I have written about the contents of the book, and about some of Stanford's dubious claims related to the famous 1964 Socorro UFO case, here and here and here.
From late summer 1974 until March, 1978, I was directly involved with A.U.M./P.S.I. in Austin. From December, 1974, until March, 1978, I was a full-time, paid staff member. I believe that I first met Dr. Harris during his August 3, 1977 "job interview" visit to the A.U.M./P.S.I. office, which he describes in his open letter.
When Dr. Harris came on board in September 1977, I had been Associate Editor of the Journal of the Association for the Understanding Man for a couple of years, and I was also wearing the second hat of Associate Editor of the Project Starlight International Journal of Instrumented UFO Research. At age 26, I was part of the P.S.I. core group and deeply involved in many elements of P.S.I.'s activity. I participated in innumerable night watches at P.S.I.'s research site in the then-rural Texas hill country near Lake Travis, often coordinating the activity of volunteers and other participants. The night-watch activity peaked during the summer of 1977. During that summer, often after a regular office work day, I and others set up cameras at the P.S.I. site and watched for anomalous objects as often as four or even five nights in a week – oft times not getting home until after midnight. During 1977, Ray Stanford was seldom present for these night watches, except when there were media visits or other important visitors.
SO THEN – WAS P.S.I. NOTHING MORE THAN ANOTHER UFO-RESEARCH ORGANIZATION?
At this point, some additional context is necessary for the benefit of those readers who have no previous exposure to the subject of Ray Stanford and his very long history of purported encounters with aliens and other exotic beings.
The Association for the Understanding of Man was entirely built around the purported psychic talents of Ray Stanford (born June 21, 1938). Stanford claimed the ability to go into an "unconscious" state, often for hours at a time, during which he would deliver long discourses, referred to as "psychic readings."
Stanford claimed to have no waking memory of what he said while delivering the readings, some of which flowed fluently for hours. A fraction of Stanford's trance discourses were published by A.U.M., either in transcript form, audio cassette, or both.
Some of Stanford's trance discourses purported to emanate from a higher level of Stanford's own being (dubbed "the Source of the Readings"), represented as possessing a high level of clairvoyance and preternatural insight into virtually any subject to which its attention was directed. However, many other discourses were presented as "channeled" – that is, transmitted through the vocal cords of the "unconscious" Stanford from distinct personas referred to as "Brothers."
The term "Brothers" was a shorthand term for members of the "White Brotherhood," a purported league of mystical adepts (some on Earth, some in ethereal realms) that has been a staple of metaphysical mythology since at least the heyday of the British Theosophical Society in the late 19th century. (The term "White Brotherhood" has no racial connotation.) Among the "Brothers" ostensibly channeled by Stanford were a number of self-identified extraterrestrials.
In more recent decades, Stanford has at times vehemently denied that he ever believed that he was really "channeling" extraterrestrials – but if Stanford didn't believe it, then he was lying to the A.U.M. members and donors back in the 1970s, when Stanford at times explicitly endorsed the claimed identity and the elevated authority of the most frequent of the purported extraterrestrial communicators, "Aramda" of "The Planet Keepers" (AKA "The Watchers"). Stanford (in lectures, while awake) claimed to have been associated with Aramda for 38,000 years.
Stanford talked about Aramda as early as 1958 in his book Look Up, published when Stanford was age 19, detailing multiple purported extraordinary UFO encounters and communications with "space people" and "Brothers."
Elsewhere, I have devoted considerable bandwidth to sketching episodes in Stanford's long and colorful "careers" promoting various UFO-alien-related claims, describing my own involvement as a young fool, expounding on the implausibility of some of Stanford's specific UFO evidence claims (for example, here), documenting some of Stanford's misrepresentations regarding his own history, and lamenting what I consider to be ill-considered recent efforts by some to give unwarranted credence to certain of Stanford's dubious UFO-evidence claims. (My pre-June-2021 articles were written under a temporary pen name, for reasons explained here.) I encourage the reader of this article to explore those earlier topical pieces and the documentation (mostly PDF and audio files) that I have attached to them, in order to get a clearer picture of the length and breadth of Ray Stanford's extensive history of eye-popping (and in many instances discredited and/or self-repudiated) claims about encounters with UFOs and aliens -- claims that extend back over a period of more than six decades.
Stanford delivered thousands of "psychic readings" beginning in 1960, discontinuing that activity in or about 1979, at age 40. (One of the last was a bombastic discourse purportedly from "the Lord," AKA Jesus Christ, that consumed eight letter-sized, single-spaced pages in A.U.M. newsletter No. 18, September 29, 1978.)
In a 2009 interview, Stanford said he had come to disapprove of channeling, adding, "I think you can get a lot of B.S. that way." Thus, Stanford himself has effectively repudiated hundreds of "readings" in which he made detailed assertions about alien visitation, alien craft, alien space cities, and the like – discourses that he now asserts were manufactured by his "unconscious." The reader may well ask whether Stanford also repudiates all of the waking lectures and interviews in which he enthusiastically embraced and promoted many of the same stories and claims, and often elaborated on them.
THE MANY INCARNATIONS OF "PROJECT STARLIGHT INTERNATIONAL"
Getting back to Project Starlight International (P.S.I.): Stanford was involved with a group in Arizona that operated under that name apparently as early as 1964. But I think that this was basically a little club of Stanford and some associates. There was also a short-lived "Association for the Understanding of Man" based in Phoenix from about 1964-1967, but I think neither this "A.U.M." nor this "P.S.I." had any real legal relationship to the later Austin-based entities– the only evident link was Stanford himself. A.U.M. in Austin was incorporated in March 1971, and was granted formal tax-exempt status by the IRS effective July 1, 1973. Project Starlight International was never a legally separate entity, but merely an activity conducted under A.U.M. auspices and under A.U.M.'s tax exemption, labeled as a "research division."
By the very early 1980s, the A.U.M./P.S.I. operation had essentially shut down, although it still had a legal existence. According to an account Stanford wrote in 1984, in 1982 he "bought the most important items of U.F.O.-monitoring equipment from the parent organization (who closed down their end of P.S.I.)... P.S.I. lives! But as a private research group."
As near as I can determine from available records and based on information transmitted to me long ago by some of those involved, the Association for the Understanding of Man as such ceased to exist in or about January, 1984.
In the ensuing decades, Ray Stanford has sometimes continued to attach the name Project Starlight International (and sometimes also its distinctive logo) to some of his UFO-related material; he has done so even during 2021. As far as I have been able to determine, for the past 39 years or so there has been no incorporated entity or any other real organization behind the name (but I would welcome receipt of any documentation to the contrary).
I noticed that for a time beginning in the late 1990s, veteran UFO grifter Steven Greer adopted the name "Project Starlight" for one of his dubious enterprises, and as a result, Ray Stanford stopped using the name for a time. In August 2009, Stanford provided this "signature" on an Internet forum, "Ray Stanford, Founder and Director of Project Starlight International, which has tracked and recorded UFOs optically & electronically for four decades. (Because of Steven M. Greer’s later and often-discredited 'Project Starlight', the [Stanford] project now has a different name: Organization for Physical UFO Science.)" [An image of Stanford's August 2009 "signature" is included at the bottom of this article.]
I have found no documentation to suggest that the Organization for Physical UFO Science had any legal existence, or was anything more than another impressive-sounding name that Stanford invented to attach to his personal name (but if I am mistaken, I would welcome documentation to the contrary). Anyway, at some point Greer moved on from his "Project Starlight," and Stanford went back to labeling some of his material with the Project Starlight International name and logo.
[NOTE: Some readers may notice that some of the images posted in this article, or linked in it, are of materials initially published by (or incorporate material gathered through the expenditures and resources of) the IRS-recognized tax-exempt entity (A.U.M./P.S.I.) that existed from about 1971-1984. That entity is now long defunct. For any other entity or individual to assert a copyright over any of the P.S.I.-derived material would be, in my view, on its face highly legally suspect under the applicable laws governing tax-exempt entities (including, if applicable, the stringent restrictions on what is called "private dealing"), and under applicable copyright laws. I am fully prepared to challenge any such dubious claims, and any underlying arrangements upon which such hypothetical claims would presumably be based, should anyone ever be imprudent enough to press such a claim.]
THE LEGEND OF PROJECT STARLIGHT VS. THE REALITY OF PROJECT STARLIGHT
The public face of P.S.I. was one of hard-nosed science– a project devoted purely to the use of instruments to gain "hard data" on UFOs. This was not a hoax– the project had a rural monitoring site, some instrumentation, a vehicle, and some paid staff support – although a substantial part of the human resources were in the form of unpaid volunteers who were motivated by personal interest in UFOs, interest in the contents of the Stanford "psychic readings," or both.
As I have thoroughly documented elsewhere, the core staff group, as well as the broader group of A.U.M. members and financial supporters, on multiple occasions received strong endorsements from "the Source" and "the Brothers" regarding the importance of Project Starlight International. Some of those exhortations were even published by A.U.M. in its journal, or on audio cassette, samples of which I have posted elsewhere for review by anyone who has interest. These ostensibly spiritually elevated sources stressed that the ultimate goal of Project Starlight was not merely to obtain instrumented data on UFOs, but to actually establish physical contact and communication with visiting extraterrestrials. It was understood that this sought-for contact would be with garden-variety exploring ETs of various races, not with the "Watchers" – who, after all, had already been communicating with and through Stanford since the mid-1950s, according to Stanford's claims during this era.
In a reading given for those directly involved in Project Starlight on October 12, 1973, "the Source" said, "Project Starlight International can grow to the point where it may be recognized worldwide for its work, its endeavor and even success in the ideals discussed and in communication with extraterrestrial civilizations." The Source went on to give very specific, step-by-step guidance on how P.S.I. staff should conduct themselves on that momentous future occasion when an alien craft would land at the P.S.I. site, which "the Source" assured the group would indeed occur "if you persist."
Dr. Harris' open letter, however, speaks to a somewhat different and distinct issue that tainted the work of Project Starlight, and also permeates the broader body of Ray Stanford's UFO-evidence claims: Stanford's oft-demonstrated proclivities for subjectivity, exaggeration, and outright prevarication with respect to UFOs and aliens. As applied to Project Starlight during the period of my personal involvement (late 1974 to early 1978), these proclivities manifested in the form of presentations by Stanford to other UFO researchers and to the public that were greatly distorted, always in the direction of exaggeration and enhancement of claims. These exaggerations and distortions applied to representations regarding the assets, technology, and other resources actually possessed by P.S.I., and also to claims about specific "UFO" incidents, including incidents at which I was personally present.
In the ensuing decades, I have observed intermittently from a distance as Ray Stanford has become in some respects even more extravagant in some of his representations regarding the technological, human, and monetary resources that he alleges were at his command as director of Project Starlight International in Austin. I have also seen Stanford's claims regarding certain specific P.S.I.-related "UFO" incidents and purported evidences morph over the years, sometimes in quite incredible ways.
For example, I was personally present for one "UFO" event on December 10, 1975, at the P.S.I. rural site. In 2021, Stanford presented slides purporting to depict this incident that added three highly remarkable and sensationalistic claims that (1) did not occur, and (2) are all inconsistent with the contemporary accounts of the same event that were prepared by Stanford himself, not long after the incident. Dr. Harris refers to this case in his open letter (on pages 7-8), and I may have much more to say about the same case at a later date. Regrettably, the transformation of the December 10, 1975 incident is not atypical of Stanford's modus operandi – but the fictionalization process is better documented in this case than in some of the others.
[Update: On April 29, 2022, I published a detailed dissection of how Ray Stanford fictionalized the incident of December 10, 1975, with reproductions of contemporary records from 1975-1976 (including a release approved by Ray Stanford at time), compared with slides and dramatically different claims made by Stanford about the incident in recent years. This comparison is found in Section 6 of "Plasma Dream--or Fever Dream?"]
THE ROLE OF DR. DANIEL H. HARRIS IN PROJECT STARLIGHT INTERNATIONAL – AND WHY WHAT HE SAYS TODAY STILL MATTERS
Over the decades, in written and verbal presentations about Project Starlight International, Ray Stanford not infrequently has boasted about the fact that Project Starlight employed a Ph.D. astronomer. Dr. Harris was hired by Stanford as a full-time, paid employee effective September 1, 1977. In letter sent to project supporters announcing the hiring (reproduced above), Stanford said that Dr. Harris thereby became "apparently, the first scientist to ever become employed full-time in a paid UFO research position."
Although Dr. Harris left P.S.I. at the end of 1978 (he explains the circumstances in his open letter), Ray Stanford continued to cite him by name for some time thereafter. However, I have noticed that in more recent years, when Stanford refers back to Project Starlight's in-house scientist, he does so in the course of burnishing his own scientific credibility, and without mentioning Dr. Harris by name. For example, in an interview by Erica Lukes on her podcast UFO Classified (March 8, 2019), Stanford said, "I mean, a lot of what I understand is that we had a staff Ph.D. physicist from the best astronomy school in the world, working for us for several years, helping us understand this [UFO] data. Otherwise, I couldn't talk about it the way I do."
So, now you have some context for the December 7, 2021 open letter from Dr. Harris, which I have posted in total below. The letter begins:
It has come to my attention that over a period of decades, Mr. Stanford has referred to me...in such a manner as to leave the listener or reader with the false impression that I [Dr. Harris] have validated or otherwise endorsed the quite varied extreme claims and representations made by Mr. Stanford...The impression that Mr. Stanford apparently seeks to convey is misleading, because in all instances that have come to my attention, I would in fact challenge Mr. Stanford's UFO-related claims. Therefore I write this letter to set the record straight...and it is hoped to prevent further misrepresentations or misunderstandings regarding my involvement with Mr. Stanford and P.S.I.
In his letter, on pages 8-10, Dr. Harris disputes (among other things) statements and scientific judgments that Ray Stanford attributed to him in a paper that Stanford presented at the 1980 MUFON symposium in Clear Lake City, Texas, regarding a Super 8 film that Stanford took through an airliner window near Memphis, Tennessee, on December 12, 1977. I call this the "Memphis Mothership Movie," and it continues to be one of Stanford's favorites; as recently as June, 2021, Stanford has pressed claims that the film shows a giant UFO venting plasma and "plasma following magnetic line fields." Dr. Harris' detailed discussion of the film and Stanford's associated claims are therefore of timely relevance.
Dr. Harris also explains in detail ways in which a P.S.I. paper presented by Stanford at the June 1976 MUFON symposium, titled "The Operation ARGUS Concept: A New Look at UFO Events Sharing and Data Sharing," greatly exaggerated the resources of Project Starlight International. I can confirm that the paper painted a picture that was far removed from any physical reality. Its fanciful content was a matter of disagreement and consternation among several of Stanford's close associates at P.S.I., both before and after its submission to MUFON, which occurred in May 1976. The paper itself said, "The most sophisticated equipment yet designed by the laboratory staff is being assembled for operation as this is written in April, and it should be completely functional before August, 1976. The system is called Operation ARGUS (Automated Ringup on Geolocated UFO Sightings)." In fact, as Dr. Harris accurately describes in his open letter, the complex tracking and notification system that was the centerpiece of Stanford's paper did not exist in 1976 when the paper was published, did not exist at the end of 1978 when Dr. Harris left P.S.I., and, I am confident, never existed or operated as described in the paper, except in the imagination of Ray Stanford.
SHOULD YOU BELIEVE DR. HARRIS REGARDING HIS EXPERIENCES WITH RAY STANFORD AND PROJECT STARLIGHT?
The A.U.M./P.S.I. staff was small, and so was the office suite– six rooms, as I recall. Dr. Harris's office was immediately adjacent to my own. I left employment at A.U.M./P.S.I. in March, 1978, so my tenure and that of Dr. Harris overlapped for roughly seven months; he remained at P.S.I. for about nine months after my departure. I had occasional contact with Dr. Harris for perhaps a year after that. I remember him as man who had a manner of interpersonal interaction that was a bit stiff at times, but never nasty, and -- most pertinent to what follows – I remember him as an honest man. I do not remember ever thinking that I'd detected Dr. Harris in a lie, not even a "polite lie" or a "white lie." Indeed, he was direct to the point of offending people at times with his bluntness.
With respect to matters addressed in Dr. Harris' letter on which I have direct knowledge, his memories are essentially consistent both with my own memories and with my contemporary records. With respect to events that occurred after my departure, or events otherwise outside of my direct knowledge, I can only say that Dr. Harris' accounts and judgments generally ring true to me, based on my own experiences. Moreover, there is nothing Dr. Harris says that differs in any significant respect from information that I received from other persons who remained associated with Ray Stanford after my departure, or from other sources of information that I consider to be reliable.
In short, with respect to the reality of Project Starlight International as it actually existed in the 1970s – as opposed to the legend that Ray Stanford has cultivated – Dr. Harris and I are, broadly stated, corroborating witnesses. Nearly all of the other persons who were directly and extensively involved with A.U.M./P.S.I. during that era either have died, or wish to avoid entering into public disputes with Ray Stanford.
Recently, after having had no contact with Dr. Harris for over 40 years, I was able to speak with him by phone at length. Beyond our discussions regarding our shared experiences at Project Starlight, we chatted cordially on a number of subjects, including certain matters of theology and science. Dr. Harris adheres to premises regarding the authority and interpretation of biblical texts to which I do not subscribe. Based on his premises, Dr. Harris draws conclusions regarding diverse matters, including the nature of UFOs, which I do not find persuasive. However, I consider none of those areas of wide disagreement to be at all pertinent to the recollections and commentary that Dr. Harris offers regarding Ray Stanford and Stanford's UFO-related claims related to Project Starlight. I also note that Dr. Harris' religious convictions include an obligation to speak the truth as he sees it, and I believe that he has done so in his letter.
To download a PDF file of the open letter of Daniel H. Harris, Ph.D., dated December 7, 2021, click here (file size: 7 mb).
SUBSTANTIVE REVISIONS TO THIS ARTICLE SINCE ITS ORIGINAL PUBLICATION ON DECEMBER 17, 2021:
- On May 7, 2023, I added a link to an article, "Plasma Beam--Or Fever Dream?," in which (in Section 6) I document Ray Stanford's fictionalization of a "UFO" incident that occurred on December 10, 1975, for which I was present. The article compares P.S.I.'s contemporary records of the event with the vastly different narrative promoted by Stanford in recent years.
- On May 7, 2023, I added an audio clip from a lecture Ray Stanford gave in August, 1974, in which he described his 38,000-year relationship with Aramda, a member of a purported extraterrestrial race known as "the Watchers" or "The Planet Keepers." Stanford, while in an "unconscious state," also channeled this ostensible entity (among many others) for a period of about 20 years.