Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Carpenter Affair: For the Record

A review of circumstances, people and documents related to the Carpenter Affair.

Two years ago I began publishing a series of posts on the Leah Haley case. I found a number of aspects of the woman's story of interest. Researching and writing about her experiences led to many intriguing and relevant aspects of ufology. Among them was something that came to be known as the Carpenter Affair, a chain of events in which hypnotist John Carpenter accepted approximately $14,000 for delivering copies of the case files of 140 clients – people suspecting themselves to be alien abductees – to Robert Bigelow and his now dissolved National Institute for Discovery Science. The 140, which included Haley, were not informed by Carpenter that he made such arrangements.

John Carpenter
Carpenter was the director of abduction research for the Mutual UFO Network at the time, the 1990's. He was also a Missouri Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Several posts here at The UFO Trail addressed the Carpenter Affair, including The Leah Haley Case: John Carpenter, which contained statements obtained from the man during January, 2012. While Carpenter acknowledged he was provided cash from Bigelow on multiple occasions and that he delivered abductee information to Bigelow, Carpenter denied that any of his former clients were hurt in any way. Additional remarks of potential interest from Carpenter included stating that other researchers of alien abduction were approached with the same proposal as he and that some of them may have also shared data.

News of the Carpenter Affair first began to reach the public in early 2000, and Gary Hart became a principle reporter of the circumstances. He therefore viewed the related posts at The UFO Trail with interest. In August Mr. Hart chose to submit comments to the blog, addressing some key points that he stated Mr. Carpenter repeatedly ignored or twisted to a brighter point of view.

Mr. Hart and I then began a series of interactions. At my request, Hart explained how he came to provide MUFON in 2000 - and then the State of Missouri in 2001 - with information related to the Carpenter Affair.

UFO and Ethics Investigation

Long interested in ufology, Hart informed me he was investigating a UFO case in 1999 when he met with some abductees who confirmed rumors of the file sale. In addition to telling Hart about events surrounding the Carpenter Affair, they also told him MUFON was doing nothing about it. Hart took interest, and recently described the chain of events.

I supplied MUFON with raw evidence so they could do their own investigation, talk to the witnesses and make a time line, etc.,” he informed The UFO Trail, “since at that time I felt it was their job to investigate the case and not mine. They were in a position to uphold their own ethics policy.”

Robert Bigelow
However, Hart was disappointed to confirm MUFON leadership was already aware of the situation. The organization took no corrective actions, left Carpenter in a position of authority and continued to encourage people to participate in his hypnosis sessions.

Hart explained, “Immediately after filing my MUFON complaint I was told in no uncertain terms that MUFON had no intention of taking the complaint seriously and actually doing an investigation, so I investigated the case further and made a proper report/complaint to the state licensing board.”

A portion of Hart's formal complaint filed to MUFON was contained in a July, 2000, email published at UFO UpDates. Hart specified at the time that some of the information and documentation might well need to be on public display, emphasizing that the best interests of the organization and the public were not served by keeping the circumstances secret or out of public view. Such documentation, Hart wrote, included letters written by Carpenter to Bigelow, as well as a letter written by Carpenter's attorney. Some of those documents and their significance will be explored shortly.

The information contained in Hart's reports and formal complaints was originally obtained from a variety of sources, he told The UFO Trail, including Carpenter's ex-wife, Elizabeth. “I found Elizabeth to be truthful in my many talks with her,” Hart explained, adding that the same could not be said for Carpenter.

Another source of information was Leah Haley. She supplied Hart with evidence during his original investigation and much more recently provided The UFO Trail with copies of a document she gave Hart for inclusion in his 2001 report to the State of Missouri.

Perhaps the most important point in all of this is that MUFON's ethics code was all for show,” Hart reflected. “They had and apparently still have no intention of holding anyone, even a board member, to their code of ethics.”

Selling Case Files

John Carpenter told The UFO Trail in January of 2012 that his “data sharing” with Bigelow “was spread over three years around 1995” and that “reimbursements trickled in over the period.”

Carpenter additionally stated, “Despite rumors on the Internet, I NEVER SOLD my cases!!” (emphasis his)

Copies of letters written by Carpenter to Bigelow and included by Hart in his submissions of evidence to MUFON and the State of Missouri were provided to The UFO Trail. One such letter (see the two images to the right) dated June 29, 1996, primarily dealt with advising Bigelow that Carpenter and fellow hypnotist Yvonne Smith agreed to conduct work for Bigelow and receive financial compensation in return. Additional statements written by Carpenter, however, further suggested that his January, 2012, assertions to The UFO Trail were not entirely accurate, and that he had for all intents and purposes sold abductee case files, whatever terminology one might choose to describe it.

Personally, I want to thank you, Bob, for your assistance regarding the 140 cases I mailed to you,” Carpenter wrote Bigelow in 1996. “That helped pay some bills. The remainder has been what we have been living on since last December at the rate of $600-$800 per month... What has really hurt this year – after I began copying and sending files – was the elimination of my bonus/incentive pay program at work.” (emphasis his)

Carpenter was recently offered an opportunity to comment. He was supplied a copy of the 1996 letter and specifically asked about the discrepancy between his statements of January, 2012, in which he emphasized he never sold his cases, and his above statements contained in the letter.

I am now and always have been in complete possession of all original case files, approximately 140 in number,” Carpenter replied in an October 15 email. “Mr. Bigelow paid me for my time, expense, and labor in making some copies that his elite science panel could review in order to understand the abduction phenomenon more fully.”

While Mr. Carpenter may describe his activities as he chooses, it is not difficult for this writer to understand why some interpreted that case files were sold. One might also empathize with those who feel that to suggest otherwise is misrepresenting the circumstances, or, at the least, evading the relevant issues.

Carpenter added that measures were taken to protect confidentiality of the witnesses, including changing or blacking out names, an issue that has at times been disputed, as well as had its practicality called into question. Some argued that Leah Haley's name, for example, would not necessarily have to be on her case file for an even somewhat well informed individual to recognize the file as pertaining to her. Much more importantly, competent arguments have been made that whether or not the client names were included is completely beside the point.

Context and Capacity

By 1997, Carpenter's former hypnosis subject and then-wife Elizabeth, a self-described abductee, had privately informed some other abductees their files had been sold. Responses would eventually range from absolute rage to complete denial that Carpenter would have done such a thing.

A group of abductees who felt betrayed decided to explore legal action and retained lawyers. In a series of events that spanned three years and continue to be unclear, no charges or civil action were brought against Carpenter and the case was dropped. Some were under the impression a statute of limitations expired, some thought lawyers representing the abductees would have had a great deal of difficulty quantifying damages, while yet others suspected more devious causes.

Whether or not it had anything to do with the case being dropped, a recurring dynamic within such circumstances involves defining exactly what is taking place between a hypnotist and their subject, particularly in the context of investigation of alien abduction. Hypnotists continue to often avert from formally defining the role of hypnosis subjects who might be considered research subjects or therapy clients, but are much more frequently simply referred to as abductees or witnesses.

1997 letter from the law office
 of William E. Stoner
Further clouding the issue is failure to define the specific role and obligations of the hypnotist/investigator. A licensed social worker, for instance, could be interpreted to be administering professional services to some type of clients, while the hypnosis subjects of an artist or historian might tend to be interpreted differently, and whether or not they should be. Such are the specifics that abduction researchers and organizations that support them perpetually omit from clarifying in their methodology and in practical manners.

A 1997 letter from the law office of William E. Stoner, Carpenter's attorney, was mailed to legal counsel for Carpenter's former clients and in response to allegations of wrongdoing. The letter suggested Carpenter was not acting in a professional capacity when working with the individuals, making it a moot point whether or not he sold information contained in their files without their knowledge or consent.

The letter stated, “His [Carpenter's] collection of data is for his own personal pleasure as a hobby and as an interesting study. He does not do it for compensation.”

However, copies of additional documents provided by Hart clearly show that was not completely correct. A 1994 MUFON regional newsletter (see images to the left), crediting Carpenter as the editor and published some three years prior to the letter from Mr. Stoner's office, informed readers they could use credit cards, bill insurance companies and set up payment plans for Carpenter's hypnosis sessions. The newsletter also announced Carpenter's move to a new office at the Center for Neuropsychiatry where he would be conducting hypnosis sessions.

Carpenter's professional business card, stating his credentials as a social worker, was displayed at the top of a page. The announcement stated that his hypnosis practice and research of anomalous phenomena, and specifically “UFO abductions”, would be openly and professionally supported at the Center for Neuropsychiatry.

The bad news,” the announcement stated, “is that there can be no more free hypnosis sessions. However there is good news: payment plans are possible and medical insurance may indeed cover your sessions. Even VISA and Master Card charges are allowed! Cost is $65 for the session – even if the session lasts 3–4 hours. (That is still a bargain!)”

Obviously, Carpenter prospected for self-described abductees, accepted financial compensation for conducting hypnosis sessions and did so from a professional medical facility while billing insurance companies. Clients had no reason to suppose they were dealing with a financially uncompensated man “collecting data for his own personal pleasure”, as Mr. Stoner's office framed it, as compared to a mental health professional conducting paid services bound by applicable laws and codes of ethics.

A 2001 two-page document prepared by Leah Haley (below, right) for inclusion in Gary Hart's complaint to the Missouri Division of Professional Registration further called into question the portrayal of the situation as described by Mr. Stoner's office and Mr. Carpenter. Ms. Haley explained how John Carpenter originally presented himself as a mental health professional, repeatedly assured her that all information discussed would be kept confidential and provided her with an assessment of her mental condition. Such circumstances would of course not lead one to interpret Carpenter was acting in a recreational capacity. Moreover, Haley paid Carpenter.

The total amount I paid John for the 15 sessions was $825,” Haley wrote in 2001. “I have canceled checks for these payments.”

She concluded, “Had I known that John would sell my case files or disclose information he did not have permission to disclose, I would never have gone to him.”

Haley greatly revised her opinions of her experiences, the validity of regression hypnosis used as a memory retrieval tool and, unfortunately but understandably, the integrity of some members of the mental health industry.

The Story Broke

In 2000, after legal options dissolved, Elizabeth created a website and published details of the Carpenter Affair. If her intentions were to inform the public and force discussion, she was successful.

UFO Updates provided access to an abundance of comments on the topic. In a July 20, 2000, email, John Velez challenged Budd Hopkins and his position of downplaying the significance of the Carpenter Affair. Selling files for cash, Mr. Velez emphasized, with no notice to the witness, was unacceptable under any circumstances. One of the few ways to insure it didn't happen again, he explained, was to shine a lot of light on it.

Velez continued, “This nasty business has now been confirmed by Bigelow himself, Walt Andrus, Dr. [John] Alexander of NIDS, and about seven of the abductees whose files were sold.”

Up to that point, long standing MUFON Director Walt Andrus had privately rationalized Carpenter's actions, seemingly attempting to deflect responsibility from MUFON. He stood on such platforms as suggesting the abductee files were Carpenter's personal property, making it a non-MUFON issue.

If that was the case, critics countered, then exactly what did Carpenter do in his capacity as MUFON director of abduction research? And was that to suggest MUFON supported such conduct from its board of directors?

Hart's Formal Complaint

Hart's investigation and resulting 2000 formal complaint to MUFON cited specific violations of the MUFON code of ethics, some of which about witness care was ironically composed by Carpenter. Hart charged that Carpenter had engaged in “unprofessional conduct, unethical conduct, conduct unbecoming a MUFON official and negligent misrepresentation of himself as a health care professional during activities that involve 'abduction research', hypnosis, contact with witnesses and the general public.”

The charges, the complaint added, were substantive and represented an abuse of power and position occurring over many years. Hart's complaint suggested that Carpenter's unprofessional activities rendered his entire body of research worthless, as one could not determine truth from fiction within abductee accounts or Carpenter's conclusions. That was particularly the case, it was stated within the complaint, “given the exceptionally dysfunctional behavior this report documents as having occurred between John and his abductee contacts.”

Hart's complaint to MUFON cited how Carpenter had stated his title as a MUFON official, presented his professional business card and used his licensed medical position to establish trust with witnesses. In many cases, it was stated, Carpenter then obtained personal medical records, combined them with taped hypnosis sessions and sold the personal case files, among other indiscretions and unauthorized entrepreneurial ventures detailed and demonstrated within the complaint.

Internal Affairs

John Schuessler
About the time the Affair went public, Director Andrus handed off the job to MUFON board member John Schuessler. Critics feared Schuessler was biased towards minimizing the Carpenter circumstances and would not offer the situation objective concern, as he was a member of a science adivisory board for NIDS and Bigelow. Some argued it likely he knew about the situation and failed to take action for years.

Jim Moseley's September, 2000, Saucer Smear contained a piece on the saga. Mr. Moseley cited long and rambling Internet posts made by both Carpenter and his former hypnosis subject and new wife, Debra, that attempted to explain and justify Carpenter's actions. Moseley quoted the MUFON director of governmental affairs, Larry Bryant, who expressed concern about activities and intentions of fellow board members. Mr. Bryant stated:
"Since a cloud of alleged impropriety now hangs over the Executive Committee (of MUFON) for its having taken so long to act upon its months-long knowledge of the 'Carpenter Affair', I hereby call upon all members of the Executive Committee to resign forthwith from their Committee positions, from their membership on the MUFON Board of Directors, and from their MUFON general membership - all in the interest of helping restore the public's confidence in the purpose, operation, management, and integrity of this organization...
"In addition, you Executive Committee members owe all of us in the entire field of UFO research not only a full, written explanation as to who on the MUFON Board originally knew of the 'Carpenter Affair' (and when they knew it) but also a published apology for their having embargoed or otherwise downplayed that knowledge at the expense of the rest of the Board. If we have a lesson to be learned from this debacle, how about this one: Enforced silence never can be the ally of truth!"
Moseley followed up on the story two months later in his November, 2000, Saucer Smear, in which he described the MUFON continuing lack of action or explanation:
Our readers will recall that in our Sept. 5th issue, we told you of the internal scandal in MUFON regarding the fact that John Carpenter, their Director of Abduction Research, sold one hundred and forty (140) abduction case histories to wealthy [Robert] Bigelow of NIDS (National Institute of Discovery Science). John Schuessler, the new czar of MUFON, has promised an investigation by an Ethics Committee consisting of four unnamed members of their Board of Directors, and he has stated that the results of this internal investigation will be published in the MUFON Journal.

“However, we have recently received the October issue of the Journal, and there is not a word therein about the John Carpenter affair! On the contrary, the lead article is authored by Carpenter, who uses the letters 'MSW' and 'LCSW' after his name. We have no idea what these letters mean, but we do know that the article in question is an absurd defense of the ludicrous 'abduction video' which was the topic of Carpenter's presentation at this year's MUFON symposium in St. Louis. It thus appears that Mr. Carpenter is still riding high in the MUFON hierarchy!”
That may very well have remained the case indefinitely had Gary Hart not filed a complaint to the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, apparently spurring further action. In the April, 2001, MUFON Journal, then-Director John Schuessler informed the MUFON nation, “John Carpenter has vacated the post of MUFON Director of Abduction Research, citing personal reasons and the need to spend more time with his career activities.”

Schuessler thanked Carpenter for his work and generosity. “We will miss this important source of information,” he wrote.

To the best of my knowledge, MUFON never directly informed its membership or even the 140 former clients of Carpenter of the circumstances. It is a strong possibility that a large majority of the 140 still do not know about the Carpenter Affair.

The Missouri licensing board investigated Hart's complaint and handed down a five-year probation period on Carpenter's license as a clinical social worker. The period was completed in 2006 and the license is currently under no disciplinary status.


John Carpenter was offered an opportunity to provide comments for this post, and subsequently wrote in an October 15 email, “Mr. Bigelow funded all of the major researchers in some fashion with equipment, various projects, conferences, documentaries, research trips, etc. Receiving help from him for a scientific and serious research endeavor was not unusual. Researchers presented many proposals to him. His elite science panel included two astronauts who had walked on the moon. We should be proud that that level of science and expertise was involved.”

Carpenter was also offered an opportunity to comment on some specific previous remarks in addition to those addressed earlier in this post. In January of 2012, Carpenter stated to The UFO Trail that additional researchers were approached with similar offers as he, and that some of them may have also shared data. Encouraged to directly address details of such circumstances and expand on those remarks, Carpenter chose not to do so.

Controversy would continue to surround the MUFON activities of both Mr. Bigelow and Mr. Schuessler. In more recent years a failed collaboration between the nonprofit UFO research organization and Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies included some major funding, initially reported to be provided by Bigelow. The deal went south amid many complications that included dismissals and resignations of MUFON personnel. In January, 2011, former international director for MUFON, James Carrion, wrote at his blog, Follow the Magic Thread, "Mr. Bigelow did not fund MUFON’s work for BAASS, instead 'sponsors' that Bigelow revealed to John Schuessler but not to the other MUFON Board Members put up the money."

Multiple attempts were unsuccessful to obtain comment from Robert Bigelow for this post. His statements continue to be invited should he ever be inclined to provide them.

John Schuessler was sent emails requesting permission to ask a few questions related to the Carpenter Affair. No responses were received. 

John Alexander
Colonel John Alexander, a former NIDS staff member and among those originally confirming the Carpenter Affair, was asked earlier this year to please comment on related issues, such as any interest he may have had in the 140 case files. He was also asked, in his opinion, why Mr. Bigelow obtained copies of the files and financed Carpenter's activities. The colonel was additionally requested to please comment on whether other researchers supplied Bigelow with files, as Carpenter suggested.

Lastly,” I wrote Alexander, “former MUFON Director James Carrion alleged that Bigelow moved funds on behalf of an undisclosed financial sponsor during collaborations with MUFON. Can you offer any comment on that? Is there anything you might be at liberty to discuss concerning relationships between Bigelow corporations and intelligence agencies?”

In an August email, Colonel Alexander replied briefly, “You should ask Bigelow if you are interested in old affairs.”

Relevance: Was 'Everyone' Doing It?

In order to understand the culture of the UFO community of the 1990's, one should be aware that a great deal of attention was given to alleged alien abduction. This subsequently included wide tolerance of the use of regression hypnosis as a memory retrieval tool and related concepts. Researchers such as Budd Hopkins, Dr. John Mack, Dr. Karla Turner and others were giving the masses much to consider.

Our English counterparts at the British UFO Research Association enacted a moratorium on the use of hypnosis in 1988 which continues today, but little could have been further from the procedures conducted by American abduction researchers. Much more is publicly known today about the challenges inherent to using hypnosis as a memory retrieval tool than was the case 20 years ago, and that should be taken into consideration when reviewing certain circumstances. In all fairness to Carpenter and abduction researchers of the 1990's, it bears mention that rarely can one push edges of the envelope and avoid controversy at the same time. It is also of course much easier to assess past circumstances than it is to accurately gauge the bearing today's choices will have upon tomorrow.

Whatever one may choose to personally think about John Carpenter, the facts of the matter are his actions were reviewed by applicable bodies, consequences resulted and Mr. Carpenter served his debt as ruled. That is the case whether or not any given party may feel consequences were either excessively strict or negligently soft.

The Carpenter Affair nonetheless continues to be relevant for a number of reasons. The investigation conducted by Gary Hart demonstrated, among other things, an extremely detrimental lack of clarified boundaries between hypnotist and client. Expectations of acceptable behavior were not clearly defined and were virtually nonexistent. Attempting to use information obtained during regression hypnosis as evidence of alien abduction stands on an extremely slippery slope under the best of conditions, but given the circumstances of Carpenter's activities, The UFO Trail tends to agree the work was rendered worthless as Hart previously observed.

One particular relevance of such circumstances is that the work continues to be periodically cited, while completely omitting mention of the environment and conditions in which hypnotic narrations were obtained. At this point and in actuality, some of Carpenter's former hypnosis subjects have revised their opinions of the validity of the information induced during their sessions.

Even more importantly, the circumstances were not isolated incidents. Other hypnotists have been demonstrated to similarly and detrimentally blur the lines between hypnotist and friend, investigator and therapist, entrepreneur and truth seeker, authority figure and lover. There is much material available on extreme errors in research methodology and resulting flawed conclusions associated with the work produced by ufology hypnotists. In spite of that being the case, their work continues to be selectively cited as justification for fantastic and unsupported assertions. Their work is also counter productively cited as reason to continue the futile use of regression hypnosis while their activities actually included many of the same emotionally unsafe and dysfunctional dynamics as did Carpenter's. 

As Hart documented in his formal complaint to MUFON, one well known researcher informed him "everyone does it," referring to researchers commonly both selling case files and having sexual relations with alleged abductees they investigated and hypnotized. Further complicating the circumstances were and continue to be tendencies to intermittently refer to such individuals as abductees, hypnosis subjects, witnesses, clients of some type, including therapy clients (and sometimes whether or not the hypnotist was actually qualified to conduct therapeutic activities), and similar such titles. It has become apparent enough during the past 20 years that a detrimental byproduct of the circumstances, if not an outright intention, is the creation of opportunities for hypnotists and organizations who support them to vacillate on the nature of the relationships. Ambiguity is maximized and accountability is minimized.

The well of regression hypnosis was tainted at the emotional and financial expense of, by any other name, research subjects, and to the benefit of some hypnotists. It was done while details of the activity and its minimal efficiency were and continue today to often be misrepresented.

All of that stated, the Carpenter Affair remains relevant for yet another reason: The circumstances involved many more people than just John Carpenter. While he receives the majority of the attention for obvious reasons, the chain of events directly involved and were enabled by significant members and organizations of the UFO community. The involved parties influenced trends and public opinion before, during and long after the Carpenter Affair.

Gary Hart emphasized during our interactions and while entertaining my questions that he felt a most relevant aspect of the Carpenter saga was the MUFON lip service given its code of ethics and official procedures. Some of the policies that were consistently violated, Hart pointed out, included failing to properly inform and obtain consent from research subjects of the terms and conditions of their participation, a policy that Carpenter himself suggested be implemented yet obviously neglected to practice. MUFON leadership not only failed to correct the circumstances, but supported their continuation for whatever combinations of reasons.

We can only do the best we can to help prevent this from happening again,” Hart concluded.

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