In Search of Alien Glyphs (or are they microwave blasters?)

Jacques Vallee is a computer scientist, partner in a venture capital firm, and author of more than 20 books, including Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, The Invisible College, and The Network Revolution.

In Sept. 1991, I published in a New Age magazine my own hypothesis about the Crop Circles phenomenon. I speculated they involved a military aerial device (not a space-based instrument) for generating such designs using focused microwave beams, such as a "maser." At the time nobody wanted to hear that the beautiful pictures in English corn fields might be crafted by a technical team inside some lab, bouncing signals from a hovering platform and using individual corn stalks as simple pixels to calibrate a lethal device. So my paper was met with dead silence.

More recently, however, New Scientist has run an article titled "Microwaves could defuse bombs from afar" (April 18, 2009 issue). It begins: "The next weapon in the US army's arsenal could be a laser-guided microwave blaster designed to destroy explosives. The weapon, called the Multimode Directed Energy Armament System, uses a high-power laser to ionize the air, creating a plasma channel that acts as a waveguide for the stream of microwaves."

These things are typically revealed 30 years after they are tested, which fits well with the heyday of the crop circle frenzy.

It is interesting--and sobering--that nobody picked up on the New Scientist article either. The New Age folks were too busy deciphering the Alien Glyphs... while the scientific community had been hoodwinked by a few cleverly revealed and widely publicized hoaxes, and had long dismissed the whole thing.

New Scientist went on:
The device could destroy the electronic fuse of an explosive device or missile, such as a roadside bomb, or immobilize a vehicle by disabling its ignition system.... Further work on the system could also allow it to be used against people, delivering electric shocks. The weapon's range will depend on the laser-generated channel. Previously such channels have been limited to tens of meters, but (the Army) believes it may be possible to extend this to a kilometer or more.
This is consistent with the hypothesis I had presented, of beams from a low-observable dirigible (such as the object an English friend of mine, an Oxford physics professor, saw from his glider in England, which was a perfectly-reflecting cylinder) using corn fields as a convenient calibration target. Why this isn't obvious to the paranormal research community is a complete puzzle to me.

The development is hidden in plain sight, which is the best way to keep something secret, and it is camouflaged sociologically by clever use of misdirection (actual hoaxes, later "revealed" to the world press) and the public's continuing belief in first-order alien communication.

Is there a lesson for us in here somewhere?


  1. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to say this and not sound insulting, but is this a parody or do you really mean this? I’m honestly not sure here.

  2. This is a really elaborate troll, right?

    Clearly, the crop circles are the result of a flotilla of DaVinci-built ornithopters. They were built in anticipation of peak oil. And they’re still under wraps.

  3. A reasonable hypothesis considering that the SR-71 Blackbird was operational for many years before the USAF even acknowledged its existence.

    1. 25 July 1964: President Johnson makes public announcement of SR-71.
      29 October 1964: SR-71 prototype (#61-7950) delivered to Palmdale.
      7 December 1964: Beale AFB, CA announced as base for SR-71.
      22 December 1964: First flight of the SR-71 with Lockheed test pilot Bob Gilliland at AF Plant #42.
      2 July 1967: Jim Watkins and Dave Dempster fly first international sortie in SR-71A

      … uh huh. You’re thinking of the F-117 Night Hawk, classified from 1975 to 1988.

    2. > A reasonable hypothesis considering that the SR-71
      > Blackbird was operational for many years before the
      > USAF even acknowledged its existence.

      The SR-71 was public knowledge months before it’s first flight. You are thinking of its predecessor the A-12, which was kept secret for 2 or 3 years after its first flight, but was also public knowledge well before its first operational use.

  4. Just for giggles, why not try some *gasp* actual science?

    Look at the stalks. Have they been blasted with microwaves, or just bent by a guy with a two-by-four on a rope?

    This fails even as a troll. Stupid conspiracy theories shouldn’t have easily testable disproof.

  5. I can easily see where the military-industrial complex would run out of secure real estate to test these things. Isolated English countryside is the only rational choice left.

  6. interesting hypothesis, excepting the fact that crop circles are made by humans, with planks of wood and ropes.

    1. That’s an easy theory to throw out there, but really — look at the cropcircles pictured above. How would any one of those be created with a couple of guys with heavy boots and a 2×4?

      Seems to me that the frequently-cited Occam’s Razor swings the other way, here. I’d be far more willing to believe masers / microwaves, as outlandish as that seems, than drunk farmers with wooden planks, considering the complex patterns.

    1. Aargh. Occam’s razor is a useful rule of thumb in the hard sciences, not some universal principle. It seems particularly ill-suited to explaining the why and how of things done by humans. In this case it would reasonably rule out the aliens, but wouldn’t imply that every crop circle was made exactly the same way as you saw on a Discovey channel special that one time…

      (not that Vallee isn’t full of sh*t on this one, but it’s a different logical error)

  7. This is classic cargo-cult science — making magical thinking sound plausible by appropriating technical language without understanding the underlying concepts.

    Microwaves are not magical force beams. Your “hypothesis” is nonsense.

    1. Absolutely this. I want it to be a wind up but have a horrible feeling it really isn’t.
      Is this because an article about James Randi was blogged and the balance needs to be restored by pissing off some skeptics?

  8. It’s quite a large jump from intense microwaves disrupting electronic systems to using microwaves to bend plant material into intricate shapes without ever cooking the plants! Incidentally, it requires a jump over all known principles of electromagnetic radiation.

    There is a lesson here – take an introductory physics class to learn how the universe works instead of reading a new age magazine.

  9. Hypothesis: Crop circles are caused by microwave weapon tests.

    Microwave weapons exist.

    Crop circles are definitely caused by microwave weapons.

    – On the other hand, you could go out and run some experiments. Would a microwave weapon leave traces that could be detected on the stalks? Perhaps attempt to build a microwave device to do this (many amateurs have built prototypes)? You could find crop circles to nearby research facilities to see if there was a correlation.

    There are so many other things you could have done than just saying “well, about 30 years ago lines up with when crop circle were big news”. Perhaps microwave experiments are to blame for 1980’s fashion sense?

    1. No, no, you’ve got it wrong. Microwave experiments caused crop circles, crop circles caused Jean-Michel Jarre’s concerts in China, the concerts caused MTV, MTV caused 80’s fashion.

      Also, the hypothesis of military tests being responsible for crop circles gives us a frightening insight into the operations of the US military-industrial complex at the time. It can only mean that they were developing devastating weapons of farmer-confusion, intended to slow down production of agricultural goods and disrupt the continuity of folk-dance skills in a country, in order to facilitate American cultural imperialism.

  10. I tried reading this post at first thinking it was serious, but by the time I got to the end I figured it couldn’t possibly be. So I tried re-reading it as satirical, but it doesn’t really work as that either.

    Is it possible that this post is part of a secret government experiment to develop a new mega-weapon using microwaves, and if so, do you think anybody will believe me if I write an article in New Age magazine about it?

    1. Is it possible that this post is part of a secret government experiment to develop a new mega-weapon using microwaves

      You know, I think you’re right. They’re putting these ideas out there on the internet, and following the responses that explain why it would or wouldn’t work… Insidious!

  11. The crop circles are made by humans, but they are certainly not the creation of maths students with two-by-fours on ropes. They are the product of downdraft from my giant radar-absorbing war zeppelin.

    Luxembourg will rue the day, let me tell you…

  12. Sorry — the military’s experimentation with microwaves doesn’t make you any less wrong.

    Feel free, however, to follow up with a photo of yourself with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

  13. “Why this isn’t obvious to the paranormal research community is a complete puzzle to me. ”

    Yes, and why isn’t it obvious, to *your readers, that the crop circles are not caused by guys tromping around in the middle of the night, with boards, heavy boots and scratch paper?

  14. Somehow, the government has changed my web bookmarks from rational, humanist, and scientific miscellany over to wild-eyed conspiracy drivel. They are definitely out to get me.

  15. Jacques, have you seen William Gazecki’s crop circle movie? He doesn’t discuss microwaves, but he does observe that crop circles in the UK occur near the edges of the country’s many well-mapped aquifers. The ground in these areas had higher than normal electrical capacitance, which could have some bearing on the efficacy of an EM device used to create the designs. He also spends a lot of time looking at the plant stocks where they’re bent over. I won’t go into his speculation now, but his findings might support your microwave theory as well.

    P.S., while some crop circles are made by men with ropes and 2×4’s you can clearly see that others are not, if you examine how the stalks are bent and directed. It’s easy to be an armchair expert on these things, but a little additional research can give you some unexpected and surprising insight.

  16. It’s not the military. Orville Redenbacher is flying an invisible dirigible, and microwave-popping corn from the air.

  17. Just because we don’t understand a technology doesn’t make it any less real. Surprise, the military likes to play with technology before they release it to the public.

  18. Hey, commenter – try doing a little research when you are trying to “debunk” someone. It takes a little more than an incredulous attitude to disprove an idea.

    Jacques – This does seem on par with a lot of the evidence relating to the “burst node” or “melted stalk” formations…aka the non-Doug/Dave formations. MIT students tried to recreate the conditions in some of the more complex formations, and had to invent a particle creation/dispersion machine, and a microwave radiation generator.

    1. MIT students tried to recreate the conditions in some of the more complex formations, and had to invent a particle creation/dispersion machine, and a microwave radiation generator.

      Isn’t a “particle creation/dispersion machine” also known as a “spray bottle,” except that it works with iron? Or rather, as your linked article rather hilariously puts it, “tiny iron molecules”?

      And I’m not sure “microwave radiation generator” is the proper term for the other dude’s creation. The article says one of them made a “device that deformed grains of wheat using parts from a microwave oven.”

      What I’m saying is that none of this sounds terribly complicated.

    2. Thanks for the link, Eris.

      The article is a step in the right direction, but isn’t very good on details. The device that ‘deforms grains of wheat using parts from a microwave oven’ isn’t specific: did it actually use microwaves, or just parts?

      The other device just left iron traces on the ground. One would expect that the unknown technique that creates ‘real’ crop circles leaves iron traces as a side effect of the process.

      Is there a more scientific paper that these students produced?

    3. MIT students tried to recreate the conditions in some of the more complex formations, and had to invent a particle creation/dispersion machine, and a microwave radiation generator.

      OK, but we’re talking about MIT students here- they’d build a flux capacitor just to figure out how to talk to a girl.

  19. Okay, from a personal perspective. After having seen the intricate designs of many of these cropcircles, I truly believe that the real miracle would be if those were made at night by a couple of hicks with some ropes and planks.

    But that’s just me.

  20. The English countryside is somewhat more densely popluated than the North American countryside.

    The notion that there is so little space in the world to test microwave weapons in the world that they have to test them in the English countryside, seems pretty ridiculous to this Canadian. Driving North/west at highway speeds, it takes me two days just to get out of the Province, assuming I stop in Wawa to sleep.

    If I was looking for a place to test fancypants weapons without raising the suspicions of conspiracists and New Agers, I know where I’d start. Unless, of course, I WANTED to tweak the conspiracists and New-Agers. In which case I’d totally make crop circles and fly around in a black whisper-copter.

    In summary, if you want to do something in secret, there are more than enough secret places to do them. If you want to communicate with people, you’d choose places where there are people, like the English countryside. But in this case, the communication is roughly translated as “HA-ha!”

  21. Dr. Vallee-
    I think the issue with this hypothesis would be the vast numerical amount of formations with the criteria needed to be considered anomalous. It would be far in excess of “secret” testing on open land, much like the alleged cattle mutilations with privately owned livestock.

    I would refer you to a recent interview with Colin Andrews on Paratopia (, Episode 44 where Colin took a decidedly different approach – that these have more to do with human consciousness than anything “alien” – and that even the crop formation artists are seeing odd phenomenon in the fields.

    There is also links towards MI5 being involved in supporting crop formations being made – and there’s ample evidence for this as well. See Paratopia Episode 47.

    Colin’s thoughts seemed to feel more like your Passport to Magonia, than microwave weapons testing.

  22. I thought he (Jacques, the author of the article) was joking because the article made so little sense and is so easily testable/disprovable.
    This hardly serves as a hypothesis because although hypothesis can be made on limited evidence but should be a starting point for further investigation using science as the tool to validate or disprove the original hypothesis. The ideas I come up with on the toilet do not count as hypothesis even if the do make more sense than the one in this article.

    And yes, there is a lesson in there somewhere (to answer your question).
    If you truly have a question, if you are truly curious as to what the answer is, then go and do the research. To do that you may need 5-10 years in university learning scientific procedures and (in this case) molecular biology, electrical engineering or other such sciences.
    If you’re not willing to put in REAL work to answer the questions which plague you, then your curiosity is limited and you don’t deserve a proper answer. I am that curious (in another field, more related to why people fall for any weird idea they see) and so am putting in the hard work required.
    I’ve also put in a part of the required research to form enlightened opinions about stuff like this crop circle fad, but more importantly I’ve learned that the burden of proof lies upon him who makes the crackpot assumptions to prove them, not me to disprove them.

  23. occam’s razor shows that it is not “the military using experimental microwave weapons.” the simplest answer (alien UFOs) is usually the correct answer.

  24. Ok, simple.
    Jacques, you are clever in another field.
    Use that cleverness and study basic scientific research methods (not statistics, which you’re probably excellent at) and form a proper hypothesis. Get a group of scientists from the necessary fields (biologists of different types as well as experts on microwave technology) and get them to sample crop circles, find out what caused the bend/break, and recreate the effect perfectly (a smaller scale can be fine).

    As I said, simple.

    After that I will be a believer.

  25. Seems like a reasonable hypothesis. The stalks of the plants often show damage consistent with microwave heating.

    The people calling this crazy need to recognize that it provides a naturalistic explanation consistent with known facts: there has been a huge amount of money spent by the US on black projects every year for decades now, some of it to directed energy weapons; crop circles may provide some testing and perhaps psy-ops or even tourism value which can be exploited without revealing the capability (no one would believe it anyway,as seen above), therefore it’s not out of the realm of possibility that microwave beams from secret aircraft make crop circles.

  26. Well let’s do some investigative reporting then. Yes yes, I know there’s books out from guys who made clever cropcircles, but is there anyone reading this thread who has ever made one themselves?

    I’d like to hear about this from someone in this thread who has actualy had some firsthand experience in trying to create a cropcircle.


  27. A corn field seems like an unreliable calibration method, if you have tech to build a flying laser guided microwave plasma blaster you have the tech to draw a precise grid on the ground.

    I would also assume the military would test it on a secluded military base and with conditions similar to it’s intended purpose. If the use is exploding buried explosives in Iraq you would test the device over sand, concrete, asphalt, etc and bury your test equipment at the various depths an IED is typically placed.

    Finally new age style designs also don’t seem very US army to me, if the design was an almost undetectable random noise pattern or a boot in Osama’s ass…

  28. Is there a lesson for us in here somewhere?

    Yes, the lesson is that a degree in Computer Science doesn’t inoculate one against being a kook.


  29. to be fair, a degree in computer science does not really teach anything about science, the scientific method, real research or other such scientific stuff.

    Write that funky code

    1. As a software engineer myself, I do have to admit that the discipline might best be described as applied kinetic poetry…

      Yeah, the lesson is that people really should know what they’re talking about before spouting off too definitively in public. Still blathering about crop circles, decades after they’ve been completely explained as human artifacts… Someone has been spending too much time staring at the terminal and needs to get out more.

  30. Sadly, this is no parody. Rather, it is another unfortunate case of BoingBoing misrepresenting the credentials of a guest writer.

    Boing Boing’s bio states:
    Jacques Vallee is a computer scientist, partner in a venture capital firm, and author of more than 20 books, including Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, The Invisible College, and The Network Revolution.

    In fact, Vallee has not written a computer science book since 1984, more than 25 years, and he wrote only 3 of those (plus a pop book about the Internet in 2003, since his UFO BS isn’t selling well).

    Here are just a few of the more recent titles of books Vallee has been writing for more than 30 years:

    * REVELATIONS: Alien Contact and Human Deceptions
    * DIMENSIONS: A Casebook of Alien Contact
    * CONFRONTATIONS: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact
    * Forbidden Science: Volume One
    * Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults
    (In which he writes, “I believe that UFOs are physically real. They represent a fantastic technology controlled by an unknown form of consciousness…they may not be from outer space.”)
    * Alien Harvest: Further Evidence Linking Animal Mutilations and Human Abductions to Alien Life Forms
    * HEAVENLY LIGHTS: The Apparition of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon
    * Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald’s Fight for UFO Science
    * UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Coverup, 1941-1973
    * Forbidden Science: Journals 1957-1969
    * UFO’s in Space: Anatomy of a Phenomenon
    * UFO Chronicles of the Soviet Union: A Cosmic Samizdat

    That “Invisible College” book mentioned in the BB bio? He wrote it back in 1977, and the subtitle is:
    “What a Group of Scientists Discovered About UFO Influences on the Human Race”

    Oh, he did write one non-UFO conspiracy book, in 2001, it’s called “The Four Elements of Financial Alchemy: A New Formula for Personal Prosperity”

    His basic “thesis” is that UFOs are real, but they are not extraterrestrial; they are the “near-demonic” energy manifestations of a “non-human”, “multidimensional” intelligence that manipulates space and time to create UFO phenomena (such as the apparition at Fatima and other religious “miracles”). These “energy manifestations”, in turn, are exploited by either private groups with an agenda to transform the human race for their own ends, or a government conspiracy to commit psychological warfare.

    Either BB editors didn’t do their due diligence, or they felt it necessary to mislead readers about Vallee’s background and interest. Either way, it is unfortunate.

    BTW, this took me 5 min of research on and the Google.

    1. @Rationalist said… “Either BB editors didn’t do their due diligence, or they felt it necessary to mislead readers about Vallee’s background and interest.”

      Umm, neither. I’ve posted about Jacques’ work and opinions on Boing Boing < ahref="">many times.

    2. @rationalist I’m not convinced by Jacques’s argument but UFO’s are exactly the kind thing I expect (and hope) to find on BB.

  31. See, here’s the thing. This cannot possibly be a couple of half-drunk geezers from the pub with a crazy idea.

    So, apparantly, there’s this group of mathematicians/engineers who have made it their mission to confuse the world.

    And they make very impressive stuff.

    In fact, what they do is such a big achievement it can be called a miracle into itself.

    So isn’t anyone curious about these guys at all?

    No. Apparantly not. All everyone is interested in is defusing the magical element.

    Well if it’s done by people, it is no less magical to me, but then I want to know who to give credit to.

    But of course, I am forgetting about the first rule of Cropcircle Club.

  32. I think crop circles are man-made, and I’m not sure this is one of Mr. Vallee’s more fruitful ideas. However, the extraordinary antipathy towards this post is further evidence of how dogmatic, entrenched, and utterly humourless the rational humanist outlook really is. The only real magical thinking on this page is the constant appeals to Occam’s razor, as though it were an innate principle either of nature or human affairs. It’s a methodoloical principal, not a law of nature, and has been used in the past to argue against metorites, continental drift, ball lighting, and DNA. So yeah, personally I tend to doubt Jacques theory, but nevetheless…there are a couple of videos showing military helicopters hovering over crop circles, so who knows?

    1. Mighty fine horse you’ve got there, mister. Bit high though, ain’t it? Must take an AWFUL long time gettin’ all the way on up there.

      1. You’re probably absolutely right! All I could say in my defence is that I felt I was arguing against what I thought of as a form of high horseism in itself – the immediate rejection of certain types of ideas as “conspiracy drivel” and nonsense – but yeah, I guess I got up on the horse myself.

        In defence of Vallee, I think its worth noting that his UFO books have been widely admired by people like Robert Anton Wilson, Terence Mckenna, and Erik Davis, who are all pretty cool in my book.

  33. If the stalks were bent by a microwave beam powerful enough to permanently warp/break them then they should show signs of being strongly heated since they contain water. Heck, they probably would’ve burst from the sudden production of steam in the stalks.

  34. Yeah, the US Army has plenty of bases and an enormous ability to test equipment. The last and least useful place for them to test a weapon would be on privately owned property, especially when testing it involves destruction of private property – the crops. (You do know that’s how a farmer makes a living, right? So making crop circles is directly impacting his bottom line.)

    If they can crash test a helicopter for research, they sure as hell can lay out a grid and fire a microwave weapon at it. The entire premise of the US military “testing” by creating crop circles is ridiculous. It would require a LOT more evidence than just the existence of the weapons.

    p.s. @Marcel: why would someone making a crop circle necessarily be a “hick?”

  35. If this is presented as a serious hypothesis, then the author has clearly failed to even google “maser” to understand what exactly a maser is, and what its effects might be on something like a cornstalk. Here’s a tip to save you some time: it wouldn’t flatten them. On the other hand, a board attached to a rope would. Hmmm, let’s see — bored jackasses with time and lumber vs. space-borne military death rays… Yeah, I’m gonna go with the former on this one.

    Conclusion: Y r dlsnl hlf-wt wh cn’t cnstrct vn prpr trll-pst.

  36. Dr. Vallee has a PhD in physics and a long, distinguished history in traditional and paranormal research. Perhaps you incredulous readers should re-read his post with a little respect for his accomplishments as a serious researcher. He may still be wrong, but he most certainly isn’t just a crackpot with a halfbaked idea and access to a keyboard.

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