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Truth and Consequences

[whitespace] Joe Firmage Truth Sayer: Silicon Valley Wunderkind Joe Firmage says the moment has arrived for the world to embrace the truth, and President Clinton should tell it: space aliens have visited the earth.

Christopher Gardner

When USWeb replaced company founder Joe Firmage as CEO, two things became clear. One, in the boardrooms of Silicon Valley, you don't get to believe in space aliens. And two, the world isn't ready for anything billed as The Truth, whether it's true or not.

By Michael Learmonth

NOTHING about Joseph P. Firmage seems the slightest bit ethereal, a hard thing to reconcile considering the events of recent weeks. Forty-five minutes after our meeting was scheduled to start, I am ushered down a busy hall in a Santa Clara office building and shown into his corner office at USWeb, where the young executive sits busily tapping his keyboard. Without turning away from his computer, Firmage asks me to take a seat. At 28, he's a decamillionaire with two wildly successful high-tech startups under his belt.

Having founded USWeb in 1995 and in three years built it into a public company worth about $1 billion, Firmage has made himself and a lot of other people very rich, very fast. Firmage founded his first company, Serius Corp, when he was just 18. Those who know him seem to fall into two camps: those who think he's brilliant, and those who think he's a genius.

Firmage is a prodigy in a valley full of sharpies, but I've come to his office today to be pitched on a rather fantastic proposition, even by Silicon Valley standards. Firmage spins around in his leather chair.

"I am directly challenging the scientific presumption against the viability of visitation by extraterrestrials. And I have the evidence to show for it that will be published tomorrow," Firmage tells me as matter-of-factly and confidently as if he were pitching a business plan.

Firmage wears a dark shirt and slacks; precisely trimmed facial hair frames his squarish jaw. Over the past year he has worked nonstop on a work he has titled The Truth, a 600-page hypothesis appearing on the Web site www.thewordistruth.org, all the while running USWeb, a company which now has more than 1000 employees in more than 50 offices on three continents.

(A subsidiary of Metro's parent company owned one of those offices until earlier this year and remains a stockholder of USWeb Corporation.)

Firmage has granted scant interviews, and indeed this meeting is squeezed between pressing engagements and several days spent in seclusion where he worked on the completion of the final chapters of his book. He speaks slowly and precisely like a seasoned orator, repeating the words "wondrous" and "astonishing." His intonations and gestures convey a CEO's unwavering confidence in his ideas, as they should.

Until last month, Firmage was CEO of USWeb, but then he committed the Wall Street equivalent of hanging crystals and burning incense in his office: he started talking about aliens and ideas and capital-T Truth. When his Web site started getting hits, it was mere weeks until the company issued a press release announcing his transition from "CEO" to "founder and chief strategist."

His grand strategy had been to create what he envisioned would be the greatest professional services firm of the Internet age, helping companies redesign their infrastructure as network computing absorbed print publishing, telephony and broadcasting in successive waves and cheap bandwidth became plentiful. First selling franchises to Web development operators coast-to-coast, USWeb then went on an acquisition binge, swallowing up more than 30 companies in less than two years. Finally, it bought out a pioneering Silicon Valley Web developer, the publicly traded advertising agency CKS Group, in a stock transaction valued at $326 million. The merger is scheduled to be completed by year's end, and the combined entity will be known as USWeb/CKS.

USWeb's stock price, however, plunged to nearly half its pre-announcement value after the two companies announced their intent to merge Sept. 2, and the stock was rebounding slowly. Firmage had successfully seen the company through its growth and IPO and had established key partnerships with Intel, Microsoft and NBC, but word of Firmage's extracurricular research trickled out and both the fragile stock price and USWeb's ability to get consulting business from blue chip corporations was being placed at risk. Board member Gary Rieschel was quoted in a trade publication as saying, "Our competitors were highlighting this to the media and calling Joe a crackpot." As USWeb's largest individual shareholder, the notion that Firmage fell on his sword voluntarily is not implausible. Whatever the genesis, the gambit worked, and USWeb's stock price jumped more than two points on the news of the new CEO's appointment.

Stepping down, Firmage says with the confidence of a person who knows how the world works and figures he can win anyway, "was my choice and enthusiastically so." A CEO transition had long been in the works, he says, and he had already chosen his successor, Oracle VP and Silicon Valley A-lister Robert Shaw. The timing of Firmage's side project and the CEO transition was purely coincidental, he says, although a board member says there was an element of cause and effect. Shaw's appointment was supposed to coincide with the CKS merger.

But as traditional-thinking board members got wind of Firmage's new project and stories started popping up in USA Today, the San Jose Mercury News and the Internet Industry Standard, the transition timetable was hastened.

"We probably would have waited until post-merger to complete [the transition]," concedes board member Gary Reischel, whose venture firm, Softbank Holdings, owns the largest single share of the company. "Joe was frustrated because maybe the time was accelerated. While before we were thinking in terms of a month, we did it instead in a week."

BUT FOR FIRMAGE, this was no weirder than another pivotal moment in USWeb history: the one a year ago in which a sleep-deprived Firmage underwent an experience that catalyzed his Truth project.

In the chapter "My Contact," Firmage writes that in the white-hot weeks leading up to USWeb's IPO, a year ago, he was awakened by his alarm at 6:10am one morning but then he decided to hit the snooze instead of going to the gym.

"A remarkable being, clothed in brilliant white light, appeared hovering over my bed in my room," he writes. "Out of him emerged an electric blue sphere, just smaller than a basketball, which was swirling with what looks like electrical arcs. It left his body, floated down, and entered me."

Firmage soon founded the International Space Sciences Organization with $3 million of his own money to administer a project he called "Kairos," a Greek word meaning "the right moment" or "a critical time." Firmage believes we live in a "kairos" in which humanity is finally advanced enough to comprehend alien beings.

Despite my skepticism, I find myself locked into conversation with Firmage. He expects his book to cause the kind of stir that could get all of our minds off impeachment and the NBA lockout and inspire President Bill to discuss with the American people another kind of truth.

The book will reveal, Firmage says, the most "astonishing" proof to date that extraterrestrial beings have been making cameo appearances on Earth for about the last 2,000 years, and that 51 years ago the "teachers," as he calls them, revealed themselves to the U.S. government in the New Mexico desert, planting the seeds of the digital age. Firmage says that most of what we here in Silicon Valley have "created" and innovated was originally derived from an alien spaceship crash in Roswell, N.M., the wreckage of which was "reverse engineered" and released to select companies by the government over the last 50 years.

THE WORD "ROSWELL" causes my heart to sink like a heavy glass in dishwater, making a glugging sound on its way down. Out of all of the words Firmage could have said, this is probably the only one that would stop me cold. He may as well have said "X-Files."

To some degree the world can be divided into two camps: those who are open to believing the Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials, and those who are not. Although I suspect it puts me in some rather uninspired company, I have to place myself among the latter. Working as a reporter who routinely observes and chronicles the workings of government and bureaucracy, I have difficulty believing that any public or private agency, knowing about Roswell, would be able to keep it under wraps for so long.

But even though the skeptics clearly have most of the observable evidence on their side, Firmage is right when he refers to the knee-jerk skeptics in the scientific community as "scientific fundamentalists, the ultimate reductionists," who are as dogmatic as religious fundamentalists in dismissing the idea of alien visitors. The majority of Firmage's collaborators on The Truth have asked to remain anonymous, as association with such a project could lead to professional ridicule in academia or in the high-tech labs where many a good ufologist makes a living.

Firmage decided that he is in a good position to take the inevitable heat that positing a hypothesis like The Truth is sure to bring.

He says, "I chose to basically take the risk for everybody's sake and put my own career on the line."

But why?

"I have the money to do it," he says. "I have the desire to do it. I think it's more important than my career."

Firmage is smart, genuine and personable. He may be on the verge of becoming the most credible spokesman for this other world view. During the week of the publication of The Truth, Firmage placed ads in The Economist, Civilization, Rolling Stone, Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal, on National Public Radio and at numerous sites online. Though he could certainly afford to do more, he's instructed a publicist to only respond to inquiries, mindful of the backlash he could incur should he flog his book too hard.

"All Joe wants is for everyone on the planet to read his book," says Melinda Mattei, publicist for the project. "That's his goal."

I ask Firmage what he hopes will be the outcome of the book, and he is succinct.

"Well, as this thing gets published tomorrow, I know there will be many eyes reading it in government, in the military and in private industry who know the basic storyline has a lot of grounding in truth," he says, acknowledging that a work this size "no doubt will contain some errors."

The scenario Firmage hopes will follow is that every week for the next two months people with information will be emboldened to come forward. "I would not hazard a specific guess or timeline," he says, "but in my ideal world I would like President Clinton to have the courage to stand up on national television and tell the real story. He's in a position to do it."

ASIDE FROM his early-morning epiphany, Firmage's impetus for the writing of The Truth was the discovery of 96 pages of documents in the possession of a Redwood City physicist and ufologist, Robert Wood. Scans of the documents are now posted on Firmage's Web site and available for anyone to download for free. The documents, which Firmage believes to be authentic, describe a vast U.S. government operation known as "Majestic 12," allegedly headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush and charged with recovering the spaceships that crashed in the United States between 1947 and 1953.

In 1947, it was still almost a decade before designers at General Motors got space-chic and started putting tail fins on cars, and the concept of even a pocket calculator would have seemed miraculous. At the time, Firmage believes, keeping the flying saucer a secret was necessary and prudent to avoid mass hysteria. But now, in the age of fiber optics, the international space station and the iMac (all made possible, in part, by aliens, by the way), humanity is ready to know the Truth and Bill Clinton had better stop fondling the interns and fess up.

The real story, he says, begins at the end of World War II. Near one of the military bases where the nascent nuclear program was being developed, a spacecraft fell from the heavens. Inside the craft were several beings that were not human.

"The craft had all sorts of wondrous technologies in it," Firmage explains, "technologies that ultimately gave rise to fiber optics, integrated circuits; new materials used throughout the defense industry in America. Fundamental technologies were derived from that event, in addition to several it has taken several years to figure out, such as, How do you use gravity to propel yourself? How do you tap into an inexhaustible supply of energy the size of a basketball?"

Firmage is getting emphatic. He is convincing, even mesmerizing. He spins around and picks up his phone.

"Hey, Bonnie, could you bring in one of those physics packages?"

His executive assistant, Bonnie Murphy, comes in with a spiral-bound sheaf of Xeroxes--scientific papers written by Harold E. Puthoff, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin.

Puthoff has been researching the feasibility of creating energy where there is nothing--in a vacuum. In the course of his study he has also written papers on how space could be warped so that the speed of light could vary. Then, theoretically, one could travel faster than the speed of light within the general law of relativity.

Firmage's formal physics education ended in college, but he pursues it fervently as a hobby. The faster he sees physics coming closer and closer to explaining something resembling Gene Roddenberry's warp drive, the more he believes that all of this has been done before and that we are bumbling students of a benevolent civilization of cosmic tutors who have visited earth through the ages and left clues that can be found in the Bible, the Koran, in science laboratories and in science fiction.

ONE OF THE ONLY scientific journals to take any of this alien visitation stuff seriously is the Journal of Scientific Exploration, published by the Society for Scientific Exploration in Redwood City. In June, the society sponsored the first independent review of UFO phenomena since 1970. The review panel, convened at Stanford University and led by Stanford professors Peter Sturrock and Von Eschelman, concluded that some UFO sightings deserve further scientific study.

It was a significant finding by the Stanford astrophysicists, given the amateur nature of most UFO investigations--a legitimation, perhaps, that there is enough credible evidence to warrant funding UFO research.

Bernhard Haisch is editor-in-chief of the journal and a staff physicist at Lockheed Martin. Haisch has quite a bit of respect for Firmage, but as a work of scientific study he gives The Truth a mixed review.

"He has an impressive depth of knowledge for someone who is not a physicist," Haisch says of Firmage. "He's one of the brighter people I've ever met. He's quite capable of carrying on sophisticated conversations in areas where he's not a trained researcher. To pull this together in this time scale alone tells me he's a genius."

Although Haisch claims the Journal takes "no position pro or con" on extraterrestrials, the lead commentary on the society's Web site this month is titled "Be Skeptical of the 'Skeptics.' " Haisch shares Firmage's ire toward the scientists who dismiss ufology out of hand.

"Most of my colleagues have a mindset as firmly held as a religious belief," he says. "They pretend it's objective and rational, but the world view is very restrictive and dogmatic."

While Haisch is open to compelling evidence of a UFO coverup--including the new Majestic 12 documents contained in The Truth--he has a hard time going where Firmage went with his analysis.

The idea that many of the basic elements of information-age technology--the microelectronics, fiber optics, advanced alloys--were derived from technology found on an alien spacecraft is enough to bring out the "skeptic" in him.

"Working in high tech, I see ideas evolve all the time," Haisch argues. "I'm not a historian but I understand that the transistor had a well-documented pedigree. Now, I don't know anything about fiber optics, so I can't say."

COULD FIBER OPTICS have been derived from alien technology? Firmage says the new documents prove Majestic researchers "pulled out gobs of stuff they called fishing wire" from the spaceship wreckage. "It was fiber optics they pulled out, and they didn't even know what they were doing."

Did this spaceship discovery plant the idea on Earth that light could bend if it was shone through a translucent cylinder?

When asked the question, Woodside resident Narinder Kapany lets out an uproarious belly laugh into the speaker phone.

"That makes me a spaceman!" he shouts. "I love it!"

Dr. Kapany, who now works for Amp Inc., invented fiber optics and coined the term in 1955. And though that was indeed eight years after Roswell, Kapany says the history of fiber optics has its roots in 1940s India.

"The true story," Kapany says, began "when I was a young boy."

Kapany says he remembers his science teacher lecturing on light and explaining that one of its characteristics is it always travels in a straight line.

"I said to myself, 'Hell, no, it doesn't!' It became almost an obsession of mine to bend light around corners."

Kapany started by using trains of prisms lined up to move beams of light, but the light itself still traveled in a straight line between prisms. The quandary puzzled Kapany until he arrived in London to attend the Imperial College. He posed the question over tea to a professor who suggested he try cylindrical geometry.

"That led me to fibers," Kapany says. "The initial impetus to work on this thing is what I called 'flexible fiber scope.' The idea was to use it as an instrument to look into the body."

When Kapany came to the U.S., he realized fiber optics would have numerous other applications. The military used the technology for night-vision equipment in Vietnam. In the 1970s, silica was introduced by Charles Kao, who worked for ITT.

Was Kao a spaceman?

No, Kapany says; he was a graduate student in England who came to the U.S. to work for ITT.

The point is, if anyone involved in the development of fiber optics was "seeded," it was Kapany.

"Of course there have been numerous other individuals who have made contributions," Kapany says. "I just happened to be the earliest one. The spaceman."


My Contact, an excerpt from The Truth.

Is it alien-made or just weird?

All of The Truth, according to Joe Firmage.

News stories about Firmage stepping down from C|Net, The Industry Standard and The San Francisco Chronicle.


BUT IF OTHER technologies were "seeded" by extraterrestrials in the late '40s and early '50s, surely there would be some old-timers around Silicon Valley who are keeping a secret. Who are they? Firmage can't be sure. One thing certain, though, is these guys aren't getting any younger. The sooner the president and the Congress waive the oaths of secrecy, Firmage argues, the more likely some of these aging engineers will still be around to talk about it.

Philip Corso, author of The Day After Roswell, died just a few weeks ago, but not before signing a slew of testaments and affidavits alleging he witnessed the alien-to-earthling transfer take place.

"It's full of some exaggeration," Firmage says, "but the basic storyline is absolutely factual."

One of those men who could have been privy to such a transfer is Redwood City physicist Wood, who worked for McDonnell Douglas for 43 years and retired in 1993. Wood is working with Firmage and other experts to authenticate the Majestic 12 documents. Now 70, Wood started his career working on radar technology and finished up working on the International Space Station, the first American part of which was launched into space last week.

"During my career I did not think, 'Gee, am I looking at alien technology?' " Wood says. "But looking back, one of my radar colleagues said he saw specific instances where this occurred."

Wood is fairly certain he was never passed alien technology, but he did watch the way U.S. government researchers dealt with downed MiGs.

"If a Soviet MiG [jet fighter] crashes, we send it to a lab," Wood explains. "If we don't understand it, we send it to a contractor with a classified contract and don't necessarily tell where we got it."

That, Wood believes, would be how parts of a spaceship would trickle into private industry. "The government has the material and they pass it to various labs for analysis. They get that analysis and they give it to Bell Labs or Dupont, and they work on it to develop patents."

Wood and his son Ryan are in the process of tracking down researchers they believe were well-placed to receive alien technology. Not surprisingly, when they're found, few are willing to violate the oaths they took 50 years ago.

"The truth of whether something has been reverse engineered is out there," Wood says. "It's in the national archives and the national patent office. It's there to be found."

AT THE CENTER OF The Truth are the 96 pages of new documents, including a letter from Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to Vannevar Bush dated June 1947 outlining what the scientists believed we should do if we encountered aliens, a memo from President Truman to Secretary of Defense James Forrestal establishing the Majestic 12 program that researched and concealed alien spacecraft starting in 1947, and a Majestic 12 special operations manual titled "Extraterrestrial Entities and Technology, Recovery and Disposal."

The origin of the documents, besides what can be forensically determined, is the Big Bear Lake mailbox of a man named Timothy Cooper. They were left there between 1992 and 1996 by a man claiming to be Thomas Cantwheel who was allegedly in charge of one of the Majestic 12 recoveries. Bob Wood has been looking for Cantwheel, but at age 92 there's a good change he's already dead.

Cooper gave the documents to Wood, who has determined the bulk of them to be authentic after two years of research conducted by a team of experts in the field.

"Bob Wood is a very smart guy," vouches Bernhard Haisch. "His assessments are true and honest. He's not out there to make money."

If the documents are fakes, they are certainly masterful ones. Wood says they are written exactly the way such memos would have been at the time, following the obscure National Security Agency chain-of-command. They contain arcane routing numbers that were the protocol of the day. They are printed on 8-by-10.5-inch paper instead of 8-by-11-inch, a wartime effort to save paper. They use the word "neutronic" when referring to the engines; "nuclear" had not yet been coined. Finally, there are the little touches. "Screw driver" is used instead of the modern "screwdriver," and there are spelling errors. Such errors were common at a time when memos were dictated to secretaries; thus, they add to the authenticity.

Others, such as Vannevar Bush biographer G. Pascal Zachary, concluded that the documents were fakes after reviewing them with historians and finding errors and inconsistencies. "I don't believe that Bush was involved in any secret committee to review or cover up the Roswell incident," says Zachary, former editor of the San Jose Business Journal and now with The Wall Street Journal's London office.

While rejecting a central role by Bush, Zachary allows, "that doesn't mean that the whole Majestic project didn't exist. Maybe some of those other people [named in the document] were involved. Obviously the Pentagon and others withheld information regarding the Roswell incident."

The documents say that the spacecraft found uses no fuel but instead some kind of gravitational propulsion technology. According to Firmage, this technology is still being kept a secret despite the fact that mainstream physics is about to discover it anyway.

"It's very much like the classic warp drive science fiction concept working here," he says. "You set up a gravitational field and literally fall toward your destination."

Also included in the 96 pages are descriptions of several life forms found on board the ship and the autopsies allegedly conducted on them.

The Majestic 12 papers also outline how this was all kept a secret. In a press release, Firmage writes, "A security infrastructure more impenetrable than any in world history was put into place, in part through the establishment of the National Security Act of 1947. Through various intelligence vehicles, a program for 'control of the press' was instituted ensuring that leaks were closed and any open scientific investigation discredited."

BEYOND THE X-FILES intrigue, the truth according to Joseph P. Firmage is a postmodern reinterpretation of holy scripture. He argues that most major biblical events actually happened pretty much as described, orchestrated by "teachers" or angels who appeared throughout history to bring needed lessons to our rambunctious race.

"Why do we call them angels?" Firmage asks. "Because it's a nicer term than aliens."

Firmage was raised in Salt Lake City as a Mormon, but he abandoned the faith as a teenager when he "began to have questions about the more dogmatic aspects of the religion." Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, requires followers to believe in direct human-angel contact. According to Mormon doctrine, the founder of the sect, Joseph Smith, was contacted by the angel Moroni in 1827 and guided to the sacred golden tablets from which the Book of Mormon was written. Smith translated the inscriptions on the tablets from "reformed Egyptian" with special glasses, and the tablets were then taken away, again by angels.

Firmage told me he hadn't been to church in 13 years, but that through the process of writing The Truth he has "rediscovered" his faith. "It's expanded my mind a bit and has been a re-education on concepts that I was taught when I was young."

In the last chapter of The Truth, titled "My Apology," Firmage writes what appears to be an apology to Jesus for having doubted the veracity of the crucifixion. To Firmage, the new evidence finally proves that this well-documented biblical event actually happened under the guiding hand of the "teachers."

    The greatest truth I have learned in my life is that you exist. With that knowledge, I have now imagined the pain and anguish you felt, as I hated and convicted you, drove the nails through your feet, your hands, and then posted you in the air. As your blood dripped with pain from your limbs, and from your forehead, I stabbed you.

    Your blood was my sword.

    I am so terribly sorry.

Until now, mainstream science hasn't left a whole lot of wiggle room for the Mr. Spocks among us to indulge their spiritual side. Even scientists want to believe that we, here on this wondrous place we call Earth, were intended for something better than building a better mousetrap, faster microchips and more roads and strip malls until we're all heaving soot and living in spiritual and aesthetic squalor.

"You have a whole generation of young people who don't know what to believe anymore," Firmage explains. "Religion was killed by science; science was killed by economics. Do they really want to grow up and do nothing other than join the rat race to make money? Is that worth living for?"

Firmage has found a way to reconcile his scientific mind with a theology that reinforces his past, explains the miracle of humanity on earth and gives him hope for the future.

"This is not a new religion," Firmage argues; "it is not some hocus-pocus conjecture. In every chapter, in every sense, it's grounded in demonstrable ideas and levelheaded reality, at the same time dealing with astonishing information that will prove one day soon to transform society in a lot of dimensions."

That the reality according to Firmage challenges the basic beliefs of many people and provides a gleeful target for society's cynics doesn't seem to bother him. He finds solace in the belief that one day we will all understand.

"I could care less what xyz publication prints about me," he says. "The one thing I'm most comforted by is history will be my judge."

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From the December 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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