Journal: Tell me about your interest in UFOs and what brought you to MUFON.
Michael: My interest in UFOs started when I was a teenager watching the “X-files.” The show’s backstory about aliens/government interaction with a twist of conspiracy hooked me. I kept investigating UFO sightings with the hope that the next case would be a “smoking gun.” What brought me to MUFON was that I needed leads for my own research. After I finished college, I had the time to pursue my interests further. I decided to get back into ufology. I was researching the secret space program and I needed different sources to verify what I found, and to fact check my own sources. The local Connecticut chapter was having an event in West Hartford. I attended with the hope they might provide me with new sources or direct me to where I might find them. The guest speaker, as well as the State Director, were extremely helpful and provided me with the information I was looking for. More importantly, I felt comfortable around these people so I decided to join.
Journal: Being a State Director and STAR Team member, you’ve seen cases come and go. What was your worst case and why? Best? Did these cases change any of your theories or perceptions about the field?
Michael: Well, I don’t think I ever had a worst case, meaning everything that could go wrong with it did go wrong. But, if asked what my most disappointing cases were I would say the ones where we could not bring closure to the witness. Often we get assigned cases where the witness is distressed that they saw a UFO. For some, this is a traumatic experience for various reasons. But, after investigating the cases and finding evidence that suggested or proved what was seen was not a UFO, unfortunately for the witness, they do not believe you and still are distraught. I believe, as Field Investigators, we all want to be able to bring some closure to our witnesses and their experience. When we cannot do this, it is upsetting. My best case is the second one I worked on after becoming a certified Field Investigator. I was working with another CT investigator on this case. The witness, while walking on the beach, took a picture of what he thought was a classic saucer-shaped craft leaving the water. When I first saw the photo I thought I hit the jackpot. Finally, the “smoking gun” and I found it on my second case! But, after we investigated we learned the photo was not of a disc-shaped craft, instead it was a slightly out of focus bird. I was disappointed because I thought we had something. One could argue that my disappointment would have made this my worst case; however, it was my best for two reasons. The first reason, it was fun to work with my fellow investigator on a case. We became friends during that case and I still consider him one of my very good friends today. And the second reason, it showed me that you have to follow the evidence. The investigative process works and you cannot skip steps or try to make something into something it is not. This is what separates the serious, creditable investigator from the quack “investigators” that give ufology a bad name. Yes, these cases changed my perceptions of the field. It would have been very easy to tell this witness what he photographed was a UFO. After we determined what the photo was I remember telling my co-investigator that I could see this photo being used in a sensationalized UFO documentary as photographic evidence of a UFO and how sad that was because it does such a disservice to our field. After conducting my own investigations, I see how under-sourced and under-investigated this field is sometimes.
Journal: Interest in MUFON seems to have greatly increased in recent years. To what do you attribute this? Has media attention had any bearing on this increase?
Michael: Yes, media attention has been the key, no doubt about it. There are shows on TV on topics from ancient aliens to Roswell playing almost every day either as new documentaries, new shows, or reruns of older ones. I don’t remember the media running these types of shows as often as they do when I was younger.
Journal: In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about discloser; and transparency in the UFO phenomenon. In your opinion, are we any closer to it than we were in the past?
Michael: I hope so. As we are seeing in our society today people are not so willing to blindly follow what the government says anymore. Do I see disclosure in the next few years? No. But, I think as people are now slowly starting to firmly question the government, this may be the catalyst for disclosure in the future.
Journal: What do you feel is the most under-researched corner of Ufology?
Michael: Ancient aliens is the most under-researched corner of Ufology.
Journal: In your bio, you mention you have a master’s degree in history. How do you feel this has contributed to your research and study into the field of Ufology? Conventional academia tends to dismiss this as a legitimate area of study. How do you feel about this?
Michael: History papers in graduate school are all about primary sources. It is about finding the original documents. We do not use secondary sources if we do not have to. Secondary sources are interpretations of the primary source. When I am researching a topic on Ufology I want to see the original sources. Show me the Air Force document or government document about my research subject. I want to hear or see the audio/video tape or read the transcript of some witness being quoted. If I can, I want to interview the witness and hear the information first hand. When I read a book by an author on a subject I am researching, the first thing I do is look for the footnotes or the source page. I use those to get the primary sources. If an author does not provide this in his or her book I red flag the book. If you stand by your work, you should not be afraid to show your sources and if sources are not shown then something is fishy. I think if you mean academia dismisses ufology as in Roswell, UFO visitations to Earth, alien abductions, and other topics within the field, then I am not surprised conventional academia dismisses it as a legitimate area of study. There are people in the field using nonscientific and nonacademic standards to present their findings. But, it still frustrates me, and I hope this will change in the future. But, with the advanced unmanned space probes visiting and landing on planets, as well as the advances made in telescopes both Earth-based and spaced-based; academics are taking a renewed interest in alien life. I am hopeful this will eventually translate into a more positive view of ufology. Nevertheless, Ufology as a field needs to up their standards and start acting like a legitimate area of study and move away from the fringes. This is starting to happen. There are some great Ufology researchers out there doing excellent work. It is because of them I can see academia slowly taking a look at this field. Even if it only starts off as a quick glance.
Journal: You stated you were a member of CAG International. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Michael: Chuck Reever contacted me about helping out with this. I enjoy being a part of this program. My understanding of Case Assistance Group International (CAG International) is we help close out the cases where there is no MUFON chapter or if a chapter exists and is overwhelmed due to a shortage of Field Investigators. The methodology is the same as investigating a case in the states. You look for the evidence and documentation to determine what, if anything, the witness saw. The only difference is you cannot visit the witness in-person, instead you talk on the phone, or over the Internet via Skype or email. The cases are similar to what we get in the states in types of cases reported. For me, this is like taking an international vacation every time I make contact with the witness. When you make contact you learn about what life is like in their part of the world. What they do for fun; what they do for work; and other details about their daily lives. It is like being there but not having to pay for an airline ticket. (You might want to check with Chuck to make sure I understood this correctly)
Journal: Is there anyone at MUFON that you have never actually met that you would just like to talk with?
Michael: I would like to meet David MacDonald.
Journal: Do you feel that investigating UFOs differs in any respects in Connecticut than in other parts of the country? In what way?
Michael: No, not really. We get the same problems as everyone else. Problems such as a witness makes a report and never responds to contact attempts or a witness tells a great story but mysteriously their cellphone camera didn’t work or was not with them at the time of the sighting. I would say one problem we have, I am sure all chapters have this, is determining what is truly an Unknown and what is a classified government project. Connecticut has many defense contractors and subcontractors in the state and in the region so what they are flying around at night they never say.
Journal: As State Director, you have the opportunity to work with new people coming into MUFON; do you have any advice to someone new to the field?
Michael: Yes, for people new to MUFON I like to tell them you do not have to be an expert in a scientific specialty or in Ufology to be successful in the organization, especially if you want to be a Field Investigator. We will teach you. All you need is to be willing to learn, keep an open mind and do your research. Whether you are investigating a sighting or researching some topic in the field, get to the original sources, if possible. And, give your interpretation/opinion on the facts only.
Journal: Thank you once again, Mr. Panicello, for sitting down with us for the MUFON One-On-One. It is much appreciated.
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e from within MUFON as the next One-On-One guest – please get in touch with Marie Cisneros at firstname.lastname@example.org.