The Hack and the Quack

The "Phoenix Lights" made Frances Emma Barwood the darling of the global space-alien lobby. And it'stransformed computer geek Jim Dilettoso into a star in the UFO firmament.

TRW spokeswoman Linda Javier says that in fact neither side put up cash in the project. "We didn't make any investments. We used a system that was built on our own with R&D funding." Asked about Dilettoso's claims, Javier responds, "He has a different way of looking at things."

Says Jamie Hormel: "Supposedly he was working on that Titanic movie. [But] I haven't seen him do one thing he was supposed to have done."

Dilettoso claims that in Village Labs' work on the special effects for Titanic, he collaborated with a Digital Domain engineer named "Wook."

"Wook said that Mr. Dilettoso's and Village Labs' contribution to the production of Titanic was nothing," says Digital Domain's Les Jones. Wook concurs.

When he's pressed about the claims made in the Republic story, Dilettoso says that it's true the various deals have not materialized. But he says he was the victim of an elaborate conspiracy by a TRW executive who wanted to learn Village Labs' techniques and then promote them as his own.

In the meantime, he continues to shop his plans of linking supercomputers, and entertains reporters in front of a bank of computer screens in a studiolike room which he uses for his UFO alchemy.

Perhaps Dilettoso's greatest trick: helping transform Frances Emma Barwood into a national poster child for the UFO movement.

But he meant for that poster child to be someone who already had global notoriety: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

It was to Arpaio that Dilettoso steered an EXTRA film crew on May 6. When the crew found the sheriff out to lunch, they went to City Hall in search of another public official to interview. Frances Emma Barwood says she found their questions reasonable--why hadn't local government done anything about the sightings? And she brought it up in that afternoon's city council meeting. She wasn't prepared for the avalanche of attention, praise and ridicule that would follow.

She also didn't expect to see Arpaio grovel.
Barwood's instant celebrity was the kind of attention Arpaio craves. So, at a veterans' function a few days later, Barwood says Arpaio begged her to send him a letter, officially asking his office to investigate the March 13 lights.

She says she promised to do so. But only hours later, Arpaio aide David Hendershott called her and told her not to send it. She says he didn't explain why.

Hendershott says Barwood remembers things incorrectly. He claims it was Barwood who asked if she could send a letter to Arpaio requesting the posse's help interviewing witnesses.

"That's not it at all," counters Barwood, who says that Arpaio pleaded with her in front of veterans who later told her they were surprised to see him so agitated.

Barwood pressed on as the only public official asking why local, state and federal governments didn't take an interest in what seemed to be a questionable use of Arizona airspace, at the very least. Barwood was told that the city had no air force and could do nothing about the sightings. The Air Force, meanwhile, told her that it had gotten out of the business of investigating UFOs and that it was a local matter.

Barwood and the many who saw the lights were understandably frustrated.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's spokesman Lieutenant Keith Shepherd didn't help matters. Shepherd told news organizations, including New Times, that the base had no planes in the air at the time of the 8:30 and 10 p.m. events. In her investigation, however, Captain Eileen Bienz of the Arizona National Guard later heard from National Guard helicopter pilots from a Marana air base that they had spotted a group of A-10s heading for Tucson at about 10 p.m.

Only after Bienz asked Davis-Monthan about the planes did Shepherd confirm that the Maryland Air National Guard had used the base for its winter exercises and had dropped flares southwest of Phoenix that night.

Shepherd told New Times that he had earlier spoken about the base's own planes. Reporters had simply asked him the wrong question.

It's no wonder that so many people believe the military maintains a UFO cover-up.

The military's reluctance to divulge information also led to confusion about what was seen on radar that night. The media have widely circulated reports that the 8:30 and 10 p.m. lights were mysteriously invisible to radar.

But a formation of a craft or crafts traveling at high altitude over Phoenix would have been monitored by FAA radar operators in Albuquerque, not at Sky Harbor Airport, says air traffic controller Bill Grava, who was on duty at Sky Harbor that night and witnessed the later, 10 p.m. lights. Grava says that if five planes in a vee passed over Phoenix at 8:30 p.m., they would have been represented by a sole asterisk on consoles at Sky Harbor--not something that would have raised the curiosity of operators. As for the 10 p.m. event, Grava acknowledges that the North Tac range is beyond Sky Harbor's radar; if planes dropped flares over the range, it's no mystery why they would not have appeared on consoles at the airport.

Luke Air Force base has more powerful radar systems. But Luke's Captain Stacey Cotton says that radar operators at the base were asked if they had seen anything unusual that night, and answered no. She says that a formation of five planes--traveling at high altitude above Sky Harbor's and outside of Luke's restricted air spaces--would not have been considered unusual. Neither would a flare drop over the gunnery range.

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