Quite often I’m asked, what do the files actually tell us? Do aliens exist and have they been visiting us in UFOs? And has the government hidden that fact from us for decades as some conspiracy theorists believe?
The answer to the last question is an emphatic no. As to whether aliens exist, the plain truth is the government’s own experts had no more information than the average person in the street. For example, shortly before the subject was debated by the House of Lords in 1979 one UFO intelligence officer asked a government spokesman why, in such a vast universe, aliens would want to visit ‘an insignificant planet (the Earth) of an uninteresting star (the sun).’ He said even if intelligent aliens existed, the earth should expect a visit perhaps once in every 1,000 years, so ‘claims of thousands of visits in the last decade…are far too large to be credible.’
Other officials were more optimistic about the prospects of alien visitations. Indeed, to lift a phrase from The X-Files, like many of us some clearly ‘wanted to believe’. For example, in 1995 a RAF Wing Commander responsible for UFO investigations briefed the Defence Intelligence Staff that if some UFOs were alien visitations then the reasons for their visits might include ‘military reconnaissance, scientific or tourism.’ He said although there was no evidence of hostile intentions ‘if the sightings are not of this earth then their purpose needs to be established as a matter of priority.’ [DEFE 24/2080/1]
The DIS eventually agreed to his request for a study of the MoD’s accumulated UFO data. This concluded that although UFOs undoubtedly existed – in the form of ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ – there was no evidence that any were extra-terrestrial spacecraft. Instead, their report, completed in 2000, suggested a type of hitherto unknown natural phenomena – a type of ‘atmospheric plasma’ – could be responsible for some of the most puzzling reports.
The National Archives of Australia released papers on the unexplained disappearance of a light aircraft following a UFO sighting in 1978. Pilot Frederick Valentich reported seeing a strange lighted object buzzing his Cessna during a flight from Melbourne to King Island just moments before he lost contact with air traffic control. 34 years have passed but no trace of Valentich or his plane has ever been found and the Australian investigators concluded that his fate remains unsolved.
So while some mysteries do remain, one UFO myth debunked by the files is the popular idea that MoD operated a secret squirrel ‘UFO Project’ with its own Mulder and Scully, similar to that depicted in the TV series The X-files. In a 2008 briefing on the ‘daily mechanics’ of the strangest job in Whitehall, the last MoD UFO desk officer wrote that the idea of official investigations ‘tends to suggest to the public that there are Top Secret teams of specialist scientists scurrying around the country in a real life version of the X-Files’. But striking a note of disappointment he admitted this was ‘total fiction’ and most ‘investigations’ were carried out by ‘googling the internet.’
Since the The National Archives began to release UFO papers four years ago, 178 files have been released and the ninth tranche brings the number of pages to 50,000. The files can be downloaded from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos
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The second edition of Dr David Clarke’s book The UFO Files will be published by Bloomsbury on 13 September. He blogs about UFOs, folklore and journalism at www.drdavidclarke.co.uk