Britain’s X-traordinary Files

My latest book opens The National Archives’ own ‘X-files’ to shine a spotlight on many formerly secret official accounts of uncanny phenomena and other unsolved historical mysteries.Book coverJPG

From mediums employed by the police to help with psychic crime-busting to sea monster sightings logged by the Royal Navy, Britain’s X-traordinary Files is the result of 15 years research in the archives at London and elsewhere.

Each section is underpinned by images of key documents created by government agencies that have investigated and sometimes tried to exploit extraordinary phenomena or powers in recent history.

Following the style of its companion volume The UFO Files (now in its second edition) the seven chapters throw new light on rumours, legends and persistent mysteries. Some of the subjects covered by the book include:

  • The Angels of Mons that were said to have saved outnumbered British troops in Belgium at the outbreak of the First World War one hundred years ago

    Soldiers from the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers prepare for the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914 - the source of the legend of the 'Angels of Mons' (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

    Soldiers from the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers prepare for the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914 – the source of the legend of the ‘Angels of Mons’ (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

  • War Diaries and other documents that reveal what happened to 266 British soldiers that ‘disappeared into thin air’ during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915
  • The Death Ray and rumours of secret weapons spread by intelligence agencies between and after the two world wars
  • Scotland Yard’s use of a Dutch clairvoyant to find the ‘Stone of Scone’ stolen from Westminster Abbey in 1950
  • Secret ‘Remote Viewing‘ experiments conducted by British intelligence agencies in the aftermath of 9/11
  • MI5 investigations into reports of mysterious lights and ‘crop circles‘ in WW2
  • The extraordinary trial of a London man who was found guilty of killing a pedestrian he believed to be a ghost
  • British Army investigations of dowsing and other extraordinary powers to locate buried bodies and mines
  • The mysterious Solway Spaceman photograph that baffled police and RAF experts fifty years ago

    TempletonPhoto 001

    The enigmatic ‘Solway Spaceman’ photograph taken by an employee of the Cumbrian fire service in 1964 (Credit: Jim Templeton)

  • Results of inquiries into the mysterious disappearance of British aircraft and their crews
  • What the British government records say about the fate of captain and crew of the Mary Celeste
  • The future King George V’s sighting of a phantom ship, The Flying Dutchman whilst serving in the Royal Navy
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s sighting of the mysterious Victorian sea serpent
  • The Loch Ness Monster Files: what papers at Scotland’s National Archives and London’s Natural History Museum reveal about the Nessie legend.

Britain’s X-traordinary Files is published by Bloomsbury on 25 September 2014 and can be pre-ordered here and here.

I will launch the book with an illustrated lecture on the Angels of Mons and other legends of the First World War at Sheffield’s Off The Shelf literary festival on 27 October.

Praise for Britain’s X-traordinary Files:

‘This is a feast of a book, valuable above all for folklore studies but also for parapsychology, history and hard science; and the more important for having grounded itself in the most prosaic of sources, the official records of the nation.’

                      Professor Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol

‘In this entertaining and absorbing book, David Clarke excavates hidden marvels from the depths of The National Archives, casting new light on our uncanny world – from death rays to ghost ships and angels.’

                     Professor Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire

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Saucery in Pop Culture

NASA’s preparations to test a saucer-shaped spacecraft have placed the iconic ‘flying saucer‘ back into the popular consciousness.

In a BBC Magazine feature journalist Jon Kelly explores how the saucer ‘has served as visual shorthand for the gleaming, jet-propelled, post-war vision of the future’.BBC News Magazine

Saucers are of course familiar to everyone from ’50s sci-fi classics such as The Day the Earth Stood Still but also turn up in architecture, such as the prefabricated Futuro houses designed by Matti Suuronen.

The saucer-shape appears in toys, kettles, phones, sherbet-filled sweets and even a number of English pubs.

One such hostelry, in Gillingham, Kent, was re-named following a ‘flap’ of UFO sightings nearby in 1954.

I enjoyed a pint of best bitter inside this Flying Saucer during a trip to interview Derek Dempster, the former Spitfire pilot and UFO watcher, a decade ago.

The only time I have been inside a flying saucer - whilst enjoying a pint inside this pub at Gillingham in Kent

The only time I have been inside a flying saucer – whilst enjoying a pint inside this pub at Gillingham in Kent

NASA’s plans return us full circle to the optimistic post-war era sandwiched between the UFO flaps of 1947 and 1967.

During this period newspapers and futurologists speculated that saucer-shaped hypersonic aircraft might be the next big technological leap after the jet engine

And some forward-thinking engineers such as Britain’s John Frost tried to turn these ideas into reality.

But Frost’s design for a futuristic prototype flying saucer for Avro-Canada (‘Project Y2′) – based on German designs from WW2 – never made it past the drawing board.

And despite many subsequent attempts to revive the idea – such as the British Railways Board patent for a fusion-power saucer in the ’70s – saucers have remained firmly in the eye of the beholder.

 

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Foxtrot 94 – a Cold War mystery solved

One of the most enduring mysteries of the Cold War – the disappearance of US pilot William Schaffner in a secret RAF exercise above the North Sea – has finally been laid to rest.

Wreckage of Captain Schaffner's lightning, as it was lifted from the seabed off Flamborough in 1970 (Credit: The National Archives DEFE 71/95)

Wreckage of Captain Schaffner’s lightning, as it was lifted from the seabed off Flamborough in 1970 (Credit: The National Archives DEFE 71/95)

Captain Scaffner was just 28 years old when his RAF Lightning – call-sign Foxtrot 94 – crashed into the sea off Flamborough Head in Yorkshire one stormy night in September 1970.

Now his youngest son Michael has told the full tragic story of his father’s death in an exclusive interview with Ian Black for the monthly magazine FlyPast (July).

Michael Schaffner and his brothers were given access to classified RAF files on the loss of Lightning XS894 after they read internet rumours that claimed the USAF exchange pilot died in a secret operation to intercept UFOs.

The rumours began when RAF crash investigators lifted the wreckage of the Lightning from the seabed – only to find the cockpit was empty.

The body of the dad-of-three from Ohio – who had flown combat missions in Vietnam before his posting to RAF Binbrook, in Lincolnshire – was never found.

But endemic Cold War secrecy meant his young wife and family were never given access to the full contents of the RAF Board of Inquiry held into his death in 1972.

A young Captain Schaffner during flight training in the US (Credit: FlyPast/Michael Schaffner)

A young Captain Schaffner during flight training in the US (Credit: FlyPast/Michael Schaffner)

Two decades later a newspaper in Grimsby, where the wreckage was first brought to shore, published claims by an anonymous ‘whistleblower’ who said he was a member of the crash investigation team.

The source, who has never been identified, claimed Schaffner’s Lightning had been scrambled to intercept a UFO tracked by NATO radars.

But the RAF inquiry file – opened at The National Archives at Kew in 2008 -reveals the ‘bogey’ seen on radar was actually a Avro Shackleton.

Its crew had been diverted by RAF controllers in a cunning plan to simulate a defecting Soviet aircraft that intended to land in the UK.

Tacevals’ (tactical evaluation exercises) were conducted in strict secrecy. Their aim was to test the interception skills of fighter pilots who were kept on 24-hour alert duty.

Lightnings from RAF Binbrook and other airbases on the British coast were frequently scrambled to deal with incursions by Soviet aircraft during this tense period of the Cold War.

Transcripts of Foxtrot 94′s last call to RAF ground controller appear in the Board of Inquiry file. They contained no reference to UFOs,  just the last desperate transmissions from Schaffner as he tried to intercept the slow-moving Shackleton.

The Lightning disappeared from radar as it turned at low altitude in the darkness above a stormy sea, ‘a mission beyond his experience’, according to his son.

A fuller account of how the mystery unravelled can be followed in my Case Files here. The story was originally investigated by the BBC regional programme Inside Out North who helped Schaffner’s sons discover the truth.

But during the ’90s the story of Captain Schaffner’s alleged ‘abduction’ by aliens spread across the internet. In 1999 it featured in a book, Alien Investigator, by a retired Yorkshire police sergeant, Tony Dodd, who was convinced the MoD had covered up the truth.

This was the time when the The X-Files and the 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident brought government cover-ups into the public spotlight.

In his FlyPast article, Michael Schaffner tells of his shock when he stumbled across the sensational claims whilst searching online in 2000. FlyPastcoverJuly2014 001

‘Reading the internet that day, I was left pretty rattled…never in my wildest dreams did I think that someone would take the time to fabricate a story worth of The X-Files out of my father’s crash…’

His article reveals the full details of his father’s final moments and lays to rest the mystery of what happened to his body. He says:

‘We will probably never know the full truth of what really happened but it certainly wasn’t any of the bizarre stories of the internet sites. A chain of events beyond his control led to his death. No one person could be held to blame.’

Foxtrot 94 by Ian Black and Michael Schaffner is a part of a feature ‘Spotlight on the English Electric Lightning’, published in the July issue of FlyPast magazine.

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Solway Spaceman mystery is 50 years old

It is 50 years since Jim Templeton took the famous image of a figure in a space-suit hovering behind his daughter on the Solway Marshes in the English Lake District.

The Solway Spaceman photograph, taken from a print supplied by Jim Templeton in 2001

The Solway Spaceman photograph, taken from a print supplied by Jim Templeton in 2001

Since that family outing in May 1964 when the figure – dubbed the ‘Solway Spaceman‘ – was captured on Jim’s Zeiss Pentacon camera the image has resisted all attempts to explain it.

Jim, who died in 2011, saw nothing unusual when he took the photo of his 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth, as she sat on grass holding a bunch of sea pinks.

But when he took the photo for development at his local chemist the assistant told him it was shame the best image had been ‘spoiled by the man in the background wearing a space suit’.

Jim worked for Cumbria’s fire service and immediately sent the photo for analysis at Kodak and by Carlisle CID. Soon after it appeared on pg 1 of the Cumberland News the image made headlines across the world. Jim’s family were inundated with letters from people who identified the ‘figure’ as a angel, an alien and a ‘spirit form’.

The mystery grew because the photo was taken from a position looking towards the Chapelcross nuclear power station, across the Solway Estuary.  At the time MoD manufactured Blue Streak rockets at RAF Spadeadam, near Carlisle, and of course the NASA Apollo programme was in full swing across the Atlantic.

In the summer of 1964 Jim said he was visited by two mysterious ‘men from the Ministry’ who claimed they worked for the government. In a scene that could have been taken from the film Men In Black the men referred to each other by numbers and drove a black Jaguar car.

The full story – and the police and MoD investigations that followed – will be told in my new book Britain’s X-traordinary Files published by Bloomsbury in September. A summary can be followed in my case files pages here and BBC Cumbria have published a 50th anniversary feature on the mystery here.

Since 1964 there have been many attempts to explain the photograph as a hoax but none have succeeded and the most recent study, published by Rational Wiki, suggests the ‘spaceman’ is actually Jim’s wife, Anne.

This theory says the model of camera used by Jim only revealed 70% of what the lens actually captured.

That being the case, he failed to notice his wife – who was standing behind him at the time – walk into the shot and take her place in history. Another photograph from the outing shows Mrs Templeton wearing a blue dress which has overexposed to white. When manipulated in photoshop it resembles the colour of the ‘spaceman’.

A photograph showing Mrs Templeton and her daughter on the Solway Marshes - is she the 'spaceman'? (Credit: RationalWiki)

A photograph showing Mrs Templeton and her daughter on the Solway Marshes – is she the ‘spaceman’? (Credit: RationalWiki)

But Jim and his wife remained adamant that she could not have been the figure in the photograph.

Whatever the explanation the image remains one of the most puzzling examples from the gallery of anomalous photography.

 

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On Tour With The Angels

August-September marks the 100th birthday of ‘the greatest urban legend of the 20th century’ – The Angels of Mons.

Flyer for the Folklore Society Legendary Weekend in September 2014

Flyer for the Folklore Society Legendary Weekend in September 2014

The inspiring tale of desperate Tommies saved from annihilation by the Kaiser’s troops via the intervention of shining angel warriors – led by St George wielding a flaming sword – was believed by millions during the Great War.

The Angels of Mons went on to inspire countless newspaper stories, books – including my own account of the legend, published in 2004 – films and even sheet music.

This and other legends of the 1914-18 war are set to be re-told and debated once again as the centenary of the battle of Mons approaches.  In August the Belgian city will play host to an international event to commemorate the outbreak of WW1 at the war cemetery and nearby battlefield.

Rumours about phantom bowmen, saints and angels protecting Allied troops spread to the Home Front after author Arthur Machen published a short story in the London Evening News in September 1914.

I will discuss the respective roles played by Machen and his contemporary Edgar Rice Burroughs in a series of talks at conferences and literary festivals to mark the centenary of the battle and the legend it spawned. This will include some new revelations about the possible inspiration for the story and those who claimed to have seen the ‘angels’ and bowmen of Mons.

In June I will be presenting my latest research on the Mons legend in Prague at the annual conference of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR). Scholars of urban and ‘contemporary legend’ from across the globe will be sharing the latest research in the field at this wonderful six-day event in the capital of the Czech Republic.

Nearer the anniversary I will be speaking about The Angels of Mons and other legends of the war at The Folklore Society‘s legendary weekend at Chatham, Kent, on 6-7 September.  With the timely theme of ‘War in Legend and Tradition‘ this conference will explore songs, ghosts, omens, rumours and rituals from the last two millennia of conflict.

‘War in Legend and Tradition’ will be held in the Napoleonic-era Fort Armherst and organiser Jeremy Harte is keen to hear from anyone who can contribute to the military theme – folklorists, veterans, storytellers, re-enactors, military historians or ‘poor bloody infantry’. For more details contact Jeremy via the Folklore Society website here.

And later in the year I will present an illustrated lecture on the Mons legend at the Off The Shelf literature festival in my home city of Sheffield before taking the angels of Mons on tour.

 

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Happy birthday to ‘The Thing’

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Warminster UFO mystery that transformed the small Wiltshire market town into a centre of pilgrimage for flying-saucerers.

From the Christmas of 1964-65, if local journalist Arthur Shuttlewood can be believed, the town was virtually under siege from ‘The Thing’, a terrifying airborne sound.

Journalist Arthur Shuttlewood's first book, 'The Warminster Mystery', published in 1967, put the little town on the map as the centre for UFO pilgrims

Journalist Arthur Shuttlewood’s first book, ‘The Warminster Mystery’, published in 1967, put the little town on the map as the centre for UFO pilgrims (credit: http://www.metaphysicalarticles.blogspot.com)

Soon afterwards visits from flying saucers and nocturnal lights became as regular as clockwork.

Shuttlewood’s updates for the weekly Warminster Journal became headline news in the Daily Mirror and other London tabloids.

From 1966 every weekend and bank holiday, UFO watchers camped out on Cradle Hill, which borders the British Army firing range on Salisbury Plain, to watch the space people fly past.

By the 1970s interest began to wane and when I visited the town in 2006 there was no mention of the ‘mystery’ in the town’s Tourist Information literature.

But times are a’changing thanks to Warminster stalwart Kevin Goodman, who revived the annual August bank holiday skywatch tradition in 2007.

As a teenager Kevin made regular trips from his home in the West Midlands to skywatch at Warminster and had a number of extraordinary experiences there.

Kevin now runs  – with Steve Dewey – the Warminster UFO website, dedicated to the legend, that is linked to a Facebook page.

In February this year, when BBC2’s peripatetic antiques show Flog It! visited Warminster, presenter Paul Martin made the town’s UFO legend the centrepiece of the show.

Kevin will speak about ‘the Warminster Mystery at 50’ at the 2014 BUFORA Conference, to be held in the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms ,on Saturday, 30 August. Tickets can be booked here.

Afterwards pilgrims can join a coach trip to Cradle Hill and take a trip back to the good old days of UFO-ology.

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The Phantom Russian Cossacks

The fruits of my research into First World War rumours and belief legends was published in the Sunday Telegraph on 23 February under the headline:

A RUSSIAN REVELATION: WHERE THE MYTHICAL COSSACKS OF WW1 WERE REALLY FROM

Captured Russian troops including Cossacks in Galicia (credit: www.firstworldwar.com)

Captured Russian troops including Cossacks in Galicia (credit: http://www.firstworldwar.com)

by Jasper Copping

It seems to have been the worst kept national secret.

In the opening weeks of the First World War, word spread swiftly that up to a   million Cossack warriors had been shipped to Britain and were being spirited   through the country to be rushed into action on the Western Front, where   fighting was still at a critical phase and yet to be bogged down in the   trenches.

The news even reached the ears of the Germans, apparently provoking them into   strategic changes which are credited with allowing the Allies to stop them   achieving a swift victory.

Except there was not an ounce of truth in the reports, and the massive force   of Cossacks was non-existent.

The so-called “Russian rumour” is one of a number of myths and legends which   emerged during the First World War and which have now been investigated by   David Clarke, an academic from Sheffield Hallam University who specialises   in analysing such phenomena.

The research, which also covers the so-called Angel of Mons – an apparition   credited with assisting British soldiers – as well spying missions by   “phantom” Zeppelins, and “corpse factories”, where the Germans supposedly   processed human remains – has been conducted as part of a series of lectures   to mark the war’s centenary.

Dr Clarke has pieced together the “Russian rumour” from reports at the time,   tracing its origins and showing how it was used by British spies to dupe the   Germans.

The rumours began to circulate in the last week of August 1914 and swiftly started to appear in the newspapers, first local, then national   and even international.

Witnesses claimed they had seen southbound trains passing through the country   with blinds down, but with the occasional glimpse caught of carriages of   “fierce-looking bearded fellows in fur hats”. Others claimed the men still   had “snow on their boots”, while train drivers said they had spoken to the   foreign troops.

One article referred to reports that an “an immense force of Russian soldiers   – little short of a million it is said – have passed, or are still passing,   through England on their way to France”. It suggested the men had been   brought from Archangel, in northern Russia, and landed at Leith before being   carried south at night on hundreds of trains.

The article concluded: “What a surprise is in store for the Germans when they   find themselves faced on the west with hordes of Russians, while other   hordes are pressing upon them from the east!”

Officials did not confirm the reports but, with no firm denials, and given the   secrecy surrounding war preparations, kept an open mind. Meanwhile, the   reports continued to come in, appearing to give increasing corroboration.

One witness said he had seen 10,000 Russians marching along the Embankment   towards London Bridge station, while a rail porter at Durham reported   finding an automatic chocolate machine jammed by a rouble.

One man said they had been on a ship from Archangel accompanied by 2,500   Cossacks on route to France. He also claimed that he had taken several   photographs of the men which he gave to his local newspaper, which was   prevented from publishing them by the censor.

In Malvern, it was claimed a Russian jumped off a train and ordered 300   “lunchsky baskets”, while a woman near Stafford said she saw hundreds of men   in long grey overcoats stretching their legs next to their waiting train.

At Carlisle, there were said to have been shouts for “vodka” from a train.   Another report claimed 250,000 men wearing tunics from the Astrakhan area of   south west Russia had marched through a town in North Wales.

Some of the most extensive reports were in the US, where the press were free   from censorship restrictions.

The New York Times claimed 72,000 Russians had been transported from   Aberdeen to Grimsby, Harwich and Dover, and then on to Ostend.

The stories reached British soldiers already at the front in letters from   home, while at least one newspaper dispatch from Belgium also claimed the   Russians had actually arrived there.

Even Brigadier-General John Charteris, a senior intelligence officer, learnt   of the reports and made inquiries, but was told the rumours were untrue.

The Germans, however, gave them more credence and on September 7, news reports   from the Continent disclosed how the Kaiser and senior headquarters staff   had left France altogether, attributing the retreat to “the official news of   the concentration of 250,000 Russian troops in France”.

Meanwhile, the German army had veered south eastwards as it neared Paris,   giving the Allies the opportunity to check its advance at the Battle of the   Marne by the middle of September. The part played by the Russian rumour, in   this tactical blunder by the Germans and the subsequent Allied victory is   not known, but senior British military figures have said it was a factor.

According to some reports, the Germans detached two divisions to guard the   Belgian coast against the expected Russian assault, weakening their force   for the forthcoming Marne battle.

It was only after the after the victory on the Marne that the British   Government issued an unequivocal denial, but even after that, the rumour   persisted, with many insisting it was part of a continuing plan to trick the   Germans.

However, Dr Clarke’s research has traced the trigger for the false rumour to   events on August 24, when railway movements around the country were subject   to lengthy hold-ups.

These were imposed to allow reservists to move from their barracks around the   country to embarkation points on the south coast. The trains were   handsignalled and moved at night with blinds drawn.

One of the battalions involved was the Gaelic-speaking 4th Seaforth   Highlanders, whose appearance – and language – appears to have given rise to   many of the reports.

In one Midland station, a porter is said to have asked a group of   Gaelic-speaking Highland soldiers where they were from – and to have   misunderstood the reply of “Ross Shire”, as “Russia”.

At the same time, some Russian officers did arrive in Britain to organise   supplies for their own forces and serve as attaches to various military   staffs. Accompanying them was a number of soldier servants, most of whom   travelled from Archangel to Scottish ports, before catching trains south,   further fuelling the rumours.

Another suggestion put forward for sparking the report was a telegram sent   from a shipping agent in Aberdeen to his London headquarters about a large   consignment of Russian eggs which simply said ‘100,000 Russians now on way   from Aberdeen to London’.

There are clues that the rumour was deliberately fuelled, or even instigated,   by the intelligence service and British agents certainly tried to feed it to   their German counterparts.

MI5 had already intercepted letters and telegrams sent back to his handlers by   Carl Lody, a German agent operating in Britain. However, a report from him   that was allowed to pass related to the Russian troops story.

Dr Clarke said: “It was an accidental rumour, which turned into a massive   delusion. The authorities just let it run, and it was seem to have played a   role in the war.”

His research shows how other myths and legends, such as the Angel of Mons and   the “corpse factories”, were also exploited by the British for their   propaganda value.

Copyright Sunday Telegraph/David Clarke 2014

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‘I have some stuff you might be interested in…’: Edward Snowden and the ultimate secret

When four years ago Wikileaks published 250,000 US state department cables dating back to the 1960s, a believer in ET visitations asked why, in the great mass of data, there was not one major UFO secret.

NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden (credit: The Guardian)

NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden (credit: The Guardian)

Soon afterwards, during a live Q&A, Wikileaks supremo Julian Assange explained that ‘many weirdoes email us about UFOs’ but none of the stories they supply satisfied their twin publishing criteria, which was: ‘that the documents not be self-authored; that they be original’.

Now former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has upped the ante with a massive leak of two million top secret documents. Snowden’s leak to The Guardian and New York Times has been described by Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame as ‘the most significant leak’ of classified material in US history.

Yet Snowden’s revelations have failed to produce the ‘smoking gun’ that would prove the alien presence on Earth, the real ultimate secret if you buy into the UFO myth.

Even if you don’t it cannot be denied that if such knowledge really existed it should merit at least a tiny reference in the files of the world’s most powerful intelligence agency.

The revelation that flying saucers have landed and governments are in contact with alien intelligences would make the ongoing debates about mass surveillance and the balance between national security and information privacy seem like an afterthought.

So far not a single authentic piece of paper, memo or PowerPoint has emerged from either Wikileaks or Snowden-gate to support this widely held modern myth.

The UFO industry has struggled to explain this odd omission and its corporate arm, the so-called ‘exopolitics’ movement led by the Paradigm Research Group, has continued on its merry way organising mock congressional hearings as if nothing in the world had changed.

Then, early in the new year someone decided it was time to stitch the breaking Snowden story together with the UFO conspiracy rumours. Snowden fled to Russia in June 2013 and has been granted temporary asylum.

In January what the Washington Post describes as ‘an ultra-fringe conspiracy website’, www.whatdoesitmean.com published a story based upon what it claimed was a FSB dossier summarising NSA secrets handed over to the Russian security service by Snowden.

The author of this piece, one ‘Sorcha Faal’, claimed its contents provided ‘incontrovertible proof’ that ‘an alien/extra-terrestrial intelligence agenda’ is driving US foreign policy. The dossier said the US government has been secretly run by a ‘shadow government’ of extra-terrestrials since the Second World War.

No good UFO story is complete without a Nazi element so the hoax included the ‘fact’ that Hitler built up his U-boat fleet ‘with alien assistance’, updating the familiar ancient astronauts meme to WW2. According to the story, after backing the wrong side in WW2 the aliens are now holed up at Area 51 with President Obama as their willing dupe and are plotting to use the omnipresent NSA to take over the world.

Hoax documents have always been a favourite trope in UFOlogy and the fake MJ12 papers, offered as proof of the Roswell incident during the ‘80s, provide a useful template. Further evidence? Sorcha Faal is so obviously a made-up name and whatdoesitmean is a notorious source of fake stories.

Only the gullible or credulous were likely to pay any attention to nonsense published on ‘an ultra-fringe conspiracy website’. But some have grounds to suspect it is run by someone spreading disinformation on behalf of one or more intelligence agencies. It is equally possible that ‘Faal’ is simply having fun by publishing nonsense that he or she knows will be swallowed by those want to believe it.

If there is any truth in the disinformation theory, on this occasion the spooks scored a direct hit. Soon after its appearance ‘the semi-official Iranian news agency’, FARS, swallowed the hoax whole. On 12 January Fars published a breathless regurgitation of the FSB story, faithfully referenced to its source: whatdoesitmean.com.

How the Iranian news-agency broke the Nazi/aliens story

How the Iranian news-agency broke the Nazi/aliens story

They also repeated Faal’s claim that the contents of the Russian dossier had been confirmed by the former Canadian defence minister, Paul Hellyer, during a live interview on Russian TV on 30 December 2013. The 90-year-old, FARS claimed, had been consulted by the FSB during his Russian trip on the accuracy of the alien story.

Hellyer’s faith in aliens includes his claim that ‘at least four species of aliens’ have been visiting Earth for thousands of years. These include ‘Nordic blondes’ and Tall Whites that live on earth ‘and are working with the United States government’.

So far so weird. Hellyer can’t provide any proof, but neither could Lord Hill Norton or any of the other cranky ‘top people’ who have swallowed the wilder products of the UFO industry whole in their dotage.

But in this case Hellyer, by talking about ‘Tall Whites’ and aliens secretly running the US government since the ’50s, played right into the hands of the person or persons responsible for concocting the Nazi alien hoax.

Both Hellyer and Disclosure spokesman Stephen Bassett have since published disclaimers, blaming what they believe is a CIA plot to smear them. In this case they may be right.  The spooks have form in using belief in UFOs and other fringe phenomena to discredit politicians and other targets. In 2001, the renegade SIS officer Richard Tomlinson claimed that during the run-up to the 1992 elections for the UN Secretary General, the CIA ran a smear campaign against the Egyptian candidate, Boutros Boutros Ghali, who they claimed ‘was a believer in the existence of UFOs and extra-terrestrial life’ (The Independent, 1 June 2001).

The smear was allegedly run by planting false stories in the media, much as Sorcha Faal tries to do.This operation failed as Boutros-Ghali was elected. But in the Fars case it seems to me that Hellyer and the UFO believers were roped in as cannon-fodder.

The real target is Snowden himself and the intention is to portray him as unbalanced and a traitor who passes secrets to the Russians . According to Luke Harding’s 2014 book The Snowden Files his haul of NSA documents is protected by several layers of sophisticated encryption and has not fallen into the hands of his hosts.

I have to agree with Max Fisher of the Washington Post, who described this hall of mirrors as ‘highly entertaining’. And until new information emerges I await a convincing answer to the question I posed in 2010: ‘where are the UFO whistle-blowers?’ Sorry, Paul Hellyer doesn’t count.

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Hunting the Northern Lights

One of my ambitions has always been to take a voyage beyond the Arctic Circle in search of the elusive aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

For years I have been fascinated by the mythology of the lights and the stories about them that have been preserved in the folklore of the Sami and other peoples dwelling in the polar regions.

NASA scientists predicted solar maximum activity would reach a peak during the winter of 2013-14 and next winter. This is providing travellers to the far north with an opportunity to observe some spectacular auroral displays.

Display of the aurora seen from MS Midnatsol approx 10 miles north of Tromso from 8 pm on Saturday, 11 January 2014

Display of the aurora seen from MS Midnatsol approx 10 miles north of Tromso from 8 pm on Saturday, 11 January 2014

This was too good an opportunity to miss so on 7 January, accompanied by my wife and fellow journalist Carolyn Waudby, we flew to Bergen to join the MS Midnatsol, the largest and newest ship in the Hurtigruten fleet.

Since 1893 Hurtigruten (‘the express route’) have provided a daily passenger and freight service for communities along Norway’s long and spectacular coastline.

The celebrated journey north -visiting tiny ports and large cities like Trondheim and Tromso – provides an unrivalled vantage point to see the aurora away from artificial lights, and to collect stories and folklore along the route.

Coincidentally, on the very day we left the UK the popular BBC2 series Stargazing Live, presented by Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, featured an item on the northern lights filmed from an aircraft flying above Tromso, the capital of the Arctic.

With interest in the aurora at an all time high, we kept our fingers crossed and hoped we would be lucky enough to see them for ourselves.

From Bergen we began a seven-day cruise that took us north beyond the Arctic Circle at 71 degrees north, through the Loften Islands and past Nordkapp (the North Cape) – the most northerly point in Europe – to Kirkenes, on the border with Russia.

Along the way we visited a medieval cathedral and a hotel made from ice, saw sea eagles swooping on their prey, ate freshly-caught king crabs, joined a dog-sledding expedition across a snowy hillside and, best of all, were fortunate to witness displays of the aurora from the deck of the MS Midnatsol on two occasions.

The Snow Hotel near Kirkenes near the border between Norway and Russia.

The Snow Hotel near Kirkenes near the border between Norway and Russia.

After several nights of murky weather we had begun to wonder if we would see the celebrated natural wonder. But when the Midnatsol left Tromso on Saturday 11 January the skies had cleared. The solar activity readings from the city’s Geophysical Observatory looked promising.

Everything was set and we were not to be disappointed. Ten miles north of the city we saw what resembled a volcanic eruption emerge from behind a snowy hillside to our starboard.

An eerie streamer of auroral light seemed to rise from the sky, dropping chiffon-like curtains along a line that arched above and beyond the northern horizon. Several hundred passengers crowded onto the upper decks of the ship to take in the majestic vision that unfolded in the sky until the lights faded from view 40 minutes later.

Obtaining a good photograph of the aurora is not straightforward, but patience, warm weather gear and access to a good digital SLR camera and tripod helps. Fortunately, Hurtigruten provide everything you could possibly need for a successful ‘light-hunting’ expedition.

Everything from tips on photography to presentations on the science and mythology of the aurora are included in the itinerary. The crew will even broadcast their arrival over the ship’s loudspeakers if alerted to their presence in the night!

We sailed with the MS Midnatsol for a 6-night/7 day voyage, overnighting at the Thon Hotel in Kirkenes, just 7 km from the border with Russia. From here, we flew back to Manchester, having enjoyed an unforgettable and amazing journey.

It is possible to stay on  your ship for the return journey south to Bergen,  a round trip of 12 days in all. But with ships sailing from every port twice a day, the programme is very flexible and with a bit of forward planning it is possible to construct your own tailor-made light-hunting expedition.

A fuller account of our journey and the places we visited will appear in the travel supplement of the Sheffield Star. The folklore and mythology of the aurora borealis will be the theme of a Fortean Traveller feature in a future issue of Fortean Times.

*Full details of the Hurtigruten coastal programme – that includes explorer voyages to Spitzbergen, Greenland and the Antarctic – can be found on the company’s website here.

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Jet in ‘airmiss’ with UFO near Heathrow

News of the latest in a series of cases where aircrew have seen unidentified objects on collision course with passenger jets has emerged in The Sunday Telegraph.

In 2011 I published the result of Freedom of Information Act request that revealed the Civil Aviation Authority had logged ten UFO sightings by aircrew between December 2004 and December 2011. Between 2004 and present there have been an additional five ‘airprox’ incidents where pilots have reported a near collision with an unidentified object. This category of sighting is investigated by a joint civil-military board that reports to the CAA.

Sunday Telegraph report on UFO near miss

Sunday Telegraph report on UFO near miss

Jasper Copping describes the latest incident involving an A320 airbus, that typically carries around 150 passengers, here:

“An airline pilot has reported a near miss in which a “rugby ball”-shaped UFO passed within a few feet of his passenger jet while flying near Heathrow Airport. The captain told the aviation authorities who have investigated the incident that he was certain the object was going to crash into his aircraft and ducked as it headed towards him. The investigation has been unable to establish any earthly identity for the mysterious craft, which left the aircrew with no time to take evasive action. The incident occurred while the A320 Airbus was cruising at 34,000ft, around 20 miles west of the airport, over the Berkshire countryside”.

According to the Airprox Report (download here) the captain saw the object heading towards the jet out of a left hand side of the cockpit window in broad daylight at 6.35pm on 19 July 2013. It says:

“He was under the apprehension that they were on collision course with no time to react. His immediate reaction was to duck to the right and reach over to alert the [First Officer]; there was no time to talk to alert him….The Captain was fully expecting to experience some kind of impact with a conflicting aircraft.”

He told the inquiry the object passed “within a few feet” above the jet and described it as being “cigar/rugby ball like” in shape, bright silver and apparently “metallic” in construction. Afterwards he contacted air traffic controllers to report the incident. Nothing was seen on radar at the time of the incident, which is a common theme in these cases/

Investigators checked data recordings to establish what other aircraft were in the area at the time, but eliminated them all. It also ruled out meteorological balloons. Toy balloons were also discounted, as the investigators believe they are not large enough to reach such heights, but this cannot be ruled out.

The report concluded it was “not possible to trace the object or determine the likely cause of the sighting”.

In 2012, the head of the National Air Traffic Control Services admitted staff detected around one unexplained flying object every month. On 2 December that year the crew of an airbus A320 reported another close shave as their aircraft approached Glasgow airport.

The airprox board (UKAB) investigators found the aircraft was at 4,000 ft above the city in clear conditions when the pilot and co-pilot saw an object “loom ahead” just 100 metres away.  Before they could react the object passed 300 ft beneath them, but not before they caught  a fleeting glimpse of it. They described the “untraced aircraft” as blue and yellow or silver in colour with a small frontal area, “bigger than a balloon.” Air traffic control saw nothing on radar, but Prestwick did spot an “unidentified track history”east of airbus’s position, 28 seconds earlier.

Anecdotal evidence suggests aircrew are reluctant to file air-miss reports but in this case the pilot did because he believed the risk of a collision was high. This was fortunate because, in the absence of any MoD interest in UFO reports, the airprox board is the only remaining official body in the UK with a remit to conduct detailed investigations of puzzling incidents like this one, albeit purely with a safety remit.

In the Glasgow incident investigators eliminated all the likely candidates including small fixed-wing aircraft, hot-air balloons and stray gliders or para-motors. These and meteorological balloons were all ruled out as unlikely due to the lack of a radar signature, leaving the board unable to reach any firm conclusion as to the cause.

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