The release of the seventh collection of MoD UFO files has broken records for the The National Archives website.
The number of hits on the UFO page has now reached 8.5 million, with almost 60 hits per second on the day the files were opened (Thursday, 3 March 2011).
Media coverage of the file release was equally successful with items on BBC News, Sky, ITV and international media including the Guardian, Daily Mail and New York Times. As the TNA consultant for the ongoing UFO project, I spent 48 hours giving interviews and explaining the significance of the new papers as guest on numerous TV and radio shows, including BBC Radio 4’s prestigious Today programme. Possibly the most perceptive article was ‘Is the truth about UFOs out there?’ by Neil Henderson, for BBC News Online (3 March). It includes this quote from me:
“I’m interested in why people believe in these things – regardless of proof…In hundreds of years time people will look back at these files and draw conclusions about the kind of people we were and the things we wanted to believe in.”
The release also featured in many national and international newspapers. The Guardian and the Daily Mail both ran with the incredible story of the 1967 flying saucer hoax by students at Farnborough Technical College. On Saturday, 5 March, the Mail published a double-page illustrated feature drawing upon information gathered by my friend and fellow researcher John Keeling, whose book on the hoax, How Big are Little Green Men?, is published later this year.
Meanwhile the conspiracy theorists have been making hay with the revelation that some MoD files covering the period of their cause celebre, the Rendlesham UFO incident, have been destroyed. I included this item in my Highlights guide and it was picked up by the BBC in a news report published on 3 March.
Back in 2005 when colleague Joe McGonagle and I revealed the loss of numerous Defence Intelligence files the news was received with virtually no interest or response from UFOlogists. At that time the MoD intended to destroy their entire collection of surviving DI55 UFO files, dating from 1975-2000 because – like many hundreds of thousands of other non-UFO related intelligence files – they had been contaminated by asbestos whilst stored in the basement of the Old War Office building in Whitehall. Eventually, the campaign to save all the contaminated files was successful and substantial amount of public money was spent to scan the papers for eventual release.
But decades before the asbestos contamination was discovered, records officers at the MoD had decided to dispose of dozens of older UFO files. Almost the entire run of Air Intelligence files on the subject, covering the years 1947-67 were lost because government policy – before 1967 – was to destroy all UFO files at five yearly intervals as they were deemed to be of “no historical interest”. Even in 1967, when MoD told MPs it would henceforth preserve UFO files due to increased public interest, desk officers ignored this ministerial commitment. One collection of S4(Air) and DS8 (UFO desk) files, containing papers dating from 1955-1968, went into the incinerator as recently as March 1990. Evidently, desk officers felt the contents were so tedious and mundane that they were not worth preserving.
The new releases show that Defence Intelligence files containing UFO sightings reports covering 1967-1975 (Parts 1-8), 1976-78 (Parts 10-20), 1980-82 (parts 26-31) and 1982-83 (Pt 33) were destroyed around the same time. It is simply an accident that the remaining files (parts 24 onwards, or 1984 to present) have survived for release at TNA. Seen in this context, there is no special reason why parts 26/27 – covering the 1980-81 period in the which the Rendlesham sighting occurred – can be said to have been singled out for specific destruction, as part of some conspiracy to hide “the truth.” These were not files specifically about the Rendlesham incident, simply reports received during those years, that may have included papers on the RAF Woodbridge sightings.
Furthermore, as the surviving DI55 files demonstrate, their contents are largely duplicates of the sighting reports found in the Secretariat (Air Staff) ‘UFO desk’ files. The UFO desk was the focal point for UFO reporting at Whitehall and simply copied the reports they received to DIS and RAF. Therefore, it’s unlikely that the lost DI55 files from 1980-81 contained anything substantially different to what has survived in the famous ‘Rendlesham File’ itself, released at TNA last August as DEFE 24/1948/1. Indeed, this file actually contains papers and minutes from DI55 and DI52 officers copied from the “lost” files.
So in actual fact nothing of substance has in fact been lost at all! A big fuss about nothing. If anyone out there wants to make a big deal about the loss of these files, they first need to do some real research and get their facts right.
A further irony is that until now, the conspiracy theorists have dismissed the MoD file disclosure as a “whitewash”. The implication is that the real top secret files (i.e. those confirming their belief in aliens) were being hidden elsewhere. Suddenly, the files are no longer uninteresting. Well, wake up and smell the coffee!
I’ve explained the reasons for the loss of these files elsewhere and Ben Radford has debunked some of the nonsense circulating on the net in his Live Science blog here. Quite why this story should cause such a stir now is an interesting question. I suspect the real reason is that some UFOlogists are clutching at straws now the integrity of the whole Rendlesham incident, and those promoting it, has been called into question by the farce that accompanied its 30th anniversary. See the March/April 2011 edition of Tim Printy’s excellent SUNlite magazine for an excoriating summary of the latest embellishments, in Rendlesham’s Holy Relics and Prophets.