FBI ‘not interested’ in UFOs, shock revelation

“News organizations across the world were taken in — once again — by a hoax that was perpetrated more than 50 years ago….” Jesse Emspak, International Business Times

The silly season has arrived early this year. Either that or news desks are so desperate to publish UFO stories that any old rubbish will do, as the current fuss about FBI documents demonstrates.

According to the usual suspects (The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph) the US crime-busting agency has released a cache of new files, including a 1950 document relating to the infamous Roswell incident.  The unclassified (not secret) note, written by agent Guy Hottel, refers to three “so-called flying saucers” that a third-hand source claimed had crash-landed in New Mexico.

Bonnie Malkin, of the Daily Telegraph, claimed this document was “one of thousands of previously unreleased files [my emphasis] that the FBI has made public in a new online resource called The Vault.”

In fact, no significant new files have been released. All that has happened is that FBI have re-jigged their existing online reading room to make it easier for visitors to search for information, most of which – and that includes the Hottel memo – has been in the public domain for decades.

As skeptic Ben Radford points out, the memo “is not secret, nor is it new, nor does it refer to anything that happened in Roswell”. The rumour referred to in the Hottel memo began as a hoax perpetrated by a confidence trickster, Silas Newton. The story became the central theme of Frank Scully’s book Behind the Flying Saucers, published in 1950. The saucer crash referred to in the book was in Aztec, New Mexico, not Roswell.

Radford says:

“This document has actually been discussed in UFO circles since the late 1990s, and a close reading reveals that [the FBI agent] is not endorsing or verifying any of the information presented in the memo; he’s merely reporting what an Air Force investigator said that someone else told him about the crashed saucers. It’s a third-hand report of a story.”

One factual piece of information from the FBI files picked out by The Guardian appears in a policy briefing sent to J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, in August 1949. This note, sent by an agent in San Antonio, Texas, said their office regularly destroyed UFO reports on the grounds that they arrived “in great numbers” and contained “nothing of FBI interest.” It continues: “…it is pointed out that the filing of these [reports] would result in the rapid accumulation of very bulky files.”

Readers familiar with the British MoD ‘s UFO files, currently the subject of a disclosure programme at The National Archives, should find this statement familiar. That’s because until quite recently, equivalent British agencies – such as police forces, the Met Office, Air Ministry and the MoD – regularly destroyed UFO files for precisely the same reason: they were bulky, contained nothing of interest and took up too much space in an era before the invention of electronic data storage.

This topic was raised when I recorded an interview with Jeff Ritzman for his Paratopia paranormal radio show (you can download this 90 minute interview here). As I explained in the interview, back in March a fuss was made about the loss of some Defence Intelligence UFO files that covered 1980, when the infamous Rendlesham incident occurred. But as I pointed out, there was nothing particularly unusual or noteworthy about the practice of consigning UFO files to the incinerator. The files from 1980 joined whole swathes of earlier files covering reports received from 1950 to the mid-70s – for precisely the same reason given by the FBI.

Of course, in hindsight, the conspiracy theorists will use this admission as proof that the authorities had “something to hide”, but at the same time they will turn a blind eye to the mundane and tedious content of the files that have survived (and are now being disclosed).  This is a convenient position because it is non-falsifiable.

We cannot bring back into existence files that were destroyed decades ago, so conspiracy theorists can continue to cogitate about what they may have contained until the cows come home.  But any objective overview of the surviving evidence must lead to the conclusion that the missing files were disposed of because they contained nothing of interest to the agencies that created them. They may, again in hindsight, have contained material of interest to UFOlogists and the odd scientist or historian (such as myself), but at the time they were destroyed this was not a primary consideration – finding space in the filing cabinet was deemed more pressing.

You can bet that conclusion will not make headlines in The Sun or Daily Mail as stories saying Santa Claus doesn’t exist don’t sell. But to quote Daniel Webster, “there is nothing so powerful as the truth and often nothing as strange.”

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2 Responses to FBI ‘not interested’ in UFOs, shock revelation

  1. Joe McGonagle says:

    I disagree on a couple of things. dave.

    Firstly, I do think that material was destroyed which was of interest to the military. Lakenheath and West Freugh come to mind as examples.

    Secondly (and I know you agree at least in part), the destruction or apparent loss of files is inexcusable, and conspiracy theorists are entirely justified to suspect the reasons for the destruction/loss and to speculate on what the files might have contained.

    For my own part, I am inclined to agree with you that there was no ‘smoking gun’ in the missing files, but that doesn’t mean that the military didn’t have concerns about what some of the phenomena represented, and there may even have been speculation from military sources that extraterrestrials might have been involved. As you say though, we are unlikely to know unless some of the files do eventually turn up as was the case with the Flying Saucer Working Party report.

  2. Thanks Joe. You’re quite right, I share your view that destruction of files is inexcusable. But again you have to see this in the context in which they were destroyed. Pre-FOIA, pre-open government. None of those responsible for the destruction ever dreamed that nosey-parkers like us would ever know the files existed, never mind having access to any of them. It’s so easy to speak in hindsight.
    As for the two examples you gave. Firstly, the files on West Freugh haven’t all been destroyed; the key DDI Tech report on the case has survived and was released years ago. But what does it tell us? That something odd was seen on radar. Nothing more nothing less. I suspect the file/s on Lakenheath would not enlighten us much more – or add much else to what we already know. What concerns me more is what would happen today if incidents such as these occurred again. With the closure of the entire official UFO reporting facility at MoD there will be no future paper trail whatsoever. I think this is a far more worrying factor than the fate of bits of paper that were burnt 30 or 40 years ago.

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