Newly-released British intelligence files reveal the hidden agenda behind the MoD’s decision to close down their 50 year investigation of UFOs.
The last three UFO files produced by the UK’s defence intelligence branch DI55 were originally with-held from the records earmarked for transfer to The National Archives as part of the open government project that ran from 2008-13.
During that time I acted as the consultant/advisor for the project that led to the release of 210 declassified UFO files, ahead of the 30 year rule, at Britain’s National Archives. I was given a commitment in writing by MoD that a few remaining files, including those marked DI55 UFO policy, would soon follow them into the public domain.
But five years passed and, after a series of baffling administrative hold-ups, unexplained ‘issues’ and lame excuses I began to suspect they must contain some smoking gun that MoD were desperate to conceal.
Then early in January this year a complete set of redacted copies were sent to me ahead of their transfer to the UK National Archives in Kew.
The files run to more than 2500 pages and some of the more sensitive papers, declassified from Secret, have been heavily redacted.
But what has survived the censor’s pen paints a fascinating picture of the arguments that raged behind closed doors in Whitehall around the 50th anniversary of the UFO mystery in 1997.
Within the files civil servants, intelligence officers and military staff debate how the British Government should respond to growing public interest in the phenomena and what they called ‘the media’s obsession with UFOs’.
One UK restricted memo from 2000 reveals the MoD issued a D-Notice (defence advisory notice) to the media as part of an attempt to conceal visits by top secret US Stealth aircraft to UK airspace.
And hidden deep within more than two thousand pages of internal exchanges lay a more disturbing aspect of their interest in the subject – and their decision to pull the plug on more than half a century monitoring UFO reports.
As the Defence Intelligence branch responsible for the investigation of UFO reports, DI55 secretly collected data on sightings from 1967 until the end of 2000.
During this time, the MoD’s publicly acknowledged branch Secretariat (Air Staff) 2, popularly known as the UFO desk, copied all sighting reports they received to their opposite numbers in the DIS. But they had no ‘need to know’ what happened to the data they sent to intelligence staffers.
The new papers show the UFO desk head in 1997 ‘wanted to get rid of’ an issue they considered a ‘diversion from their main duties’. But her opposite number in DI55 – a RAF Wing Commander – disagreed with their ostrich-like stance.
He argued that as MoD had not carried out any study of the UFO data they had collected since the 1970s it was not credible – and also politically risky – to continue to claim UFOs posed no ‘threat to the realm’.
And he compared UFOs, whatever they were, to Soviet intruder aircraft that routinely penetrated UK airspace during the Cold War: ‘They have never shown any hostile intent but they certainly represented a threat,’ he said, adding:
“It could be argued that UAPs pose a potential threat to the Defence of the Realm since we have no idea what they are!”
But in 2000 the head of Defence Intelligence, P.H. West, asked the UFO desk to stop copying reports of strange objects in the sky to DI55, even those from ‘credible’ sources such as police officers and air traffic control.
At the time the precise reason for this extraordinary decision remained an official secret.
It was only in 2006, when I used the new Freedom of Information Act to request a full explanation, that the existence of a secret DI55 study of UFOs emerged. In that year MoD admitted – in response to my FOI request – their decision to pull the plug followed the delivery of a 3-volume report with the title UAPs in the UK Air Defence Region [archive download].
This became known as the Condign report after the code-word used by the MoD that means ‘a severe and well deserved punishment’ (OED).
This study, based upon analysis of a computer database of UFO reports, was commissioned in 1996 and classified Secret with the caveat UK Eyes Only.
The DIS used the acronym UAP – unidentified aerial phenomena – to avoid the popular connotation that objects or craft of extraterrestrial origin had been observed or tracked by the military.
Before 2006 the MoD was keen to conceal any reference to the existence of the study because of the potential for what it called ‘political embarrassment’. For decades MPs, Press and members of the public had been routinely told that no public money had been spent on any study of the thousands of UFO reports they had received since the 1960s.
Yet in response to a Parliamentary Question from Norman Baker MP in 2007, MoD admitted £50,000 had been paid to an existing defence contractor to produce the UFO report that was completed in 2000. Defence Minister Adam Ingram said: ‘[The] report was circulated within the DIS and to other branches of the Ministry of Defence and RAF’.
Following delivery of the report, DIS quietly shut down its UFO unit in 2000. Nine years later, in November 2009, the MoD announced it was closing its UFO desk and telephone hotline.
In Parliament Ingram refused to name the author of the report, saying the contractor’s name was being withheld under the Data Protection Act (DPA).
But my investigations discovered he is a retired RAF pilot and intelligence officer who flew top secret missions during the Cold War.
His expertise lay in Electronic Warfare, radar, air defence and guided weapons.
This made him a perfect candidate for the MoD’s UFO expert and the files suggest that he had offered advice to DI55 on ‘aerial phenomena’ for some years before he was awarded the contract for the study.
During the 1980s he advised on the sensor aspects of the Pentagon’s ‘Star Wars’ missile programme. Until his retirement he worked for GEC-Marconi, the premier electronics company in the UK, now part of BAE Systems.
According to his own published biography ‘for the whole of this period he was also a consultant-analyst to a department in the MoD, travelling extensively for NATO, for industry and for government’.
The new papers reveal this man also had a personal interest in UFOs. In one of his memos to the UFO desk he refers to his own sighting of ‘aerial phenomena’ whilst flying with the RAF in 1950s. He does not reveal any further details in the files, but he was unhappy when the UFO desk officer copied his letter to another branch as he wished ‘to keep a low profile’.
Throughout the three year project, he was based at the MoD’s Old War Office building in Whitehall, central London and had privileged access to the then secret Defence Intelligence UFO files stored there.
He worked under a cloak of secrecy that would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. Only his secretary knew the project code-name and she was asked ‘not to use the term UFO on the phone’.
The new files reveal even his opposite numbers on the MoD’s UFO desk were kept out of the loop because DI55 regarded civilians as prone to ‘leakiness’.
The head of DI55 ordered the report’s author, at the outset, to focus his attention only ‘on the possible threat to the UK and technology acquisition’ and not ‘X-files activities such as alien abductions’.
What was he looking for?
On receiving these files I sifted through pages of administrative tedium before the real reason for intelligence interest in UFOs emerged. There are a number of intriguing references to ‘technology acquisition’, including from the author’s working notes:
‘Try to discover whether any scientific facts can be elicited from these phenomena – whatever they might be – which might be made use of by UK for military purposes’.
In particular ‘propulsion, stealth and novel electromagnetic technologies are of particular interest’.
What type of technology? Was it Russian, Chinese or alien technology?
Some intelligence officers expressed belief in the existence of a ‘real’ phenomenon. In a April 1997 policy document another DI officer refers to ‘Extraterrestrial Objects’ (ETOs) as one potential explanation for UFOs, adding:
‘Being an objective, open-minded scientist, I do not dismiss out of hand the possibility of intelligent life evolving somewhere outside of our own solar system. The laws of probability would indicate a finite, albeit small likelihood’.
But he admits that DI55 had no hard evidence ‘that visitations have occurred’ and:
‘…if credibility is given to ET a judgement needs to be made about which government department is best suited to address it. There’s a job to keep GCHQ occupied!’
According to his report, even within the most secret files in the MoD’s archive there were no unexplained artefacts from UFO crashes, no radiation readings, no electronic or signals intelligence or even any reliable photographs – apart from those showing Black Project aircraft such as the Top Secret ASTRA/AURORA project.
The UK MoD’s long experience demonstrated that most sighting reports could be explained by a range known phenomena, both natural and man-made.
Over time DI55 desk officers began to refer to the residue of genuine unknowns as UAPs: ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’. They preferred UAP as this allowed them to use this terminology to disguise their interest in what everyone else called UFOs.
The Condign report’s author decided UAPs were real but not ET spacecraft. He came to believe they were ‘atmospheric plasmas’.
His conclusion was based on a survey of the scientific and UFOlogical literature that included some very unreliable material from Russian sources and popular books on earthquake lights and ball lightning.
In his conclusions he goes further, making recommendations for the UK military to investigate how these plasmas could be harnessed and used as advanced weaponry on future battlefields.
But at no point in his 463 page report does he say ‘atmospheric plasmas’ are a theoretical concept and not proven. The fact remains that ‘plasmas’ are no more valid than extraterrestrials as a scientific explanation for the unexplained residue of UFO sightings.
The new papers also show his plasma theory was not taken seriously by his superiors. There is no evidence any of his recommendations were acted upon. All, that is, except one, from the Executive Summary:
‘…it should no longer be a requirement for DI55 to monitor UAP reports as they do not demonstrably provide information useful for Defence Intelligence’
But we now know this decision was taken long before the study was completed, as a ‘UK Restricted’ minute dated 16 April 1998 reveals. In this document the report’s author writes:
‘I am particularly looking ahead to my expected recommendation, that DI55 should no longer be involved in UAP monitoring’.
He goes on to add that someone ‘will have to explain why this is so…[because] when/if the “ufologists” discover this, then they will inevitably ask:
- ” Is there no further intelligence interest because MoD now know (for certain) what these phenomena are?
- How could this conclusion have been reached without doing research or having some sort of intelligence confirmation
- If there was nothing to worry about, why couldn’t this conclusion have been reached earlier?
- Were MoD aware of “black”/covert aircraft in [UK Airspace] at all times (safety aspects) and so why the public no re-assured”
If there is a smoking gun, this is it.
This document reveals the MoD’s real agenda was the requirement for a definitive conclusion that would allow them to justify their decision to halt all further public work on the UFO issue. And it may also explain why these files were held back for so long.
Whether secret work on UAPs continues somewhere in the British military, perhaps outsourced to another contractor, remains an intriguing and unanswered question.
But in December 2017 the Pentagon confirmed that a similar project operated in the USA, despite denials, from 2008 to 2012, hidden under the title Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP).
The Condign report’s recommendations also allowed MoD remove the secret-squirrel defence intelligence staff from the whole troublesome UFO issue, once and for all.
Only time will tell whether they have succeeded.
Copyright Dr David Clarke 2018