Has the Ministry of Defence ever suppressed media stories about Black Project aircraft operating secretly over the British Isles?For many years conspiracy-minded aviation writers and UFOlogists have claimed the government has, on occasions, used its contacts in the Press to censor stories about visits to the UK by US top secret experimental aircraft.
The fact that some of these covert programmes have triggered UFO flaps was acknowledged by the MoD’s Defence Intelligence UFO report released in 2006.
But few understand how the shadowy D-Notice system (now known as DSMA system) actually operates.
And so the scent went cold – until now.
Earlier this year I obtained copies of the MoD’s last remaining UAP policy files using the Freedom of Information Act
Until these files emerged I could find no convincing hard evidence of any attempt by the MoD to use national security to stifle stories about UFOs or Black Project aircraft.
But the new files – with-held by MoD for four years for unexplained reasons – contain working papers used by the intelligence officer who produced the 4-volume Condign report (UAPs in the UK Air Defence Region).
The acronym UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena – was used by the Defence Intelligence branch DI55 as a neat cover for their UFO investigations until his ‘definitive’ report, delivered in 2000, recommended they should discontinue their interest in the subject.
In his UK Restricted minute ‘Wrap Up of UAP Material’ dated 22 March 2000 the report’s author – a retired RAF scientist – refers to a collection of slides and photographs that he consulted in the MoD’s archive.
These contained images of the ‘ASTRA/AURORA‘ project – a top secret, hypersonic Cold War spyplane.
The author goes on to note ‘there was a Press D-Notice issued at the time‘.
This is the first solid evidence to emerge that refers to the involvement of the former D-Notice committee in the Aurora saga.
It is also consistent with redactions that were made to a super-sensitive section of the Condign report before it was released to me following my Freedom of Information request in 2006.
Volume 2 of the report contains a part-censored section on Black Project aircraft in which the author states ‘some UAP reports can be attributed to covert aircraft programmes’ and adds ‘certain viewing angles of these vehicles may be described as saucer-like’.
It begins with a reference to other known Black project aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird but contains two paragraphs and two images that were redacted under Section 27 of the FOIA that covers ‘international relations’. These may be the same images mentioned in his 2000 ‘Wrap up of UAP material’ memo.
UFO files released by The National Archives in 2010 revealed how the UFO desk contacted the secretary of the DA-Notice committee for guidance on how they should answer a public inquiry about censorship of media stories concerning Stealth-shaped UFOs.
In 1996 the now defunct magazine UFO Reality claimed a high-ranking BBC producer had revealed how the media had been warned off taking an interest in a flap of sightings involving triangular UFOs ‘because the craft is part of a secret military project’.
But the secretary of the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee fired back with a categorical denial there was any D-Notice covering ‘reports of black triangles’. This was true – there was and is no standing D-Notice that specifically refers to either Black Projects or UFOs.
The DPBAC was reformed in 2015 to become the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee (DSMA).
Like its predecessor this is a joint government/media operated system whereby editors and individual journalists can obtain confidential guidance on how to avoid what the secretary calls ‘inadvertent disclosure of information damaging to the UK’s national security and defence’.
The committee publishes five standing ‘DSMA notices’ (formerly D-Notices) that can be viewed here. None of the standing DSMA notices specifically relate to US stealth aircraft in UK territory.
But that does not mean that a notice – or informal advice – has never been offered to editors in connection with a specific sensitive incident or event.
The whole system is based upon voluntary self-censorship by the media. Editors who voluntary consult the DSME secretary about a story ‘sometimes decide to limit what is published and sometimes publish information that they might otherwise have left out’ (Hanna & Dodd, McNaes Law for Journalists).
But whatever editors decide to do, the committee has no powers to enforce their advice in law.
Many journalists refuse to engage with the committee – because it encourages self-censorship. Jacob Ecclestone of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the NUJ should ‘turn the spotlight of publicity on this thoroughly rotten mechanism of government control’ (The Journalist, March 2006).
I have evidence to suspect the defence notices may have been issued in two specific instances during the 1990s.
D-Notice Case 1: The Boscombe Down incident
The first was the alleged crash of a top secret US Stealth aircraft at Boscombe Down airfield in Wiltshire on 26 September 1994. Reports about the incident first appeared in an edition of Air Forces Monthly.
This claimed how, at 11pm, ‘an unidentified small, twin-tail fighter’ possibly a TR-3 Black Manta ‘the existence of which the US government has yet to officially acknowledge’ had crashed into the runway.
By daylight, the aircraft had been covered over, apart from its twin fins, and all roads around the airfield had been sealed off. The magazine said two days later the wreck was loaded onto a C5 Galaxy and flown to Palmdale in California.
The alleged incident became the subject of a Parliamentary question from Don Valley MP Martin Redmond in 1994. The response, from Defence Minister Nicholas Soames was ‘there was no crash at the unit on that date or, indeed, so far this year. The only flying which took place that night was the launch of two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters in support of an exercise’. Details of ‘the exercise’ were not provided.
When the Sunday People followed up the story in 1997 the MoD again told ministers, in a briefing, that no such crash had occurred. They suggested the story was based upon an emergency landing made by a RAF Tornado one month earlier, after a decoy target under trial had failed to jettison.
D-Notice Case 2: The Calvine Incident
A second mysterious incident, four years earlier, may also reveal the hidden hand of the censors. In August 1990 the Scottish Daily Record in Glasgow were sent six colour slides showing a large diamond-shaped UFO that had been taken by two men walking near the A9 at Calvine in Perthshire.
Desk officers suspected the image might show a USAF black project aircraft, perhaps the fabled Aurora. They sent the images to JARIC, the RAF’s specialist photographic analysis agency. Experts there identified two Harrier jets flying alongside the mysterious object. But surprisingly, inquiries failed to trace the Harriers. The MoD say none were flying at the time of the incident.
A one-page ‘defensive Press briefing’ was prepared by the UFO desk officer Owen Hartop. This was an unusual step as the MoD rarely prepared media briefings on individual UFO cases. Hartop clearly expected the story to break in the national media. But inexplicably, the Daily Record did not publish the story. This omission has never been explained by the editors of the Trinity Mirror-owned title.
In 2009 I made informal inquiries with the picture editor and librarian of the newspaper who I expected would remember the striking photographs arriving at the paper. But there was no recollection whatsoever of the event or how the story came to be spiked. This struck me – and them – as very odd indeed.
Soon after the negatives were sent to MoD in 1990 the trail goes cold and the original images have vanished – never to be seen again. Despite national publicity the photographer has never come forward either to explain what happened.
But a UFO file released in 2009 shows the MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff still possessed prints of the photographs two years after they were received from the Daily Record.
In 1992 -soon after questions were asked in Parliament about the Aurora project – DI55 asked JARIC to produce detailed line drawings of the Calvine UFO. The order highlighted the “sensitivity of material suggests very special handling”.
The only surviving evidence of the Calvine UFO is a poor photocopy of one of the original prints that appears in one of the DIS UFO files.
I cannot prove the MoD used a D-Notice in the Calvine incident. Neither am I convinced the photographs show ‘Aurora’, if such a craft ever existed. But it may well show some other experimental aircraft, British or American in origin.
What I cannot explain is why the Daily Record did not run the story. Furthermore, neither can the Daily Record…
So where does this evidence trail lead us?
My inquiries with the DSMA committee have confirmed that no records exist of any specific D or DA Notice that relates solely to US stealth aircraft in UK territory.
But because records before 2005 are incomplete that does not mean none were ever issued – or that informal advice was never given to newspaper editors and other media executives (including broadcast editors).
Conveniently, advice offered by the DSMA committee is ‘confidential’ and provided informally.
This type of intervention would by its very nature leave no paper trail.