The Real UFO Project

Christmas 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the Rendlesham Forest mystery, Britain’s best known UFO legend.

To mark the event I have contributed a chapter to a new book co-edited by John Burroughs, one of the original USAF airmen witnesses to these extraordinary events near RAF Woodbridge on 26-28 December 1980.

Weaponisation of an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon: the Rendlesham Forest UAP incident 40 years later by John F. Burroughs and James Worrow (editors) is available to purchase/download here. A review by Nick Redfern can be found here.

John Burrough’s new edited collection on the Rendlesham UFO incident published for the 40th anniversary in 2020

My chapter The Real UFO Project covers my campaign that used UK freedom of information legislation to uncover a series of British Ministry of Defence UFO documents that had been with-held from the public for years. I argued there was a clear public interest in their release ahead of the 30 year rule that applied before the arrival of FOI in 2005.

The first record released was the elusive ‘Rendlesham File’ that was opened by the MoD when news of the incident, dubbed by the media as ‘Britain’s Roswell’, first broke in the British media.

I was the first person to receive a full copy of the file in May 2001 and my efforts, along with colleagues, soon led to the release of the 1951 report by the MoD’s Flying Saucer Working Party that was used to brief Prime Minister Winston Churchill following the UFO flap in Washington DC.

This blogpost is a shorter version of my chapter, covering my role in the release of the MoD Defence Intelligence Staff’s Condign Report and summarises the results of my inquiries that led to the identification of its author Ron Haddow, the MoD’s former UAP consultant.

The former Secret/UK Eyes only report was released to the public in 2006 following an FOI request from myself and Gary Anthony. The account that follows was originally published in Fortean Times 396 (September 2020):

It is 14 years since I left the MoD Main Building in Whitehall holding one of only a handful of hard copies of the 3 volume report Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region, codenamed ‘Condign’ by its elusive (and at that point anonymous) author.

The penultimate UFO desk officer Linda Unwin was, like all MoD staff, subject to the Official Secrets Act. She was responsible for releasing the redacted text to me after I used the Freedom of Information Act to prise it from the secret vault of the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS).

A page from one of the first generation copies of the MoD Condign report, Executive Summary, delivered by Ron Haddow of DI55 in 2000

For years the MoD had maintained that Linda’s department were the focal point for all British government interest. But the report she handed over made it clear this was far from the whole story. Condign was a project funded entirely by the Defence Intelligence branch DI55 that had kept tabs on UFO reports since the mid-1960s when they inherited the task from the former Air Ministry.

Files released at the UK’s National Archives under the old 30 year rule have revealed that DI55’s main responsibility was guided missiles and space weapons. UFOs or UAPs were a spin-off task inherited from the Cold War era. Anything unidentified that entered Earth’s atmosphere was of interest to DI55’s ‘space desk’ and they used press reports of foreign UFO sightings to track and locate space debris that had fallen to Earth in places as diverse as Nepal and Tanzania.

The scientific and technical content of the Condign report betrayed its author as someone educated at least to PhD level and with some level of personal interest in the subject. He was also someone who did not buy into the extraterrestrial hypothesis that obsessed the media and public during the X-files era.

The documents also revealed a deep suspicion of the UFO desk and its links with UFOlogists. This was evident from the author’s closing directives in the last three UFO files, released in 2018, that sought to hide its existence and conclusions from Nick Pope’s former branch because of their ‘leakiness’. So, who was the author?

In 2009 I appealed to the UK’s Information Commissioner against the decision to redact the name plus that of the other intelligence officers involved. Working with LibDem MP (and former Cabinet Minister) Norman Baker, questions were raised in the House of Commons. But despite the public interest the MoD continued to refuse to be drawn on the identity of the contractor involved.

By that point I already knew that former GEC Marconi scientist Professor Ron Haddow was the author, a fact now in the public domain thanks to Nick Redfern’s book The Rendlesham Forest UFO Conspiracy (2020). I hoped that Haddow, with the permission of his former employers, might be allowed to talk publicly about his controversial conclusion that UFOs existed and were an unknown type of natural phenomena linked to ball lightning.

But Haddow, now an octogenarian, decided not to go on the record. As he had expressed a wish to maintain ‘a low profile’ I decided it was unethical to name him publicly. I did, however, warn Haddow that others – including several contributors to online UFO discussion groups – would eventually follow the same trail of clues that I had and discover his identity for themselves. By 2018 when the MoD declassified three remaining files covering the project journalists at several national newspapers also become aware of his identity.

But as author Nick Redfern says on his Mysterious Universe blog ‘nothing stays hidden forever’. And when the remaining files were released at The National Archives they revealed another reason why Haddow remained wary of attention from both UFOlogists and the media. In 1999 a West Midlands UFOlogist, Irene Bott, phoned MoD Main Building to report a sighting and asked to be put through to the person responsible for UFOs.

Nick Redfern (2nd left) and Irene Bott (3rd left) circa 1999 (photo copyright: Chris Fowler)

Present in the same room was Redfern, author of the 1997 book A Covert Agenda and at that time one of the MoD’s more persistent correspondents. Bott expected the switchboard operator to put her through to desk officer Gaynor South who was the only person officially acknowledged by Whitehall as responsible for UFO matters.

But a mistake was made and, instead, her call was patched through to DI55 who were then based in another central London building.

A man answered the phone. He said his name was Ron Haddow and it quickly became apparent that he was the person who investigated UFOs for MoD.

It is clear from the surviving transcript, released in 2018, that Haddow was not happy:

‘Someone has given our (my) name and number,’ he wrote. ‘This could raise awkward questions since [the UFO desk] not long ago denied publicly that any work was going on. UFOlogists know about DI55 because of the [National Archives] and subsequent TV leaks…at best the name and telephone number will be throughout the UK ufologists in a matter of days’.  And he adds: ‘at worst the press could get hold of it!…Any disparity in future responses will be seen by the UFO community as a “sensitive” cover up and only serve (in their eyes) as confirmation’.

But despite his clear desire to remain in the shadows Haddow had already discussed his own unconventional theories about UFOs at a religious event in Israel soon afterwards. And in 2006, after his retirement from MoD, Haddow published an intriguing novel – No Weapon Forged – ‘with a basis of biblical prophecy’ that was promoted by its publisher as ‘a compelling and entertaining read’ for fans of the Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The blurb describes his novel as ‘a technically, militarily and historically authentic novel about a forthcoming Middle East conflict that is triggered by a dispute over oil. The scenario and weapons in use are frightening – but there is a prophetic twist at the end’.

The cover of Ron Haddow’s dystopian novel No Weapon Forged published in 2006

Redfern’s book lists No Weapon Forged as another example of a science fiction novel written by ex-MoD insider that seeks to interweave a fictional plot with science fact. This literary tradition can be traced back to 1948 when ex-MI5 operative Bernard Newman published The Flying Saucer with a narrative based around crashes of alien spacecraft at remote locations across the world – including the New Mexico desert.

In 1985 former MoD civil servant Ralph Noyes produced a novel, A Secret Property, that implied the existence of technology ‘that produces etheric visions of aliens and spaceships’ that ‘can affect the real world in real and hazardous ways’.

In his MoD role Noyes helped produce a cover-story to hide the true function of the giant UK-US experimental radar station at Orfordness, code-named Cobra Mist, near the UFO-haunted Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk. Nick Redfern believes that he clearly knew something unusual had happened in the forest but did not have access to the whole story.

In his book Redfern sets out his theory that the Rendlesham events were created by elements of the US and UK military as part of a series of top secret experiments involving ball lightning and the ‘the use of sophisticated holograms and hallucinogens’ to test the reactions of the military personnel who were exposed to them. In his view, using a cleverly plotted novel allowed Noyes to avoid the pitfalls of the Official Secrets Act whilst hinting at deeper secrets.

In the absence of Haddow’s own account what can we learn from the content of No Weapon Forged? It opens with a detailed biography of his career in defence intelligence that closely matches the information provided in his report and the remaining DI55 UFO files declassified by the MoD in 2018.

cover of volume 1 showing former classification

Sadly, the book makes no mention of UFOs or UAPs. But it does contain a surprising new fact that may explain the MoD’s reluctance to talk about him. Haddow had ‘a life changing experience’ at a talk on Biblical prophecy in 1982 and afterwards joined a Christian Zionist group.

In October 2000 he was ‘one of just two scientists invited to speak by the International Christian Embassy at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem’. Did Haddow link his new-found religious beliefs with his interest in UAPs? An independent first-hand account of the Jerusalem feast, posted online by a Canadian delegate, provides a clue. It refers to an unusual talk by ‘a government spokesman’ who claimed that most UFO sightings can be explained by the ‘poorly understood phenomena’ of plasmas.

‘Some of these plasmas are man-made by aircraft with radar shield generators,’ the speaker said. ‘These have been in use since WW2 (foo fighters) but have only be declassified since the Kosovo war… The rest are tectonically generated (earthquake lights) or generated by meteor events in the upper atmosphere’.

Nick Redfern agrees that Haddow’s religious beliefs must have had some bearing on the MoD’s attempts to conceal his identity from the media and UFOlogy. He compares Haddow’s interests in End Times prophecies with those held by members of a military think-tank that once existed in the US Department of Defense who were ‘deep into UFOs but also into Old Testament-type religion’.  Mixing UFOs with religion was always going to be controversial, Nick says, especially when ‘in a roundabout way, it leads to a secret UFO project’. He adds: ‘I can easily see how and why the MoD would want to keep all of this very low key’. 

Indeed, in his book Haddow implies the central character is based loosely upon his own life experiences. In doing so he reveals his interest in aircraft and guided missiles began in childhood when he heard a German V-weapon strike on a village near his home in Bedfordshire.  He joined the RAF at 18 and in 1954 took part in testing one of the earliest types of airborne radar. Later he took part in Operation Grapple, the British H-bomb test on Christmas Island and flew intruder missions in Canberras during the Cold War.

During this time he must have become aware of the Air Ministry and later MoD’s interest in UFO reports made by test pilots and RAF aircrew. Indeed, one memo refers to having filed his own report with the UFO desk following a sighting during a RAF mission during the 1950s. No details of this incident have ever emerged. But Haddow’s expertise in Electronic Warfare, radar, air defence and guided weapons made him a perfect candidate for the MoD’s real UFO expert.

In 1977 he was based at RAF Cranwell working as a specialist in guided weapons. His PhD thesis, completed in 1982, investigated ‘the probability of detecting and tracking radar targets in clutter at low grazing angles’, a handy technique for someone keen to capture evidence of UFOs on radar.  

During the 1980s Haddow was called upon to advise US intelligence on aspects of the Pentagon’s ‘Star Wars’ missile programme initiated by President Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s he was Chief Scientist for Systems at GEC-Marconi, the premier electronics company in the UK, now part of BAE Systems and visiting professor for the Royal Military College of Science.

According to his 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 MoD’s decision to ask him to return, one last time, to write their final report on UFOs must have some significance even if the Official Secrets Act continues to prevent him from saying anything else.

The Condign report was Haddow’s swansong after a lifetime in the world of secret intelligence. His own words reveal that he was aware that it would become a source of speculation and debate for decades to come. But for now, at least, he remains in the shadows.

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