Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On The Road To Roswell 2007: A Discussion With Nick Pope
- Part V -

Nick Pope
By Tom Horn
Raiders News Network

Tom Horn Sml (B)Editors note: This is the fifth in a special series of Raiders News Network interviews focusing on the 60th Anniversary of the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico UFO Incident. Tom Horn is joined by Nick Pope, former project leader for the British Government's UFO department at the Ministry of Defence. Initially skeptical, Nick's research and investigation into the UFO phenomenon and access to formerly classified government files on the subject soon convinced him that the phenomenon raised important defence and national security issues, especially when the witnesses were military pilots or where UFOs were tracked on radar.
     HORN: Nick. Thanks for joining me today. Earlier this year I emailed you when Britain declared it was going to open its MoD UFO files to the public. Because you had ran this department for the British Government, I wanted to know if we should expect anything unusual in these materials. You emailed me back to say that I should not expect a smoking gun, but that there were some devils in the details. What has been the result of the MoD files going public?

POPE: Although a good deal of material is already available at the National Archives and on the MoD website, the rest of the UFO files have yet to be made public. Two separate things are happening right now. Firstly, 24 Defence Intelligence Staff UFO files are going to be considered for release. These were part of a much larger batch of files (on various subjects) that had been contaminated with asbestos. Originally it was feared they'd have to be destroyed, sparking outrage from historians and leading to various conspiracy theories. At huge cost, the files have now been decontaminated and can be considered for release in the normal way. Numerous ufologists have made Freedom of Information Act requests in relation to these files. The second thing that's happening is that the MoD has decided to release its entire archive of UFO files, not least because of the increasing burden of responding to FOI requests (the MoD get more FOI requests in relation to UFOs than on any other subject, including the war in Iraq). This is a massive job and may take months, if not years, as personal details of witnesses have to be removed, along with any information that would genuinely compromise national security - e.g. information on the capability of military radar systems.

HORN: When and why was the MoD's UFO Project set up?

POPE: The MoD's UFO project has its roots in a 1950 initiative by the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Henry Tizard. He said that UFO sightings shouldn't be dismissed out of hand without some form of proper scientific study. The MoD then set up a body called the Flying Saucer Working Party, to look into the phenomenon. It reported its sceptical conclusions (that UFO sightings were attributable to misidentifications, hoaxes or delusions) in 1951 and recommended that no further action be taken. But there was a series of high-profile UFO sightings in 1952 when UFOs were tracked on radar and seen by military pilots. This forced the RAF and the MoD to think again, and the Department has been investigating UFO sightings pretty much continuously since then. To date, there have been over 10,000 sightings reported to the MoD.

HORN: What is the MoD's policy on UFOs?

POPE: The policy is to investigate UFO sightings to see whether there's evidence of anything of any defence significance, i.e. evidence of any threat to the defence of the UK, or information that may be of use to us, scientifically or militarily. Having a UFO project in no way implies a corporate belief in extraterrestrial visitation. It simply reflects the fact that we keep a watchful eye on our airspace and want to know about anything operating in the United Kingdom's Air Defence Region. Although the British effort was on a much smaller scale, the terms of reference and methodology were virtually identical to that of the United States Air Force study, Project Blue Book.

HORN: MoD also acknowledged that a government UFO unit, known as S4F (Air) and DI55, existed. Tells us about this unit and what they did (or do).

POPE: S4(Air) no longer exists. It was a division that had responsibility for UFO investigations some years ago. Like any bureaucracy, the MoD undergoes frequent reorganisations where divisions are opened, closed, merged, split or restructured. It's a nightmare! So, over the years, all sorts of different areas have had responsibility for UFOs, leading some researchers to wrongly conclude there are many different areas of the MoD all working on the subject. In fact, at any one time, there'll be a division that has the lead for policy and investigations (i.e. where I worked) and a number of other areas on whose specialist skills and expertise the lead division can call. DI55 is part of the Defence Intelligence Staff. They were one of the specialist branches that I could bring in to assist me with certain aspects of my UFO investigations. Up until a few years ago I couldn't talk about this aspect of my work at all, or even acknowledge the existence of DI55. Recently, however, details have emerged under FOI, including some documents relating to my own dealings with them. But as I'm sure you'll understand, this is still an area of my work that I can't discuss in any great detail.

HORN: How were you recruited into the UFO Project?

POPE: I joined the Ministry of Defence in 1985. At the time, the policy was to move people every 2 or 3 years - either on level transfer or promotion - so that everybody gained experience in a wide range of different jobs: policy, operations, personnel, finance, etc. I'd done 2 or 3 different jobs and prior to taking up my post on the UFO project I was working in a division called Secretariat(Air Staff), where I'd been seconded into the Air Force Operations Room in the Joint Operations Centre. I worked there in the run-up to the first Gulf War, during the war itself, and in the aftermath of the conflict. It was while working there that I was approached and asked whether, after I was released from duties in the Joint Operations Centre, I would like to run the UFO project, which was embedded in another part of Secretariat(Air Staff). I accepted the invitation. So, in a sense, I was headhunted.

HORN: Did your views change from the time you started working with MoD until you left the department?

POPE: I knew little about the subject before I joined and I certainly had no belief in extraterrestrials. So while I was open-minded in all my investigations, my start point was broadly sceptical. As I began to read into the archive of previous files, and as I began to undertake my own official research and investigation, my views began to change and I became more open to the possibility that some UFOs had more exotic explanations. What impressed me most were cases where UFOs were seen by trained observers such as police officers, where they were tracked on radar, where they were seen by pilots, and where there was evidence to suggest that UFOs were performing speeds and manoeuvres way ahead of the capabilities of even our most advanced aircraft. My position now is that while I can't say what these UFOs are, the phenomenon raises important defence, national security and flight safety issues. I've seen no proof that these things are extraterrestrial, but I don't rule out this possibility.

HORN: What were your procedures / protocols for investigating UFO sightings?

POPE: We used to receive 200 - 300 reports each year and the methodology of an investigation is fairly standard. Firstly, you interview the witness to obtain as much information as possible about the sighting: date, time and location of the sighting, description of the object, its speed, its height, etc. Then you attempt to correlate the sighting with known aerial activity such as civil flights, military exercises or weather balloon launches. We could check with the Royal Greenwich Observatory to see if astronomical phenomena such as meteors or fireballs might explain what was seen. We could check to see whether any UFOs seen visually had been tracked on radar. If we had a photograph or video, we could get various MoD specialists to enhance and analyse the imagery. We could also liaise with staff at the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at RAF Fylingdales, where they have space-tracking radar. Finally, on various scientific and technical issues, we could liaise with the Defence Intelligence Staff, although as I've said previously, this is an area of my work that I can't discuss in any detail.

HORN: What did you conclude about the majority of your investigations?

POPE: I concluded that sightings could be categorised as follows. Around 80% could be explained as misidentifications of something mundane, such as aircraft lights, weather balloons, satellites, meteors, etc. In approximately 15% of cases there was insufficient information to make a firm assessment. That left around 5% of sightings that seemed to defy any conventional explanation. But while we could say with reasonable certainty what these 5% weren't, we couldn't say what they were. They were by definition unknown, unexplained, or whatever word you care to use.

HORN: The Flying Saucer Working Party was set up in October 1950 by Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Henry Tizard. Was this a reaction to the 1947 Roswell incident or something else?

POPE: It wasn't a reaction to the Roswell incident, but to increasing numbers of UFO sightings in the UK and elsewhere, and to the associated media coverage. As a scientist, Tizard knew that any assessment of UFOs not based on investigation was assumption and guesswork, and therefore meaningless. He didn't have any firm view on the phenomenon but he knew UFOs were being reported in considerable numbers and he wanted to know what they were.

HORN: Britain's most sensational UFO case occurred in December 1980 in Rendlesham Forest , between RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge. Tell us about that.

POPE: This is the UK's most famous UFO incident and it's sometimes referred to as "Britain's Roswell". Over a series of nights in December 1980 UFOs were seen by dozens of United States Air Force personnel at Bentwaters and Woodbridge, two RAF bases operated by the Americans. On the first night the UFO landed in Rendlesham Forest (which lies between the two bases) and one of the witnesses got close enough to touch it. Sketches from the USAF witness statements clearly show a craft with strange markings on its hull, which have been likened to Egyptian hieroglyphs. The UFO returned on another night and was seen by more witnesses, including the Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt. At one point the UFO illuminated the spot where Halt and his team were standing and at another time the UFO was directly over Woodbridge, firing beams of light down at the base. Subsequently, radiation readings were taken at the location where the UFO had been seen on the first night. They peaked in three indentations found where the craft had apparently landed. The MoD's Defence Intelligence Staff assessed that the radiation levels were significantly higher than background levels. Subsequently it emerged that a radar operator at RAF Watton had tracked an object briefly, over the base. I re-opened the investigation into this case but was unable to determine what happened. It remains unexplained.

HORN: On 1 November 2006 you were involved with a Channel Five documentary, The British UFO Mystery. The programme focused on a wave of UFO sightings that occurred on 30 and 31 March 1993 -- The Cosford Incident -- where many of the witnesses were police officers and military personnel. What did you conclude about this case?

POPE: We had a wave of UFO sightings over the UK for a period of about six hours. Many of the witnesses included police officers and military personnel. At one point the UFO flew over RAF Cosford and RAF Shawbury. Witnesses described a vast triangular-shaped craft capable of moving from a virtual hover to speeds of well over a thousand miles an hour in seconds. I led the investigation at the time and even my Head of Division, who was extremely sceptical about UFOs, was intrigued by this case. We even briefed the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, one of the UK's most senior RAF officers. Channel Five's recent investigative documentary exposed the case to over a million viewers on primetime terrestrial TV and led to over 30 new witnesses coming forward. The production company had obtained the MoD case file on the incident (which ran to over 100 pages of documentation) under the Freedom of Information Act and asked me to front the programme, talking viewers through the case an the MoD investigation. As a result of the interest generated by the programme, the MoD made the file available on its website. The file includes my sceptical Head of Division's briefing to the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, which states "In summary, there would seem to be some evidence on this occasion that an unidentified object (or objects) of unknown origin was operating over the UK". This is as close as the MoD will ever get to saying that there's more to UFOs than misidentifications or hoaxes.

HORN: What were some of the other interesting UFO cases you investigated?

POPE: It's difficult to single out interesting cases unless they're on the scale of something like Rendlesham Forest or the Cosford Incident. Also, it's difficult for me to talk about cases the MoD hasn't yet released. I can't anticipate what the Department will release and what they may withhold, so you'll have to await the release of the files. But in general terms I can say that other interesting cases included some radar/visual cases, cases where UFOs were seen close to military bases, and some interesting sightings by civil and military pilots - including a few near-misses, where collisions were only narrowly avoided. Both the MoD and our Civil Aviation Authority has information on several such cases, and whatever one's beliefs about UFOs, the flight safety implications should be of concern to everyone. When the MoD released Project Condign last year (a highly classified study that had its roots in discussions I had with the Defence Intelligence Staff in 1993) some of the most interesting recommendations related to this point. One read "No attempt should be made to out-manoeuvre a UAP during interception". Another recommendation states "At higher altitudes, although UAP appear to be benign to civil air-traffic, pilots should be advised not to manoeuvre, other than to place the object astern, if possible". UAP was the abbreviated form of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, a term we decided to use instead of UFO, as it sounded more scientific.

HORN: Why did you leave the MoD's UFO department?

POPE: After having done the job for 3 years I was promoted and moved to another post at a higher grade. There's certainly no truth to the rumour that I was moved because I was getting too close to the truth, as some conspiracy theorists allege. After I left, I took up a financial policy post, before moving to a security-related job.

HORN: Yet you still work in a different capacity at the Ministry of Defence, correct?

POPE: No. I resigned last year and left the MoD at the end of October. I'd greatly enjoyed my 21 year career, but decided it was time to seek fresh challenges. I have a number of business interests and I now have more time to pursue these.

HORN: I once asked Stanton Friedman a similar question I'd like to ask you. How do you respond to allegations that you're involved in a cover-up or that you're a disinformation agent?

POPE: How can I respond? You can't prove a negative. The rumour isn't true, but if people believe this sort of thing they won't believe my denial, or the MoD's confirmation of my departure. I can't win. It does amaze me though, how many people genuinely seem to believe this. I get asked it a lot and see the theory discussed frequently on various websites and discussion lists. The bottom line is that I worked for the Government for 21 years, for the very people who many conspiracy theorists believe are covering up the truth about UFOs. To them, the government are the bad guys, so I'm the bad guy, who's part of the conspiracy.

HORN: Your investigations ultimately led to other unexplained phenomena. What do you make of so-called alien abductions?

POPE: While none of these other subjects were in the UFO project's terms of reference, they inevitably ended up on my desk, because there was nowhere else to send them. I've probably looked into around 100 cases of alien abduction. Some of these cases were reported to me at the MoD, but most people contacted me after I'd written a book on the subject, called The Uninvited. Some sceptics say these people are attention seekers after their 15 minutes of fame, but this clearly isn't true. Out of the hundred or so abductees I've been involved with, maybe half a dozen are interested in engaging with the media or the UFO community. Most aren't interested. Other people suggest these people are delusional, but again, this theory doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The few scientists who have looked at this phenomenon have found no signs of psychopathology in the abductees, and evidence (in terms of increased heartrate and perspiration) that they genuinely believe they've had these experiences. The use of regression hypnosis in some of these cases clouds the issue. The scientific community generally doesn't accept the validity of the technique in recovering suppressed memories, and indeed many believe it can distort memories or even create false ones. But regression hypnosis isn't used in all abduction cases, so we can't say False Memory Syndrome is the answer. Something's going on with these people, but the truthful answer is that we don't know what's happening.

HORN: Crop circles?

POPE: Some of the small, single circles (and that's where the phenomenon started) may be attributable to some form of meteorological phenomenon such as a whirlwind or wind vortex. As for the more complex ones - the so-called pictograms - there's no doubt in my mind that most of them are made by people. I've seen it done. Some of the people involved in this are highly skilled and motivated, plan the formations meticulously, well in advance, and split the work between several people. Some people call them hoaxers but many of the people involved see themselves as conceptual artists. Do I completely rule out a more exotic explanation? No. In my line of work, I tried never to rule anything out altogether, and always tried to keep an open mind.

HORN: Ghosts?

POPE: People associate ghosts with old houses, churches or pubs, but in my experience there are just as many reports of ghosts on military bases as anywhere else. I've received numerous such reports, often from the MoD Police officers or guards who have to patrol these areas at night. Now, these are pretty tough guys, as you can imagine, but some of them have been really spooked by what they've seen. All the classic signs are present in many of these cases: unexplained cold spots, guard dogs growling, with their hackles rising, at certain locations. And actual ghosts seen at sights where people have been killed. Ghosts have even been seen in MoD Main Building itself, where the modern headquarters is built on the site of the much older Whitehall Palace. The remains of Henry VIII's wine cellar are perfectly preserved in the basement, and there are some areas of the building where guards don't like to patrol alone at night. Perhaps the oddest report I received was an animal ghost story. During the Second World War, Wing Commander Guy Gibson (who led the famous Damn Busters raid) had a dog that was knocked down by a car and killed, shortly before the raid. The ghost of this dog has been seen several times at RAF Scampton.

HORN: You've written extensively about your work with MoD. Is this not a problem since you signed the Official Secrets Act?

POPE: I signed the Official Secrets Act on my first day in the MoD and even though I've left, it binds me for life. But it doesn't preclude writing or speaking about my work. Politicians invariably keep diaries and write memoirs, and military officers often write accounts of their careers. There's no bar on this sort of activity, provided you follow various rules and procedures, the most obvious one being the absolute prohibition on revealing any classified information.

HORN: Your books include "Open Skies, Closed Minds", "The Uninvited", "Operation Thunder Child", and "Operation Lightning Strike". Anything else you are working on?

POPE: Researching and writing a book typically takes me between 6 months and a year. While I intend to write further books (both non-fiction and fiction) at some stage, the pressure of other commitments means that I simply don't have time for this at the moment. I have numerous media commitments (mainly television work) and various private business interests to look after. These are my priorities at present.

HORN: This is the 60th anniversary of the Roswell UFO incident. What is your opinion about what happened there in 1947?

POPE: Clearly something crashed. But in my experience, if UFO sightings aren't solved quickly, they're unlikely to be solved at all. With that in mind, 60 years on, with most of the direct participants dead, the chances are we'll never be certain what happened at Roswell. Unless some 'smoking gun' emerges that's beyond dispute, I suspect the events will remain a mystery.

HORN: How do you think ufology can best use the 60th anniversary of Roswell to promote the subject?

POPE:To keep the subject in the public eye and generate as much serious, mainstream media coverage as possible. Spin-off benefits from this should include encouraging more people to report their UFO sightings, and bringing new people to the subject. But, fascinating though Roswell is, ufology should look forward as well as back. Promoting ufology should involve not just the old cases, but recent ones such as the sighting of a UFO over O'Hare airport or the sighting by the pilot who saw a UFO in the vicinity of the Channel Islands. It should also focus on the release of UFO files by the British and French governments. Finally, ufology might also consider how it could best engage with the scientific community, and in particular engage in constructive dialogue with those involved in SETI research.

HORN: Will you be in Roswell this July?

POPE: I have no current plans to come to Roswell this July, but I'll probably be doing some media interviews here in the UK, to tie in with the anniversary.

HORN: Thank you for taking time to do this interview.

Some of the speakers at this year's Roswell festivities include Col. Jesse Marcel Jr, Dennis Balthaser, Greg Bishop, Donald Burleson, PhD, Stephen Bassett, Richard Dolan, Adam GoRightly, Stanton Friedman, John Greenewald, Paola Harris, Michael S. Heiser PhD, Tom Horn, Dr. Roger Leir, Guy Malone, Nicholas Redfern, John Rhodes, Peter Robbins, Rob Simone, and many more.

Learn more about the 60th Anniversary Roswell Festivals at both official websites:

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