Tuesday, March 24, 2009

UFOs, THE MoD AND ME

Calvine Image
By Dr David Clarke
© 3-21-09


NATIONAL ARCHIVES RELEASE UFO FILES #3

Dr David Clarke     A third collection of UK Ministry of Defence UFO files can now be downloaded from the The National Archives’ dedicated website at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos

Once again I’m working as consultant for the TNA’s UFO Project. I have prepared a detailed summary of the contents for the national and international media. This has been used to bookmark significant documents within the files, as navigating around the hefty pdfs can be a confusing experience. In addition, I have recorded a short podcast summarising the most important themes.

All these features can be accessed via the TNA’s ‘UFO landing page’, along with archived files from the last two releases. There is also an updated version of my briefing document that provides historical context for all the UFO records held at TNA.

This tranche consists of seven files containing more than 2,000 pages of material. Six of the files contain UFO reports copied to the MoD’s secretive Defence Intelligence branch DI55, between November 1987 and April 1993. During this period 1200 individual sightings were reported to the authorities.

The release of these papers is in itself a victory for open government. For as recently as ten years ago the British Government refused even to acknowledge the existence of DI55, let alone comment upon their role in the investigation of UFO reports. The arrival of the Freedom of Information Act in 2005 brought this ludicrous situation to an end. But even then for at time it appeared unlikely we would discover anything further.

It turned out that most of DI55’s historical UFO records had been destroyed long before FOIA could intervene. And, worse still, the two dozen files that had survived – dating from the late 1970s – were among a group of records stored in the Old War Office building that had been exposed to deadly asbestos dust. Initially, it appeared these files might also end up in the incinerator. But when news leaked out a campaign was launched to save the files, which eventually led to this release.

The contents of this and the last tranche of files make intriguing reading. For me, working on this project has been like taking a trip down memory lane. In 1987 I was a 20-year-old undergraduate at Sheffield University with an interest in journalism. In-between lectures and propping up the bar I joined a UFO group based in northern England and managed to find time to investigate UFO reports that were flooding into newspapers in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Amazingly, one MoD file in this tranche contains a complete copy of a report that Gary Anthony and I produced covering our investigation of a “flap” of UFO sightings in the Midlands during August 1987. On 27 January 1988 I sent my 27-page dossier to Clive Neville, who was UFO desk officer at the MoD, asking if any of the reports could be explained. I also offered to send him further dossiers, enclosing with my letter another detailed report prepared by Philip Mantle. This contained a set of photographs which appeared to show a “flying saucer” skimming rooftops in Barnsley (later, using an American photo analyst, we proved these were fakes).

In reply I received the standard “no defence significance” letter used by the MoD in response to all public UFO inquiries. But little did I know at the time, Neville had copied our reports to the Defence Intelligence Staff with a note that reads “they are quite detailed and of a better quality than I expected”. Praise indeed! During its travels along spooky corridors my “August report” was heavily annotated by someone with detailed knowledge of a subject that MoD publicly claimed to be of little or no interest to them. What’s more, it’s clear from the scribbles visible on these papers that details of the individual sightings they contained were entered into a computerised database which DI55 were secretly using to search for patterns in sighting data. (See DEFE 31/176/1, pages 337 onwards). I hope to post more on this topic later.

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