Wednesday, 30 December 2009

UFO Files Reviewed by Mail on Sunday

My new book The UFO Files, published by The National Archives, was reviewed by The Mail on Sunday on 27 December 2009.
Awarding the book 4 out of 5 stars, reviewer Harry Ritchie compared the results of my "expert rummagings" through the MoD archives with the revelations about MPs fiddling their expenses. Both breakthroughs were achieved as a result of investigative campaigns using the Freedom of Information Act.
Ritchie outlines the contents of the book and summarises my conclusions:
"UFOlogists believe aliens are among us and the military and political establishment are either blind to this dramatic fact or have covered it up. This book proves decisively that both beliefs are nonsense.
"The reality is both reassuring and unthrilling. First, there are no flying saucers and little green men, hence the lack of even the most microscopic piece of hard evidence. Second, the MoD has neither covered anything up nor been blindly dismissive. In fact, until finally closing its UFO investigations unit earlier this month, the MoD has often taken UFOs seriously, even commissioning secret reports. In 2000 its Condign report concluded: 'That UFOs exist is indisputable.'
"...Yes, UFOs are real, says the Condign report - they are not extraterrestrial spacecraft, though. They're natural phenomena which we don't really understand yet.
"The only remaining mystery is this: why would the MoD want to keep things top secret? It's not because there's any conspiracy but because it has held us, the public it is supposed to be serving, in a mixture of fear and contempt. All that the MoD's secrecy achieved was to encourage dark rumours and daft fantasies.
"So a big cheer for David Clarke's hard work and the benefits of the Freedom of Information Act."
The UFO Files was also reviewed by Neil Chandler in The Daily Star on Sunday, 18 October 2009. This article is available on the Daily Star website.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

MoD closes UFO desk

After 50 years of collecting reports of sightings the Ministry of Defence has quietly closed its “UFO desk”. With the MoD under huge pressure to cut costs, the small amount of money saved can be diverted to higher priorities such as the front line in Afghanistan.

The announcement was quietly added to an existing FOI document on the MoD website entitled “How to report a UFO sighting” on 1 December. This simply noted, almost in passing, that its UFO hotline answer-phone service and e-mail address were being withdrawn. Until now the service has allowed the public to report sightings directly to the ministry. But as none of the thousands of reports received have proved to have any defence interest, the decision to close the UFO desk was sadly inevitable. The statement said:

“The MoD has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life. However, in over fifty years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom. The MoD has no specific capability for identifying the nature of such sightings. There is no Defence benefit in such investigation and it would be an inappropriate use of defence resources. Furthermore, responding to reported UFO sightings diverts MoD resources from tasks that are relevant to defence.”

The move follows the decision taken by Defence Intelligence branch DI55 in 2000 to draw a line under their own more secretive interest in UFOs following the completion of the Condign report. Following their lead, the civilian desk which continued to collect reports from members of the public “will no longer respond to reported UFO sightings or investigate them”. The ongoing programme to release historical UFO files to The National Archives, for which I am acting as consultant, will continue until the back catalogue is exhausted.

Inevitably, claims have been made that the closure of the UFO desk would “leave the UK wide open to attack” from terrorists and potentially hostile enemy aircraft. But as the MoD pointed out, RAF radars are constantly searching for any real tangible threats to the UK. “Any legitimate threat to the UK’s airspace will be spotted by our 24/7 radars checks and dealt with by RAF fighter aircraft.”

Presumably, UFO reports made by military personnel or received via official sources such as police, coastguard and Civil Aviation Authority will continue will be channelled to the RAF’s air defence staff for scrutiny. So the MoD have not abandoned their interest in UFO reports altogether. All they have said is they are no longer interested in receiving details of sightings directly from members of the public. These are generally of low quality and simply listing them and sending a polite reply ate up valuable time and resources.

In reality, for decades the “UFO desk” has been largely a public relations exercise to reassure members of the public who were concerned about odd things they had seen in the sky. It was starved of resources and had no power to investigate anything. Most of the desk officers who ran it spent their time filing tedious reports of lights in the sky and sending out standard replies to UFOlogists without any real sense of purpose. But its very existence has encouraged the more credulous UFOlogists to believe it was a front for more secret official investigations. By closing their “X-files” the MoD have finally removed a problem of their own making.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The UFO Files

My new book The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real Life Sightings has been published by The National Archives.
Copies can be ordered directly from TNA bookshop or from Amazon. A sample section from Chapter 2 can be downloaded free of charge from the TNA website UFO page.
The book was the subject of leading news stories published by The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph on 20 September 2009.
These concentrated upon the contents of the Defence Intelligence Staff documents from the '90s that are featured in the final chapter of the book.
Peter Rogerson, in his review for The Magonia Blog, says "every UFOlogist should have this book."
Another review by Kevin Goodman of UFO Warminster, has been published on Nick Redfern's UFO Mystic website. He says: "If I had to recommend one book this year, then this would be the one."

My cover blurb summarises the content as follows:

'What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth?' Winston Churchill, 28 July 1952.

THE UFO FILES tells the story of over 100 years of UFO sightings, drawing on formerly secret government records at the National Archives. Alongside extraordinary reports by ordinary people it reveals details of official interest and investigations stretching back to before the First World War for although the terms UFO and Flying Saucer were not coined until the middle of the twentieth century, people have long seen things in the sky that they could not explain.

In this remarkable book David Clarke reveals an array of startling stories from possible UFO reports hidden among Met Office investigations of aerial phenomena in the 1920s to the conclusions of Project Condign, the hush-hush British Intelligence UFO study completed in 2000. As well as covering Roswell and Britain's own Rendlesham Forest mystery, Clarke raids the records for dramatic stories of abductions and close encounters, ghost aircraft and crop circles, and UFO reports by civilian aircrew and military personnel.

Dramatic witness statements and interviews many undertaken by the author himself combine with rarely seen photographs, drawings and newly available documents to offer a unique guide to one of our most intriguing mysteries.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

UFO files make headline news

News of the latest UFO files released by The National Archives has travelled around the world.
I spent most of yesterday dealing with calls from the national and international media and shuttling between BBC, ITN, Channel 4 and Sky News studios in London to comment on the significance of the new files.
Public interest in the contents has been unprecedented and once again, most of the UK media have treated the topic in a serious and mature way.
Yesterday morning I was able to explain the historical importance of the files to Evan Davies on BBC Radio 4's prestigious Today programme, which in itself is a measure of the impact the release has had.
The Rendlesham forest incident was discussed and a short interview with one of the key witnesses, John Burroughs, was used. This in itself was significant because Burroughs said he was unconvinced the incident was of an extraterrestrial nature - he suspects it was some kind of military experiment.
For once it was good to hear an alternative viewpoint expressed coherently and lucidly, rather than the usual tired debates about whether you "believe" or "don't believe" (who cares?).
Coverage was extensive in the national and regional press, with leading articles in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Independent and Scotsman.
BBC News Online ran a
lead article and a more in-depth look at the connection between UFO sightings and science fiction in popular culture.
My comments on this link were picked up by most of the media, which in itself demonstrates how easy it is to plant an idea and watch it germinate.
As I had hoped, most of the commentators recognised that I was not suggesting UFO sightings were caused by "people watching too much sci-fi". What I'm saying is that the link with imagery in popular culture is more subtle than that: people see UFOs (whatever they are), but usually they tell only close friends and relatives. When UFOs are in the news - TV, film, whatever - they are more inclined to report them to outsiders (i.e. police, newspapers, MoD etc).

This effect, I believe, is reflected in the figures showing numbers of reports received by the MoD from 1959 to present. But it must be remembered these statistics are distorted by other factors, and most importantly this is raw data as virtually none of these reports were subject to a proper investigation.
Most TV news bulletins mentioned the link to UFOs in films and TV in the stories published yesterday and by the afternoon the key highlights had been picked up by leading agencies such as PA, AP and CNN.
Bear in mind, all this positive coverage was a direct outcome of the months of work and advance preparation that goes into each one of these releases.
Without the context provided by the highlights guide, video/podcasts and media briefings, the specifics of the content would be lost in the feeding frenzy that follows the opening of the files.
But the results that came in yesterday certainly made all the hard work worth its while.
In the first 24 hours since the release (at midnight on Sunday), some 240,000 people across the world logged onto to download the files.
Almost half of these were in the UK, with Germany, the USA, Sweden, France and Italy making up the remainder.
And the latest figures from TNA show that since the UFO files release programme began in May last year, there have been almost 2 million downloads from the site.
It's hugely ironic that while the so-called "disclosure" campaign continue to call for the release of "evidence" they believe is being hidden about UFOs, here in Britain open government and freedom of information has already arrived.
Somewhere around 10,000 pages of information have already been "disclosed" and, like it or not, what "truth" there is lies in here, not hidden away in a some dusty hangar somewhere.
There will always be people who have decided in advance what they think is the "truth" and because they can't find it in these files, decide it must therefore be hidden away in more top secret files somewhere else.
But this is the type of conspiracy mongering that has got UFOlogy precisely nowhere over the past 60 years. It simply hands a weapon to those who dismiss the whole topic as the province of the deluded and the paranoid.
The opening of the UFO files has given the subject much needed credibility.
Let's make the most of it.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

We want you - come with us!

A close encounter with a “lemon-headed” alien and its scorching heat-ray forms the highlight of the 4th collection of MoD UFO files released today.

As the UFO consultant for The National Archives (pictured right) I’ve prepared a special videocast and a highlights guide to help visitors navigate their way through 4,000 pages of new material.

The guide and videocast, which is also available on YouTube, can be downloaded from

All 14 files can be downloaded, free of charge, for the first month from the dedicated UFO page set up by TNA.

The official website also includes a link to a flier for my new book The UFO Files – The Inside Story of Real Life Sightings. The book is published by TNA in September and covers the key sightings and official commentary drawn from the British Government archives from WW1 to the present day.

But what does this fourth tranche of MoD papers contain?

Well, the collection includes a hefty correspondence file (DEFE 24/1970) containing letters to MoD from MPs and a number of well-known UFOlogists between 1985 and 1995. There are complete dossiers on classic cases such as Rendlesham, the ‘Cosford incident’ and the Belgian UFO flap, along with six whole files packed with UFO sighting reports.

The UFO reports files (DEFE 24/1959-1961, 1974-76) contain details of more than 800 individual sightings reported between 1993 and 1996, a year in which 609 UFO reports were logged by the Ministry’s UFO desk - the second highest total on record. In fact, there were more sightings during 1996 than all three previous years added together.

As I have explained in the official press release, the most likely explanation for the unusual spike in numbers during 1996 and 1997 was that public awareness of UFOs and aliens was at an all-time high. Those years were the culmination of a period in which images of UFOs and aliens had saturated popular culture.

During 1994-95 The X-Files TV series, shown on BBC2, was regularly pulling in 6 million viewers. In 1996 the release of the movie Independence Day, with its themes of hostile aliens in flying saucers and links to Area 51 and Roswell, was massively anticipated by the media. At that time I was working as a journalist on an evening newspaper and was personally responsible for at least three major features on UFOs and aliens.

In addition to the film and TV coverage 1996-97 saw the release of a host of new books and media articles on UFOs and alien abductions. In the UK Graham Birdsall’s UFO Magazine became a news-stand publication and at least three other short-lived UFO titles were launched on the back of the X-files craze.

Aside from 1996, the busiest year on record for UFO sightings reported to the MoD over the past half century was 1978 – the year Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released. (MoD received 750 UFO reports in 1978, but 110 of those were directly related to the re-entry of the Russian rocket body, Cosmos 1068, on New Year's Eve).

But let's get back to those lemon-headed creatures and their heat-ray.

What is easily the stangest report uncovered by this 4th tranche of files came from Staffordshire Police who investigated a story told by two frightened youths who claimed they narrowly escaped abduction by a UFO occupant.

Late on the night of 4 May 1995 the two ran into Chasetown police station in a state of excitement, calling on officers to come outside “and view a UFO that was still visible.” A PC and sergeant duly went outside and saw red and white lights in the sky which they believed was an aircraft.

The police said both youths “appeared upset and shocked” so they asked them to go home and write a detailed account of what happened. They returned the next day with hand-written statements that were sent to the MoD’s UFO desk.

The youth’s names have been redacted from their accounts, but they describe how they were walking along Rugeley Road, Burntwood, shortly before 11 P.M. when they both felt what one described as an “intense burst of heat”.

Their skin glowed red and both were left gasping for air as sweat poured from their bodies. Then they saw the apparent source of the heat – a dark, silver disc-shaped object hovering about 40 ft away from them above a nearby field. The underside of this UFO appeared to be glowing red.

As they watched in amazement a lemon-shaped head appeared between them and the UFO and both heard a disembodied voice call: “We want you, come with us.” Not surprisingly, they both ran for their lives!

The aftermath is even stranger. On 6 May the two youths returned to the scene with police and pointed out the field where the UFO had hovered. Inquiries at the scene failed to discover any other witnesses, but one resident said a local farmer was spraying his crops at the time of the alleged UFO incident. The farmer confirmed this information and said "he did not see any persons in the field, speak to anyone or see anything unusual."

Full details of this weird incident, including the police report and the youth's hand-written accounts, can be found in DEFE 24/1961 (pgs 191-207).

A UFO armed with a heat-ray also figures in a second story, independently reported to MoD by police in Cheshire 14 months later (see DEFE 24/1976, p180).

In this case a young man saw a “very bright yellow light” hovering near a footbridge on his route home in Widnes at 2.30 A.M. one morning. As he walked away it appeared to follow him and he broke into a run. Looking back, he saw the light had moved over a nearby cemetery. Then he heard “a high pitched sound (like cats wailing) and saw beams of light come down from it striking the ground.”

On reaching home he persuaded his father to return with him to the scene. At the location where the light beams hit the ground they found “four railway sleepers smouldering with a large hole 4” [inches] diameter burnt through one of the sleepers.” A police officer called to the scene reported the hole in the sleeper “does look rather odd” and was “still smouldering” five hours later. He could find no evidence of accelerants at the scene.

In their brief report sent to the MoD, Cheshire police described the young man as “a sensible sort of lad and genuine”.

This appears to be one of the very few UFO incidents recorded in the MoD files where physical evidence was left at the scene of a "close encounter". But, as per normal, there is no evidence that anyone took samples from the scene or followed up this intriguing story.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest these two incidents were subject to a follow-up investigation of any kind. Like the other 800 sightings that form the basis of this release, these reports were simply filed away and forgotten.

And bear in mind these files would, pre-2005, have remained "secret" for 30 years under the old Public Records Act. The very fact they could not be opened to the public back then simply encouraged people to suspect the Government was trying to hide "the truth".

Now we can see what that "truth" actually is: they don't have a clue what UFOs are and are not hiding any big secrets about aliens.

Remember this is the British government, is that really surprising? But the truth, as John Keel once said, is the hardest thing to sell.

The files and website are open to the public from Monday, 17 August and look certain to generate another flurry of media interest in UFOs.

48 files from a total of 160 held by the MoD have now been released in digital form by The National Archives. The transfer of files from MoD to TNA is due to end in 2011.

Why Can't You Tell The People?

The famous file on the Rendlesham Forest incident has been re-released to the public today as part of the fourth tranche of MoD UFO papers opened by The National Archives.

A historical note (DEFE 24/1948 p4) explains how it emerged into the public domain as one of the first UFO files released under Britain's open government initiative.

Back in February 2001 it was my application using the 'Code of Practice' - a precursor to the UK's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - that first persuaded the MoD, after years of stonewalling, to release the 190-page case file.

Even then, after months of negotiating, the MoD continued to with-hold five documents for spurious reasons and in September that year, after I appealed to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, 2 more were released.

UFOlogist Eric Morris, who died last year, continued to fight for the release of the remaining 3 documents, which included a background briefing and correspondence from former MoD official Ralph Noyes. These were finally released on appeal in November 2002.

During August 2001 I passed a copy of the Rendlesham file to Richard Norton-Taylor, defence correspondent for The Guardian, who was the first to break the story.

At the same time, scans of the most important papers were uploaded onto, a website I set up with Andy Roberts earlier that year (these can still be seen on the UK-UFO website, run by Joe McGonagle).

But in September 2001 the UK UFO Magazine (now defunct) published an article by Georgina Bruni, 'The Rendlesham Files', that was billed as a "World Exclusive". This claimed that a different sequence of events had actually led to the release of the file.

In her article Bruni maintained the breakthrough had actually come about as a direct result of pressure on the MoD from Lord Hill-Norton, who had tabled a number of Parliamentary questions about UFOs in the House of Lords during 2001.

She claimed the Rendlesham file was first sent to Lord Hill-Norton by Baroness Symons, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, in May 2001 and added: "After a written request to the MoD I received my own copies of the file nine days later."

Although I was not mentioned in the article, and there was no reference to the Guardian, the implication seemed to be that I was simply jumping on the bandwagon and trying to take credit for something I had no real involvement in.

How ironic then, as a result of our Freedom of Information Act, I can now prove this version is completely untrue.

As the cover note attached to the file released today confirms, the documents were - as I already knew - first released to me under the cover of a MoD letter from UFO desk officer Janet Turner, dated 11 May 2001 (see the copy of the actual letter which I have uploaded to this blog). This release came after seven months of negotiations with the 'UFO desk.'

Before the FOIA arrived it was difficult to obtain precise details of what actually went on behind the scenes and at the time I did not dispute Bruni's claims. But in 2005 I asked Janet Turner’s successor as MoD UFO desk officer, Linda Unwin, if she could check the accuracy of the claims about Lord Hill-Norton's alleged role in the release of the file.

Unwin later confirmed in writing that Hill-Norton actually "played no role" in the release and, added: "You were the first person to request a copy of the Rendlesham file and this is what led to the release of the file."

She added that, in fact, Lord Hill-Norton was unaware the papers had been released until Turner suggested that MoD should now send them to the noble Lord because of his long-standing interest in the Rendlesham incident.

This decision is documented in an internal MoD minute dated 17 May 2001 - again obtained using the FOIA - where Turner writes to the Parliamentary Enquiry branch:

"The papers we hold on this incident have recently been released to a member of the public [David Clarke] who requested them under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. Although Lord Hill-Norton has not actually asked to see these documents, as they are in the public domain, it may now be appropriate to make them available to him."

A second copy of the file was subsequently sent to Hill-Norton by Baroness Symons on 16 May. Eight days later Hill-Norton, clearly surprised to suddenly receive the file which he had not asked for, wrote back to say: “I fear that my poor sight will not let me read the papers you sent me, but I shall pass them to a thoroughly reliable UFO researcher.”

The identity of the "thoroughly reliable UFO researcher" remains a mystery. But Linda Unwin later confirmed that when "other members of the public" learned the papers had been released - seemingly after a two month delay - MoD began to receive further requests for copies.

By then, of course, someone else (me) had done all the hard work for them.

Further MoD correspondence on the Rendlesham papers from 2001, released to Andy Roberts under the FOIA, include a copy of a fax sent by Georgina Bruni from a London address to the MoD on 9 July 2001. This was clearly around the time at which she first learned the Rendlesham papers had been released, two months after the date given in UK UFO Magazine. Her fax requested a copy of the file and added:

“I understand that Baroness Symons recently sent copies of this material to Lord Hill-Norton, and that the MoD has also released it to a member of the public”.

Although Georgina’s name is redacted from the fax, a little investigative journalism revealed the London telephone number it was sent from and this was confirmed by the MoD reply, dated 18 July, which opens with ‘Dear Ms’.

Georgina's book, You Can't Tell The People, was published in November 2000, six months before the release of the MoD file. But the book had been promoted as “the definitive work" on the Rendlesham incident. The urgent tone of the fax suggests the writer was a little peeved the papers had not been sent to her before publication.

Nevertheless, despite being aware of the true identity of the "member of the public" whose work actually led to the release of the file (from the article in The Guardian on 28 August 2001), both Bruni and her friend and writing partner Nick Pope henceforth continued to insist that I played no role in its release.

The afterword of the second edition of Bruni’s book, published in 2001, contained a new chapter, 'The Release of the Rendlesham file'. Again there was no mention of my role in the release, and Bruni was now taking full credit for herself. The chapter opened with this claim:

"I have no doubt that these [documents] were released because of pressure put on the British Government regarding the case presented in the hardback edition of You Can't Tell The People, which resulted in questions being asked in the House of Lords."

To this day, Nick Pope continues to promote this misleading version on his website. In an article called ‘The Rendlesham Forest Incident’, he writes: “I should first pay tribute to Lord Hill-Norton and Georgina Bruni whose tireless efforts over the last few years have culminated in the release of these documents”.

Later, for good measure, he adds: “...with the release of the Rendlesham files Georgina Bruni has achieved a significant breakthrough for UFOlogy.

I'm not looking for medals or praise - just the truth, which is now out thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

It would be a simple matter of courtesy, or good manners, to acknowledge the role I played, even in passing, or at least set the record straight now the facts are clearly documented under FOIA and indisputable.

Sadly, Georgina died in 2008 so is unable to explain why she felt it necessary to publish an incorrect version of her role – or more accurately, lack of – in the release of the Rendlesham file.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Stubbed Out?

The 40th anniversary of the moon landings brought fresh claims that NASA are covering up evidence of UFOs filmed by astronauts.
Images from shuttle missions posted on YouTube show various lights and objects zipping around in earth’s orbit juxtaposed with headlines such as: “Will the Government Finally Admit There Are Aliens?”

Canadian UFO buff Martyn Stubb modestly claims to have “directed, edited or shot” the images that he believes prove NASA knows aliens are regularly buzzing US spacecraft.

That might explain the total lack of interest displayed by the astronauts who actually made the films, or by ground control – naturally because they are all part of the conspiracy.

But in June two astronauts spoke out in a Popular Mechanics article to claim Stubb and others were selectively editing these films to make them appear mysterious.

Close scrutiny shows the images lack context that can explain them.

For example, one short clip that appears to show a rotating, shape-changing UFO was actually filmed by Mario Runco during a May 1996 mission. He points out that just over two minutes have been lifted from days of routine footage showing a satellite launched by the crew as it reflected ambient light. Runco said if he really had filmed aliens there was no way NASA could stop him talking. “I’d want the credit, why would I want to keep it secret?”

Another astronaut whose films have been subjected to Stubb’s treatment added: “There’s no way to keep people from using public domain film for silly purposes.”

Source: Popular Mechanics, 1 June 2009

Lantern Alert

The Chinese lantern craze fuelled a tabloid UFO campaign during last year’s silly season and this year they were back.

During the summer armadas of lanterns 100 strong were photographed hovering over Lincolnshire, Merseyside and parts of Holland. Newspapers saw the story as light relief from the tedium of MP’s expenses. Keen to keep the mystery alive the Mirror proclaimed: “These spooky orange lights in the sky have the country baffled” whilst the Mail headlined with “Invasion of the orange aliens” (4 July). The lanterns were everywhere.

In June they lit up the skies over the Glastonbury festival and shortly afterwards a spate of false alarms involving “red flares” along the south coast were traced to more lanterns. This led coastguards to urge beach party-goers to contact them before they liberated any more orange aliens.

In August contributors to The Guardian debated the alleged environmental impact of the lanterns, hinting that a ban might be on its way. Their sale has already been prohibited in Vietnam and in three German states following the death of a 10-year-old boy in a house fire sparked by a lantern. In a separate incident a couple celebrating their marriage set fire to two houses in Dieburg, causing £200,000 in damage.

A story published by The Independent on 28 July quoted the National Farmer's Union and RSPCA as raising concerns that cattle could be harmed by eating the metal wires that hold the candles in place after the lanterns fall to the ground.

But the managing director of Sky Lanterns, which has been selling the darned things for seven years, pointed out that as with any other product it was ultimately up to the customer to behave responsibly when liberating them.

Banning the sale of these mini-hot air balloons, which bring joy to many people and produce beautiful displays in the night sky, would seem to me to be a massive over-reaction. After all they were first used in China during the 3rd century and are still released in the Far East to celebrate special occasions and as a symbol of good wishes.

"Sky lanterns" have become increasingly popular in the UK since 2002, but here they have sparked a rash of tabloid UFO headlines of the "Flat Earth News" variety. The tabloid obsession began with one widely-publicised sighting by the crew of the South Wales Police helicopter, who reported a "near-miss" with a UFO last summer.

The "UFO", captured on the copter's camera, appears to be just a few inches in length and there can be little doubt it was from a flotilla of 30 lanterns released from a wedding reception nearby earlier in the evening.

When will the tabloid lantern bubble burst? Maybe it already has. The novelty factor the lanterns provided is now wearing paper thin. Last summer hardly a day passed without The Sun’s alien invasion headlines. This year the stories are fewer and attempts to suggest some "mystery" remained looked increasingly desperate.

Either the UFO fleet had returned home, or someone realized there was only so many times you can run the same story before the public loses interest.

Monday, 6 July 2009

John A. Keel (1930-2009)

John Keel - the American journalist whose 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies was adapted into a film starring Richard Gere - has died in New York after years battling the effects of diabetes.

Keel's journalistic career began on a weekly paper in New York during the '40s and he, like me, was a keen fan of the works of Charles Fort. Keel was gripped by the flying saucer craze in 1947 and saw his first UFO in 1954 whilst visiting the Aswan Dam. One of his early books, Jadoo (1957) is a ripping yarn that describes his adventures travelling in India and Tibet, where he followed the tracks of the abominable snowman and saw demonstrations of the famous 'Indian Rope Trick.'

During the 60s and early 70s he produced a series of ground-breaking books on UFOs, crypto-zoology and alternative archaeology based upon the contemporary counter-culture zeitgeist. This view saw UFOs not as extra-terrestrial in origin but controlled by "ultra-terrestrials", nebulous powers from other dimensions who co-existed with us and loved to play games with humans.

UFOs, aliens, the sinister Men In Black and a host of other supernatural phenomena were incorporated into a bizarre but ultimately more satisfying theory which traced them to something Keel called "the super-spectrum". This was, as far as I could make out, some form of alternative reality from which they downloaded themselves into our three-dimensional world.

In retrospect, it's clear that Keel was actually constructing an updated medieval demonology carefully constructed for 20th century readers. I later learned the man himself loved playing games with his readers and had a keen sense of humour. Much of what he wrote in those books, he told me in 1992, "shouldn't be taken seriously."

By that time, however, my sense of disillusionment with Keel's writings was almost complete.

He will be remembered mostly for his1975 book The Mothman Prophecies. This charted his investigations of an outbreak of weird happenings in the tiny West Virginia town of Point Pleasant during 1966-67. It was a fast-moving account that combined horror narrative with straight reportage. The film adaptation that followed in 2002 - to mixed reviews - used the phrase "based on true events" that has since become a horror flick staple.

Nevertheless, for a teenager growing up in bleak '80s South Yorkshire, Keel's books were a source of inspiration and escape into a world where anything was possible, and indeed probable. Keel's accounts of his adventures in West Virginia, chasing the red-eyed winged monsters, sinister MIB in dark cadillacs and cool gentleman spacemen called Indrid Cold who descended from flying stovepipes simply blew my mind.

It was partly a result of reading Keel's UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (first published in 1970) and The Mothman Prophecies that a) encouraged me believe in six impossible things before breakfast b) placed me firmly on the flying saucer beat 30 years ago at the tender age of 13 and c) led me on the path to becoming a rookie journalist, so I could embark on my own adventures in the UFOlogical borderlands. The rest is history.

It's been said that one should never meet one's heroes in the flesh. But I did and have fond memories of showing the old buffer around the delights of Sheffield city centre when Keel spoke at the Independent UFO Network conference in 1992.

While his presentation was a bit of an anti-climax Andy Roberts and I did get to interrogate him during his three day stay in Yorkshire.

The result is a transcipt that runs to several thousand words (a copy was posted here on The Fortean Times website in August 2009).. But it does give a unique insight into the world of an eccentric, talented writer whose contribution will be sorely missed.

So soon after the passing of John Michell, it seems the UFOlogical generation I grew up with is finally coming to its end.

Monday, 13 April 2009

UFOs: the Inside Story of Real-life Sightings

Copies of my new book based upon the Ministry of Defence's UFO files can now be pre-ordered via Amazon.
The UFO Files: the Inside Story of Real-life Sightings will be published in paperback during July 2009 by The National Archives. The recommended cover price is £12.99 but those who order early can obtain a discount.
The book has been specially produced to accompany the ongoing releases of MoD files via the TNA website UFO page.
The UFO Files showcases accounts of UFO experiences extracted from the entire TNA collection from the 19th century to the present day.
The first two chapters include official accounts of sightings and investigations of phantom airships, foo-fighters and flying saucers from the first half of the 20th century.
Later chapters cover classic UFO incidents featured in the Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence files, ending with the most recent material released under the Freedom of Information Act. The book concentrates upon primary documents and interviews conducted with key witnesses, much of which will be new even to seasoned UFOlogists.
Working with The National Archives has meant that some key historical documents have been made available for publication for the first time. The book will include over 70 original images from the files, including accounts collected by an Air Ministry investigation of strange phenomena sighted over London in 1921!
A summary of the contents, taken from the TNA new books page, follows:

Original records reveal how British Intelligence and the CIA investigated many Cold War sightings, from the Roswell incident of 1947 to ghost aircraft, Radar Angels to the RAF's confidential files. The book sheds new light on many famous cases, such as RAF Topcliffe, 1952; the Flying Cross in Devon, 1967; RAF West Freugh, Scotland, 1957; the Berwyn Mountains UFO crash and the Phantom Helicopter Mystery, as well as the notorious 'Welsh triangle' and the Rendlesham Forest incident. Dramatic witness statements and personal interviews - many undertaken by the author himself - combine with rarely seen photographs, drawings and newly available documents to bring these extraordinary experiences vividly to life. From aerial phenonema of the First World War to crop circles and a secret UFO study of more recent times, The UFO Files offers a unique guide to our most intriguing mysteries. 

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Author of MoD UFO study to remain in the shadows

The identity of an MoD intelligence expert who wrote a controversial report on UFOs must remain a secret, the Information Commissioner has decided.
Three years ago the Ministry released - under the Freedom of Information Act - a copy of a four volume report, code-named 'Project Condign', that was completed in 2000 and classified "Secret - UK Eyes Only."
Condign was the brainchild of a mysterious intelligence officer, working as a contractor for the MoD, who was given access to secret documents covering DI55's investigations of UFO incidents over three decades.
He was asked to produce the report because of his long experience as an advisor to the Defence Intelligence Staff on the subject of UFOs.
His study concluded that UFOs - or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) - did exist but were most likely to be natural, but poorly understood, atmospheric phenomena such as ball lightning and dusty plasmas.
The report said there was no evidence that UAPs posed a threat to the UK and there was no information of intelligence value within the reports MoD had received. 
As a direct result the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) decided to have no further involvement in the subject after 50 years of collecting sighting reports.
The existence of the Condign report was revealed as a result of 18 months of sleuthing by myself and my colleague Gary Anthony, which culminated in the FOI request and subsequent release of the papers to the international media.
A full discussion of the background can be found on my webpages - along with a detailed paper we prepared for the International UFO Reporter, published in 2007.
Since that time we have been pressing the MoD to release not only the name of the report's author, but also the names of the intelligence officers who briefed MoD on the need for the study, and of the person who ultimately commissioned it.
During 2007 Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker piled pressure on Defence Minister Adam Ingram on our behalf. He tabled a series of Parliamentary written questions on the Condign report and its author.
One of the questions asked "who the author was, what the author's qualifications in this subject were; to whom the report was circulated [and] what actions were taken on the recommendations of the report."
In response Baker was told the report cost the public around £50,000 but they would not name the author or say anything more about his background. "The author of the report was a contractor and was employed by the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) on a long-term contract," Ingram responded in Hansard, 19 March 2007.  "Further details of the author, including the name, are being with-held under the Data Protection Act 1998 [Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act]."
Not satisfied with this answer, Gary and I requested an internal review of the decision to with-hold the names. We waited 11 months for a response from the MoD - a total of 190 working days, when the maximum recommended by the Commissioner is just 40 working days!
The response when it came refused to back down, citing section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act (personal information).
Then we decided to complain to the Information Commissioner under section 50 of the Act. In our appeal we cited the Commissioner's own guidance on "personal information" (FOIA Awareness Guidance No 1), which says: "It is often believed that the Data Protection Act prevents the disclosure of any personal data without the consent of the person concerned. This is not true. The purpose of the Data Protection Act is to protect the private lives of individuals. Where an information request is about people acting in a work or official capacity then it will normally be right to disclose."
In our appeal we argued that in the context of the Condign author "there can be no question that a) the contractor paid to produce the UAP report and b) the various Defence Intelligence officers who briefed [MoD] on the need to commit public funds for a UFO study...were acting in a work or official capacity."
We added that "the authors and background context of public reports, released into the public domain, should be open and accountable to scrutiny. Without disclosure how can can members of the public, or indeed the scientific community, draw any valid conclusions as to the reliability of the conclusions reached, or to judge if public funds have been wisely spent?"
After two years we finally received our answer in an Information Commissioner Decision Notice dated 30 March 2009.
This says the Commissioner, Richard Thomas, investigated our complaint but ultimately decided to uphold the MoD's decision to with-hold the names under Section 40 of the FOIA. The Commissioner looked at the work and positions of all four individuals cited in our request. With respect to the report's author, he was clearly persuaded by the MoD's arguments against the release of his name.
The notice reads: "...the Commissioner understands that the report was commissioned and produced by the author with strict security guidelines; at the time the report was drafted it was a classified project with those involved being subject to the Official Secrets Act. Secondly, the MoD has explained that civil servants and contractors are given clear instruction that 'any association with intelligence, security or counter-terrorism work must not be disclosed.' Therefore, in the Commissioner's opinion given that the author, acting on instructions from the MoD would not have discussed his work on the draft report with those outside the DIS, it is reasonable to suppose that the author would not have expected his name, and moreover his authorship of the report, to be placed in the public domain."
Another signficant paragraph reads:
"...the Commissioner must take into account the impact disclosure could have on the personal life of the individuals concerned. The Commissioner recognises that this area of work [UFOs] attracts a significant level of media interest and accepts the suggestion by the MoD that disclosure of these names is likely to lead to attempts to contact them and question them about their work for the DIS. In addition, the Commissioner has also given consideration to the fact that at least two of these individuals have retired. The Commissioner is mindful that retirement cannot be used to circumvent disclosure where necessary but when the individual has retired, possibly many years before the request was made it must be considered whether disclosure would have a detrimental impact on the private life of the individual concerned. The Commissioner considers that given the passage of time and the retired status of the individuals any attempt to contact and interview [them] could be deemed as having a detrimental effect on their private life. In other words, retired civil servants and a contractor could be subject to questioning, and potential criticism of decisions they took when employed by the MoD a number of years ago."
It adds: "the Commissioner believes that the likely intrusion is not justified by any pressing public interest in identifying the individuals concerned given their seniority, status and extent of involvement in the subject."
So there you have it folks.
We're only likely to discover the true identity of these spooky officials in another 50 or more years, long after they are dead and buried.
No doubt this will ensure that pesky journalists can't ask them any awkward questions that might embarrass them, and their employers. 
The full text of the Information Commissioner's Decision Notice will be available on the IC website shortly.

SHU student makes headlines

Sheffield Hallam journalism student Darryl Curtis made the headlines this week with a story concerning a stolen Blackberry containing the personal details of hundreds of VIPs.
Darryl is in the second year of his journalism degree and is a keen student on my investigation and research skills module which looks at data protection issues.
Two weeks ago he came to see me with Blackberry he had bought from a homeless person in Sheffield City Centre. The person who offered it claimed it held hundreds of phone numbers and personal details of MPs, Cabinet Ministers, senior police officers and civil servants.
Darryl's nose for a good story paid off and we were amazed to discover the device appeared to have no password protection.
Scanning through the Blackberry we could see personal phone numbers of Children's Secretary Ed Balls, Foreign Secretary David Milliband, local Sheffield MPs David Blunkett and Richard Caborne along with several senior police officers including the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, Graham Maxwell. There were also National Insurance numbers, home addresses and in one case computer passwords.
After handing over the phone to South Yorkshire Police we were informed the owner of the Blackberry had been traced. It appears that it belonged to former Sheffield City Council Chief Executive Bob Kerslake, who is now the Government's Housing Czar. His car was broken into two years ago, when he was still working in Sheffield, and a Blackberry was stolen.
This means the unprotected device, with its contents, had been on the streets of Sheffield for up to two years before it fell into Darryl's hands.
Darryl said: "I was shocked by what I found. Nothing was password protected and there was a wealth of information on there."
A spokesman for the the pressure group No2ID, Michael Parker, told The Yorkshire Post: "This isn't just a shocking lapse in security, it shows a complete absence of security...It shows how the civil service still has no idea of the value and importance of the personal information they keep. In this case it is personal details of careeer politicians, but in many other cases it's personal, bank and medical details of British citizens. This just shows why plans for a national database of information is a disaster in the making."
The story made BBC News online on 11 April after it was featured in The Yorkshire Post, Sheffield Star, Daily Mail and Scotsman.
Well done Darryl.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

What do I believe?

The key question that always crops up when I do media interviews about the MoD files and UFOs in particular is always a variation of: "Do you believe in UFOs?". As I explain in my biography, what they mean of course in not "do you believe that people see objects in the sky they can't identify?" (to which the answer is most certainly 'yes'); what they really mean is: "Do you believe we are being visited by aliens in flying saucers?".

After the yawn I usually refer them to Carl Sagan's response to this very question: "I'm always struck by how the question is phrased, the suggestion that this is a matter of belief and not evidence." So - assuming it matters to anyone - what do I believe?

Personally, I think there's every chance there is life elsewhere in the universe. This is suggested by the recent discoveries of planets circling around distant stars, and the presence of water on Mars. This is a view shared by many astronomers, particularly those identified with the SETI programme (Search for ET Intelligence) - who, as a byproduct of their public statements, have tended to encourage the public to believe in the existence of intelligent aliens.

However, there is a great and significant difference between 'life' and 'intelligent life'. Most scientists agree that the appearance of intelligent life on Earth was the result of chance and an incredible series of circumstances that might be unique to our planet and solar system. What are the chances, then, that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere, and what's more that it has been able to visit us frequently and surreptitiously, for thousands of years, evading detection in the last 50 years by our powerful radars and telescopes?

Therefore, although opinion polls suggest that between one third and one half of the population "believe we have been visited" - the evidence that aliens have come here in UFOs or flying saucers is actually slim or non-existent. And just because lots of people say they believe in something, dosen't make that something objectively real. If it did then we would, for instance, have to accept that the Devil and the Satanic pact with witches was real, simply because thousands of people believed that particular myth during the Middle Ages.

Back to the MoD UFO files. Some commentators are disappointed by the content and are growing tired of seeing tedious bits of paper containing reports of lights in the sky. Where are photographs showing 'structured craft of unknown origin' that would provide clear and unambiguous evidence of the ET presence on Earth? The evidence we've been told the Government has on file, but isn't sharing because we would all panic?

Well, there can only be two answers. Either these photographs aren't in the files because no such evidence exists, or they have been removed by the global conspiracy to hide the truth and salted away somewhere else. This answer is unprovable and takes us nowhere - only into the realms of paranoia.

The answer has to be that no such unambiguous evidence exists. The file contents make it clear MoD's interest in UFOs was purely from a defence point of view. They check to see if sightings reported to them have any "defence significance" (i.e. are they hijacked aircraft, spy planes, enemy missiles?). When those possibilities are ruled out, the reports are simply filed away and forgotten - as anyone can now see from the contents of the released files. Unfortunately, MoD are not funded to scrutinise their UFO reports for their scientific content. They say they remain open-minded about the possibility that ET life might exist, only they have never found any evidence to support the theory.

My opinion is that any genuinely open-minded person who spends a few hours skimming through the contents of these files can only agree with the MoD's conclusions. 90% or more of the reports they received could be explained (if they had bothered to investigate them). The few that remain might be unidentified but unidentified does not necessary mean = alien visitors.

Of course conspiracy mongers will say these papers are a whitewash and the real top secret files are being hidden away somewhere else. But in my experience you cannot have a rational argument with people who have preconceived ideas about cover-ups and conspiracies.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

YouTube UFO video hits the spot

Well what a week that was! 

The release of the third collection of MoD UFO files at The National Archives made headlines both in the UK and across the world. Some of the best coverage appeared in the UK's Sunday broadsheets, particularly the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and Observer. All these newspapers drew heavily upon background material, including a detailed summary of highlights, that I had prepared for the TNA press office in advance of the release. 

Items also appeared on Sky News and BBC News Online, including one story that followed up the still unfolding saga of the UFO photographs from Calvine. On Monday, leading articles also appeared in London’s Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and The Sun

Once again the coverage was largely serious in tone with media attention concentrating on the MoD’s interest in spy planes and foreign technology as opposed to nebulous alien forces. As I was quoted by BBC Online: 

"The vast majority of reports are ordinary things seen in extraordinary situations. So many things can be interpreted as unusual, you've got to eliminate all that noise and see what's left. I don't think there's any solid evidence [contained in these files] suggest that we have been visited by intelligent life but I don't think you can rule that out."

It remains to be seen whether this level of media interest will be sustained later this year when further collections of UFO files are released by the MoD. Some 70 or more files have been earmarked for transfer to the TNA before the end of this year. This will take the chronology from 1993 to 1999 and, in the process, add some tens of thousands of pages to the ongoing process of disclosure.

But by far the biggest success of the week was the podcast I recorded, which – complete with animated images and X-files style background music – was uploaded to YouTube last Sunday. 

To our surprise this quickly became the 70th most viewed video on YouTube UK this week, with almost 30,000 viewings recorded along with dozens of comments. 

My favourite is the comment posted by ‘jordanj008’ relating to the strange drawing of a banana-shaped UFO which appears among the UFO images in the video: “…British intelligence has to work hard to protect people from banana attacks [sic]. Are bananas friendly or aggressive? Should I be afraid of bananas? Do overripe bananas develop limbs? If I eat bananas will their family revenge me? Are all bananamen blue or are there more primitive ones that are yellow? Can anyone answer my questions, I am getting paranoid!

To watch the video click here!