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.