Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Big Question: What do Britain’s ‘X Files’ tell us, and why have they been released now?

By Michael Savage
Thursday, 15 May 2008

Independent Graphics

Why are we asking this now?

Do aliens exist? Have we been visited by extra-terrestrials? Has anyone really seen a spaceship? They are questions most of us have asked ourselves at some point, but previously classified reports made public by the Ministry of Defence reveal that a startling number of people in Britain believe they already know the truth. Eight files have been released containing hundreds of alleged sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) between 1978 and 1987. Among the thousands of pages of testimony are close encounters that range from the deranged to the intriguing.

The MoD handed the reports, already dubbed the UK “X Files”, to the National Archives after receiving a barrage of Freedom of Information requests for its documents referring to UFOs.

So, what are the UFO sightings like?

Some of the mysteries are easier to solve than others. It is doubtful that we should be in fear of an alien invasion after punters at a pub in Tunbridge Wells saw a strange flying craft with red and green flashing lights heading towards Gatwick. Nor should we lose any sleep over a craft reported by an observer in Glan Conwy, north Wales, who saw something with a flashing light making a deep throbbing noise “reminiscent of a propeller-driven aircraft” (that would be a propeller-driven plane, then). Another bizarre episode occurred when a driver spotted a craft in the Scottish Highlands. Having presumably travelled at the speed of light or more to reach Earth, an alien craft was clocked doing 30mph above the A839 to Lairg.

But the most outlandish story of all comes from a correspondent in January 1985. Having allegedly been visited by aliens since the age of seven, he later claims to have witnessed a UFO being shot down in the River Mersey. Upon hitting the water, it disappeared. Eventually, his alien friend Algar agreed to meet government representatives, but was unfortunately slain by another alien race at the 11th hour. As the writer says: “That, of course, was that.”

Do the reports prove that aliens exist?

Unfortunately, the MoD does not pursue reports until a positive identification of a UFO is made. The only reason it records them at all is to discover whether or not an “intruding aircraft” has illegally entered British airspace. That means the reports do not reveal any spaceships in hangers, or aliens on operating tables. But, if you are willing to peruse the 450 pages of files, there are some genuinely compelling cases. Many reports come from pilots, air traffic controllers and the police. One report by police officers in Woking, Surrey, describes a white light descending to Earth. There testimony is marked: “Genuine report.” And there are plenty more where that came from. Although eight files have been released now, another 150 are on their way over the next few years, according to the MoD.

Do any recurring details emerge?

Aliens do not seem that fussy about where in Britain they visit. Sightings have come as far and wide as Devon, the Highlands, Wales and London. An interstellar fashion for decorating spacecraft with an array of bright flashing lights does emerge, though. One giant UFO reported in Oxfordshire in 1981 was decked out with red, blue and white lights – seemingly the colours of choice. The crew of another craft spotted three years later in Lanarkshire were a bit more imaginative, opting for orange, white and green. And the spaceships apparently come in variety of shapes and sizes. The classic dome and saucer crops up many times but there are more unusual descriptions, such as one in Plymouth depicted as a “cigar-shaped”, while a Norwich observer described the UFO he saw as a “fat coffin”.

What are the rational explanations?

Many sightings can quickly be put down to pretty normal phenomena. Weather conditions can have a significant effect. Cloudy nights obviously make reports more unreliable but even those made on clear nights can be dubious – in clear conditions, stars, planets or space debris are mistaken for something more sinister. As the MoD said in 1979, “Venus is popular”. Other UFOs can be accounted for as meteorological balloons, optical illusions and even genuine hallucinations.

What is the official MoD view?

According to Nick Pope, who was the MoD’s very own version of the X Files agent Fox Mulder in the early 1990s (he says they couldn’t afford a Scully), some of the most interesting information in the declassified reports comes in documents on government policy towards ufology. MoD notes for a speech to be given in the House of Lords in 1979 did not exactly sit on the fence. “It was a real hatchet job,” Mr Pope said. They reveal that the Government was concerned about a growing “UFO industry” which had been aided, it said, by the success of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. “There is nothing to indicate that ufology is anything but claptrap,” the MoD wrote. “It seems quite proper for the Government to inject some massive common sense into the business.”

There were some in the corridors of power at the time who believed in aliens, though. Lord Clancarty, who called for a Lords debate on the subject, wrote a book called Mysterious Visitors, in which he attributed UFO involvement to the disappearance of a British regiment during the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War. They were spirited away by a cloud. As for the lack of evidence, blame the CIA. They hid it all, the peer argued.

Does anyone care?

Judging by the public interest in the release of the files, plenty of people will have a look at them. Even the fact that the MoD kept such records has interested many. The US stopped investigating UFO reports in 1969, after a study by the University of Colorado found that 90 per cent of sightings could be related to ordinary phenomena. But the MoD still seems curious about the other 10 per cent. The National Archives expects a lot of interest, too. It has set up a dedicated internet server to host its website featuring the reports, to cope with high levels of traffic.

Will this end all the conspiracy theories?

No amount of fresh official UFO documentation will satisfy some conspiracy theorists, who will believe the papers are merely a decoy to throw them off the scent of alien visits. Within hours of the publication of the reports, Mr Pope, who helped the National Archives pick out some interesting highlights, received emails accusing him of being a state-sponsored dis-information agent.

Similar reports released by France last year were dismissed by many as a smokescreen, arguing the government had kept the good stuff. The truth, it seems, is still out there. But it probably isn’t hovering above the A839.

In light of these reports, should we believe that UFOs have visited us?


* Although some of the reports are wacky, others are detailed and come from reliable sources

* Some eyewitness reports come from pilots, aviation experts and police officers, who wouldn’t say these things lightly

* The sheer number of reports indicates that there is something in them – and there are 150 more files yet to be released


* Why is it that the aliens and UFOs – little green men with saucer-shaped spacecraft – always sound like the ones in the movies?

* The vast majority of the reports can be attributed easily to far more rational phenomena

* If aliens could build a light-speed ship and hide expertly for most of the time, would they really leave bright, flashing lights on?

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