MoD UFO Files and the UFO Community


By Nick Pope

2011 has seen the continuation of the four-year program to declassify and release the entire archive of Ministry of Defence UFO files. This initiative began in 2008 and was undertaken in response to the fact that the MoD was receiving more Freedom of Information Act requests about UFOs than on any other subject.

The two batches of files released to the National Archives in 2011 were made public on 3rd March and 11th August respectively. As with previous releases, this story continued to capture the imagination of the media and the public alike. On a personal level, I undertook a series of TV and radio interviews to promote the new releases, as well as being quoted in numerous newspaper articles and features on the subject and - in some cases - writing the features myself, in my capacity as a freelance journalist.

This is arguably the biggest UFO story in decades, but oddly, the UFO community has failed to embrace this in the way that might have been hoped or expected. Believers often dismiss these releases as disinformation. "All the good stuff's being held back" is a frequent cry. The revelation in the March release that files relating to the Rendlesham Forest incident had inadvertently been destroyed didn't help, while my involvement in all this as the media's 'go-to guy' on the subject of UFOs has further fuelled the fire: "He's still on the payroll" is a phrase that I often see from believers and conspiracy theorists, when they see me on TV discussing these files. The problem is that I don't tell them what they want to hear - more about that later.

The reaction from skeptics is equally disappointing. There's a sneering tendency to focus on the odd case which clearly involves a hoax or an eccentric, while ignoring or glossing over the sightings where the witnesses are police officers, pilots and military personnel, where UFOs are tracked on radar, or where a photo or video is analysed by MoD's technical wizards, with no evidence of trickery being found. A couple of skeptics have further muddied the waters with heroic (but utterly dishonest) tales of how they're single-handedly responsible for forcing the MoD to release these files - in fact, the release was due to the persistence and hard work of hundreds of journalists, ufologists and other members of the public.

It's interesting from a sociological and psychological view that the UFO community tends to find more things to be angry about in these files than the public as a whole. The reason, of course, has to do with belief. Just as fascist and communist regimes are actually very similar, despite the apparent distance implied by phrases like left-wing and right-wing, so true believers and die-hard skeptics are actually chiselled from the same block, united by their dogma. The MoD files play to this, because they tell neither group what they want to hear. True believers want definitive proof of extraterrestrial visitation, while die-hard skeptics want confirmation that it's all nonsense. But the files don't tell them this. They reflect a more complex truth, i.e. that some UFO sightings appear to defy conventional explanation, but even those of us in government didn't know what they were. In one of my newspaper articles on the file release I wrote that there was "something for everyone in these files". Perhaps I should have written "something to upset everyone".

So where does all this leave us, in the run-up to 2012? The file release programme will come to its climax and when the final batch is released, there will doubtless be extensive media coverage. The MoD will hope that this draws a line under the whole business. The media and the public will be fascinated for a couple of days and then move on. And the UFO community will take stock and try to work out "what it all means". Time will pass, and eventually, MoD's UFO files will become little more relevant to the ufological debate as the Project Blue Book archive currently is: believers and skeptics will occasionally cherry-pick quotes and cases that fit their personal worldview, but the game will have moved on. Ultimately, believers will believe and non-believers won't. And the UFO mystery itself will endure, oblivious to the views of either faction.