If Roswell Happened Today (Part 2)
By Nick Pope
In the first part of this article I addressed the issue of what the government would do if a UFO crashed (or landed) in the UK. Is there a plan? Who would be involved? Would the authorities try to cover it up? This two-part article sets out the issues and works through some possible scenarios. In the first part of the article I dealt with the issue of first response and established that while the police would have a key tactical role, at the strategic level the Cabinet Office and COBRA would take a co-ordinating role, with MoD quickly emerging as the lead department. The next questions that would need to be handled range from what to tell Ministers, through to how to handle the media. What would Parliament be told and would there be any attempt to cover up such an incident?
Before addressing these issues, it was remiss of me in Part 1 of this article not to mention the COMETA Report. I had given examples of where officialdom had given some thought to the consequences of detecting an extraterrestrial radio signal or of a UFO crashing or landing and where some sort of contingency plan had been drafted. I mentioned the paper "UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions" from the NSA's website and also the "Post-Detection SETI Protocol" drafted by the International Academy of Astronautics. I also mentioned the second edition of "Fire Officer's Guide to Disaster Control" by William M. Kramer and Charles W. Bahme. I should also have mentioned the COMETA Report. This 3-year study was undertaken by the French Institute for Higher Studies of Defence, a government-funded 'think tank' staffed by people whose backgrounds are generally government and military. The findings of their study were set out in a 90 page report entitled "UFOs and Defense: What Should We Prepare For?". An English language version of this report is available on the internet, but when searching for it, remember that Defence is spelled the US way, i.e. Defense.
Ministers are, of course, politicians. Defence Ministers (i.e. the Secretary of State for Defence and the various 'junior' Ministers) and the MoD more generally aspire to a culture of "no surprises". In other words, Ministers want to be told as quickly as possible of any major or controversial development. They certainly don't want to find out something only when asked about it by a journalist or by an MP in Parliament. This is why briefing is so central to the MoD culture and indeed to the civil service as a whole. Civil Servants must ensure that Ministers and senior staff are briefed quickly and accurately on important issues. In our scenario of a UFO crash, an early action would be to brief Ministers. This would probably be done by telephone in the first instance (with calls to one of the Minister's Private Office staff) and then followed up with a Ministerial submission. The Ministerial submission is a written brief in a set format, setting out the issue, making recommendations and discussing the presentational issues. A few examples of the template for a Ministerial submission can be found on the internet, but few actual submissions have been released, as they tend to be covered by Section 35 (Formulation of Government Policy) of the Freedom of Information Act. This exemption applies where information relates to the formulation or development of government policy. The thinking is that if the advice and debate behind policy-making is routinely made public, there is a risk that officials would be less willing to offer frank advice and challenge the status quo. Accordingly, this is an area where I can say little more. However, it's worth noting that for any major incident (and this would certainly apply to our scenario of a UFO crash) the briefing process would have to include the Prime Minister and HM The Queen.
The next step would be to call a meeting. Meetings are central to the culture of the civil service and I attended hundreds in the course of my 21-year MoD career. Some meetings are minuted and some aren't and as I've said before, the paper trail never tells the whole story. In the scenario of a UFO crash there is likely to be an initial MoD meeting chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. Attendees would probably include the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief Scientific Adviser, the Chief Press Officer, the Head of Directorate of Air Staff, staff from the Defence Intelligence Staff and other senior officials. The UFO desk officer would probably not sit at the main table but (as subject matter expert) might be 'in attendance, alongside other experts who might be called on for specialist advice. But generally speaking, such a meeting would be at director level and it would be expected that the respective heads of division would have been fully briefed by their subject matter experts. After this meeting there would inevitably be a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, attended by Ministers and officials from other government departments. While the decisions that would need to be taken would vary according to the specifics of the crash, issues that would arise would include the following: is there a threat and if so, should alert levels be raised? Is there a biohazard (this was covered in Part 1 of this article) and if so, what measures should be taken? What - if anything - should parliament, the media and the public be told? What - if anything - should other countries be told?
We have all heard of the 'dodgy dossier' and 'spin', while the post 9/11 phrase "a good day to bury bad news" - even though it's a slight misquotation - has also become firmly embedded in the public consciousness. What's the truth behind these soundbites and how would this play out in our hypothetical scenario? There's no doubt that presentational issues and news management are hugely important to the MoD and indeed to government as a whole. Type "Defence Press Office" into the search box on the MoD website for some basic details on the role and structure of this organisation. Additionally, the evidence from the Director of News on the Hutton Inquiry website gives an interesting insight into the working of the MoD's press office. Assuming the event was to be made public, a news brief would be drawn up. Again, there's a set format to this, which generally involves the key message and subsidiary Q & A material, posing the questions the MoD is most likely to be asked and giving the lines to take on them. Self-evidently, the key message would be something positive and in this case it might be something along the lines of "MoD scientists are currently examining the object and we will make a further statement when they have completed their investigations. There is no evidence of any danger to the public". As with all material from government, while it can put a positive spin on matters, downplay negative issues and omit some material, it must be fundamentally truthful. I realise many people think governments lie all the time, but for a minister, lying is still a resignation issue and for a civil servant it is a serious disciplinary offence.
Assuming the media hadn't already found out about the event and put out the story, the question would inevitably arise as to whether to try to keep the matter secret. Procedurally, this would be relatively straightforward. Essentially, the matter would be given a classification (probably Top Secret - UK Eyes Only) and any questions would be met with a "no comment". As to why this move might be considered, the reason has little or nothing to do with the usual ideas about destabilising the economy, undermining religions and causing panic. It would reflect the fact that any nation that exclusively acquired extraterrestrial technology it was able to use (the most obvious example being a propulsion system that allows viable interstellar travel) would become the dominant force on the planet. If the technology was to be acquired exclusively by the British government and passed exclusively to British companies, politically, militarily and economically the UK would once more lead the world. This would be the temptation and with the stakes that high, it's easy to see how such a course of action would be attractive. Of course, this is exactly what many people believe happened at Roswell and despite the controversy, the central idea (whether or not it actually happened) behind Philip Corso's book "The Day After Roswell" is sound. This is the one reason for a cover-up that does make sense in terms of the way government and the military actually think.
Search and Rescue
A final observation needs to be made about the scenario of a UFO crash. While we can make few assumptions about extraterrestrials (which is why I instantly distrust anyone who authoritatively makes a statement that begins with a phrase along the lines of "aliens wouldn't do that because") it's a fair assumption that the loss of the craft would be noticed and the location it had been in would be known. Therefore, just as happens when an aircraft crashes, it's reasonable to suppose that a search and rescue mission would be attempted. So any UFO crash is very likely to be followed by a UFO landing. Though it's often overlooked, this rather obvious point is one more indication that the alien autopsy video was a hoax. First contact is unlikely to go well if the first revelation from the military is that they have just dissected an extraterrestrial body. Ufologists and government officials think in fundamentally different ways. Nobody in the government and the military, when confronted with a UFO crash, would view the event as an isolated incident. It would be seen as an event with consequences and the mindset would be "Others may come to recover the craft. What should we do to prepare for this?".
The Need for a Plan
All of this brings us back to where this article started, in Part 1, when I said that one of the most frequent questions I'm asked is what the MoD would do if confronted by a UFO crash and whether there's a plan for this contingency. In the course of these two articles I think I've answered much of the first part of the question. But the second part of the question can be dealt with very simply: the UK has no official plan for such an eventuality. There are bits of other plans that could doubtless be adapted (e.g. the procedures for dealing with an aircraft accident and the plans for dealing with a suspected chemical or biological terror attack) but there's no discrete plan for a UFO crash, a UFO landing or any other form of 'first contact', including the detection of a radio signal of extraterrestrial origin. This is partly because officials are naturally conservative and the possibility lies outside many people's belief systems. "There's no contingency plan should the Loch Ness Monster turn out to be real, so why should we have one for UFOs?", the reasoning goes. However, given the cumulative evidence in relation to UFOs and given the issues at stake, such reasoning is arguably flawed. We are back to the issue of this being a "Low Probability/High Consequence" event. There's an old adage "train hard, fight easy". Having a plan, training people and then testing the people and the plan through realistic exercises is central to the ethos of the MoD and the military. The lack of a plan means that if the event does occur, the response will be less effective and less speedy than would otherwise be the case. Given the magnitude of some of the issues here (e.g. the potential biohazard) this is unfortunate, to say the least.
This 2-part article has been one of the most speculative that I've ever written, because of the huge number of variables and unknowns in our scenario. But in the absence of a plan, all we can do is speculate. I may be wide of the mark in some areas, but having served for 21 years in a wide range of MoD jobs, I understand the culture. So I may be wrong about what decisions would be taken, but I'm pretty sure I'm right about the way in which those decisions would be reached. I hope readers have enjoyed these two articles and that they've offered some food for thought. If nothing else, I hope it's offered an intriguing glimpse into contingency planning and crisis management in government.