Aliens love a spot of telly as well

William Saunderson-Meyer.

William Saunderson-Meyer.

This is a big month for UFO fans. No, not metal-head followers of the English hard rock group of the same acronym. One’s talking about lead-heads who believe in Unidentified Flying Objects.

July 2 was International UFO Day; Google has just released a doodle to mark the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Incident, in which aliens were supposedly killed in a spacecraft crash landing; and, finally, the British National Archives has released the final tranche of all Ministry of Defence (MOD) documents dealing with UFOs.

There are now some 52 000 pages accessible, running from 1967 to 2009, when the military’s UFO Desk was closed.

The reason for the release of the policy documents, sightings reports, official investigations, and public correspondence is simply that the Brits concluded that there was not a shred of evidence of close encounters of the alien kind.

Or as an MOD official wrote in reply to a member of the public in 2008: “There has been speculation that the decision to release the [MOD’s] UFO files is part of an international agreement to prepare the world’s population for the news that aliens are amongst us. I am afraid [this] is pure fantasy.”

The picture that emerges from the reams of correspondence, many of it in response to freedom of information requests, is of a military bureaucracy going to great pains to be punctiliously polite and correct. This meant often providing to inquirers, at substantial cost of time and manpower, details of scheduled military flights, interceptor scramblings and radar sightings.

Among the exchanges:

“Does the MOD believe that aliens exist have made contact with our planet?”

MOD reply: “The MOD does not have any expertise in respect of … extraterrestrial life forms, about which it remains  open minded. I should add that to date the MOD knows of no evidence which substantiates the existence of these alleged phenomena.”

In reply to another: “Thank you for your request [regarding] any UFOs or extraterrestrial designed craft controlled by Homo Sapiens over Grimsby on December 2 1997 between 01h00 and 05h00. We have no such reports. In addition, we have no knowledge of the existence of any craft of alien design…”

There is enough material in these files to keep world government conspiracists, flying saucer-spotters and the I-was-abducted-by-aliens-and-made-to-do-nasty-sexual-stuff happy for ages. Not anything though that suggests alien civilisations are checking out humanity’s attempt at the same.

In fact, every MOD replying to a sighting claim contains a common sense mantra: “Unless there is evidence of a potential threat to the UK and to date no UFO has revealed such evidence, we do not attempt to identify the precise nature of each sighting. We believe that rational explanations such as aircraft lights or natural phenomena could be found if resources were diverted for this purpose.”

And as scientists have pointed out, these UFO sightings show telltale peaks. The highest number of reports was in 1978, the year that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in UK cinemas. Another peak was in the mid-1990s when the US television show The X-Files was at the height of its popularity.

And second highest peak in 2009? Well, that was when releasing Chinese lanterns at weddings became fashionable.


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