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Close encounters with UFO airheads

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

First, July 2 was International UFO day. Then Google released a doodle to mark the 66th anniversary of the Roswell Incident, in which aliens were supposedly killed in a spacecraft crash outside the New Mexico town of Roswell. 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 online, running from 1967 when ‘defence’ reasons the military’s UFO Desk was established, through to 2009 when it was shut down. The final tranche is free for download until the end of the month.

The reason for the release of the policy documents, sightings reports, official investigations, and public correspondence is simply that while not every UFO sighting can be disproved, the MOD had concluded after almost 50 years that there was not a shred of evidence of close encounters of the alien kind. The UFO Desk was simply a waste of manpower and money.

As an MOD official in 2008 wrote in reply to yet another conspiracy theorist: ‘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 documents is certainly not of a secretive government desperately hushing up the arrival ot ET. Rather, it’s of a military bureaucracy at great pains to be punctiliously correct towards inquirers who are gullible and nutty in equal measure.

This often included having to obtain from air bases all around Britain voluminous amounts of detail of scheduled military flights, interceptor scramblings and radar sightings, at a substantial cost in time and manpower.

Among the correspondence:

‘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 … extra-terrestrial life forms, about which it remains totally open minded. I should add that to date the MOD knows of no evidence which substantiates the existence of these alleged phenomena.’

‘Is the MOD in possession of any non-man made flying machine?’ MOD reply: ‘The answer is no.’

In reply to another: ‘Thank you for your request [regarding] any UFOs or extra-terrestrial 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. None of the trawling scientists, though, have yet alighted on anything that credibly suggests alien civilisations are taking a close-up squizz at humanity’s pathetic attempts at the same.

In fact, every MOD reply to a sighting claim contains the common sense mantra: ‘Unless there is evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom, 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 [but] it is not the function of the MOD to provide an aerial identification service.’

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, which was in 2009 when the UFO Desk was finally shut down? Well, that was when releasing Chinese Lanterns at weddings became fashionable.