by Damien Gayle May 6, 2018 (theguardian.com)
• In 1997, Britain’s DI55 “Defence Intelligence” embarked on a campaign to absolve the Ministry of Defence of responsibility for investigating UFO sightings. A report obtained through a Freedom of Information request by David Clarke, a research fellow and lecturer in journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, shows that the MoD was motivated by “The increasing media attention given to this subject in recent months [which] has almost doubled the work of the desk officers involved to the detriment of other tasks more directly relevant to the work of the branch.” It was now time to “reappraise the situation” and clarify DIS’s role in the issue.
• What becomes clear from the FOIA files is a fear among officials of further inciting UFO-mania. “We need to be very careful about expanding ‘UFO’ business and thereby sending the public a misleading message about the extent of the MoD’s interest,” says one memo.
• The report was completed in 2000 and duly discounted alien spaceships over the UK, giving DI55 the grounds it needed to no longer accept reports of UFO sightings. Then Defence Intelligence destroyed the files on which the report was based, including the analysis database. The MoD closed its UFO desk in 2009 after it was decided it served no defense purpose and that it took staff away from more valuable defense-related activities.
• The study replaced one mystery with another after its author determined that the UFO sightings were a result of unexplained plasma formations in the atmosphere.
It was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the suspected flying saucer crash at Roswell in New Mexico, and the heyday of the paranormal mystery series The X-Files. The English-speaking world was gripped by UFO-mania. But what seemed a delightful mystery to some was becoming a headache for the spooks at Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff.
Analysts at the DI55 office, the department lumbered with the UFO brief, were being peppered with requests from ufologists – and even parliamentary questions – for information on flying saucers, taking up time they felt would be better spent on terrestrial defence matters. So top brass decided to undertake a definitive study of the unit’s collection of reported UFO sightings to establish, once and for all, whether there was anything in them.
Previously unseen documents reveal that, far from being an objective study into the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors, the report was intended from the start to absolve the Ministry of Defence of responsibility for investigating sightings. Messages between officials at DIS and the contractor carrying out the research show that it focused from the outset only “on the possible threat to the UK [from hostile foreign powers] and technology acquisition” and not “X-Files activities such as alien abductions”. A separate memo says: “It shouldn’t be driven by a UFO thesis.”
The study replaced one mystery with another after its author determined that the UFO sightings were a result of unexplained plasma formations in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, DI55 announced afterwards that it would no longer accept UFO reports.
The documents show the deliberations behind the research, which began in 1997 and collated the previous decade’s worth of UFO sightings – known in the technical jargon of DIS as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) – in a database. The identities of all the officers involved in the conversation, which lasted several years, are redacted. Many other excerpts are blacked out, with exemptions cited including risks to national security and international relations.
“The increasing media attention given to this subject in recent months has almost doubled the work of the desk officers involved to the detriment of other tasks more directly relevant to the work of the branch,” one memo says, adding that it was now time to “reappraise the situation” and clarify DIS’s role in the issue.
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