UFO Workers Need To Speak
Ufology is full of whistleblowers. There’s the one who worked on the alien spaceship at Area 51, the one who was involved in a gunfight with extraterrestrials, the one who rescued an alien and was able to send him back home, and the one who went on an exchange trip to an alien planet. Then there’s the one who did an interview in a hotel room, and the one who did an interview in a darkened room, so as to disguise his identity. Oh, and let’s not forget the one who was assassinated by the government. Ufology is full of whistleblowers, right? Wrong! Ufology is not full of whistleblowers. Ufology is full of bogus whistleblowers.
At first sight, this may strike some people as being overly-harsh. You might be thinking about leaked government UFO documents that you’ve read, and recalling UFO documentaries or conferences where some of these whistleblowers have appeared. Surely, you might say, a fair proportion of what we know about UFOs comes from various courageous whistleblowers who have taken the decision to violate their secrecy oaths, because they believe they have a higher moral responsibility to the truth. The people have a right to know, as the saying goes. It all sounds great in theory, but the truth is somewhat different, and can be easily demonstrated with a bit of critical thinking.
Ask yourself what happens – outside the field of ufology – to people who leak highly classified information. I’m not talking about traitors who pass classified information to foreign powers, but people who have made such information public, citing the public’s right to know. Some well-known names spring to mind: Former CIA employee Edward Snowden and US Army intelligence specialist Chelsea Manning are two such people. In the UK, ex-MI5 officer David Shayler and former MI6 employee Richard Tomlinson are good examples. There are others. Now, ask yourself, what did the government do in all of those cases? The answer is this: they went after the individuals concerned, proactively, aggressively and relentlessly, using the full resources available to them. And no, I don’t mean they tried to kill them, I mean that where the state was able to do so, the full weight of the criminal justice system (police, prosecutors, courts, etc.) was brought to bear upon them. In real life, that’s what happens to people who leak classified information. So why doesn’t this happen with ufology’s whistleblowers? Why would the government leave such people alone? The answer is obvious. Ufology’s so-called whistleblowers aren’t leaking classified information at all. They’re making up stories. If any of these people were genuinely leaking classified information they’d be arrested in an instant. I know this not because of my time on the MoD’s UFO project, but because of a later job that I did in the Directorate of Defence Security, where I had some peripheral involvement with Official Secrets Act cases. That, along with my 21 years in a government department where top secret information is commonplace, taught me a lot about the reality of how allegations of security breaches are handled.
Incidentally, at risk of being labelled a government lackey, I don’t approve of whistleblowers anyway, even genuine ones. That’s because such people leak information after deciding that they know better than anyone else whether or not something should be released. However, what I’ve learned from my own work on classified information is that the information owner – usually the subject matter expert – is best-placed to make judgements on whether or not something can safely be declassified. So it’s a mistake for someone else to see such documents pass across their desk and, without knowing the full story, decide for themselves that something should be public knowledge. It’s arrogant and ignorant. That’s not to say that there’s no place for responsible whistleblowing in a free, open and democratic society, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Returning to UFOs and whistleblowing, what of the verifiable government and military personnel who have spoken out about UFOs? People like Edward Ruppelt, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, myself, Dr. John Alexander, Charles Halt, John Burroughs, Jim Penniston and others? The key point is, they’re not whistleblowers. Such people fall into two categories. Witnesses such as Halt, Burroughs and Penniston are simply describing experiences they’ve had. Unless someone specifically instructed them not to talk about things, they aren’t divulging classified information by describing what they saw and experienced. When I collaborated with Burroughs and Penniston on the bestselling book “Encounter in Rendlesham Forest”, the manuscript was pre-submitted to both the UK MoD and the US DOD, because we treat our respective secrecy oaths seriously. When Charles Halt is asked about nuclear issues, he declines to comment, neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons in any particular location at any particular time (I answer such questions in exactly the same way). As for those of us who aren’t witnesses, but who have genuinely investigated UFOs for the government, we take our secrecy oaths seriously too, and would never release classified information without proper authorisation. We’re not whistleblowers either. When people see me on TV talking about the MoD’s UFO files, I’m discussing material that’s already been declassified and released by the British Government.
This brings me to the final irony concerning people in ufology who claim to have inside knowledge about secret government UFO projects. You know the ones I mean. The ones making fantastic but totally unverifiable claims about vast underground bases, secret exchange deals between Presidents and extraterrestrials, moon bases, Mars colonies, and much more besides. Such people are absolutely certain about UFOs, extraterrestrials, etc. They’ll give you chapter and verse on anything from UFO propulsion systems and alien agendas, through to the geography of various alien planets. This mirrors the way that many ufologists at the extreme ends of the belief spectrum (i.e. the most devout true believers and die-hard debunkers) are absolutely certain about the true nature of the UFO phenomenon. And here’s the ultimate irony: those of us who have genuinely researched and investigated the UFO mystery for the government are much less sure about things!
Nick Pope is a former employee of the UK Ministry of Defence. From 1991 to 1994 he ran the British Government’s UFO project and he is now the public face of the ongoing project to declassify and release the entire archive of these UFO files. Nick Pope held a number of other fascinating posts in the course of his 21-year government career, which culminated in his serving as an acting Deputy Director in the Directorate of Defence Security. He now works as a broadcaster and journalist, covering subjects including space, fringe science, defence and intelligence.
Once in a while, an extraterrestrial Zeta being, speaking through the medium Paul Hamden, has a free-wheeling discussion with someone in the room about a certain topic. In this sitting, the circle leader wished to understand how the Zeta beings function without using a rigid timeline like humans do. For the Zetas, “time is a reference point, not a continuum”, and “the process of existence is each task is completed and then the next task is moved on to.” Events following one another are expected intuitively rather than by measurements on a timeline. The circle leader, identified as “Human” in the following transcript, wished to understand what life is like without the concept of a clock.
Human: I want to have a discussion with you about the concept of time. As humans, we measure things by time. Things happened in the past, things are happening in this moment. You don’t use the concept of time.
Zeta: Let me explain. The human entity lives within the physical construct on the linear process of time, which means that for you, your perception is that you exist on a line of time. But imagine as in this sphere in front of you [the Zeta refers to a working plasma ball in the room], each one of the threads were consciousness, that rather than the consciousness being one beam of light but was many. Then of course you can move into any area of consciousness because you can move the threads of consciousness. What denotes the point of origin for the threads, if you see the device, is the central point of the device. If the being is the central point of the device, then of course all of the threads would emanate from the being’s consciousness.
Your time, your concept of existence is based on your potential to understand that you are, at this point, living in a physical existence.
Human: So time really only comes with the physical?
Zeta: Of course. Consciousness does not envelop the understanding of the time principle. Time is used as a mechanism for humans and other races to determine functionality. What function will they provide now? What will they do tomorrow?
Human: So in saying that, your race is also a physical race.
Human: But you don’t use time.
Human: So how do you function?
Zeta: Simply, there is no requirement for time if you know that your time is limitless. Why would you watch your time if time was irrelevant to you? If you lived forever, would you care? If you existed forever as a race, knowing that if any of you terminated that you were to come back to the same place, you would understand that the facilities that are offered to you on this planet, the resources, would be cherished by the race, knowing that you are being nurtured to some extent by the planet and its resources. But because there is a finite amount of time that you believe that you exist, your capacity as a race to use resources is great.
Human: If you don’t use time, how do you have a reference back to something that happened when you were younger?
Zeta: Let me use your mind to show you the answer. Imagine if your life existed as a dream, that all of your experiences existed in the dream state, that there was no capacity for you to wake up, that you had no understanding of your physical body, much like when you are asleep. You move from one visualization to the other. There is no time construct within the dream state. That is the closest estimation that we can give you in regards to how we perceive our memories.
Human: We perceive our memories like a dream state as well.
Zeta: Ah, but you measure the memory according to your length of years. You mistake that, when you were young, this potential took place, this process took place.
Human: Yes, do you not do that?
Human: Even though those things took place.
Zeta: Ah, because they still exist.
Human: So you are able to go back to that time?
Zeta: Yes, you can go back to that time if you understand that you are not limited to the experiences and consciousness you have had because of your physical body.
Human: I’m able to go back to a time in my mind, but I know that it actually happened along the timeline at a particular point. You are saying that doesn’t happen with you. But that would have happened at a particular point in your life as well.
Zeta: Yes, but let me try to clarify what is taking place. Let me bring an example forward. We have existed in other forms, so a Zeta consciousness will exist in another human container along the linear time process. But that potential exists within the physical environment. If we wish, we could also use time as a method of measuring our existence. But when you do not have your physical body, all of your experiences here will be part of your existence away from the physical reality.
Human: Yes, I understand that, as memories and experiences are held in consciousness.
Zeta: Your questioning may indicate that you seek to believe that you can move back through your consciousness and change a physical outcome.
Human: Oh no, I was not going there. I actually don’t believe that could happen.
Zeta: The spirit people do not have the concept of time. They have no need for the concept of time. Now, if you were able to separate from your body consciously, your consciousness was to disassociate itself from the physical container, it would recognize within itself it does not have the potential to need time.
Human: Are you talking about human astral travelling?
Human: So when you astral travel you don’t need time?
Human: When you astral travel, can that take you back to a different point of your life?
Zeta: Let me use this sphere, I believe it will be used many times. The sphere in the room, you are the central entity. The threads are your experiences. You move in consciousness, not in a linear fashion, but in a spherical fashion. Understand that you do not exist on a line.
Human: Yes, and all of these are different experiences.
Zeta: Yes, and so the consciousness which is you has the potential to move to any of the threads any “time” it wishes.
Human: So that’s just the consciousness that can do that?
Zeta: That consciousness is all that is. The physical which you hold in great importance is irrelevant. When the physical terminates, you will be the sphere. You already are, but cannot see because of the physical container that you are in and around.
Human: Even though you yourself are in a physical container…
Zeta: But we are often in separation from the container.
Human: Ok, because that’s part of your normal everyday life, isn’t it?
Zeta: Yes, and that is why the facility of time is irrelevant. The physical body for yourself is a mechanism that you step into in the morning to complete physical functions. At night you step out of your physical body, you do not use the time concept at all while you are asleep.
Human: As a Zeta, you would have functions that you would be required to perform, teaching for example.
Zeta: Yes, of course.
Human: That’s not regulated by time?
Zeta: No, it is regulated by consciousness. Let me give you an indication, to the best of our ability. There is to be a class, we require the students to attend at the appropriate moment. There is many levels of information. One of the levels of information is indicated to the younger entities. Example, do you really understand what your two children are doing now at school? At this point you do not know what they are doing. That is because the level of information is aimed at the potential that the two exist within their current environment. Of course you trust that they are safe.
So there are layers of information. The layers of information are aimed at providing the information required to younger people that are required to go to the school process. You do not access that level. It is irrelevant in some respects to you, but the children know that they must move in that layer to be within the education process.
So, our children are the same. There is a level that they move in. Their understanding is one based in consciousness. They understand that… difficult to say without using the word time… there is a process that they will be alerted they are required to attend a lesson. The strength of the connection will determine how close the lesson is for them to attend. The amplitude of the lesson indicates when the lesson will be held.
Human: What denotes when that is going to happen?
Zeta: The teacher will determine when that will take place.
Human: So when the teacher is ready, it just happens.
Zeta: Yes, of course, and then the lesson may go for a length of time that is required.
Human: Another reason you don’t need time is because of the telepathy between your race, which is the communication.
Zeta: You could say that the amplitude of the telepathy removes the need for time. So quickly to indicate this, the medium must go to an appointment today, yes? While the appointment is many of your hours away, there is no imperative for the medium to go to the appointment. As the appointment becomes closer, the imperative builds according to your time function, that he has limited time to be at the appointment.
Change that to a telepathic process. The information is given that you must be somewhere. It is given as a point of reference. It is weak. As the telepathic signal builds its amplitude, when it reaches a certain level, then the students know that they must be at that place. This is how the spirit people operate as well as they do not use time. The potential builds around the situation or medium, and the spirit people are summoned by the amplitude of the experience.
Human: The starting point is then the teacher. I asked how does the teacher know what time to do this, and you said whenever they are ready. But there are other factors…
Zeta: Yes, of course, so I have other functions to perform, as do others in the race. That is why I said there are levels of telepathic communication. Of course the lower levels of communication do not take precedence over the higher levels of communication. That is how it is determined what is of importance. Your time mechanism prioritizes, gives you priority, as to what is important to do.
Human: So as a teacher, you prioritize, things happen. What if there are so many priorities and the teaching just gets put off and put off, even though you know you have to perform a certain amount of functions?
Zeta: Ah no, because one of the indicating factors, is that for consciousness to operate synchronously, is that all things are in harmony.
Your fingers are able to operate on your hand at different aspects. They are able to move in directions they wish to as though they are individual entities. But of course, they are connected to the base of the hand. Why does not the hand do whatever it wishes, as it has the potential to do that? Because it is part of a whole system. The whole system works together to perform various functions. The body is able to perform millions of functions within one second of your timeframe. Neurons are firing to support thought, the electrical systems pumping the blood around your body, the various organs performing different functions to keep the physical body at a cellular level in the re-creation process. Does the body understand time? The body has within it the mechanism to have within its own capacity, its understanding of what is a time, but it has cellular time.
Human: My question to you is, my physical container has a certain amount of priorities throughout the day that have to happen. If I have no concept of time … for example, yourself … you are teaching, and if the teaching is supposed to take this amount of time, but took twice that amount of time, was longer than it was supposed to, that means that something else in the day either has to be adjusted or not happen in order for all those functions to …
Zeta: You see, you are saying in a day, but if the day does not exist, then you do not have the confines of working within the construct of a day. If you did not sleep and your lighting never changed, there would never be a day.
Human: But you do sleep.
Zeta: Yes, we have physiological processes which require that, within the estimated timeframe of humans, seven of your days, that we are required to move to stasis.
Human: And your body is an indicator of when that has to happen?
Zeta: Yes, it is based on cellular information and, of course, nutritional processes.
Human: If, for example, you were teaching and you just got carried away and it took longer and longer and longer. Something else has to change.
Zeta: If there is something that holds importance, education will continue to the end. The other importance, as you say, will be an indication of another that would be communicated to the other telepathically, “I am busy at the moment.”
If I choose to stop what I am doing and remain in a position where I can speak through the medium to you, that is my choice. I have freewill. Do you talk to your family while you perform other functions?
Zeta: That is the same.
Human: You don’t do any leisure activity, but do you have any down time, or is that the time when your consciousness leaves your body about every seven days? And if everything else in your life is not measured by time, is the down time adjusted?
Zeta: You suppose that there is a requirement to be away from one’s self – down time. Your animals, you have a cat and a dog, do they have down time?
Human: They play.
Zeta: No, they are actions. Do they have the capacity as humans do, to seek separation from their duties? No, because your animals do not understand time. They also do not understand that they are finite creatures. They have no understanding of their length of existence. They sleep when they wish, they do no function that creates, as the whole planet is the same. The humans are the only ones on the planet that use the time function.
Human: So the others only exist and their main purpose is to feed themselves, and have emotions, and to sleep, and exist?
Zeta: They do not know they exist. Your birds and animals, their actions do not have a mirroring effect. They do not see themselves, as a human would, as being temporary. They live in the process of the now.
Human: We probably are not aware and do not have the capacity to understand whether they know they exist.
Zeta: No, you do not know that.
Human: You’re saying they don’t have that awareness.
Zeta: They do not have the awareness to understand that they have a temporary lifespan of a physical nature such as yourself.
Human: Is that because we have evolved?
Zeta: You have a different evolutionary process, a different genetic structure, and a different level of consciousness.
Human: When an animal is dying, surely they would be aware of what was happening. Are you saying that they don’t?
Zeta: They do not.
Human: So they would only have the awareness of the pain.
Zeta: Yes, of course. They do not understand, or have the capacity to understand, that they are transitioning. Now, the medium has seen your past pet. That is because the pet does not know that it has transitioned, it did not see…
Human: But that’s the spirit…
Zeta: No, the spirit people know they have passed over, but the animals see no difference between being in the physical and being out of the physical.
A long conversation, we will now terminate.
[For more about the Zetas speaking through Paul Hamden, see Communications with the Zeta race]
With the publication of “Encounter in Rendlesham Forest”, the book that John Burroughs, Jim Penniston and I co-wrote about the Rendlesham Forest incident, Britain’s most famous and compelling UFO encounter is once again receiving major mainstream media coverage. “Encounter in Rendlesham Forest” is being put out by Thomas Dunne Books, part of the giant Macmillan publishing house – one of the so-called “Big Six” in the literary world. But in this article, I’m not going to talk about the UFO event that has been dubbed “Britain’s Roswell”, or about the book. To give people an entirely new perspective, I want to come at the subject from an entirely different angle, and detail what happened on some of the various occasions that I’ve filmed TV interviews in Rendlesham Forest. This will be a comparatively lighthearted, anecdote-based article, but relating these stories will hopefully illustrate a few more serious points about the incident, about ufology, and about media coverage of the UFO phenomenon more generally.
I’m not going to attempt to give a definitive, chronological list of shows. Nor am I going to list times when I’ve discussed the Rendlesham Forest incident on news bulletins (e.g. in relation to my involvement with the declassification and release of the MoD’s UFO files), chat shows or documentaries where I’m in a TV studio. Frankly, there are far too many (well over a hundred, I suspect) to list, and many of the interviews cover broadly similar ground. So I’m going to focus on the occasions where I’ve actually filmed on location in Rendlesham Forest. Even here, it won’t be a definitive list. Again, I’ve probably filmed in the forest well over a dozen times, and inevitably, there’s been some overlap. Rather, I want to pick out a few anecdotes, so as to give people a flavour of the sort of things that go on in the media world, which won’t necessarily be readily apparent from watching the finished TV shows. Hopefully, readers will appreciate this behind-the-scenes look at how the media works, even if it comes across as a somewhat disjointed series of stories.
For outside broadcasts, I’ve been used in a number of different roles. Given that I now work as a journalist and broadcaster myself, I’ve sometimes acted as the presenter, sometimes as the presenter’s friend (a role where you facilitate the discussion by talking with the main host in a particularly chatty way, as if you’re old friends), sometimes as the lead contributor, other times as a standard contributor, and sometimes as the reporter, doing the straight-to-camera live broadcast:
“This is Nick Pope, live from Rendlesham Forest, where back in December 1980 …”
Bear in mind that if you’ve seen me do that sort of thing on a breakfast TV show, at 7am, the chances are that I was up at 3am or 4am (even if I was staying in a local hotel), rehearsing the piece with the film crew, with all of us being pretty tired, cold and miserable. The TV industry isn’t always quite as glamourous as some people may think!
On the theme of TV not being the glamorous industry it’s sometimes portrayed as, I should probably start off by mentioning three factors that have a bearing on just about all outside broadcasts: the weather, noise, and passers by.
Few places in the UK are colder than the East coast of England in the wintertime, and if you look at some videos of me at Bentwaters, e.g. the episode of “UFO Hunters” that was devoted to the case, you’ll see that warm weather clothing is essential. One seldom films in the rain at all, as the lens gets wet and the light tends to vary too much if there are showers, but if the only issue is the cold, you just have to get on with it. The secret is to find a really stylish but warm coat – you don’t want to wear too many layers, as you end up looking overly bulky (accepted wisdom is that people already look a little chunkier on TV than in real life, so you don’t want to compound the effect). It sometimes helps to wear a hat, gloves and scarf in between takes, and then remove items such as the scarf just before the cameras roll – though you have to keep an eye on continuity and ensure, for example, that you don’t end up wearing an item of clothing in one shot, but not in the next. Incidentally, on the subject of clothing, there are often strict rules about what you can and can’t wear on TV, e.g. no branded clothes and no ‘busy’ patterns such as stripes that are too close together. I always check with the researcher/production assistant well beforehand, but there have been some surreal moments, e.g. the time when a production company decided they wanted me to go with my ‘Man from the Ministry’ image and wear a suit. That sort of thing is fine if I’m on Newsnight, but it looked decidedly odd walking around a forest dressed for the office!
Noise is a problem for most outdoor shoots (and some indoor ones too!) and while people might think a rural area like Rendlesham Forest is better than a city, background noise in the country (e.g. from a passing aircraft) actually stands out far more than background noise in the city, and can often lead to halts in filming.
The same is true with passers by walking into the shot. On several occasions I’ve had to walk slowly and purposefully away from the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge, towards the camera (a dramatic shot that directors love), only to hear “cut”, look behind me, and find that a dog-walker has wandered into the shot at the last moment. Getting a simple piece of B-roll footage (supplementary shots filmed to establish a character and/or location, and slotted between material shot in the main interview) can often take a long time to film. Children can present particular challenges, and the fact that there’s a children’s area by the car park/camp site at the beginning of the “UFO Trail” in Rendlesham Forest leads to the inevitable “Hey mister, are you making a film?”, or other such questions. I always respond in a polite and friendly way, of course, and unlike some TV folk I could mention, I never refuse an autograph request.
I mentioned dog walkers, but Rendlesham Forest has another wildlife challenge that one doesn’t often encounter on a shoot. I was doing a “walk and talk” along one of the main forest tracks with a film crew one summer’s day, when suddenly there was a loud yell. I looked around and saw one of the crew frozen on the spot, looking fearfully ahead. He’d nearly trodden on a snake that had been basking in the summer sunshine. It was an adder, and could have given him a nasty bite. This is a good example of why TV companies must apply to the Forestry Commission for permission to film, as they’ll need a licence, and issue of the licence is dependent upon the company having adequate insurance in place.
Occasionally, there can be some funny moments on a shoot. On one occasion, I went out to shoot a small item and there was only one other person present, so he was director, camera operator, lighting engineer and sound engineer, all in one. He then got a call from the studio, asking us to film a recreation of the UFO sighting, to accompany my interview. We looked at each other in amazement, wondering how we were going to accomplish this. In the end, as the light was fading, we found a small bush, and the inventive TV company man detached the light and fixed it onto the end of a rod. We both then got down on our knees, one of us on each side of the bush. I moved the light slowly from side to side, while he operated the camera and filmed it. I never saw the finished piece (I’m not one of those people who watches my own TV shows!) but I hope it didn’t look too amateurish!
On another occasion, I was with a larger crew and time margins were running out on us, despite our still being some distance from the site where the UFO was seen to land, on the first night. The director turned to me:
“Is it much further?”
“A fair way, yes”, I replied.
A crafty look appeared on the director’s face.
“One bit of forest looks pretty much the same as another, doesn’t it?”
I caught his drift.
“Absolutely”, I replied, nodding enthusiastically. “It’s all very similar”.
A few moments later we’d set up and I was speaking to camera:
“Here, somewhere very close to this spot – we can’t be certain of the exact location after all these years …”
Joking aside, there are strict broadcasting rules about faking things, so we had to be very careful we weren’t falsely implying that we were at the exact spot. Plus, as people who know the case well are aware, large parts of the forest were felled in the Great Storm of 1987, and the replanting changed the layout of the forest to such an extent that it’s not really possible, nowadays, to be sure where John Burroughs and Jim Penniston encountered the landed UFO.
While I’ve done hundreds of TV interviews over the years, it’s still easy to occasionally get things wrong. One time I was asked to walk into a clearing and tell the story of what happened to John Burroughs and Jim Penniston when they first saw the landed UFO. I was asked to put myself in their shoes and tell the story in real-time. They wanted a standard commentator interview, but I inadvertently slipped into presenter mode, which is louder and more extrovert. I walked into the clearing, turned around with a shocked expression on my face and launched into a gravel-voiced and dramatic retelling of the story, along the lines of the cliché about the voiceover specialists who begin movie trailers with the phrase “In a world ….” – anyway, that’s when I heard the director’s voice, loud and clear:
“Cut. Lose the theatrics!”
One amusing incident happened near the forest, not in it. The director concerned wasn’t really sure what to make of the lighthouse theory and thought it was a bit weak. But it’s been featured in one or two previous documentaries, so he thought he’d better get some footage of it. So we drove, and drove, and drove, until finally we arrived at the coast, a few miles away, at Orford. And there was the lighthouse – still looking tiny in the distance.
“Oh for **** sake”, the director muttered, under his breath, realising instantly what any ufologists who have actually been to the area have long-since figured out, i.e. that the chances of numerous USAF witnesses mistaking a distant lighthouse for a landed, metallic UFO are about zero. He decided it would be intellectually dishonest to even imply that the lighthouse could have been involved, so we broke for lunch and discussed some of the stronger skeptical theories that we might feature instead. Even on occasions where I’ve filmed with crews at night, when we’ve found one of the few areas of the forest from which the lighthouse is even visible, it appears as a tiny pinprick of light on the distant horizon. Confusion over the lighthouse badly caught out one ufologist (another amateur astronomer trying to position himself as an expert on UFOs) in a recent UFO series that included coverage of the Rendlesham Forest incident. He launched into a monologue about how the blinking of the lighthouse might coincide with points on Colonel Halt’s tape when the UFO came into view. But it was clear that the ufologist concerned had never actually been to the forest himself. As the TV show wrapped up the story it was revealed that the lighthouse wasn’t even visible from most of the locations from which the UFO was seen, resulting in a situation where the skeptical ufologist probably came across to viewers as being either naïve or dishonest – or both. This is one of the big lessons of TV. You might want to be on television, but if you try to bluff it and talk about something you don’t really know about, you will be found out!
One of the most memorable shoots I’ve done was associated with an event put on to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Rendlesham Forest incident. In parallel with the event, at which I was one of the speakers, I’d been commissioned by The Sun to write a feature article on the case and the fact that 30 years had elapsed. It was a complicated dynamic, not least because I had to ask John Burroughs and Jim Penniston to break away from what they were doing, so they could meet the photographer from The Sun, and pose for photos in the forest. But all the time, John and Jim – who were still tired and jetlagged after their flight over from America – were preparing for the talk, as well as filming with Prometheus Pictures, the production company that makes “Ancient Aliens”. That was before John, Jim and I decided to collaborate on a book, so it was slightly more tricky to get them away from the film crew than it might otherwise have been. The Sun’s photographer got his photos in the end, and my feature article ran a day or two later, but the expression on John and Jim’s faces in the photos makes it pretty clear that they wanted to be somewhere else – preferably somewhere warm. On more than one occasion I’ve joked with film crews where the running gag has been how we wish this famous UFO encounter had taken place somewhere warmer!
I hope this article has given readers an interesting and slightly different perspective on not just the Rendlesham Forest incident, but the media as whole. As someone who now works in the film and TV industry, I find there’s a lot of misunderstanding on the part of the UFO community when it comes to the media, and I’m aware that some ufologists believe the media is part of a cover-up, or at least complicit with one, through a policy of ridicule. That’s not the case, but that’s a whole new topic, which I’ll save for a future article. So for now, I’ll sign off with the three words that everyone being filmed wants to hear the director say:
“That’s a wrap!”
In June 2013 the UK Government released what was (at the time) billed as the final batch of Ministry of Defence (MoD) UFO files – part of a wider project to declassify and release the entire archive of these files and transfer them to the National Archives. Nick Pope used to work on these files – and indeed wrote some of them! As the public face of the MoD’s UFO project and of the UFO file release project, Nick Pope will give an insider’s account of what is arguably the biggest UFO-related story in recent years. He tells the story of the release of these real-life X-Files by means of a Q&A in which he responds to the questions on this story that he’s been asked most frequently, by the media, by the UFO community and by the public.
How much material has been released?
209 files and around 52,000 pages of documentation have been released so far. This is in addition to a number of UFO files that had already been released under the old Public Record Act, the best-known provision of which was the so-called 30-year rule, which said files could be considered for public release 30 years after the date of the most recent document contained in them.
Why were these files released?
There were three reasons. Firstly, the French Government released their UFO files in 2007, setting a precedent that would have been difficult for us to ignore. Secondly, the MoD hoped this would generate good PR about the Department’s commitment to open government and freedom of information, while helping to dispel rumours of a cover-up. But the third and biggest reason was that the MoD devised this as a means of dealing with the huge number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests the Department was getting on UFOs. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, there were many months when the MoD got more FOIA requests on UFOs than on any other subject. The workload involved in responding to them on a case-by-case basis was huge. But once the decision had been made (in 2007) to release the files proactively, all future FOIA requests could be dealt with simply by saying that the Department was in the process of releasing the material. In this way, new FOIA requests would not require a substantive answer, because “information intended for future release” is one of a number of FOIA exemptions. Similarly, once all the files have been released, pretty much all FOIA requests on UFOs can be dealt with by a statement saying that all information held on the subject is available at the National Archives.
How exactly did the release take place?
Firstly, all of the material had to be scanned-in, so it was available electronically. The MoD then had to redact the files. That is, they went through them word by word and blacked out anything still classified, or anything covered by any of the other exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. Then, the unclassified/declassified files were transferred to the National Archives. This was a slow and time-consuming process, so the files were released in separate batches. There have been ten batches released to date. The first batch was made public in May 2008, with successive batches following every 6 months or so. The most recent batch (the tenth) was released in June 2013. The remaining 18 files are likely to be made public later in 2015, or in 2016, either in a single, final batch, or possibly in two batches.
I’ve seen one or two ufologists claim they were responsible for the file release. Is there any truth in such boasts?
No. Such claims are either dishonest or incredibly naïve. Hundreds of people made UFO-related FOIA requests. Writing in 2006, on the MoD’s website, the Under Secretary of State for Defence, Tom Watson said this: “There is a real and enduring interest in Unidentified Flying Objects. By far the most popular topic of FOI requests has been UFOs, followed by recruitment enquiries, enquiries from staff, and historical events such as World War Two, the Falklands conflict and the Balkans. Recent freedom of information releases on UFOs have attracted media interest from as far away as Japan”. This was the main factor that led the MoD to decide to transfer its UFO files to the National Archives, so it’s pretty insulting to the hundreds of other members of the public, journalists and ufologists who lobbied MoD on this issue and made FOI requests, if any individual ufologists try to take credit for this.
So what’s actually in the files that have been released?
Let me start by saying what’s not in the files: there’s no ‘spaceship in a hangar’ smoking gun that’s going to prove we’re being visited by extraterrestrials. If we have such a thing, I’m afraid they didn’t tell me! Now, as to what’s in the files, it’s a mixture. Firstly, there are policy documents, setting out how those of us charged with researching and investigating UFOs viewed the phenomenon. These papers set out the MoD’s strategy on the issue, so to speak. Secondly, there are the sighting reports themselves. This category is a mixed bag, because obviously the vast majority of sightings turn out to be misidentifications, so people have to wade through a lot of bland one or two-page reports of what are obviously aircraft lights or Chinese lanterns, before they get to the better material – it’s a classic example of the old saying that “the best place to hide a book is in a library”! To add to the frustration, the MoD’s investigations didn’t often generate the paper trail researchers would like. Thirdly, there are the public correspondence files. Fourthly, there are files showing how the subject was handled when raised in Parliament.
If there’s no ‘smoking gun’, what do the files show, taken collectively?
What’s readily apparent from a detailed study of all this is that the MoD was telling Parliament, the media and the public that the UFO phenomenon was of “no defence significance” and of limited interest to the MoD. However, the files show that behind the scenes, the subject was obviously taken more seriously than we let on, with many of the cases self-evidently being of great defence significance – e.g. when UFOs were seen in close proximity to military bases, were encountered by RAF pilots, or were tracked on radar by fighter controllers or air traffic controllers. Those of us working on this subject often found ourselves having to employ an Orwellian ‘doublethink’ in our handling of this issue.
Do the files cover other mysteries too?
The UFO files inevitably include some alien contact/alien abduction accounts, as well as some material on other mysteries that some people believe are linked to the UFO phenomenon, such as crop circles and animal mutilations. And occasionally – mainly because there was nowhere else in government to send such material – the UFO project received reports of ghosts seen at military bases, and approaches from psychics, offering to undertake ‘remote viewing’ for the MoD. The last batch of files that was released even contained some papers relating to interest in anti-gravity and gravity modification research expressed by MoD scientists. I wasn’t joking when I referred to MoD’s UFO project as being “the real-life X-Files”.
What has your personal involvement been with the release of these files?
Having worked on MoD’s UFO project, staff at the National Archives asked me to select some cases that could be highlighted to the media in the run-up to the release. The media could run whatever stories they liked, of course, but inevitably, most times they would pick the ones I suggested. I was asked to ensure that there were cases from all parts of the UK, so as to appeal to the regional press, and to ensure that the material selected catered to a wide cross-section of viewpoints, i.e. picking out some cases that were easy to explain, some that were genuine mysteries, some disturbing cases (e.g. near-misses between UFOs and commercial aircraft) and some of the more amusing cases in the files, such as the man who claimed that his car, tent and pet dog had been abducted by aliens. I was also asked to record a promotional video for the National Archives, drawing attention to the release and talking about it in positive terms. But my biggest involvement in all this was to do literally hundreds of TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews on the story (and write some of the features myself) and thus become the public face of the file release project. It was certainly a success and I appeared on a huge range of news programmes, chat shows and radio programmes, including Newsnight, BBC News, ITV News, CNN News, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, Sky News, This Morning, GMTV and Radio 4’s Today programme, to name but a few.
What was it like for you on the actual days the files were released?
It was manic! As regard to the practicalities of a “file release day”, two days beforehand, an embargoed press release would be sent out to the world’s media. On a couple of occasions the embargo was broken, but we managed (just) to get the genie back into the bottle. On many occasions, I would be asked to write a feature article for a newspaper. I wrote several for The Sun, but also wrote for The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Mirror. Once the embargoed press release was sent out, I would receive requests for short, punchy comments that could be used in newspaper articles (that often ran in parallel to the features I wrote myself), as well as numerous TV and radio interview bids. I’d try to accept as many of these bids as possible, but inevitably, if I was at the BBC studios in White City for a live TV interview at 7am, I wasn’t going to be able to get to the Sky News studios in West London by 7.15am. I partly got around this by trying to stagger things, so that I would do, say, a BBC news interview at 6am, an ITV chat show at 7am and a Sky News feature at 8am. But inevitably, things got hectic and stressful, especially as the BBC, ITV and Sky studios are in different parts of London, and the traffic can be a nightmare. I’m pleased to say that I never once missed an interview, but there were certainly some very close calls. Things got even more hectic as new requests came in all the time, and there were some surreal moments, such as doing a down-the-line interview with a BBC radio station on my mobile phone, while sitting in the back of a courtesy car taking me to my next TV interview. Another way we got around these difficulties was by pre-recording things where possible. Before most file release days I would record a string of ‘to camera’ remarks about the files at the studios of ITN Productions, in Holborn. They would then produce 2 or 3 different news packages, which any media outlets could use. This was particularly useful for US networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox. If people Google “Nick Pope” & “ITN” they can watch a few of these. It became a tradition that after my final interview, usually in the late evening, the courtesy car would drop me off at my local sports bar for a well-earned cold beer.
What was your favourite interview or news feature?
I have several. Newsround and Blue Peter were great fun to do, as was The Alan Titchmarsh Show. One of the most unusual stunts involved my writing a science fiction story based on the files, for the BBC World Service show The World Today. I then had to judge the entries from listeners, who were invited to email in suggestions for continuing the story. I also enjoyed giving a talk about the file release at the Royal Albert Hall, in October 2010.
What’s your favourite story from the files?
It was good to see more papers released on ‘classic cases’ such as the Rendlesham Forest incident and the Cosford incident, though it was unfortunate that some Defence Intelligence Staff files containing documents on Rendlesham had been destroyed. There were also some interesting (and highly disturbing) reports of near-misses between UFOs and commercial aircraft. However, if readers will forgive me for highlighting a somewhat light-hearted story, I rather like the case of the man who placed a 100-1 bet that alien life would be officially confirmed by the Millennium, and then tried to enlist the help of the MoD to support his case against the bookmakers. Sadly, the man lost his bet.
How did you feel, seeing all this material again after so many years?
The whole file release project has been something of a ‘blast from the past’ for me, seeing material that I worked on (or wrote), when I never thought I’d see it again. Bear in mind that when I was working on MoD’s UFO project, the UK didn’t have a Freedom of Information Act, so the assumption was that none of the files I was working on would even be considered for public release until 30 years after a file was closed. So, there were mixed emotions really. I had some feelings of nostalgia, obviously, but also some feelings of pride at a job well done, and some regrets for the inevitable mistakes and missed opportunities.
Have all the MoD’s UFO files been released?
No. Firstly, many UFO files from the 1950s and 1960s were destroyed many years ago, before any decisions were made to retain files on this subject, or release them. Secondly, there are a number of exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, which can exclude from public release material covering such areas as “defence”, “national security” and “intelligence”. Many exemptions in the UFO files are little more than deleting the names and addresses of witnesses, to protect their privacy, but there are cases where other exemptions have been used. The final report of an intelligence study into UFOs, codenamed Project Condign, is a good example of a publicly-released UFO document where a small (but significant) amount of information has been blacked out. Thirdly, and by the MoD’s own admission, Defence Intelligence Staff files on the Rendlesham Forest incident were “inadvertently destroyed”. Similarly, the MoD stated that a ship’s log for HMS Manchester, that might have contained details of a UFO seen during a NATO exercise, was lost after having been blown overboard by a “freak gust of wind”. Gun camera footage of UFOs taken by RAF jets in the Sixties has apparently “not survived”, while a spectacular UFO photograph that had been on my office wall for many years was “mislaid” – along with the negatives. I make no accusations of foul play here, but I can certainly understand the anger and frustration that has been expressed by some people in the UFO community and the conspiracy theory community. And finally, as I’ve mentioned earlier, despite the MoD and the National Archives stating to the media that the last of the files had been released in June 2013, there are, in fact, a further 18 files that have yet to be passed from the MoD to the National Archives.
What has been the reaction of the UFO community to the release of these files?
To be honest, the reaction was a little disappointing. True believers tended to dismiss the release as disinformation: “All the good stuff’s been held back” was a frequent comment. The revelations concerning material that has been destroyed or lost didn’t help, while my central role in publicizing the release project further fuelled the fire: “He’s still on the payroll” is a phrase that I often heard from true believers and conspiracy theorists, when they saw me in the media, discussing these files. The reaction from die-hard debunkers was equally disappointing. There was a sneering tendency to focus on the odd case which clearly involved a hoax or an eccentric, while ignoring or glossing over the sightings where the witnesses were police officers, pilots or military personnel, where UFOs were tracked on radar, or where a photo or video was analysed by MoD’s technical wizards, with no evidence of fakery being found. The reasons for these reactions, of course, had 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 debunkers are actually chiseled from the same block, united by their dogma and their conclusion-led approach to the subject. The MoD files played to this, because they told neither group what they wanted to hear. True believers wanted definitive proof of extraterrestrial visitation and a government cover-up, while die-hard debunkers wanted confirmation that all sightings could be explained in terms of misidentifications, hoaxes, delusions, or people who’d had too much drink or drugs. But the files didn’t tell them this – they reflected a more subtle and complex truth about UFOs, i.e. that MoD isn’t covering up proof of extraterrestrial visitation, but that some UFO sightings appeared to defy conventional explanation, with even those of us in government not being aware of the true nature of the phenomenon.
So what happens now? Where do we go from here?
There was massive media and public interest on each of the days that the files were released, and for maybe a day or two afterwards, but memories fade quickly. There’s an old saying in the UK media that today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. Once the dust has settled, the UFO community turns its attention elsewhere. More sightings take place, new stories surface and things move on. MoD’s UFO files are a valuable resource, but in time they will doubtless become little more relevant to the ufological debate as, say, the Project Blue Book archive. In the final analysis, little will change. True believers and die-hard debunkers will occasionally cherry-pick cases, information and quotes that fit their existing worldview – a classic case of what cognitive science calls “confirmation bias”. Ultimately though, true believers will naïvely continue to believe every tall tale they hear, while die-hard debunkers will dishonestly ignore good data, or alter the facts of a case so as to shoehorn it into their pre-conceived views. The irony is that UFO phenomenon itself will endure, as it always has done, oblivious to the views of either faction.
Do you have any final comments to make on the release of these files?
Perhaps I can finish by restating two points I made when the June 2013 file release took place, as they were quoted in most of the media articles about this story. I think they encapsulate things quite nicely:
“I hope people have as much fun reading these real-life X-Files as I had working on them. These documents don’t resolve the UFO mystery but they certainly show how the phenomenon was just as intriguing to the government as it is to the public.”
“These are the real-life X-Files. Most UFO sightings had conventional explanations, but a small percentage remained unexplained. These included cases where UFOs were seen by police officers, chased by pilots and tracked on radar. Whatever you think about UFOs, the release of these files shines a light on one of the most intriguing subjects ever studied by the British Government”.