Wed, 17 Aug 2011 15:02 UTC
Nick Pope was in charge of the official MoD office.
"What's abundantly clear from these files is that, while in public we were desperately pushing the line that this was of no defense interest," Pope told The Huffington Post. "We couldn't say 'There's something in our air space; pilots see them; they're tracked on radar; sometimes we scramble jets to chase these things, but we can't catch them.' This would be an admission that we'd lost control of our own air space, and such a position would be untenable."
"Every time we got a report from a pilot, we were checking the radar tapes. So it was an interesting sleight of hand. We were telling the public we're not interested, this is all nonsense, but in reality, we were desperately chasing our tails and following this up in great detail," he added.
One file reveals how officials were afraid to be embarrassed if the public learned that UFO research was hindered by a lack of funds and higher priorities.
Another case, from 2007, took place in the vicinity of the Channel Islands and involved a small commercial aircraft.
"The pilot and several of his passengers saw a UFO, which they said was essentially a mile long," Pope recounted. "And several other pilots saw it, but said, 'We're not going to report this.' And here's the great little get-out-of-jail-free-card for the MoD: Just by a matter of maybe a few hundred meters, it turned out that this was in French air space, so MoD was given this little get out to say, 'Well, it happened in French air space, so it's not an issue for us.' Clearly, that was an absolutely outrageous abrogation of responsibility."
A file from 1993 (while Pope was chief of the UFO Project) describes how European Union funds had been wasted on a report that included a theory that aliens had established a base in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
It turns out that Pope may have been directly involved with this case.
"I'm a little bit apologetic about this because obviously, when I was in MoD, I had to play this game myself. To really achieve our policy of downplaying the UFO phenomenon, we would use a combination of 'spin and dirty tricks.'
"We used terms like UFO buffs and UFO spotters -- terms that mean these people are nut jobs. In other words, we were implying that this is just a very somewhat quaint hobby that people have as opposed to a serious research interest."
But Pope said the ridicule policy went much further than that.
"Another trick would be deliberately using phrases like 'little green men.' We were trying to do two things: either to kill any media story on the subject, or if a media story ran, insure that it ran in such a way that it would make the subject seem ridiculous and that it would make people who were interested in this seem ridiculous."
Pope further admits that he may have been the one who drafted actual MoD statements that contributed to the ridicule policy.
"If it was my words, then I apologize, I'm very sorry for that. I believe in open government and freedom of information. I believe that the UFO phenomenon does raise important defense, national security and air safety issues, and if I helped kill any initiative on that, I'm deeply sorry."
Some U.K. cases were apparently easier than others in trying to make them seem non-credible. Like the file that describes UFOs reported at the June 2003 Glastonbury Music Festival.
"It was very easy to find an incident where something is seen at an event like a rock concert," Pope noted. "You don't even need to say a thing without the public or media perception being that drugs and alcohol might have played a part. It was all part of the way in which we spun the subject, to try and discredit it."
Despite the thousands of pages of documents released -- with one final batch of files yet to come, sometime early next year -- Pope concedes there's still no written evidence confirming alien visits to Earth.
"Not just yet -- there's no spaceship-in-a-hangar smoking gun. However, there are plenty of sightings that I think show that we're dealing with more than just aircraft lights and weather balloons."
The latest 34 U.K. UFO files can be downloaded free of charge for the next month at the National Archives website.