UK Defence Intelligence’s logo for its UFO investigation branch. From: drdavidclarke.co.uk
A couple of recent articles – one published in The Guardian, the other by David Clarke in his blog – shed new light on the process by which the UK Ministry of Defence went about closing its UFO desk in 2009.
According to Clarke, the evidence indicates that in the 1990s and 2000s there were some associated with British intelligence investigations who believed that research into unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) was warranted (the chief justification being concern over threats to national security). Nevertheless, a consensus had emerged around the mid-nineties that there remained little reason to continue the investigations. The focus of state officials then largely shifted toward two goals: (1) finding a way to end state-sponsored UFO investigation and (2) doing so in a manner that would avoid sparking a resurgence in UFO interest.
All in all, these findings – while important – are not all together surprising from a historical standpoint. My own research and the research of other historians and ufologists – most notably Kate Dorsch at the University of Pennsylvania – indicates that the work of the rather infamous Condon Committee in the U.S. during the years 1966-1968 was aimed at achieving the very same ends. And the recent revelations about the Pentagon’s Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (2008-2012) show there too that while some in the program believed there to be value in its work, others surrounding it considered it a waste of time and money.
To my mind, the most intriguing aspect of all this is the way in which all those involved considered the public relations side of things a primary focus. Sparking, maintaining, and thwarting public interest in UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation have been a constant concern throughout the history of the UFO phenomenon. This is why, in my estimation, why one cannot write its history without paying close attention to not only the messengers, but also the media.
Last month, David Clarke posted on his blog his “Top 10 UFO Documents at the National Archives” in Kew, southwest London. An author of a number of books on the history of UFOs and ufology – most recently, UFO Drawings from the National Archives – Clarke has been the person responsible for curating and releasing the British Ministry of Defence UFO files – a massive undertaking (all told, he tells us, involving some 60,000 pages of reports and correspondence).
I had the good fortune to meet David Clarke in London last summer, where he personally introduced me to some of the archived materials held at Kew. Among other things, I had the opportunity to examine the original report of Lt. Col. Charles Halt regarding an apparent sighting in 1980 at RAF Base Bentwaters (now famously known as the “Rendlesham Forest Incident”).
Curating archival materials is arduous and sometimes rather thankless work. Those who undertake it are very often overlooked. So those of doing research on the history of the UFO phenomenon owe an enormous debt of gratitude to David Clarke, the staff at the National Archives, and those like them at other archives throughout the world.
Back to his Top Ten….Number 1 on his list?
Prime Minister Winston Churchill‘s memo to the Air Ministry, 1952: ‘What’s all this stuff about flying saucers? What is the truth?’ (PREM 11/855). His request followed a spate of sightings over Washington DC that were widely reported in the UK and international media.
An interesting article has recently appeared in the periodical University Affairs/Affaires universitaires, describing some of the new studies on the social science and history of UFOs being conducted by researchers in Canada. Matthew Hayes, Paul Kingsbury, Noah Morritt, and Laura Thursbury are among those conducting studies of ufologists and their organizations, the culture of crop circles, media responses to UFO events, and the Roswell festival. Last year, in May 2017, Thursby and Hayes hosted a conference at Trent University entitled “UFOs, Aliens, and the Academy: An Interdisciplinary Conference.” We can look forward to some fascinating new articles and books on the subject over the next few years.
*Thanks to the fascinating blog and facebook page of Andreas Sommer – Forbidden Histories – for the tip.
Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley at the SETI Institute moderate a discussion about the recent news regarding the formerly secret Pentagon UFO program – the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. With detailed information about the program’s work and evidence still remaining scarce, they attempt to wade through what is and is not known at this stage and to place the revelations in historical context. Their guests are space journalist James Oberg, the director of the Grasslands Observatory James McGaha, and deputy editor of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer Ben Radford.
From zocalopublicsquare.org, courtesy Susan Sterner/Associated Press
The online magazine Zócalo has published an article of mine entitled “How the Industrial Age Fuels Over Belief in UFOs.” In it, I discuss the ways in which modern technologies helped spark interest in the possibilities of strange and amazing inventions and their eccentric inventors.
Veteran UFO researchers Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos and Wim van Utrecht have just published a new book that presents and analyzes an array of UFO photographs taken in Belgium from 1950 to 1988. For those interested in UFO images and in considering how the scenarios surrounding identified flying objects can inform how we make sense of unidentified objects, it’s well worth your time. And here’s a big plus – it’s available to download for free via academia.edu.
Just days before the announcement in The New York Times about the secret government program to collect data on UFO sightings, I was interviewed by historian Michael Robinson for his podcast “Time to Eat the Dogs.” We talked about the history of UFO sightings, changes in claims of alien contact, and my approach to the subject. You can check out the interview here or on iTunes here.
Michael himself has written some fascinating histories. His first book is The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (2006) and his most recent is entitled The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory That Changed a Continent (2016). And check out some of the rest of his interesting interviews.