UFO intrigue: How the UK dealt with 'real-life X-Files'

The truth is out there … and it’s not from another planet. Previously unseen documents reveal how officials at the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence handled the “UFO mania” of the late 1990s.

In 1997, there was massive spike in interest around UFOs, fueled by the 50th anniversary of the purported UFO incident in Roswell, NM. and the global popularity of the “X-Files” TV series.

Set against this backdrop, over-worked officials at the Ministry of Defence sought to cut their commitment to investigating UFO reports, the Guardian reports.

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The documents were obtained from the MoD by Dr. David Clarke, a principal research fellow at the U.K’s Sheffield Hallam University. “The new papers show the UFO desk head in 1997 ‘wanted to get rid of’ an issue they considered a ‘diversion from their main duties’,” Clarke wrote in a blog post. “Within the files civil servants, intelligence officers and military staff debate how the British Government should respond to growing public interest in the phenomena and what they called ‘the media’s obsession with UFOs’.”

UFODocuments

The UFO documents (Dr David Clarke/Sheffield Hallam University)

The files run to more than 2,500 pages and some of the more sensitive papers, declassified from “secret,” are heavily redacted, according to Clarke. “What has survived the censor’s pen paints a fascinating picture of the arguments that raged behind closed doors in Whitehall around the 50th anniversary of the UFO mystery in 1997,” he wrote.

One RAF Wing Commander, for example, urged caution on shifting focus away from UFOs. “He argued that as MoD had not carried out any study of the UFO data they had collected since the 1970s it was not credible – and also politically risky – to continue to claim UFOs posed no ‘threat to the realm’,” Clarke explained.

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In 1996, the MoD commissioned a defense contractor to produce a comprehensive report on UFO sightings, which were carefully described as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).

The report, which analyzed a database of sightings between 1987 and 1997, was delivered in 2000. The study duly found that sightings could be explained by a variety of known phenomena, both man-made and natural. The incidence of relatively rare natural phenomena was also noted.

This opened the door for the MoD to start scaling back its UFO-related operations. The DI55 department, which had secretly collected data on potential UFO sightings since 1967, closed at the end of 2000. The MoD’s UFO Desk closed in 2009.

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It appears, however, that the writing was already on the wall for the MoD’s UFO operations long before the report was finished. In a document dated April 16 1998, the report’s author writes: “I am particularly looking ahead to my expected recommendation, that DI55 should no longer be involved in UAP monitoring.”

“It was the end-game,” Clarke told Fox News. “They created a definitive study that would draw a line under their involvement in the subject.”

The academic notes that in 1997 MoD officials were clearly swamped with reports of UFO sightings. At that time, the Ministry even had a UFO hotline that members of the public could call. “The workload on the subject had trebled as a result of what was going on in popular culture,” he said.

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The hotline eventually closed in 2009.

“All our historic files which refer to UFOs have either been released, or are in the process of being released to The National Archives,” explained the MoD, in a statement emailed to Fox News. “The MoD continues to have no opinion on the existence, or otherwise, of extra-terrestrial life and does not investigate reported unidentified flying object sightings.”

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