Previously classified "X-files" show how seriously Britain considered alien threats

Image for article titled Previously classified "X-files" show how seriously Britain considered alien threats

Well, it now appears that Mulder and Scully had allies on the other side of the Atlantic. Recently released secret documents by Britain's defense agency has revealed the surprising extent to which the country considered the possibility of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. The previously classified documents, which cover the period 1985 to 2007, show how the Ministry of Defence set up "UFO desk officers" to monitor potential threats from space. The files offer a revealing glimpse into the extent that the MoD went to to ensure national security.


The photo above was released by the National Archives, and is entitled, "UFO near helicopter."

This marks the ninth release of the department's infamous "X-files." The MoD began the declassification process back in 2008, with the earliest records dating back to 1978. This latest batch, which contains thousands of pages, was released because it was thought that keeping it a secret was no longer justified.

Writing in The Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor reports on how officials in the MoD were worried they would be accused of not taking UFOs seriously enough. According to one intelligence officer, "It was important to appreciate that what is scientific ‘fact' today may not be true tomorrow." He went on to say that, "If the sightings are of devices not of the Earth, then their purpose needs to be established as a matter of priority. There had been no apparently hostile intent and other possibilities are one, military reconnaissance; two, scientific; three, tourism."

And as Norton-Taylor notes, while some of these "UFO desk officers" relished the idea of making contact and learning from aliens, others remained wary of the classified program. Again, from The Guardian:

Some intelligence officials were excited about the prospect of harnessing rare atmospheric plasmas initially claimed to be UFOs, such as ball lightning, for novel weapons technology. One even suggested that if craft from outer space really did exist, the MoD could adopt their stealth technology.

Most officials in the MoD were deeply sceptical. Papers released today show that back in 1979, a UFO intelligence officer wondered why aliens would want to visit "an insignificant planet [the Earth] of an uninteresting star [the sun]".

But officials had to cover their backs because of persistent claims of UFO sightings and questions from the public. MPs also regularly returned to the subject, requiring answers from the prime minister. In 2009, before he was elected, David Cameron promised to publish Whitehall's remaining secret files on UFOs.

"I don't think any of us have any clue whether there's intelligent life out there, and it is certainly not something that any government should seek to hide from anyone," he said.

John Major told MPs in 1996: "The government has no plans to allocate resources to researching extraterrestrial phenomena."

The MoD did, however, decide to devote more resources on a study as officials warned Tony Blair he could expect even more questions following the passing of the Freedom of Information Act. A MoD official reported in 2000 that the study concluded: "Many of sightings can be explained as mis-reporting of man-made vehicles, [and] natural but unusual phenomena."

As of 2008, the MoD no longer concerns itself with UFOs, but maintains an open position about the possibility that intelligent life exists elsewhere. Be sure to read Norton-Taylor's entire article.


George Dvorsky

I'm wondering — should defence departments be on the look-out for UFOs? A (very) small part of me thinks yes, but the rational part of my brain recognizes the sheer futility of it — and it's not that we won't make contact, mind you, but the silly notion that a country's defence department could actually do something about an incoming alien threat.