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  2. So why did the MoD decide to set up a study of UFOs in 1998 and how did this come to light in 2006?

News of the secret MoD study emerged as a result of a long-running correspondence between Dr David Clarke and desk staff at Directorate of Air Staff (DAS), the MoD secretariat responsible for UFOs in the present day. Civilian staff at DAS are employed on a number of administrative tasks in support of the RAF, one of which is to act as the focal point for UFO inquiries from members of the public (the significance of this point will be become clear in due course).

In July 2001 Dr Clarke asked DAS if the MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff (known as the DIST) kept records or files relating to their consultation with the DAS secretariat on UFOs. The answer was:

“As part of the MoD’s assessment of aerial sightings, reports were copied as appropriate to the Directorate of Intelligence Scientific and Technical (DIST). Towards the end of 2000, DIST decided that these reports were of no defence interest and should no longer be sent to them. The branch still retains files containing reports received up to 4 December 2000.”

Following up this intriguing response, Dr Clarke asked:

“Can MOD provide a statement explaining the reasoning behind DIST’s decision? Does this mean the Defence Intelligence staff are no longer interested in receiving UFO reports from service sources (i.e. aircrew, radar stations) or does the decision relate entirely to reports from the public? What would happen if a UFO incident occurred today that was judged to be of ‘defence interest’?”

The DAS reply, dated 26 October 2001, reads:

“Reports of sightings, comprising brief records and letters from the public, were sent to DIST in case they contained any information of value relating to their primary role of analysing the performance and threat of foreign weapons systems, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes and emerging technologies. These records, whether from members of the public or service sources, have not proved valuable. For this reason DIST [towards the end of 2000] decided the records should no longer be sent to them. This decision covers material from service and civilian sources.You ask ‘what would happen if a ‘UFO’ incident occurred today that was judged to be of defence interest.’ Reports may be sent to Air Defence staff (who are not located in the DI area) for assessment…To date no ‘UFO’ report has been judged to be of defence interest.”

The DIST had been routinely listed on the distribution for UFO reports received by MoD since May 1967. Since that time, the DIST branch DI 55, who were responsible for ballistic missiles and space technology, had been consulted routinely by S4 (Air) and its successors DS8, Sec(AS) and DAS – the MoD’s public focal point for UFO matters – on UFO incidents where further investigations or inquiries were deemed necessary. The decision by DIST/DI 55 to remove themselves from the distribution list for UFO reports received after December 2000 was a surprising one. In effect it marked the end of involvement by the Defence Intelligence Staff in the collection and analysis of UFO reports that could be traced all the way back to the deliberations of the Flying Saucer Working Party in 1950.

Dr Clarke passed this information to colleagues at The Observer newspaper who published a story titled: “Spies admit it: There’s no aliens out there” in its online edition on 4 November 2001. See:,,587309,00.html

We suspected that a further study of some kind had been produced by the MoD in the period immediately before this decision was taken in 2000. Therefore, in 2004 Dr Clarke and colleagues Joe McGonagle and Gary Anthony decided to use the UK’s new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), due to arrive on 1 January 2005, to request copies of correspondence between DIST and the ‘UFO desk’ (now renamed DAS) from the relevant period, circa 1998-2000. We were also aware from earlier correspondence that an MoD “policy review” on UFOs had taken place in January 1997. We suspected that whatever had led DIST to abandon UFO work may have originated in the correspondence generated by this last policy review. And our speculations were correct!

In January 2005 requests were made by David Clarke, under the FOIA, for copies of documents relating to:

  • a) the 1997 MoD review of policy on UFOs
    b) documents relating to the DIST decision to no longer receive reports from October 2000

Documents from a) were released in June 2005 but a number of relevant pages originating with the DIST were initially with-held as they were classified SECRET and required security clearance before they could be released.

All the documents, including a copy of the Loose Minute dated 4 December 2000 announcing the completion of the DI 55 study, were released to Dr Clarke in a letter dated 23 August 2005.

With the existence of the DI 55 study now revealed, in September 2005 Dr Clarke and Gary Anthony placed further requests using the FOI to secure a copy of the full report, the executive summary and associated correspondence. The report was finally released in April 2006. »

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