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But despite initial optimism DI 55 said it could not afford to divert any of its desk officers to examine UFO files “to determine whether we should apply any significant effort to the matter.” They went on to propose the employment an outside contractor – a person “well known to DI 55” – who could be offered the task as an extension on an existing defence contract. This would, they said, avoid having to put the project out to tender which:

“….would potentially expose the study to too wide an audience…since a potential exists for political embarrassment.”

DI55 attached a draft copy of the proposed contract for the UFO study which specified the employment of:

“….a degree level engineer, with a [technical intelligence?] background, to prepare an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) database”

Part of his remit would be to produce technical reports as required. He would be based at the Old War Office building and receive security screening from DI 55. At this point, the contract – which it was envisaged would last up to one year – was fully funded and had three main outcomes:
  • the production of a database
  • the production of a report
  • possible follow-on activities as directed by DI55

But even at this early stage the project hit a familiar obstacle – cuts in defence funding – and the initiative did not go ahead. DI 55 made two further attempts in 1995 to gain approval for funding but the timing clashed with the onset of a Defence Study, deemed more important than UFOs, and the project was shelved yet again.

Nick Pope left the post of Sec(AS)2a in the summer of 1995 and his successor, Kerry Philpott, was far less positive about the merits of the UFO study. But the papers make clear that Philpott and her superior, M.J. Fuller, the head of Sec(AS) were unaware of further developments for a further two years. The head of Sec(AS) only received notification of plans to initiate a new UFO database as a prelude to a study when he embarked upon an internal review of UFO policy early in 1997.

But by this stage, the original fully funded DI55 contract proposed in 1993 had been dramatically reduced in size and scope. It was now decided that work on the UFO study should take place within an existing defence contract with no additional money allocated to cover the UFO element. When the existing DI 55 officer retired late in 1996, responsibility for the study passed to a defence contractor who, perhaps significantly, had a background in the RAF and technical intelligence.

The contractor’s SECRET memo to Sec(AS) dated 22 January 1997 outlines the new terms of reference for the project, now codenamed CONDIGN. It involved the production of a computerised database from scratch, drawing upon information contained in 22 DI 55 files dating back to 1975. Once the database was populated his task was to make a “categorisation” or arrive at any possible explanation of UAP events. These would be examined in the final report. The expert emphasised that he wished to keep “a low profile”, writing to Sec(AS) as follows:

“…as …..[deleted] ……one could imagine the embarrassment to…. [deleted] if my activities were media knowledge – especially as they would undoubtedly soon link these with my other known activities on……..and probably connect my long-standing involvement with DI55 – which we also wish to avoid….”

Work began on the database early in 1997 and continued until 2000 when the report was completed. “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the UK Air Defence Regionconsisted of four volumes and contained 460 pages. The report examined more than 3,000 reports made to MoD between 1987 and 1997. Its distribution was strictly limited to a tiny number of defence and intelligence branches of MoD. At this point the computerised database used to draw it up was destroyed. »

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