21st December 2007
Following sustained pressure by a small number of UFO researchers during the last 8 years, the British Ministry of Defence have decided to release all of their UFO files.
Gary Anthony, Dave Clarke, and Joe McGonagle have been making full use of the Freedom of Information Act and it's precursor, the Code of Practice on access to Government information. At considerable personal expense, effort, and investment of time the three of us have submitted a steady stream of requests. As well as making requests ourselves, we actively encouraged and assisted other ufologists to make their own requests.
Dave Clarke obtained a listing of files held by the MoD on the topic of Unidentified Flying Objects during 2003. In the course of requesting the contents of some of those files, we discovered that 24 files created by DI55 (the Defence Intelligence Branch charged with the investigation of UFO reports) were contaminated by asbestos, and their destruction was being considered. Not only were the UFO records contaminated, but a total of 63,000 files estimated at between 6 to 12 million pages, most of them classified above Secret were facing the same fate. The files covered a wide range of topics from a key period of military and political history.
We campaigned to ensure the salvage of the file contents by gaining the active support of MPs, academics, the media, and ufologists. It didn't take long for the MoD to realise that destruction of the files would be inexcusable and they instigated a project to digitally scan the files before they were destroyed at an estimated cost of 3 million pounds. We continued to monitor the progress of the project, requesting periodic updates from the Departmental Records Officer at the MoD.
Another significant achievement in the course of our activity was identifying the existence of the 'Condign report' in 2005 and securing it's release in 2006. This was the first document obtained under the FoIA with a 'SECRET' classification.
Scanning of the 24 contaminated UFO files owned by DI55 was completed in the early part of 2007, and this prompted a dialogue within the MoD as to the future release of files. Due to the volume of requests about UFOs received by Defence Intelligence, they discussed the viability of a staged, wholesale release, and concluded in April 2007 that this was the preferred way forward. This encouraged the Directorate of Air Space (DAS, the MoD agency charged with filtering reports before passing those thought to be of defence interest to other MoD branches including DI55) to make a similar evaluation and they have now also reached a decision for a staged release of all of their UFO records.
Our enquires have established the following details about the intended release;
1. There are a total of 160 files managed by DAS and DI55 which will be released. These cover a period from the late 1970s up to 2007, including a series of files containing FoIA requests and their responses on the subject of UFOs from 2005 to present.
[click here to download a pdf file of the list of files scheduled for release. There is a pagination error in the file, but most of the information is visible.]
2. It is expected to take 3 years to review, redact, and release the files, but release will occur in batches as they become available. It is currently intended to process the files in chronological order.
3. Personal details of officials and members of the public will be redacted, but the unredacted versions will be released under the terms of the Public Records Act, normally after 30 years.
4. The files will not be generally published on the MoD web site, but will be released to the National Archives in both paper and digital form. TNA will publish them on-line, but there will probably be a fee charged for their download in accordance with existing TNA policy.
5. It is likely that the MoD will respond to many future FoIA requests about UFOs along the lines that publication is scheduled via TNA, and the requester will have to wait until the information is available from TNA (covered by section 22 of the FoIA, "Information intended for Future Publication").
6. The first tranche of documents are expected to be released during spring 2008.
The following is a direct quote from an FoIA response from the MoD explaining the rationale behind the release. Elsewhere in the response, the release was described as "a major exercise, which I believe is unique in MoD history".
"The subject of UFOs is one of the most popular subjects for FOI requests. Answering requests takes a considerable amount of time and resources and can involve officials in days of work, which frequently means trawling through old files to find the information requested. By placing the UFO files on-line at the National Archive in a structured manner, the MoD is able to follow its remit for more open government and, by re-directing applicants to the National Archive site, reduce the amount of time it spends answering requests. By opening our files in this way, we may also help to counter the maze of rumour and frequently ill informed speculation that surrounds the role of the MoD in the UFO phenomena."
Within the next three years, everyone will be able to see the true level of interest and effectiveness demonstrated by the MoD on the topic of UFOs for themselves. This release will be a source of disappointment or vindication for some, and embarrassment for others. Conspiracy theorists who believe that the various governments of the world are hiding secrets about the 'reality' of alien visitation will see this move as another whitewash effort by the MoD and will probably continue their self-sustaining 'campaign for the truth', when the 'truth' really will be 'out there' - just that they don't believe it!
If you wish to comment on this article, please email the Condign team.