Sunday, 30 June 2013

Smoke and mirrors - the MOD's 'X-Files'

[Updated 11 July 2013 see below*]

The tenth and final batch of files on UFOs from the Ministry of Defence have now been released (groan). If you want to see them you can go to the relevant website here.

Screen capture of the site where the MOD files can be accessed
Whilst this may engage the interest of many a ufologist, I have learned not to expect too much from, what I view, as a diversionary exercise by the U.K. authorities, in much the same way that the now infamous Project Blue Book was used (more extensively) by the authorities in the U.S. over four decades ago. Whilst they sometimes make for an interesting read, I'm afraid any excitement I might have felt over these mislabelled UK 'X-files' files dissipated shortly after release of the first set some time ago. Funnily enough, I see that former MOD official Nick Pope apparently thinks the same according to one Reuters article I read today, which I was unaware of when I started writing this post.

*Since writing this post, I notice that Robert Hastings, author of the website UFOs and Nukes has written an interesting article concerning the latest MOD UFO files release, which also includes a definitive statement by Nick Pope (some of which is referenced in the former Reuters article). Readers might want to check out the relevant page of Mr Hastings's site here.

The same can be said generally with most material released under the UK's Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Having contributed to responses to many a Freedom of Information case myself in two Government Departments, I know that our Government is, with a few exceptions, very careful not to put controversial material into the public domain and officials will obsesses over the tone of the covering response to FOI requesters, even with the relatively low or baseline security level cases I was involved in. My experience of FOI cases and processes is that these are mostly burdensome to Government Departments, using up significant amounts of officials' time and effort that could be usefully employed elsewhere, for the release of material that is effectively of little or no value.

This is, of course, one of the main reasons why the MOD set out to release 'all' the UFO files they have to the public - to reduce some of the increasing workload on an ever decreasing workforce of civil servants.

It should come as no surprise then that material of a significantly higher security level will never see the light of day. This is irrespective of the UK's blessed FOI Act because, the effort of releasing it (properly redacted) notwithstanding, it is deemed too sensitive to release in the interests of national and international security - largely with strong justification.

This leads me onto the recent Sky interview (below) of famous and long-standing ufologist Timothy Good - author of the fascinating "Need to Know" amongst other books, whose comments echo my own thoughts on the matter.

Whether you subscribe to Mr Good's theories or not, it would be truly naive to assume that the material released by the MOD is in any way a true reflection of the UK authorities' amassed files - whether definitive and revealing or not - on the subject of UFOs. As Mr Good suggests there are other players in the defence, intelligence and security community who will maintain records that will not reach the MOD, let alone reach the public domain. GCHQ, MI6 and Royal Naval Intelligence spring to mind for example and are referred to by Mr Good in the interview.

Now it may be that many such records might only be retained for 'horizon scanning', in that they are used to assess whether there is evidence of a technological or strategic advantage which our military and intelligence community needs to be aware of. This is likely to be in the context of assessing the capabilities of hostile foreign powers or organisations, and not necessarily because of some implied 'extraterrestrial' threat.

It's also interesting to note that this comes at a time when a certain whistleblower (a very foolhardy one at that) has compromised the security of some GCHQ and NSA activity, which would otherwise never have been revealed. Anything the authorities, especially those in defence and intelligence, deign to reveal to the public will only ever be a tiny piece of the true picture. And that's even excluding the subject of UFOs, which as Mr Good suggests, might have one of the highest orders of security clearance attached to it.

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