|Former MoD UFO & alien investigator Nick Pope|
they teased. One contains the bombshell admission that “interplanetary aspects and alien origin are not being thoroughly excluded from consideration”.n the runup to the X-Files reboot, the CIA has posted various UFO files online. “Top 5 CIA Documents Mulder Would Love To Get His Hands On,”
Well, for 21 years I worked for the Ministry of Defence – and for much of the 1990s I ran their UFO project. My job was to investigate sightings and assess whether any were of “defence significance” – a phrase that was never defined, and thus meant whatever we wanted it to mean.
The X-Files began while I was doing this job, and the parallels weren’t lost on my colleagues. People would whistle the theme tune as I walked past, and I even acquired the same nickname as Fox Mulder – “Spooky”. Occasionally it seemed that life was imitating art: I did begin to think that weather balloons and aircraft lights might not explain everything that crossed my desk, especially where UFOs were tracked on military radar. But my bosses disagreed, which only highlighted the perception that I was some maverick given a weird job no one else wanted. I did have clerical support, though they never paired me with a sceptical Scully.
Despite what some people believe, we don’t have an alien spaceship squirrelled away in some remote RAF hangar. But we did downplay the department, telling parliament, the media and the public that UFOs were of very limited interest to us. When – in response to a vast number of Freedom of Information requests – the MoD decided to release its entire archive of UFO files, a rather different picture emerged.
To date, some 60,000 documents have been made public, including many classified “Secret UK Eyes Only”. One of the most intriguing was codenamed Project Condign, which explored the flight safety implications of UFO, or Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon as we called them: “No attempt should be made to out-manoeuvre a UAP during interception.” It went on to speculate that some UFO sightings might be explained as exotic high-atmospheric plasmas.
Another strange paper outlined the top explanations for extraterrestrial visitation when there was no evidence of hostile intent: a) military reconnaissance b) scientific study and c) tourism.
While investigating new sightings was the bread and butter of the job, every day was unpredictable. One moment I could be preparing “lines to take” for the press office to use with journalists (aimed at faintly mocking the subject by throwing in terms such as “flying saucer” and “little green men”), or helping a child with a school project on UFOs, while the next I could be researching geographical distribution of sightings, or drafting material for defence ministers to use in parliament, where the subject was – and still is – raised from time to time.
Naturally, I was fond of the show. I liked the monsters and human mutants, but I particularly enjoyed the central story about an extraterrestrial reality being kept not just from the public but from insiders such as Mulder and Scully. The gatekeepers of this coverup were a shadowy group known as the Syndicate, and the Smoking Man their best-known member.
That central idea of a conspiracy goes to the heart of the X-Files’ popularity. Conspiracy theories are fascinating and whatever the truth about Roswell, the moon landings or the deaths of 20th-century icons such as JFK and Princess Diana, everyone has a view.
It’s easy to forget that the X-Files was conceived before an event that has become the rallying cry for the conspiracy community – namely 9/11. When it was first broadcast in 1993, the Patriot Act, the war on terror, “surveillance society” and drone technology were all far off, as was the Occupy movement and the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. All these events could be ripped straight from an X-Files storyline. Now, the show returns in a bumper year for conspiracies. The Oliver Stone movie Snowden is out in May, and this summer will see the publication of the Iraq Inquiry’s final report. 2016 also sees the completion of the project to release the MoD’s UFO files (and when no proof of aliens emerges, conspiracy theorists will no doubt claim that all the good stuff was withheld).
X-Files creator Chris Carter revealed recently that the FBI cast a close and critical eye over the series when he approached them for help with research in the 90s. He was worried it would be shut down, and even declared that during the initial run a mysterious government insider hinted he was edging too close to the truth.
As the US presidential election campaign hots up, UFOs may be a surprise issue too. Hillary Clinton has promised to uncover the truth about Area 51 – a top secret military base where UFO enthusiasts believe the US government stores crashed alien spacecraft. President Obama and former president Bill Clinton have previously joked about the same issue on US chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live!
The CIA’s bombshell report about “aliens ... not being thoroughly excluded from consideration” was sent to the weapons and equipment division – proof, perhaps, of their obsession with the potential psychological warfare implications of UFOs. The theory went that the Soviets might exploit belief in UFOs to spread panic – an idea that morphed into the modern conspiracy theory of a “false flag alien invasion”, where the New World Order uses Hollywood SFX to fake an invasion and declare martial law – and yes, a lot of people really do believe this sort of thing!
Meanwhile, another of the CIA’s “top 5 Mulder files” details a 1952 sighting over uranium mines in Belgian Congo, marking one of the earliest references to a UFO/nuclear connection that is another favourite in the UFO community and one, they believe, that may explain much government secrecy on the issue.
The agency’s blurring of fact and fiction shows the cultural impact of the X-Files and will doubtless start a few new conspiracy theories. Because while the show can be seen as dystopian fiction, some people seem to think it’s a documentary.