Monday, 2 August 2010

UK UFO Files – Access Denied

David Clarke recently made a Blog post titled, “Open Skies - Closed Files” which focused on Nick Pope and the fact that Nick was actively seeking to censor information relating to the time he spent at the MOD working with the UFO files, or more specifically the occurrences surrounding the release of his book “Open Skies, Closed Minds” and amongst other things what his superiors thought of the book if for no other reason than to better understand Pope's claims made at the time and the context they were wrote in.

After three years it seems as if Clarke has finally exhausted all possible avenues for obtaining the files, with the final decision ultimately boiling down to Nick and his formal objections to the disclosure.

Yesterday (1st Aug 2010) the story received mainstream media attention when the Sunday Express ran a story titled, “MOD BLOCKS RELEASE OF UFO FILES” which was as follows:


The release of files about a Ministry of Defence civil servant-turned-UFO expert has been blocked. Nick Pope has drawn on his experiences working for Britain's official UFO investigation unit for a number of books about aliens and strange sights in the skies.

Fellow UFO researcher David Clarke made a Freedom of Information request in 2007 for internal MoD documents about Mr Pope's decision to speak publicly about his conversion from sceptic to believer in the possibility that extra-terrestrials are visiting Earth. But more than three years later, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has upheld the department's refusal to publish the files because they contain personal information.

Mr Pope worked on the MoD's UFO desk from 1991 to 1994, dealing with possible sightings sent in by the public. He published his first book about the phenomena - Open Skies, Closed Minds - in 1996, although he continued working for the MoD until November 2006. The MoD's official line is that it has no opinion on whether or not aliens exist but 50 years of UFO reports uncovered no evidence of a potential threat to the UK. Dr Clarke asked the department to release records of its internal discussions about how to respond when Mr Pope began talking to the media about UFOs in 1995-96.

He obtained an April 1996 memo written by a senior officer in defence intelligence, who said the matter should be approached "very delicately".But the MoD refused to release other papers about Mr Pope, including some which contain "free and frank advice" from defence officials about how to handle the situation. The ICO said in its ruling on Dr Clarke's request: "The commissioner feels that this is a finely balanced case and that the complainant has provided well reasoned arguments to support his case. However, in this particular case the commissioner does not believe that release of the information concerned would further the legitimate public interest in any significant way."


And it's starting to filter through the internet with The Belfast Telegraph and The UKPA following suit (Sunday 1st August) and Metro today.

For anyone vaguely familiar with the UK UFO scene or indeed the global UFO scene then Nick Pope needs no introduction. But just in case he's passed you by then depending where you read/hear/see his resume Nick could have been “Head of the MODs UFO Desk” (if of course they had one) or alternatively he used to run the, “British Government's UFO Project” as is claimed in Nicks Biog on his own website:

Author, journalist and TV personality Nick Pope used to run the British Government's UFO project at the Ministry of Defence…..while working on the MoD's UFO project Nick Pope also looked into alien abductions, crop circles, animal mutilations, remote viewing and ghosts.


Also it is usually claimed that he held this position for some 21 years or so when he was actually the ‘desk officer' from 1991 to 1994, and as for the specifics of this position, well, have a look at the following which is a document answering this exact question and which was sent to Mr James Easton back in 1999:

“Mr Pope was employed as an executive Officer in Secretariat (Air Staff) 2. His post was designated Sec(AS)2a. The main duties of the post concern non-operational RAF activities overseas and diplomatic clearance policy for military flights abroad. A small percentage of time is spent dealing with reports from the public about alleged ‘UFO' sightings and associated public correspondence.”

(Click here for original document).

I should point out that this is nothing new and is aimed at establishing Nicks position rather than trying to undermine it and indeed Nick says exactly the same on his website when he highlights the contradictory terminology that the MOD utilises when explaining its interest in UFO reports:

So, does the Department "investigate" UFOs at all? On some occasions the MoD has said that it doesn't investigate, but merely "examines", to look for evidence of this mysterious thing called "defence significance". On other occasions, the 'I word' has been used. Interesting, a comparatively recent example of this was when a question was tabled in Parliament about my role. Norman Baker MP tabled the following question:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Defence in what capacity Mr Nick Pope was employed by his Department between 1991 and 1994".

The answer was given on 18 April 2006 by the Under Secretary of State, Don Touhig, and is recorded in Hansard (the official record of parliamentary proceedings), which can be accessed via Parliament's website. The answer read as follows:

"From 1991 to 1994 Mr Pope worked as a civil servant within Secretariat (Air Staff). He undertook a wide range of secretariat tasks relating to central policy, political and parliamentary aspects of non-operational RAF activity. Part of his duties related to the investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena reported to the Department to see if they had any defence significance".


I believe there are a couple of reasons Nicks actual position is usually misstated and practically always misunderstood, one of these is due in part to the fact that his title was that of a ‘desk officer' and as he handled cataloguing & public correspondence relating to UFOs then this morphed into ‘UFO desk officer' before eventually being shortened to ‘UFO Desk '.

The next reason is due wholly to the fact that as detailed above Nick himself wrote on his website under the biography section that, “Nick Pope used to run the British Government's UFO project at the Ministry of Defence…..while working on the MoD's UFO Project.”

Obviously -apart from the fact that the MOD doesn't have a ‘UFO Project' and have specifically stated such- the fact that Nick Pope never corrects any false attributions as well as evidently perpetuating them via his official biography page then this is why I believe his position is oft misunderstood. I believe it's contradictory for Nick to privately act the way he is regarding these documents whilst also advocating transparency & full disclosure for everyone else, which is a commendable sentiment but alas seemingly an empty one:

"I believe that governments and the military, and indeed private researchers, politicians - whoever - should place everything in the public domain on this issue. Governments can't, I think, have it both ways...I, in support of that aim, believe that there should be a full disclosure of all information on UFOs held by governments all around the world."


So now his position is established (who he is and what he was tasked with) then the relevance of the withheld information quickly becomes apparent, especially when according to Clarke the first (of seven) documents being withheld is as follows:

Document 1 is a file copy of a letter sent to Nick Pope by the MoD after he submitted his manuscript for clearance. Although he now invokes his “right to privacy” to protect the contents, in 1996 he was happy to quote from this document in an interview for UFO Magazine (UK) and the International UFO Reporter (Vol 21/3). In this interview he claims there was a faction at MoD that “certainly didn't want the book to appear” and he received a letter that said it was “completely unacceptable to MoD and quite beyond any suitable amendment”. We will never know how accurate this claim actually is, as we are only allowed to hear Nick's version of the sequence of events leading to the clearance of his book.

(Again for all the details then visit Dave Clarkes Blog here).

As well as adding the following about what HAS been discovered to date (albeit inadvertently) and by doing so then it would appear that the pages which have been withheld would certainly seem to merely include related commentary from Nicks superiors which does little to inspire confidence in Nick or his credibility:

[An indication of the “subject matter and tone” of the documents being withheld can be judged from an example that slipped past the official censor and was sent to me in response to a separate FOIA request during 2007]:

Written by a RAF officer working for the Defence Intelligence Staff, it is titled “[Nick Pope]: recent media appearances and interviews” and was sent to his successor as UFO desk officer, Kerry Philpott, on 24 April 1996, shortly before Nick's book was published. In the minute the officer raises concerns about the media’s description of Nick as a “senior MoD official” and notes “he seems to have accepted the title willingly”. He adds that MoD needs to “approach the matter VERY delicately” and says: “I am not attempting to ban a book I have not read [but] I believe it will be based on supposition and technical ignorance.”

He adds: “The truth seldom sells books!