10th April, 2014
People in the UFO and conspiracy theory communities often claim that the government keeps them under surveillance. The debate has come more sharply into focus recently, following revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the resultant media storm over bugging, interception of communications, and the secret state more generally.
But is there any truth in this? Has the Ministry of Defence ever kept tabs on ufologists? Well, actually – yes! There were three strands to this, and I have direct knowledge and experience of all of them, from my time on the MoD’s UFO project.
The first strand was the understandable need to check out ufologists who were taking a close interest in military bases. It wasn’t inconceivable that someone could use ufology as a cover for terrorism or espionage-related activity, perhaps embedding themselves within a UFO organisation. If someone was caught taking long-lens photos of a military base, but claimed their only interest was in checking out rumours that crashed UFOs or alien bodies were being kept there, what were we to do? Say, “Oh, that’s all right then”, and let them go, or check them out? The latter, obviously. More than one well-known ufologist has fallen foul of the Ministry of Defence Police around bases rumoured to have a UFO connection, such as RAF Rudloe Manor in Wiltshire.
The second reason for monitoring the activity of ufologists had to do with the fact that the UFO community takes a close interest in secret prototype aircraft and drones – sightings of which sometimes generate UFO reports. There were particular concerns if, for example, ufologists claimed to have leaked copies of classified documents. Clearly such claims couldn’t be ignored, and needed to be investigated. My way of keeping an eye on all this was to subscribe (using a dummy name and a PO Box) to various UFO magazines and publications. It wasn’t quite as obvious as “Mr John Smith, PO Box 007, Whitehall”, and I think we got away with it, until the recently- completed declassification and release of the MoD’s UFO files, when the truth emerged. But the mainstream media either missed or ignored the story. In parallel with this, before my face became known, I attended some UFO conferences covertly, and submitted reports back to the MoD’s Defence Intelligence Staff. At least one such report has now been declassified and released, but again, the media somehow missed the significance of this.
The final strand of this official surveillance was the most low-tech, and simply involved my reaching out to various UFO organisations and individual researchers, asking them to send me material that might help us make a better determination of what we might be dealing with, in relation to the UFO phenomenon. This seemed a sensible way to gain a fuller understanding of what data might be out there, and there was nothing particularly underhand about this. It often involved arranging lunches with ufologists, or asking them to send in case files so that I could take a look. People were generally thrilled and flattered that the MoD was taking an interest in their work, and I hardly ever had any problems getting what I wanted. There was seldom any fallout, though on one occasion I recall a huge row breaking out within the ranks of the British UFO Research Association, when somebody found out that one of their key officials had sent their alien abduction case files to the MoD!
Does such surveillance continue, now that the MoD’s UFO project has been axed? And does such monitoring go beyond ufology, into the wider conspiracy theory and alternative belief community? Now that I’m out of government, I don’t know. And if I did know, I probably wouldn’t be able to say so.