CIA Files : Commentary



Dr David Clarke

Two new intelligence documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act reveal how the British MoD set up a permanent standing committee to investigate UFOs after the closure of the ‘Flying Saucer Working Party.’

They were released with exemptions to Dr David Clarke and Andy Roberts in June 2001 following a successful appeal under the FOIA. Their contents are revealed in Out of the Shadows. We wish to thank CIA historian Gerald Haines for assistance in locating these records.

The documents, written by the CIA’s Assistant Director of Scientific Intelligence, Dr H. Marshall Chadwell, also set out the “certain potential dangers which are related to these sightings” at the height of Cold War tension. They spell out the “problems of communications confusion...and the serious effects of mass hysteria” that it was feared could be purposely induced by an enemy “at a critical time by faked reports”.

This interest in the potential use of UFOs for psychological warfare is underlined by other intelligence reports from this period, including the well known briefing by CIA Director Walter B. Smith from 1952. These concerns re-emerged in the conclusions and recommendations made by the CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel early the following year.

Dr Chadwell was present in June 1951 at the meeting in London of the MoD’s Directorate of Scientific Intelligence (DSI) when the Flying Saucer Working Party presented their final report on ‘unidentified flying objects.’ The report debunked all sightings as misidentifications, hoaxes and illusions and recommended very strongly that no further investigations of ‘mysterious aerial phenomena’ be undertaken unless or until solid material evidence was found.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was briefed on the contents of the report in July 1952 following the ‘flap’ of radar-visual sightings over Washington D.C. that intensified intelligence interest in UFOs.

In September 1952 further sightings were made by the crews of NATO ships and planes participating in “Exercise Mainbrace” which aimed to simulate a Soviet attack on western Europe. The report which received the most publicity was the sighting of a ‘flying saucer’ by two RAF officers and three aircrew near Coastal Command Shackleton Squadron HQ at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. According to Captain Ed Ruppelt, of the USAF’s Project Blue Book, it was these sightings which led the Royal Air Force to “officially recognise the UFO.”

In the memo “British Activity in the field of ‘unidentified flying objects’”, Chadwell reveals that the MoD had “a standing committee on flying saucers” set up “about 16 months ago”, i.e. after the Working Party had been disbanded. This new committee was now the responsibility of Dr R.V. Jones, who replaced Dr Bertie Blount as Director of Scientific Intelligence in September 1952.

Chadwell notes that the group had concluded “that the observations are not enemy aircraft and that none have been over [Britain?].” Of interest are Chadwell’s comments on what he calls “the Yorkshire incident”, the sightings made by RAF aircrew during Exercise Mainbrace.

“In some RAF field, there was some sort of demonstration to which high officials of the RAF in London had been invited,” he writes. “During the show, a ‘perfect flying saucer’ was seen by these officials as well as RAF pilots. So many people saw it that many articles appeared in the public press. This is disturbing to Jones because he realizes that the creation of the correction of public opinion is part of his responsibilities.

The memo also reveals that Dr R.V. Jones had expressed an interest in seeing the famous movie film of UFOs taken by a US Navy non-commissioned officer at Tremonton, Utah, in the summer of 1952. The film had already been screened to a gathering of intelligence officers at an air force base in Texas.

The British “standing committee” referred to by Chadwell was a branch of the Air Ministry’s Deputy Directorate of Intelligence or D.D.I. (Tech). In 1952 the branch operated from the Hotel Metropole on Northumberland Avenue, near Trafalgar Square. The branch had five sections dedicated to the study “of the technical aspects of air and missile weapon systems of the Sino-Soviet bloc and all other foreign countries.”

A senior air intelligence officer, Wing Commander Myles Formby, led the section dedicated to the investigation and analysis of UFO reports. From 1952 to 1960 this branch was based in Room 800 in the Metropole Building.

Formby had played a leading role in the Flying Saucer Working Party and had close links with the USAF’s Air Technical Intelligence Center. Following the Mainbrace sightings he was spent three weeks in the USA working on the ‘UFO problem’ with his opposite number at the Pentagon, USAF Colonel William 'Bill' O. Farrior.

Interviewed in 2001 Formby told us: “I was the Chairman of the Committee in 1952. It was the job of the Committee to investigate all reports of possible unidentified phenomena and to decide what should be done about them. As far as I was concerned we never really got a concrete report and I was skeptical at the time and remain skeptical. We did get reports from as far away as New Zealand. There were between four and 12 reports, all unsubstantiated. I also suspect that there were a lot that ‘never saw the light of day.’ Although statements were taken from those who had reported sightings I took it ‘with a pinch of salt.’

“The report that we drew up was used as a reference document and I spent about three weeks in America drawing up the report with my counterpart who was a full Colonel in the USAF. I don’t think that the report was ever published but it was circulated at the highest level and was used as a ‘yard stick’ for future action. I would describe it as ‘the X-Files’!”

• For the full story of the Flying Saucer Working Party and D.D.I. (Tech)’s UFO investigations, see chapters 5 and 6 of ‘Out of the Shadows.’


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