Condign: Background> [1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ next]

  MoD’s UFO Study – “The Condign Report”

Text by David Clarke

1. What evidence has been made public about earlier studies of UFOs by the British Government?

Prior to 2001 the UK Government’s position was that it had never funded any scientific or military study of the tens of thousands of UFO reports received by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). But in May that year, following two years of research, Dr David Clarke and Andy Roberts obtained a copy of a report by the Flying Saucer Working Party, established on the recommendation of Sir Henry Tizard in 1950. The conclusions of the working party, delivered to a meeting of the DSI/JTIC at MoD in June 1951, were used to brief Winston Churchill following the UFO flap in Washington DC in July the following year.

The Working Party’s remit was limited and its report, a mere six pages in length, was classified “Secret – Discreet.” The report examined just three sightings in depth, all reported by RAF personnel, dismissing them as misidentifications and optical illusions. Its conclusions were that all UFO reports could be explained and recommended no further work should be carried out on the subject until solid evidence came to light.

During the summer and autumn of 1952 a further wave of UFO sightings occurred both in the USA and in Europe during the NATO Operation Mainbrace. Shortly afterwards the Air Ministry’s Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence) delegated responsibility for UFOs to a section in his intelligence organisation. The earliest policy document to survive from 1952-53, classified “Secret”, specified that “all reports from all sources are to be sent to A.I.3(Tech)3 in the Deputy Directorate of Intelligence (Technical).” These included reports of unidentified aircraft and objects both from service sources and members of the public. The document stated that “an annual report summarising all UFO sightings by types is to be submitted to DDI (Tech).” (TNA ref: DEFE 31/118)

None of these annual summaries have survived before 1956. However, an analysis of 80 reports received up to 1954 formed the basis for an article published in the Air Ministry Secret Intelligence Summary (AMSIS) Vol 10/3 in March 1955. AMSIS was classified “Secret – UK Eyes Only.” However, the full report containing a detailed analysis – which ran to 10,000 words – has not been found in the defence archives and MoD claims it has not survived to the present day. Its security classification is unknown.

The conclusions were, however, alluded to in a reply to a Parliamentary Question on ‘flying saucers’ by Major Patrick Wall MP on 4 May 1955. Wall had asked if the Air Ministry was prepared to publish its “report on flying saucers” that he had been informed, via a contact, had been completed.

In reply, the Under Secretary of State for Air (George Ward) said that:

“Reports of ‘flying saucers’ as well as any other abnormal objects in the sky, are investigated as they come in, but there has been no formal inquiry. About 90 percent of the reports have been found to relate to meteors, balloons, flares and many other objects. The fact that the other 10 percent are unexplained need be attributed to nothing more sinister than lack of data.”

The residue of 10 percent of reports that remained “unexplained” (or, as the Ministry preferred, “insufficient information”) explains their decision to continue collecting UFO reports which continued for a further 45 years. The reasons given in the AMSIS article were that “there is always the chance of observing foreign aircraft of revolutionary design.” This factor remained a concern for intelligence agencies until the end of the Cold War. But the AMSIS author was careful to qualify this statement with the caveat : “…as for controlled manifestations from outer space, there is no tangible evidence of their existence.”

The limited and fragmentary analyses completed between 1951 and 1955 do not constitute a study of UFO data on par with the resources allocated in the USA to Project Blue Book. Neither was there ever any British equivalent of the fully funded study by the University of Colorado, commissioned by the United States Air Force in 1966-67. The Colorado study, popularly known as “the Condon report” was published in 1969. It was based upon analysis of 12,618 reports investigated by Project Blue Book between 1947 and 1969, of which 701 were unexplained. Ironically, one of these unexplained incidents was the classic radar/visual from RAF Bentwaters-Lakenheath in Suffolk. But the British Government claims the file on this case, which occurred in 1956, was destroyed in 1961 because it was deemed to be of no significance, along with many other papers relating to UFO incidents investigated by DDI (Tech). The main findings of the US study, popularly known as the Condon Report, was that:

  • About 90% of all UFO reports prove to be plausibly related to natural phenomena
  • Nothing had come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that added to scientific knowledge.
  • Further extensive study of UFO sightings was not justified in the expectation that science would be advanced thereby
  • No evidence had come to light in the study to indicate that UFO sightings might represent a threat to the defence of the USA
  • The US Department of Defence should continue to handle UFO reports in its normal surveillance operations without recourse to special units such as Project Blue Book.

Following the UFO flap of 1967 the British Government was under intense pressure to set up a similar funded project, and decided in future to preserve its records on UFO incidents. In November 1967 the head of MoD Secretariat S4(Air), James Carruthers, produced a detailed briefing for the Secretary of State for Air, Merlyn Rees MP. In it he said the MoD had kept a statistical analysis of reports received since 1959 “and has found no evidence to suggest [UFOs] have other than the most mundane explanations.” He said the MoD “does not consider that a separate study by other [UK] Government departments or by a university or other independent organisation would produce results to justify the expenditure, time, effort and money involved.” (TNA ref: DEFE 31/119) Again in 1978, in a briefing to colleagues prior to the House of Lords UFO Debate, his successor as head of S4 (Air), Patrick Stevens, stated clearly: “There has been no British scientific enquiry into UFOs.” (TNA ref: AIR 20/12966).

This situation continued through the 1980s and ‘90s despite several attempts by staff in DI 55, which is the branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff responsible for UFOs, to establish a basic database of reports they had received. »

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