This was the background to Project Condign. For 40 years a debate about UFOs had raged within the MOD and the RAF, with first the sceptics then the believers gaining the upper hand. We needed resolution. We needed a proper, in-depth scientific study that was going to look at all the evidence we'd amassed, and come to a definitive view about the UFO phenomenon. My opposite number in the Defence Intelligence Staff had first discussed this with me in 1993. Like me, he seemed intrigued by some of the UFO cases on our files, and some of our discussions about UFO aerodynamics and propulsion systems were like something from a 'Star Trek' script. Nothing was said openly, but when terrestrial explanations for some UFO cases were eliminated, fingers were pointed suggestively upwards. And whenever the question of UFO occupants was mentioned, the marvellous phrase "these people" was trotted out. "What did he mean 'these people'?" my boss asked me, on the way back from one particularly surreal briefing.
But how were we going to get a study commissioned when so many of our colleagues thought the MOD should drop its UFO investigations altogether - as the United States Air Force had in 1969, when their research programme, Project Blue Book, was closed down. One of our tactics was a simple linguistic sleight of hand - we banned the phrase 'UFO'!
One mention of the phrase 'UFO', and people's prejudices and belief systems kick in, be they sceptics or believers. The term was too emotive and had too much baggage. So we devised 'Unidentified Aerial Phenomena' (UAP) as a replacement, and tried to use this in all internal policy documents, retaining the phrase 'UFO' only for our dealings with the public.
It worked. With the phrase 'UFO' having been quietly dropped, we pushed to get a study approved. To my surprise and delight, given some of the more sceptical voices in the Department, resources were eventually obtained. I assessed the formal proposal, when it arrived, and recommended to my bosses that the study be commissioned. Against my expectation, my recommendation was accepted. However, the project was subsequently delayed, and in 1994 I was promoted and posted to a different section. Accordingly, I played no part in the study and am certainly not - as has been alleged on the internet - its anonymous author.
So what did we get? After four years and 460 pages of analysis, have we solved the UFO mystery? Well, no, we haven't. "That UAP exist is indisputable", the Executive Summary states, before going on to say that no evidence has been found to suggest they are "hostile or under any type of control". What we have is a comprehensive drawing together of some existing research, coupled with some exotic new theories. But by its own admission, the report has not provided a definitive explanation of the phenomenon: "although the study cannot offer the certainty of explanation of all UAP phenomena ..." it says, leaving the door open.
One of the areas that will be most contentious relates to what the report refers to as "plasma related fields". Electrically-charged atmospheric plasmas are credited with having given rise to some of the reports of vast triangular-shaped craft, while the interaction of such plasma fields with the temporal lobes in the brain is cited as another reason why people might feel they were having a strange experience. The problem with this is that there's no scientific consensus here, and as a good rule of thumb one shouldn't try to explain one unknown phenomenon by citing evidence of another. In other words, you can't explain one mystery with another one! That said, the opportunities presented here are recognised and the study recommends further investigation "into the applicability of various characteristics of plasmas in novel military applications".
The report also deals with flight safety issues. There are numerous UFO sightings involving pilots, and the Civil Aviation Authority has records of some terrifying near misses between aircraft and UFOs. In one such case, on 6 January 1995, a UFO came dangerously close to hitting a Boeing 737 with 60 passengers on board, on its approach to Manchester airport. The CAA commended the pilots for reporting the UFO and the official report states that both the degree of risk to the aircraft and the cause were "unassessable". Numerous RAF pilots have seen UFOs too. I have spoken to many such witnesses, not all of whom ever made an official UFO report. Project Condign has an intriguing recommendation when it comes to such aerial encounters: "No attempt should be made to out-manoeuvre a UAP during interception".
This is good news for all those with a serious interest in UFOs. The longest and most comprehensive UFO study ever undertaken in the United Kingdom is published, underpinning the MOD's commitment to the Freedom of Information Act and the principles of open government. Although some parts of the study have been quite properly withheld, as they relate to areas such as the capabilities of radar systems, the media and the public now have an insight into a world that was previously closed to them. The real X-Files have been opened and proof revealed as to just how seriously some of us in government viewed the UFO phenomenon, and how much hard work went into the effort to resolve one of the last great mysteries of our time.
Some commentators recently suggested that interest in UFOs was declining. The publication of this report looks set to reignite the debate and propel the subject back into the spotlight. UFOs - sorry, I mean UAPs - are back!
Part 1 <--
Related: MOD UFO Files Open to Public