Why after 50 years has the British Govt closed down its Ministry of Defence UFO desk?
Official reasons given by the Govt and echoed by Nick Pope and Dr David Clarke are that it’s too costly and the flood of UFO Freedom of Information Act enquiries is taking up an increasing and unacceptable amount of time.
The facts have shown that both reasons are bunk – and even the Under Secretary of State has been caught repeating a blatant lie over the figures.
On 23rd December 2009 the UK Government called time on the UFO Desk, the MoDs UFO reporting facility. Despite operating for more than 50 years it was now deemed to be a resource the British Government could no longer justify. According to The Times, the cost per year was around £44,000. When we put into context later how much that equates to in the grander scheme of things, we can see that it is a drop in a mighty ocean. What was surprising to me was the evidence that the Government, Nick Pope and Dr David Clarke have put forward to re-enforce its position on this decision.
When we look at the decision objectively, with some actual data and not just vague comments from the aforementioned, we see that the UFO Desk is not a resource that is particularly draining on the MoD or the British taxpayer.
First stop in our assessment of the data is the data itself. Professor Alasdair Roberts, of Sussex University Law School wrote a paper entitled ‘Preliminary Analysis of Data Relating to the Processing of Freedom of Information Act Requests Received by the UK Ministry of Defence (Revised May 2009). Professor Roberts took data received from the MoD which showed all the FOIA requests made since 2005 and broke it down into categories such as the type of people making requests (such an ex-employee, media/journalists, private individuals etc), whether the requests received the requested documents etc. So in short, it was a snapshot of the FOIA function of the MoD.
Professor Roberts highlights that since 2005 FOIA requests to the MoD have been declining. He also explains that the reason FOIA requests (in general) were so high is because there was a ‘pent up’ need for information that the FOIA was now addressing and since then there was a decline in requests that was expected to continue to this present day. And judging by the fact that Professor Roberts was updated in May 2009, we can see that this assumption is proving correct.
In relation to UFO requests the decline in requests is also apparent. If we take a quick snapshot:
2005: 199 UFO related requests
2006: 140 UFO related requests
2007: 120 UFO related requests
So we can see the diminishing requests for information. Now, out of the data of the 15,627 requests made in total to the MoD, there are just 459 requests pertaining to UFOs. So our UFO requests snapshot equates to only 2.93% of enquiries. Which is hardly the picture Nick Pope, Dr Clarke and the Government are painting.
Now, in their official briefings, as highlighted on Dr Clarke’s blog dated 18 January 2010, the MoD did not expect the volume of UFO requests to reduce, but according to the MoDs own data, that demand was diminishing every year. Yet these same MoD officials were able to effectively lie to the Secretary of State and claim that the work regarding responding to UFO FOIA enquiries was “[distracting] them from more important priorities”. As we have looked at the data we have seen that this only equates to 2.93% of their FOIA requests. There are larger categories of requests such as the Iraq war, the Afghanistan conflict, yet the MoD is quibbling about 2.93%? Do not insult our intelligence.
According to Under Secretary for Defence Tom Watson “There is a real and enduring interest in Unidentified Flying Objects. By far the most popular topic of FOI requests has been UFOs, followed by recruitment enquiries, enquiries from staff, and historical events such as World War Two, the Falklands conflict and the Balkans. Recent freedom of information releases on UFOs have attracted media interest from as far away as Japan.” – (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_10036975) But this is an out and out lie! And even IF they were the most popular topic, they still represented only 2.93% of the overall requests made.
Another good snapshot of the small amount of UFO FOIA requests made to the MoD comes via the website whatdotheyknow.com. This is an automated service which allows users to auto-generate and auto-submit FOIA requests to any branch of Government. The great thing about this is that we can see the requests and their responses. Now, between 17/05/2008 and 19/02/2010 whatdotheyknow.com submitted 323 enquiries to the MoD. Of those 323 enquiries only 3 were relating to UFOs. That calculates as 0.93% of FOIA relating to UFO submissions via the website. It’s another snapshot of how small a percentage the UFO requests actually are.
Just to put the boot in further, if we look at the latest FOIA Disclosure Log (a log of all the FOIA requests the MoD has received between 7th December 2009 and 1st January 2010) the amount of UFO related requests is 4.08% of the total requests made. Again, a very small amount. Now, 2009 was supposed to be a bumper year for reports, but that doesn’t really match with the claims that the UFO Desk was being closed because of FOIA requests. Requests. Not reports.
Now, Nick Pope claims that in 2007 there were more requests about UFOs than anything else (http://www.nickpope.net/mod-ufo-files.htm) – yet the MoDs data shows that this is not the case. Only 120 requests were made. So where Nick has obtained this information from is beyond me, as the MoDs actual data tells a different story and this is further verified by Professor Roberts’ paper. According to Nick “hundreds of people were bombarding the MoD with requests” (http://www.nickpope.net/mod-ufo-files.htm.) Er, no, they weren’t. That year it was only 120. But when Nick was told that all the files were being released due to this “administrative burden” (same web page), Nick very generously broke the story to the media. Shame you didn’t check the facts first, Nick.
So, let us put the gargantuan cost of the UFO Desk into context. According to The Times, the cost is £44,000 and the UFO Desk employed one person. (That’s right. One. Now employed elsewhere in the MoD) The MoD entire budget is around £39.6billion. Whilst the Government is looking to cut what it deems unnecessary burdens maybe they should have looked at the 141 days lost (man-hours in total) as it gave MoD troops and billion-pounds worth of equipment to be used in BBC’s Top Gear programme. So let me get this straight, the Government quibbles over £44k and security of its airspace, yet troops and their equipment can go play with Jeremy Clarkson for a grand total of 141 days? (As reported in The Guardian). The Government and Nick Pope can wring their hands in horror at the “administrative burden” and the costs attached to that, but the Government paid over £37 million in bonuses of MoD staff in 2009.
The Governments of this world, and the “experts”, can all come forward all give us their sound-bite and their “insights” as to why decisions are made, but in this case, as in so many others, the data does not support their claims. There is no desk being “bombarded” with UFO requests, there is no “administrative burden”, there is no desk costing the MoD huge amounts of cash. We know this because the MoD’s own data tells us so. What there is, is a group of liars, a group of people who expect the general public not to ask questions, not to dig in the background, but to blindly accept what they have been told. The MoD has been looking to distance itself from the UFO subject for a long time, and this is just the flimsy excuse it will use. The MoD will get the usual suspects to toe the party line and tell us half-truths to further its cause.
This is a continuation of the MoD’s end-game or exit strategy regarding UFOs. So in the future, when there is another sighting, another incident or another Rendlesham, the MoD can smugly say that is has nothing to do with UFOs, it was all closed down due to the “administrative burden” and the “hundreds of requests” it was receiving, plus all the resources it was taking up. Or, as the press and others have just reported, the MoD will destroy all UFO reports after 30 days. What other Government department could get away with such a stance? Your local Police authority will now start destroying crime reports after 30 days? Your local Social Services will start destroying reports of children at risk after 30 days? As with all Government departments it’s a case of ‘smoke and mirrors’.