MoD UFO Desk – The real story

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’.

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18 thoughts on “MoD UFO Desk – The real story

  1. Many thanks for trying to keep the public informed as to UFO’s etc.

    Later I will be doing an exclusive release of information including close up photos on the subject of UFO’s from this News Agency http://disqus.com/Carl_Barron/

    The disclosure is on one specific ‘UFO’ where it comes from and what it really is, more importantly the huge danger this specific ‘UFO’ presents.

    You will be able to see how the British Government has been keeping a secret of a system I formulated and designed that if used as was intended would have given BT Global High Capacity Control over all other networks. So why are they using this in the MoD when you consider BT allegedly went down with debts over 33Billion pounds?

    Did they not transfer and still are transferring vast sums of monies illegally, using this ‘Non Public Domain Communications Platform? Is this perhaps the system the Met Police were looking for over alleged monies for favours etc.

    You may read my statement and download proof from BT as to the systems existence. from here http://tinyurl.com/ycutdo8

    You will find some interesting content I have placed intro various comment threads in the media together with download proof as to what is discussed.

    Signed Carl Barron Chairman of agpcuk
    Webmaster of ‘Dorset Visual Guide’
    http://www.dorsetvisualguide.co.uk/
    http://disqus.com/Carl_Barron/
    http://carl-agpcuk.livejournal.com/
    Daily Mail http://tinyurl.com/lv25w4
    The Echo http://tinyurl.com/ydumlkl
    The Evening standard http://tinyurl.com/yh64vbm
    The I.C.C.O System has the ability to generate new business on a scale as never before possible. Link: http://tinyurl.com/y8jp72b
    Some ‘UFO’ Technical analysis reports by Carl Barron link below:
    http://www.ssgb.bravehost.com/walkford_ufo2.htm

  2. Andy, you need to get your facts right and don’t shoot the messenger.
    Neither myself or Nick Pope are “echoing” the MoD’s line on the reasons for the closure of the UFO desk.
    I think we all agree that the decision is short-sighted and cannot be justified on costs grounds, for all the reasons you have cited in your blog.
    But all I am doing is acting as a reporter. I made the FOI request, and as soon as I received it I posted the contents on my blog. I don’t see how this makes me part of any cover-up, all I’m doing is the same as you, ie. “annoying the MoD via the FOIA”. If it’s good enough for you, then why not for me?

    1. In all fairness David, I think the evidence for Nick echoing the Government line is apparent by his posting about “hundreds” of people making requests, commenting on the “administrative burden” – either that or its sloppy journalism on his part. In my humble opinion Nick likes to play poacher and gamekeeper, depending on the audience.

      In regards to the FOIA itself, its a bit of legislation that any citizen should use if the need occur. After all, these Government employees are supposed to answerable to our goodselves. I think you should be commended for the work you have done using the FOIA, I think you have uncovered some really important pieces of information – although I do disagree with a lot of your conclusions.

      But ultimately the point still remains: there is no huge burden caused by requests for information regarding UFOs. There is no huge cost involved. The MoD are using this as an excuse. It’s not my data we’re looking at. It’s the MoDs very own. They have lied from the outset. Due to lazy journalism and those not wanting to upset the apple cart (ie lose a profitable career writing drivel for the Murdoch press) no-one looked for story behind the story.

      1. Andy, I agree with most of what you have said.
        But even so, while I can’t speak for Nick Pope, I think your blog posting is unfair on me – as the person who got these papers released. Far from “echoing” what the MoD are claiming I’ve made it quite plain on my blog and in my comments to the press that I think the decision is wrong, short-sighted and eventually will have to be reversed when a major incident (such as a nearmiss) occurs in the future.
        You have also made an error in making your case on the fall in the numbers of FOI requests on this subject since 2005. While this is true, this is NOT the reason cited in the MoD documents for the closure of the desk. As you haven’t seen the actual documents you should have waited before posting your comments.
        The actual reason cited is not the increasing number of FOIs but the tripling of UFO reports. I quote: “Over the last decade the MOD has received an average of some 150 reports of UFOs from members of the public each year. This year, the rate at which reports are being received has risen substantially and to date the total stands at over 520 [effectively a tripling]. The increased workload caused by this upsurge in sighting reports is now exceeding the level of staff resource allocated to the task and impacting on other tasks….”
        If you had contacted me directly I could sent you the documents. Instead you have put out a statement which is not based upon facts and in the process have accused both myself and Nick of supporting the government’s position on something which isn’t true.
        I’m sure you don’t want to be seen as spreading disinformation so I hope you will now correct this error!

      2. Ultimately, as I have said, I think you should be commended for your efforts in regards to obtaining the information you have uncovered. As someone who has been chipping away using the FOIA myself I know that it can be a long and frustrating exercise. Your conclusions are not something I always agree with, I think your sceptical viewpoint doesn’t really reflect the facts, yet maybe I should distance you from Nick Pope. However….

        While on your blog I agree you have said the decisions is short cited your claim that things will need to be reversed when there is a major incident, but, we have a whole catalog of major incidents. As you state on the Channel 4 website ‘I suspect that the next time a near-miss incident involving civil or military aircraft occurs, they will be forced to rethink this somewhat short-sighted policy.’ – But the bottom line is there have been many documented near misses and the MoD views it, as ever, as not being of defence interest. So, why will things in the future change? Bottom line is: they won’t. Nothing thus far has publically interested them yet we have had some huge incidents.

        One man. One answerphone. One email address. £44-50,000. According to the great British press. They are the costs involved. In the recent documents it is mentioned about ‘staff levels’ which is something I will investigate eagerly, but primarily there must be a balancing of costs as FOIA requests fall and sightings rise – kinda like a see-saw effect. The MoD has a contemptuous attitude to FOIA requests and I will push this investigation further and I feel I am in the right ball-park. What the MoD claim is never as black and white as many would like to believe (unless you’re involved in UFOlogy and then the default mode is that the MoD always lie)

        Disinformation? It’s a dangerous word to throw about… I believe my argument is valid we will revisit this soon with further evidence…

  3. Good report Andy. It has been and should continue to be about integrity when dealing with this topic…the integrity of governments, the integrity of people. There is something afoul here.

  4. This is all most fascinating stuff indeed.

    I shall in fact be featuring this MoD story (thanks again Andy) plus loads of other ground-breaking UFO/Extraterrestrial data in my forthcoming book, UFO – The Search for Truth, which is due for launch this summer.
    The experience of writing UFO has opened up my eyes to many things, which I will be sharing in the lengthy study.

    http://canwritewillwrite.com/UFO.html

    http://ssgb.150m.com/north_west_ufo.htm

    Stop Press: Pre-release book data Author Pat Regan. To be published June 2010

  5. Andy, the bottom line is that you are claiming that my comments echoed the MoD’s position and therefore implied that I support their position.
    That is not true.
    As I have made it quite plain that is not the case, and you recognise that, all I’m asking for is for you to set the record straight.
    Why can’t you do that?

    1. As a bystander here it does seem Dave that you are perhaps over-reacting and splitting hairs over the word ‘echoed’
      The dictionary and common understanding for an ‘echo’ is something which repeats.
      It does not necessarily imply, as you state, that you support the Government position.
      If Andy had written:
      “Official reasons given by the Govt and ‘repeated’ by Nick Pope and Dr David Clarke are that it’s too costly etc” would you still be objecting?
      Presumably not because as you state you were merely repeating or reporting what the official reasons were.
      I am sure we are all now grateful to hear that you don’t accept those reasons given as valid and it’s good to know that over this you and Andy are on the same page.
      I’m sure we folk in the UFO scene have enough common ground to celebrate without quibbling over a single word.
      So you and Nick reported/repeated/echoed the reasons and now have let us all know that you disagree with them.
      So can we now get on with the real business of exposing officials who claim security isn’t threatened by unknown objects streaking through our skies sometimes narrowly missing our aircraft?

  6. Would you agree that another example of lazy journalism is where someone makes a public claim that is demonstrably false, but refuses to set the record straight even when that error is pointed out to them?

    Come on Andy, you were wrong to claim that I had echoed and reinforced MoD’s justification to close the UFO desk.

    Nick Pope might have done so, but that’s for him to answer, not me.

    All I’m asking is for you and Dave Haith to set the record straight on my position. Surely if you are interested in the truth that isn’t such a difficult thing to do?

    1. I do not believe that I have implied that you have ‘supported’ the MoD’s decision. I do not believe that you support their decision. I do not believe you have ‘echoed’ the MoD in the sense that you are merely repeating their propaganda.

  7. Never, ever think you shouldn’t write. You are a very, very good writer and have a lot to tell. Please, please don’t give it up. I will cross all my fingers, toes, eyes etc that you get it all back. But, if you don’t, maybe wait a while and then get back to re-writing the lost part.

  8. re the destruction of UFO records by the MoD.

    On Sunday I emailed MPs James Arbuthnot, Chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee and Tony Wright, Chairman of Public Administration Committee:

    “Dear Tony, James:

    Ref: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/21/20100228/tuk-mod-to-destroy-future-ufo-reports-6323e80.html

    You may be aware the MoD are planning to destroy all UFO reports. According to the report above, this is because the MoD wishes to avoid having to disclose such reports in the future. I would like to raise several concerns with you both, as it is both an FOI Act and defence issue.

    1. Will this record destruction be lawful? Do the Public Records and Freedom of Information Acts authorise the MoD to destroy entire classes of records? This appears to be an unprecendented action.
    2. I strongly question whether the destruction of records will provide a more efficient MoD, as they claim. Why should the tax-payer be denied access to these records? Given that these records are likely to represent a small fraction of the MoD’s total archive, I doubt whether it actually costs much to retain a few interesting records. They seem to have done so for decades with no problem at all.
    3. I also contest the claim that these records are of no defence value. Many researchers have found historical cases dating back to 1950s where the MoD’s predecessor organisations attempted interceptions of craft that exhibited performance characteristics well beyond that displayed by any Cold War power. The evidence shows that unexplainable intrusions into British airspace have occurred and these intrusions were tracked by ground and air radar. Such instrusions no doubt continue to this day. That cannot fail to be of defence interest, despite persistent MoD denials that such airspace intrusions are “of no defence interest”. The Mod may not be able to provide answers as to the nature of these craft but it is incumbent upon them to preserve pertinent records so that perhaps one day in the future , such records may assist in providing answers to an intriguing problem.

    My request is that the MoD be asked to suspend any record destruction until the law is clarified and a hearing held. If a court decides such record destruction would be lawful, then I believe the relevant legislation should be amended urgently to prevent such arbitrary and unnecessary actions. I also feel that the relevant Parliamentary committees should be speaking with the MoD to clarify and put on record their policy in this area as we seem to be seeing a pattern of the MoD attempting to distance itself from involvement in this field when it should be open with the public, not engaging in secret policy making.”

    1. I applaud your actions and agree with your points. I do however think, sadly, there is nothing illegal with their actions. Time will tell…

  9. Terrific article and an argument very well put. You’ve echoed and enlarged some of the very same thoughts I had and posted at my own site on the subject. There would be no need for any FOI requests if all reported incidents were made public immediately (although FOI requests are a smoke screen in this instance anyway). I find it hard to believe that before any of us folks can take to airspace of any kind we need to undergo metal detector tests, body scanning tests, endure restricted items on board and limited mobility – all in the name of protecting national security – but when a 1km wide chunk of metal starts showing up on radar and hurtles around at speeds we can only dream of – this is a non-event “Nothing to see here folks – move along….”

    Bizarre in the extreme.

    Ben

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