David Clarke. The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real-Life Sightings. 2nd edition Bloomsbury/National Archives. 2012
With the last tranche of the Ministry of Defence UFO files now put on line, David Clarke’s survey of some of the more interesting material in those files, originally published by The National Archives in 2009 and reviewed HERE has now been expanded and reissued.
The new edition, like the first, provides a reasoned examination of UFO reports, avoiding the extravagancies of believers, and the total dismissal of skeptics. This gives the most easily available sober accounts of tales such as Cosford or Rendlesham, which have been heavily promoted on the other side of the Atlantic. He manages to show in the latter case virtually all the most mysterious elements in the story come from the fertile imagination (whether conscious or unconscious, who can say) of Jim Penniston.
The main addition to this book, from the first edition, is the description of the closure of the Ministry of Defence’s ‘UFO desk’, and their withdrawal from any general interest in investigating or collating UFO reports. In 2009 an RAF officer – named, ironically, Mantell – recommended to the Minister of Defence that “we should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resources but produces no valuable defence output”.
It seems that a major concern of MOD officials when closing down their systems for processing UFO reports was to avoid giving the impression that there was any sort of ‘cover-up’ involved in the decision. For instance they deliberately did not consult any other government before making the decision, because “this would become public when the relevant UFO files are released and would be viewed by ‘ufologists’ as evidence of international collaboration and conspiracy”.
Nevertheless, the ‘UFO Desk’ was cleared, the remaining files delivered to the National Archives and the ‘UFO Hotline’ closed down, despite fears that the closure would “attract negative comment from ‘ufologists’ [who] may individually or as a group, mount a vociferous but short-lived campaign to reinstate the UFO hotline”. In this at least they were wrong, as most British ufologists had already realised that government-sponsored UFO investigation had had its day.
It has perhaps symbolic that the UFO files end with the millennium, though the subject still haunts the Internet, for both it and the milieu it flourished in, that of the small duplicated or printed magazine, have essentially ended. Though there are the occasional genuinely puzzling stories, such as the Alderney light, which might hint at uncatalogued natural phenomena, they are drowned out by endless accounts of Chinese lanterns, added to the usual misperceptions.
For anyone starting to take an interest in the subject who, in these cash strapped times, can only afford to buy one book on ufology, this is it. Highly recommended to everyone else. – Peter Rogerson