Summary: From 1991 until 1994, Nick Pope worked the "UFO desk" at Air Secretariat 2-A, British Ministry of Defense. His job was to assess UFO reports for any possible defense significance. What he learned gradually convinced him that at least some UFOs were most certainly technological objects of unknown origin, potentially of great significance to the defense of Great Britain.
Nick Pope Says Mystery Craft Often Penetrate UK Defenses
[From 1991 until 1994, Nick Pope worked the "UFO desk" at Air Secretariat 2-A, British Ministry of Defense. His job was to assess UFO reports for any possible defense significance. He found that his predecessor had treated all UFO reports as automatically mundane and essentially trivial. But Pope, though not a "believer," decided to do his job as if the true significance of any UFO report was actually unknown until studied. What he learned gradually convinced him that at least some UFOs were most certainly technological objects of unknown origin, potentially of great significance to the defense of Great Britain. In June of 1996, he published a book called "Open Skies, Closed Minds" which described his personal evolution as a UFO investigator and his views on the seriousness of UFO phenomena.
CNI News editor Michael Lindemann met with Nick Pope on November 17, 1996, during a UFO conference at Blackpool, England. Pope is 31 years of age, resides in London, and has worked as a civilian in various departments of the Ministry of Defense since 1985. He has not served in the armed forces. Though he left the UFO desk in 1994, he still works for the MoD and now pursues UFO investigations outside his regular job. CNI News thanks Celeste for transcribing the original interview tape.]
by Michael Lindemann
ML: In general, what does Secretariat Air Staff do?
NP: Secretariat Air Staff, a division of about 30 people, acts as an interface between the Royal Air Force and everybody else, like the press, Parliament, and the public. When things happen that you have to, for example, prepare a press line on, we are the people who interface with the military and translate the raw data into a user-friendly description of what happened. And, of course, in doing so, we try to allay people's concerns.
ML: How did it happen that you were assigned to the UFO desk?
NP: I fell into the job by accident, really. I had been working in another part of Secretariat Air Staff in a job that I didn't particularly like. Then, during the Persian Gulf War, I was working in the Joint Operations Center in the Ministry of Defense Main Building. While I was doing that job, I was working directly for a chap [who] worked in Secretariat Air Staff 2. He had a vacancy coming up and he said, "Look, after the Gulf War is finished, instead of going back to your old job, why don't we do an internal reshuffle, and you can have the UFO job if you want it." So it didn't even go through the Personnel Section. I was never quizzed about my knowledge or beliefs on UFOs. It was simply the fact that he offered me the job, and I felt, Well, why not?
ML: Were you enthused about it?
NP: Part of me, if I'm being honest, was just so keen to get out of the old job that I would have jumped at anything. But, of course, I won't say that I wasn't a little bit intrigued to know why the Ministry of Defense was looking at UFOs.
ML: How would you characterize your previous interest or attitude toward UFOs?
NP: I would say that it wasn't so much a question of being skeptical; I just didn't know anything about it and had never really thought about it. In my entire life, as far as I can recollect, I had never read a complete book on UFOs.
ML: When you came to this job, to whom did you report, and what were you supposed to accomplish?
NP: The chain of command is quite complicated. Being a division which worked very closely with the military, there was a dual chain of command, so you would report up the political chain to somebody called Assistant Undersecretary Commitments, and ultimately up to Defense Ministers, the Secretary of State for Defense. And then we were partly accountable on the military chain, too, to the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff and then the Chief of the Air Staff. But that's typical at Ministry of Defense. As to what we were supposed to do, the brief, in a nutshell, was to evaluate the UFO reports that came to us, to [see] whether there was a threat of any sort to the defense of the UK. Now, the party line was that unless there was evidence of any threat, that's where our involvement ended, and it wasn't then our job to go on and actually investigate each and every report. I took the view that you couldn't say there was no threat until you knew what these objects were that were being reported. So that gave me the hook upon which to hang my investigations. I inherited a situation where people were really doing little more than sending out letters. "Dear Mr. Smith, what you saw was probably aircraft lights, it's nothing to worry about. Thanks for writing. Goodbye." I didn't think that was really good enough. I started off playing by those rules. But in the course of my three years, from 1991 to 1994, gradually my views began to evolve. As I got more and more reports, I became gradually convinced that there was more to this than just aircraft lights.
ML: Can you point to any event, or sequence of events, that caused you to decide there was really something important here?
NP: I think the moment where I really felt, "Okay, this is it, I'm not playing any more," was a wave of sightings that occurred on the 30th and 31st of March, 1993. We had several hundred reports that came our way. Many of the witnesses were police. A lot of police in the southwest of the country, in Devon and Cornwall, saw something. Now, as with all of these big waves of sightings, quite a lot of the reports were fairly mundane, lights in the sky. But even so, it was quite late at night -- most of these reports were between, say, 1:00 and 1:30 in the morning -- and because there were police officers on night patrol, you're dealing with more than average recognition training, and people used to being out and about, and used to seeing lights and other things in the sky. Repeatedly, I heard the phrase, "This was like nothing I'd ever seen before in my life." People were genuinely quite spooked by this.
What was generally reported was two lights, flying in a perfect formation, with a third, much fainter light -- our old friend the flying triangle, really. The lights were described as being in a triangle formation. It's difficult to say, of course. It's quite possible they could have been three separate things flying in formation, but the impression from talking to witnesses was that this was a triangular craft with lights mounted on the underside, at the edges. The most interesting reports, of course, were the ones which occurred at close distance. There was a family in Staffordshire who apparently saw this thing so low -- and they described it as either triangular or diamond shaped -- that they leapt into their car and tried to chase it. They didn't succeed, although at one point they thought it was so low that it had actually come down in a field. It wasn't there when they got to it. They described a low, humming sound, a very low-frequency sound. They said you didn't just hear this sound, you felt it, like standing in front of a bass speaker.
The really intriguing thing was that this object, whatever it was, then proceeded to fly over two military bases. It was seen by the guard patrol at RAF Cosford, about three or four people, [who] made an instant report of this, obviously because it had flown over their base. They checked radar. There was nothing on the screens, nothing at all, and there was nothing scheduled to fly. No military or civil aircraft should have been airborne in that area at all. They phoned the nearby base at RAF Shawbury, about 12 miles away from Cosford. The meteorological officer there took the call. He was a man with about eight years experience of looking into the night sky and then doing the weather report for the next day. So he knew his way around objects and phenomena. Now, to his absolute amazement, he saw a light in the distance, coming closer and closer. That light eventually resolved itself into a solid structured craft that he saw again flying directly over the base, but at much closer proximity than the guard patrol at Cosford had seen it. He estimated that the height of the object was no more than 200 feet. Its size, he said, was midway between a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and a Boeing 747. He heard the low hum, too. He had not spoken to any other witnesses, except the Cosford people, who I don't think had reported the sound. He reported this low-frequency hum. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, he reported this thing throwing a beam of light down at the nearby countryside and fields just beyond the perimeter fence at the base. And this light was tracking backwards and forwards, he said to me, "as if it was looking for something." The beam of light then retracted, and the craft moved off. It was traveling very slowly, I should say, probably no more than 20 or 30 mph. Then it gained a little bit of height, and then it just shot off to the horizon in little more than a second. Needless to say, that was a description I had come across many times in other UFO reports, the virtual hover to the high-Mach accelerations in an instant.
I launched a full investigation. I made all the usual checks, trying to track down aircraft movement, satellite activity, airships, weather balloons, meteorites, etc., etc. I drew a blank -- with one exception -- and then put a report up the chain of command. The exception was a ballistic missile early warning sensor at RAF Fylingdales, in North Yorkshire. It is estimated that at some stage in the night there had been a rocket reentry of, I think, Cosmos 2238, which might have caused a very brief firework display in the high atmosphere. It's just possible that some of the vague lights-in-the-sky sightings might have been explained in that way, although Fylingdales didn't seem very sure on whether [the satellite re-entry] was actually going to be visible from the UK at all. But, clearly, it wouldn't explain the sighting of the family in Staffordshire and, most importantly of all, the direct overflight of the military bases, particularly the meteorological officer's report. He had obviously seen a structured craft. This to me really [refuted] any idea that these things are of no defense significance. You had a craft which, whatever it was, had penetrated our defense region. It wasn't on our radar, and we hadn't got our air defense fighters out. So whether it was extraterrestrial or not, there was something which we all should have been very concerned about.
The debate got bogged down in the search for Aurora, the alleged hypersonic replacement to the SR-71 Blackbird. We were chasing our tails trying to find out whether there was such a thing. We were asking the Americans, "Are you operating a prototype aircraft in our airspace?" That, of course, was nonsense. You simply would not do that from a diplomatic and political point of view. It would undermine the entire structure of NATO if you were putting things through someone else's airspace, particularly a close ally, without seeking the proper diplomatic clearance. But we had to ask. And the Americans, having had similar reports, I guess, since the Hudson Valley wave [New York state, mid-1980s], had been quietly asking us if we had some large, triangular shaped object that could go from 0 to Mach 5 in a second. Our response was that we wished we did. This was the bizarre situation: that we were chasing the Americans, and the Americans were chasing us. Meanwhile, I suspected a third party was having a laugh!
ML: You ran this up the chain of command, and you went through all the necessary procedures. Did you, in the end, hit a blank wall? Was there any follow-through, any aftermath to this, any inkling that policy was in motion over this?
NP: I put a report up the chain of command, and it ended up on the desk of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, who is an Air Vice Marshall. The report ended up on his desk, but to be fair, I had made pretty much all of the checks that could possibly be made, so while he was undoubtedly interested in it, he could say little more than, "Well, this is interesting, good investigation, well done, but there is nothing further we can do." I do have some sympathy because, of course, so much of ufology is a study of something that isn't there anymore. So the critics would say that he should have done more, but I'm not sure that there is that much more that he could do. I think the report did change attitudes, albeit in a very subtle and gradual way. It made people in the chain of command think. It was the first time I could recall a UFO report ending up on the desk of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, to look at it from a defense and national security viewpoint. Maybe it got him thinking.
Certainly when I socialized with my RAF colleagues, I would find that they were a little bit more receptive to the idea of UFOs -- and by that I mean perhaps even an extraterrestrial explanation for this -- than you might have supposed. One of the reasons for that was that so many RAF pilots had actually seen things themselves. Many of them have never made an official report. I had one chap tell me that he had seen something over the North Sea. I asked him why he hadn't reported it, and he said, "I don't want to be known as Flying Saucer Fred for the rest of my career."
But there were some reports occasionally made up the military chain of command. On the fifth of November 1990, a flight of Tornado aircraft were returning to the UK across the North Sea when they were overtaken at high speed by a UFO. They reported it. They speculated that it might be a Stealth, but my impression was that they were only saying that because it was the only thing they knew how to say. But this was really interesting, because you had pretty much the best jet in the RAF just made to look totally ineffective by being overtaken and left standing by this object, whatever it was.
Now, questions have been asked in our Parliament about this very recently, in the Autumn of 1996. The official line from the Ministry of Defense is, "Yes, this happened. No, we don't know what it is, but we say that it is of no defense significance." How can it possibly be of no defense significance when your best jet is left for standing by a UFO? And, again, how can it be of no defense significance when your air defense region is routinely penetrated by structured craft?
ML: This seemingly irrational denial of significant UFO events could be interpreted as evidence of a deliberate cover-up. What are your views on that?
NP: I found no evidence to support a cover-up in Britain. I think, without trying to sound too arrogant, that I would have gotten a few hints in three years if there had been someone doing my job but on a covert basis, not least because the one thing they would have needed beyond anything else was access to the raw data of the witnesses, and never once in three years had any witness complained that I had sent someone around to the house.
ML: How about your view on cover-ups, say, among the Americans? Any sense of that?
NP: That was a little more complicated. The one thing that I tried to do very quickly in my tour of duty was to establish contact with an American opposite member, because I thought it was sensible to tap into the expertise which I was sure must exist there, and to exchange data, given that Britain and America work very closely on all sorts of other defense issues. I made extensive inquiries both through the American Embassy in London and through the British Embassy in Washington, but I drew a complete blank. I couldn't find anyone who claimed to be investigating UFOs for the [U.S.] government. I was told, "No, since Project Blue Book was closed down in 1969 we just have not done it anymore." Now, I found that bizarre and, I would have to say, a bit at odds with authenticated Freedom of Information documents, which seem to suggest that various agencies in America have been up to their eyeballs in UFO research. But, for whatever reason, I simply couldn't get access. And it was my perception that -- I have to be careful what I say of my close allies and friends, of course -- certainly the full story was not being told, and the true nature of involvement and the true situation had not really been made public in the States.
But in Britain, I do think that if anything has been covered up about UFOs corporately, it's just how little we know; there's a coverup of ignorance and prejudice. Time and again when you would brief people, they would repeatedly say, "Of course, I don't believe in UFOs." You'd be talking about a structured craft of unknown origin -- you'd be talking, say, about a near miss between a UFO and a civil airliner -- but the moment you use the word "UFO," people just switched off. They didn't want to know. You were dealing with someone's belief system and, you know, the language is incredibly biased. So if you talk about unauthorized penetration of the UK air defense region, people will listen. But if you talk about a UFO, they won't, although you had just been talking about the same thing, using different language. It's a question of mindset, as well. The Ballistic Early Warning Center at Fylingdales was saying that they frequently got fireballs on their screens, and they say that they flash across at speeds of several thousand miles an hour. And the question was put to them, "How do you know that they are fireballs?" And they said, "Well, because they go very fast." Now, that is the view that I was up against, and that is the paradigm you have to challenge if you want anyone to take this seriously.
ML: Lately in Great Britain there have been a number of serious UFO incidents. One apparently occurred in the region called the Wash near Skegness on October 5 [see CNI News 2.15 of October 16, 1996], involving many military and police witnesses. What update can you give on that?
NP: The incident on the Wash was fascinating because there were sightings reported by the police at Skegness, and various other witnesses, including the crew of a civil oil tanker. People were seeing green and red lights in the sky. Now at first sight that might have indicated some sort of aircraft activity, but this was pretty much staying in the same place, and it continued to stay there for some hours. Simultaneously, this was picked up on several different radar systems, both military and civil. The most bizarre thing about this is that jets were not scrambled. This to me seems quite extraordinary: that you can have a visual sighting of a UFO, which has clearly penetrated our air defenses, whatever it is, coupled with this thing showing up on several different radar screens, yet our air defense aircraft sit there quite casually on the ground. Now, that poses the question, "Why?" And it is my understanding that a member of Parliament here has raised that very question with Secretary of State for Defense, [asking], "What is the standard practice about scrambling jets? What has to happen before our air defense aircraft get off the ground here?" The incident remains unexplained, but clearly raises some serious questions about the way in which we police our air defense region.
ML: Now that you're well away from the UFO desk at Ministry of Defense, are you continuing to pursue your research? What are you working on now?
NP: At the moment, I'm working on the abduction mystery. I'm writing a book which is to be called "The Uninvited." In Britain it's scheduled for June 1997, published by Simon and Schuster. It attempts to be an overview of the abduction phenomenon, with part two of the book being a series of cases that people won't have come across before, with various abductees telling their own stories, with a minimum of spin from me. So that's taking up all of my time at the moment. But I continue my research into UFOs and abductions on a private basis. I was touched by this subject when I was doing it officially, and like many who are touched by it, you find that you simply can't walk away from it.
ML: Undoubtedly you are aware of nay-sayers who respond to all these claims of UFOs with a variety of theories ranging from "honest mistakes" to various forms of psychopathology, hoaxes, and so forth. For yourself, coming out of the Ministry of Defense environment, and having had some experience with a fairly hard edge of the phenomenon, how do you respond to those types of remarks?
NP: Many skeptics raise entirely valid points, and my official research and investigation certainly [supported] the fact that nine out of ten UFOs have conventional explanations. They are either misidentifications, or some sort of psychological or psychopathological explanation, or simply somebody making it up because they're fantasy-prone. [But] that to me does not explain the whole story. It seems to me there is a technology on display which goes beyond the cutting edge of our own. People talk about prototype aircraft, but in my experience you simply don't fly those over populated areas where they can be photographed and put on the front page of the next morning's newspaper. If that's your best bit of hardware, you just don't risk it like that. And you don't fly into other people's air space without diplomatic clearance, either. I concentrate on the science. I'm interested in the UFOs seen by the police and military witnesses. I'm interested in the near misses that pilots report, where their aircraft nearly collide with these things. I'm interested in the visual sightings backed up by radar. I'm interested in the military bases that are overflown by these things. I'm interested in the cases where you have radiation readings on the ground. These are no lights in the sky. These are not misidentifications or fantasy prone individuals. This is a cutting-edge technology being reported by reliable, trained observers, and it is something that goes beyond what we can do. That to me suggests that if it is not ours, it belongs to someone else. If that technology is better than ours, then the extraterrestrial hypothesis seems to me the best explanation.