Summary: France has a long history of continuing official interest in UFO reports, in the shape of a service of its small NASA-equivalent called CNES, the Center for Space Studies. CNES spokesman Benedetti said that SEPRA as a service does not exist anymore since January 2004. A petition by French ufologists has been organized to safeguard and make publicly available the archives from the official government program.
France has a long history of continuing official interest in UFO reports, in the shape of a service of its small NASA-equivalent called CMES, the Center for Space Studies. The CNES "UFO bureau" was called GEPAN, then SEPRA, and generated both interest, controversy, rumors as it regularly tended to conclude that UFOs are real and maybe or probably extraterrestrial, although such a position was never publicized and appeared only on internal documents or as personal opinion of GEPAN /SEPRA's changing directors.
A ufologist alerted colleagues that apparently Jean-Jacques Velasco, the current director for SEPRA, would not be in charge of SEPRA anymore. Many wondered if this had to do with his new book in which he gives his personal conclusion that some UFOs are real and extraterrestrial.
An article of the French astronomy popularization magazine "Ciel et Espace" for June 2004 which appeared in newstands recently and was reproduced by a webmaster on the Internet was headlined: "CNES buries UFOs." The article shows quite a bias against the notion that some UFO reports may be explained by ET spacecraft, and quite hostile to SEPRA and GEPAN, indicating that they just issued a few "technical notes on problems of methodology". The article seems to tend towards the notion that UFO reports are merely a sociology problem. It also indicated that the archive of CNESm including sanitized witness testimonies gathered by the authorities may be published at some undefined time.
Ufologist Gildas Bourdais noted that a bizarre twist is that the article was published on the internet a good week before the magazine appeared in newstands: "It looks like some people were very eager to see it published."
A noted german UFOskeptic commented that SEPRA is closed, and that it is only normal since there are no UFOs, and that the ending of SEPRA is a "sign of the times", i.e. the times when everybody understands that UFOs are only Venu and hot air baloons and hoaxes.
A journalist of of the newspaper later "Sud-Ouest" wrote that SEPRA does not exist anymore, but that Jean-Jacques Velasco is still in charge of UFOs at CNES, alone at this task as previously.
Journalist and Fortean researcher Gregory Guttierez did an interview on May 28 with Arnaud Benedetti, the official spokesperson for CNES.
The interview, and his comments about it, are available here - in French: http://www.ovniland.com/article.php3?id_article=10
Benedetti said that SEPRA as a service does not exist anymore since January 2004, and that Jean-Jacques Velasco is now "in charge of mission" dealing with "rare aerospace phenomena". Benedetti said that the means and the operation of that mission are under discussion and no decision seems to have been made yet. A think tank may be created to think about a real program to study "rare aerospace phenomena."
Benedetti said CNES is indifferent to the conclusions by Jean-Jacques Velasco recently published in his new book: UFOs are real and extraterrestrial and he proved it scientifically. Both CNES and Jean-Jacques Velasco said or wrote that this conclusion is a personal conclusion of Jean-Jacques Velasco. Many were concerned - or hoped - that this personal conclusion would result in Jean-Jack Velasco being sacked.
Asked by Guttierez whether the archive will be made public at last, Benedetti said so. Asked about some indication of a delay, he answered that this will take "a long time."
In the middle of the rumor and uncertainties as to the continuation of the official French UFO effort or its ending, I have expressed publicly my own concern, first on the two leading french UFO/Forteana Internet discussion groups Aleph and OVNI-Science:
As you already know, CNES seems to have taken the decision to close SEPRA.
ALL documentation, papers, studies, photographs, testimonies (anonymized), graphs, listings, files, taking away of the GEPAN/SEPRA constitute a PUBLIC PROPERTY gathered thanks to the taxes paid by us all.
Since this public property is not used any more, because of the suppression of the service which exploited it (whatever the quality of this service or its conclusions), this documentation should be accessible to all, without delay, free of charges, for the benefit of WHOEVER would like to make his/her own opinion or to consolidate his/her opinion on UFOs, GEPAN, SEPRA and CNES matters.
Procedures at least as simple as the American FOIA regulation should be organized without delay.
A public archive location open to the public should be organized as soon as possible, following the example in the United States since 1977 where National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC, maintains for the benefit of ANY American citizen the integrality or almost of many cubic meters of UFO documentation gathered or created by Project Blue Book, also offering facilities of reproduction at cost price.
It would be morally and scientifically outrageous that this documentation disappears, as it was the case with the Colorado project (Condon report) in the United States, which files should have been opened but were taken by the study director to his personal residence where he finally made a garden fire of it.
I firmly think that the entire French ufology community should now have a high concern to ask for public access to this documentation in its entirety.
The response or lack of response of CNES to this demand would prove or disprove their good faith.
If French ufologists, whatever their opinions, have no other concern that to quack and speculate over and over without ending, on this or that error in past SEPRA activities, or to debate on incompetence or dissimulation, or to criticize their colleagues for conspirationnist tendency or any of their opinions, they will get only what they deserve:
A petition has very quickly been organized. A remarkable thing is that many ufologists in France have shared my concern and signed the petition. Many have understood that the question is not so much about speculating on the content of the CNES unpublished archives or the reality of UFOs and not even on the quality of SEPRA / GEPAN archives or the personality of Jean-Jacques Velasco, but that it is very important that everyone finally gets the possibility to see for himself and make his own opinion or work on this archive. This is why the petition has gathered ufologist of completely antagonist opinions on UFOs, ETs, CNES: the goal is that the archives must not be lost or filed in some cellar, they must be sanitized and opened to all.
If you have the same concern, please visit the petition's web site and sign.
The petition and more comments information is at: