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The Rendlesham Files Reviewed

Nick Pope, UFO Magazine, Oct. 2001

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Ever since Georgina Bruni first broke the story concerning the release of MOD documents on the Rendlesham Forest incident, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of numerous questions concerning the papers. [Here are] observations based on my personal involvement with this case.

Nick Pope

author's bio


Ever since Georgina Bruni first broke the story concerning the release of MOD documents on the Rendlesham Forest incident, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of numerous questions concerning the papers: Did they prove that in my previous statements on the case I’d withheld information from ufologists? Was I implicated in a cover-up? Had I seen all of the papers? Had I been involved in the decision to release them? Sceptics and believers alike trawled through my previous comments on the case, and I found myself quoted, misquoted and selectively quoted. Everyone, so it seemed, had an opinion or an agenda. But what was the truth? In this article I’ll address all these issues and offer a personal view on what is already proving to be the biggest and most significant ufological story in many years.

I should first pay tribute to Lord Hill-Norton and Georgina Bruni, whose tireless efforts over the last few years have culminated in the release of these documents. Whether you’re a sceptic or a believer, anyone with a genuine interest in ufology should applaud the hard work that these two dedicated individuals have done, in their quest for the truth.

I will not go into a detailed summary or analysis of the documents themselves, because this has already been done by Georgina Bruni in her comprehensive article in the September edition of UFO Magazine, and in the various newspaper, television and radio interviews that she carried out after having broken the story. Instead, I’ll confine myself to observations based on my personal involvement with this case.

Are The Documents Genuine?

The first point I should make is that the documents are genuine. Readers may think this goes without saying, but I disagree. Ufologists are well-used to debates about whether documents are genuine or bogus, the MJ-12 papers being a case in point. I can confirm that there are no question marks over the provenance of the Rendlesham documents. I say this for two reasons: firstly, I’ve seen the covering letter from the MOD under which these documents were released to Georgina, and know that it’s genuine. Secondly, and on a far more personal level, I recognise most of the papers from my time in Sec(AS). Indeed, I wrote some of them! More about this later.

How Many Files?

Another point worth making is that the papers do not come exclusively from one file. Some people are already talking about “The Rendlesham File”, but this is misleading. In fact, the papers come from two main files, D/DS8/10/209 and D/Sec(AS)/12/2/1. The first of these was a general file on which miscellaneous UFO briefs, reports and correspondence were placed. There were seven “parts” to this file (i.e. different folders bearing the same reference, designated parts A to G). Generally speaking, a part should be closed when it contains one hundred enclosures or when it becomes over an inch thick, although this doesn’t always happen. Initially, papers on the Rendlesham Forest incident were placed on this general file, which explains why “E109” is written on the top right hand corner of Charles Halt’s memorandum, as opposed to E1 as one might expect.

It was only in 1982 that a discrete file on the Rendlesham Forest incident was opened, but as late as 1983, papers were still being incorrectly placed on the general file. To further complicate matters, DS8 ceased to exist in 1985 and was replaced by Sec(AS), following a major reorganisation of the MOD. The files were re-titled accordingly. Therefore although the MOD’s discrete Rendlesham file (D/Sec(AS)12/12/1) bears the date of October 1982 in the top left hand corner, as the date it was opened, Sec(AS) did not exist in 1982!

More Observations Concerning The Files

There’s another point about the front cover of the file (reproduced on page 10 of last month’s magazine) that’s worth making. The phrase “S/R 2025” means that the scheduled review date of the file was to have been 2025. This stems from the so-called 30-year rule which is a key part of the Public Record Acts of 1958 and 1967, and tells us that the Rendlesham Forest file was closed in 1994. Indeed, just about the final paper on the file was a 1994 briefing that I prepared for the MOD Press Office, which was passed to the makers of a Central TV documentary. I subsequently appeared in this programme as an official MOD spokesperson, giving the “no defence significance” party line, both in relation to the Rendlesham Forest incident and the UFO phenomenon more generally.

The final observation concerning the file cover relates to the “Sent Out Date” of 1/11/00 (i.e. sent out to the secretariat, at their request, from the Records Management division commonly referred to within the MOD as “Archives”). Georgina Bruni has pointed out that this is exactly the time when the MOD asked her publishers to supply the Department with an advance copy of her book You Can’t Tell The People, prior to its circulation to Defence Ministers and other senior MOD personnel. There are certain things that I can’t say about this and about the release of the documents, but I should make it clear that I no longer have any official MOD role in relation to the subject, and was in no way involved in the decision to release the documents.

These detailed comments about the files are doubtless difficult to follow, but I think it’s important to set out some information concerning the way in which MOD files are opened, managed, closed and archived. If it’s any consolation, I’ve worked for the MOD for over 16 years now and I still find this sort of thing confusing! Conspiracy theorists are driven to distraction by the complexities of the MOD filing system, but what they often see as evidence of a cover-up is generally only proof of civil service bureaucracy. On this, the sceptics and I agree.

The Role Of The Secretariat

The MOD documents completely demolish one enduring ufological myth, which is the theory that DS8 and its successor Sec(AS) acted only as a “shop window”, dealing with public sightings and correspondence only, while military UFO sightings were investigated by shadowy branches that carried out secret research which those in the secretariat had no need to know, and no security clearance to see. I’ve always said that this was nonsense, and I’m pleased that the files now prove I’m right. They clearly show that the secretariat acts as the lead department and tasks various specialist divisions to check points of detail relating to their specific areas of expertise. So if anything, these specialist branches have a subordinate role to the secretariat. It was curious that a handful of believers and sceptics found some common ground here and seemed genuinely to believe that Sec(AS) were somehow “out of the loop”, acting as little more than a public relations office that carried out low level clerical tasks. The newly released documents set the record straight on this point.

Do I Remember All These Documents?

This is almost impossible for me to answer, given that I last saw the various UFO files over seven years ago. I’m very suspicious when people claim perfect recollection of official documents, years after their involvement. While I recognise most of them, I can’t swear that I recall every single one. Similarly, I’m pretty sure that I recall other Rendlesham documents that aren’t yet in the public domain. I’m trying to recall the details of these, but again I’m not sure about this and obviously couldn’t talk about such matters anyway, at least until an official decision to release them has been made.

Although most of the Rendlesham Forest documents that the MOD could locate have been released, five have been withheld because of exemptions to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. But aside from these withheld documents is the entirely separate issue of documents that were never on any of the files in the first place. As an example, I’m virtually certain that the individual statements taken or allegedly taken from key USAF witnesses Burroughs, Penniston, Cabansag, Buran and Chandler weren’t on any of the files I saw. I’m pretty sure this means they were never passed to the MOD, although I can’t be sure on this point. The photographs taken by Master Sergeant Ray Gulyas the morning after the first incident (showing Captain Mike Verrano and PC Brian Creswell examining the landing site) were also almost certainly never forwarded. I definitely didn’t see them during my time in Sec(AS).

This may sound a bit vague, but I’m being asked to recall specific details of work I did seven years ago, when the Rendlesham Forest incident was already thirteen years in the past. It’s not an easy task.

The Defence Intelligence Staff

Some of the released documents are from the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) and this brings me to a difficult area. It will be no great surprise to those with a knowledge of the MOD that where I’ve previously referred to “specialist divisions” assisting me with UFO work, this included the DIS. The documents make it abundantly clear that with regard to Rendlesham, DS8 and the DIS worked hand in hand, freely sharing data in the course of the investigation. This certainly reflects what happened during my tour of duty in Sec(AS), from 1991 to 1994, when I would routinely liaise with these personnel, sharing data and ideas. But for reasons that I’m sure will be obvious, this was an area of my work that I could never previously have discussed with the media or the public. It’s an area where I still can’t be wholly forthcoming, and where not everything that happens is written up on files. I don’t mean this to sound conspiratorial, and please don’t think that I’m hinting at a cover-up, because I’m not. I’m simply trying to explain that the MOD and the military do business in a way that few outsiders understand.

Now some DIS UFO documents have been released, I can confirm the basic fact of my involvement with this part of the Department. But before they were released I could say nothing at all about such matters, and my original silence on the joint DS8/DIS/RAF investigation in the immediate aftermath of the incident is being interpreted as proof that either I wasn’t aware of this work or that I’d helped cover it up. Anyone who knows anything about intelligence matters and the Official Secrets Act must realise that I had to follow the party line here and not discuss any aspect of the case that wasn’t yet in the public domain. The idea that I’d be able to casually discuss such matters during interviews with ufologists is farcical.

The Radiation Readings

I want now to offer some views on two key aspects of the case that have been further highlighted by the released documents. The first is the issue of the radiation readings taken at the landing site by Staff Sergeant Munro Nevilles, on the orders of Charles Halt. When I re-opened the investigation into the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1994 I contacted Giles Cowling at the Defence Radiological Protection Service (DRPS) and asked that he provide Sec(AS) with an assessment of the radiation readings recorded in Halt’s memo. This assessment was that the readings were ten times what would be expected for the area concerned. As I was subsequently to discover, this assessment was broadly similar to the original assessment from the DIS, which I hadn’t seen at the time. Writing on 23 February 1981 R C Horscroft, ADI/DI52 said “The value of 0.1 milliroentgens (mr), I assume that this is per hour, seems significantly higher than the average background of about 0.015 mr”.

Some questions have been raised about the readings in Halt’s memo. Maybe the dial was misread, and maybe the needle was waving around so much that an accurate measurement was impossible. Well, all I can say to that is “maybe”. But any official assessment has to be based on the data received. It’s also been pointed out that the equipment used was not designed for the task. Short of suggesting that the USAF have a piece of kit designed specifically to measure radiation from UFOs, I’m not sure how to deal with such comments. Of course the equipment wasn’t designed for such a task, so of course it wasn’t ideal. But one can only use the equipment available, so again, we can only analyse the data we have, not the data we’d like to have.

I’ve previously assured people that the radiation at the landing site would have posed no danger to Halt and his team, or to those who subsequently visited the location. Various sceptics have tried to spin this comment into my saying that the radiation readings were low. What I actually said is that they were comparatively low and therefore harmless. They are, however, as both the DIS and DRPS assessments make clear, significantly higher than would have expected. But as I’ve patiently explained to the likes of Ian Ridpath and Professor Frank Close, even this is not the key point. The key point is that the readings peaked in the three depressions in the ground, in the centre of the triangle formed by these depressions, and on the side of one of the trees facing the landing site. In any proper analysis of this, one has to go back to the raw data, and that means looking again at Halt’s memo and the new transcript of Halt’s tape that Georgina Bruni includes in her book, You Can’t Tell The People. On this latter point, another interesting question is what happened to the various soil and sap samples that Halt had his team collect?

The Radar Evidence

The second area where I want to offer some views based on my personal MOD experience relates to the radar data. Radar is not infallible, and in chapter 4 of Open Skies, Closed Minds I explained some of the reasons why a blip on a radar screen does not necessarily indicate the presence of an object. As examples, problems can occur in certain meteorological conditions and when two radar systems interfere with each other; and as with most technology, some bits of kit are more temperamental than others! Georgina Bruni’s interview with former RAF radar operator Nigel Kerr (see pages 39 and 40 of You Can’t Tell The People) covered what happened when personnel in the Bentwaters tower contacted Eastern Radar at RAF Watton, explaining that they could see unidentified lights over the base. On checking his radar screen Kerr noticed a blip that stayed for three or four sweeps before disappearing. Such returns are not uncommon, and in themselves mean nothing. But again, the sceptics miss the point, which is that the return was seen at exactly the same time and in exactly the same location as the unidentified light seen in the sky by military personnel at Bentwaters.

What Next?

In her analysis of the documents Georgina Bruni drew attention to several questions that arise from the files, including the following:

Why did General Gabriel (Commander-in-Chief, United States Air Forces in Europe) visit Bentwaters early in 1981, so soon after his official visit on 3 December 1980, and why does it seem that both Gordon Williams and Donald Moreland were unaware of the visit?

Who handed General Gabriel the tape recordings of Charles Halt’s encounter, was any other material handed over, and what subsequent analysis and investigation was carried out by USAFE? And if the tape recording in the public domain is only an edited extract of Halt’s recordings, what’s happened to the rest of it?

Was the DI52 offer to follow-up their initial assessment of the radiation readings taken up? If it was, was a site visit made, and what conclusions were reached? If the offer wasn’t followed-up, what was the reason, given the DI52 view that the readings were “significantly higher than the average background”?


With the release of the Rendlesham files Georgina Bruni has achieved a significant breakthrough for ufology. She’s following up the questions detailed in the previous paragraph with various MOD, RAF and USAF contacts, and I know that other researchers have built upon her work and are making their own enquiries. Stand by for further revelations.

The Rendlesham documents reveal important facts about the case, and will have given fresh encouragement to ufologists as they seek to explain Britain’s most famous UFO mystery. There’s still much work to be done, but now so many of the official papers have been released, further investigation should be easier. The incident itself may be over twenty years old, but the trail is far from cold. As for where this trail will lead, time will tell.

[This article first appeared in the October 2001 issue of UFO Magazine]

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Rendlesham Forest / Bentwaters