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It was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the suspected flying saucer crash at Roswell in New Mexico, and the heyday of the paranormal mystery series The X-Files. The English-speaking world was gripped by UFO-mania. But what seemed a delightful mystery to some was becoming a headache for the spooks at Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff.

Analysts at the DI55 office, the department lumbered with the UFO brief, were being peppered with requests from ufologists – and even parliamentary questions – for information on flying saucers, taking up time they felt would be better spent on terrestrial defence matters. So top brass decided to undertake a definitive study of the unit’s collection of reported UFO sightings to establish, once and for all, whether there was anything in them.

Previously unseen documents reveal that, far from being an objective study into the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors, the report was intended from the start to absolve the Ministry of Defence of responsibility for investigating sightings. Messages between officials at DIS and the contractor carrying out the research show that it focused from the outset only “on the possible threat to the UK [from hostile foreign powers] and technology acquisition” and not “X-Files activities such as alien abductions”. A separate memo says: “It shouldn’t be driven by a UFO thesis.”

The study replaced one mystery with another after its author determined that the UFO sightings were a result of unexplained plasma formations in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, DI55 announced afterwards that it would no longer accept UFO reports.

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Category: Weird Desk