Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) has released thousands of previously confidential reports on UFOs apparently spotted in the country. The documents number more than 5,000 pages of letters, drawings, and accounts of supposed alien spacecraft collected by the British government since WWII. One letter even accuses Winston Churchill of personally ordering a UFO cover-up during World War II. (Watch an ITN News report about the discovery.) Here's a guide to Britain's "X-Files."
Why are these reports being released now?
The MoD wanted people to stop making official enquiries about UFOs. The phenomenon is still the third-most popular subject for Britons to write to the government about, according to UFO consultant Dr. David Clarke. This document dump, which mostly covers 1995 to 2003, is the culmination of three years of research work, and hopes to put an end to questions of what the government knows about UFOs.
What incident did Churchill supposedly cover up?
A letter in the files dating back to 1999 describes the crew of a Royal Air Force bomber observing a silent metallic flying object off the coast of Britain during World War II. The letter's author, whose name has been redacted, says his grandfather was one of Churchill's bodyguards, and was in the room when the prime minister — and U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — learned of the incident.
Why did Churchill allegedly quash the story?
The letter's author claims that Churchill ordered the sighting to be kept secret for at least 50 years, since "it would create mass panic amongst the general population and destroy one's faith in the Church" if it were made public.
How did the letter writer say he found out about the Churchill incident?
It had been told to the correspondent's mother when she was a child. He wanted to know when the incident would be declassified. The MoD responded that it had no record of such a meeting, or the RAF crew's UFO sighting.
Is that case closed, then?
Not necessarily. The MoD also admitted that, prior to 1967, UFO-related documentation was generally destroyed after five years, "as there was insufficient public interest in the subject to merit their permanent retention." And Churchill was "known to have expressed an interest in UFOs," adds the Daily Mail.
What other sightings are recorded?
The documents provide some information on several famous British UFO sightings. These include a 1974 incident known as the "Welsh Roswell;" a 1995 occasion where the captain of a Boeing 737 reported a "near miss" with a UFO "20 times the size of a football field" at Manchester Airport; and a sighting by U.S. servicemen in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk.
How frequent were these sightings?
A secret 1957 report prepared for Britain's intelligence chiefs says there was an average of one sighting reported a week at that time. UFO sightings hit their peak in 1996 — when TV's "The X-Files" was popular — with 609 reports, up from an average of 240 annual sightings in the previous five years. The MoD shut down its public UFO reporting and inquiry unit as recently as 2009.
Will it end the Brits' requests for information?
Probably not. "It's good to see that there were some interesting tidbits in there," says nuclear physicist and noted ufologist Stanton Friedman. But any "hot stuff" remains under wraps. When the government releases its top secret documents, then we'll know the truth.
Sources: BBC News, ABC News, Guardian, Daily Mail, CBS News