For over twenty years, Nick Pope worked for The British Ministry of Defence. A large part of Nick’s MOD career was spent investigating UFO’s & he has been dubbed as “The Real Fox Mulder”.
In an exclusive interview Pulse caught up with Nick to look back at his time on The MODs UFO Project.
Here he discusses if the Government knows more than they are telling us, the most interesting cases & what he believes UFOs could be.
Can we ask about your background? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the United Kingdom, in a village called Rowledge, in the county of Surrey. It was close to where my father worked, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. We moved to London when I was in my teens, when my father was posted to the Ministry of Defence, and although I moved away from home when I was around 18, I continued to live in London until I was 46.
When did you join the MOD?
I joined the MOD in 1985, at my father’s suggestion. I joke that it’s the “family business”, although my paternal grandfather was actually General Manager of The Times. My MOD career lasted until 2006, when I took early retirement to pursue other interests, but in that 21-year career I did many different jobs, at increasingly senior grade, with my final posting being as an acting deputy director in the Directorate of Defence Security, where I was involved in a wide range of fascinating work, largely focused on counter-terrorism.
Before joining the MOD how did you view The UFO phenomenon?
I knew virtually nothing about this topic and had no particular beliefs either way, until 1991, when I was posted to a division within the MOD called Secretariat (Air Staff), where my duties included researching and investigating the UFO phenomenon.
What was your role there and what did that entail?
My role was to determine whether there was evidence that any UFO sightings constituted a threat to the defence of the United Kingdom, or were of more general defence or scientific interest. I investigated between 200 and 300 cases each year, by interviewing the witnesses, checking to see if anything was tracked on radar, analyzing the photos or videos we were sent, cross-referencing with military, meteorological and astronomical data, etc. Around 80% of sightings could be explained as misidentifications of ordinary objects or phenomena, while in around 15% of cases there was insufficient information to make a meaningful assessment. Around 5% of cases remained unexplained. We looked at UFOs in terms of threats and opportunities, and we were also aware that the Russians and Chinese were researching and investigating. All of us were interested in any novel military applications that might result from a better understanding of the UFO phenomenon, whatever its true nature. With that point in mind, it’s important to stress that “UFO” doesn’t equate to “alien spacecraft” – that’s just one theory, and others include the idea that we’re dealing with secret prototype aircraft/drones, or perhaps with some sort of exotic atmospheric plasma phenomenon. Either way, we were interested in technology acquisition and weaponization, and that’s one of the biggest reasons for government secrecy on this issue.
One interesting case you´ve discussed is The Calvine incident. Can you tell us a little about it?
In August 1990, two hikers in Scotland saw and photographed a huge diamond-shaped craft that was hovering around 200 feet above the ground, before accelerating away vertically, at at high speed, with no sound. They sent the photos to a newspaper, and the MOD obtained them from the newspaper – and never returned them afterwards! I wasn’t guilty, by the way, as this investigation was handled by my predecessor. MOD and intelligence community imagery analysts confirmed the photos were genuine and not hoaxed, but were unable to identify the craft. For years, I had a poster-sized enlargement of the best photo on my office wall, but one day my Head of Division removed it, having somehow convinced himself that the mystery object must have been a secret, prototype aircraft or drone of some sort, even though we’d looked into and eliminated this possibility. He locked the picture away and it was never seen again. By the time he retired, it had disappeared. My suspicion is that he put it through the shredder. Fortunately, a poor quality black and white photocopy of a line drawing of the photo survived in the MOD file (a line drawing looks almost like a cartoon, but it’s an essential part of imagery analysis), and from that, combined with my memory and the skill of a graphic artist, we managed to recreate the image.
Can I ask for your views on UFO abduction? Is it real & if so which cases are the most believable?
Abductions are tricky. Unlike UFO sightings, where we have radar evidence, photos, and videos, most claims of alien abduction are just stories. Worse still, many of the accounts only emerged following the use of regression hypnosis, which some psychologists and psychiatrists believe can distort memories, or even create false memories. As with UFOs, we may not be dealing with a situation where there’s a single answer to the mystery, so it may be that there are several explanations for these accounts: some will be hoaxes, others may be attributable to some form of psychological condition, or caused by vivid dreams or hallucinations. Others may be false memories that emerge under hypnosis. Are any cases real? I don’t know.
Let´s talk about cover ups for a moment. Do Governments know more than they are letting on?
Governments definitely know more about UFOs than they tell the public. As an example, until fairly recently the US government told anyone who asked that they didn’t investigate UFOs and that the subject was of no defence interest. Then, in December 2017, it was revealed that the Pentagon had been investigating UFOs for years, as part of a project known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. In the MoD, although we didn’t deny looking at the subject, we consistently downplayed the true extent of our interest and involvement in the subject. Despite all this, I’m not convinced that governments have all the answers (we certainly didn’t in the UK), so I don’t believe any of the stories about crashed spaceships being hidden away in air force hangars at remote military bases!
Do you also think that NASA are involved in any cover ups?
In my experience, most of the people working for NASA would love to find evidence of extraterrestrial life, and indeed there are a number of NASA missions being planned which hope to do just that. So even if NASA scientists are sometimes skeptical, I don’t think they’d involve themselves in a cover-up. The prestige of making such a scientific discovery would encourage them to speak out, and as well as Nobel prizes and fame, it would probably lead to a massive increase in their budget, as the public would want to know more. So all this leads me to believe that NASA isn’t involved in a cover-up, and would release information immediately if they thought they’d found evidence of extraterrestrial life.
Now to Rendlesham Forest. You’ve said that this case is better than Roswell. Can you let our readers know the details & why you believe that Rendlesham is so important?
This case took place over three consecutive nights in December 1980, at two US military bases in the UK, Bentwaters and Woodbridge (Rendlesham Forest separates them). On the first night, an unidentified craft landed in a small clearing in the forest, left indentations in the hard, frozen ground, left burn marks on the sides of the trees, and left radioactivity levels that the MOD’s Defence Intelligence Staff assessed as being “significantly higher than the average background” – this is a direct quote from a declassified MOD document. There was UFO activity on two further, consecutive nights, and as with the first night, most of the witnesses were military personnel, including the Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt. The UFO was briefly tracked on military radar, and we have numerous on-the-record statements from the military witnesses, as well as various declassified MOD and US government documents on the case. In summary, this is probably the most compelling and best-evidenced UFO event of all time – and yes, potentially bigger than Roswell. A few years ago I teamed up with the two main United States Air Force witnesses from the first night, John Burroughs and Jim Penniston, and we wrote a book on the incident called Encounter in Rendlesham Forest. The book needed security clearance from both the MOD and the Pentagon!
What part if any does pop culture play in the UFO phenomenon ? Does something like The X-Files for example have any influence on people´s beliefs?
There’s no doubt that it plays a role. However, it’s not as simple as some people say when they suggest that science fiction somehow causes people to see UFOs. Clearly this is nonsense. It’s more accurate to say that it raises awareness about UFOs, and fuels belief about extraterrestrials. The X-Files is the perfect example, because of the catchphrase “I want to believe”. So TV shows like this don’t cause people to see UFOs, but they probably mean that if people see something unexplained, they’re more likely to consider the possibility that it’s alien, and more likely to report it. Pop culture also fuels conspiracies, because cover-ups and conspiracies are a very common plot-device in films and TV shows. On the positive front, pop culture gets people interested in the subject, and means that people are more likely to report any sightings and experiences they’ve had. It can also help raise awareness. Area 51 was known to UFO researchers and conspiracy theorists, but only really came to the attention of the media and the wider public when a storyline about it was inserted into the sci-fi movie Independence Day. Finally, pop culture was a problem for us in the MOD, when it came to getting funding, because of the baggage that comes with the term – people joked about flying saucers and little green men. So we changed the terminology from UFO to UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena), which worked – we got more funding for research and investigation!
Unfortunately in this field there are some wild claims & theories. What is the strangest & most ludicrous story you´ve ever heard?
I’ve heard a lot of crazy stories over the years! People who claim to have worked at secret underground bases where aliens and humans work side-by side. People who claim they’ve worked on the moon or Mars, as part of a secret space program. People who claim to be in telepathic contact with aliens (but the aliens never tell them anything interesting or useful: it’s all just New Age talk about love, harmony and consciousness). The list is endless. All these stories are just that: stories, with no proof. In my government work on this subject I had to take an evidence-based approach, but in the UFO community it’s different, and I often go to UFO conferences and hear the most outlandish stories being told, and the audience are lapping it all up, because they so desperately want to believe.
Apart from Rendlesham & Calvine which other cases are particularly compelling? That can be in the UK or further afield.
Another compelling UK case is one from March 1993, where I led the official investigation into a wave of sightings that took place over different parts of the UK for a period of around six hours. This is generally known as the Cosford incident, because Cosford was one of two Royal Air Force bases (the other one was RAF Shawbury) directly overflown by a UFO that night. Witnesses described a vast, triangular-shaped craft, almost completely silent, apart from an unpleasant, low-frequency humming sound. One RAF witness described how the UFO fired a narrow beam of light at the ground, and then accelerated from a very slow speed to a speed many times that of a military jet, before disappearing over the horizon. My investigation lasted several days and although we found that some other UFO sightings that night were caused by a Russian rocket burning up as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere after launching a satellite, we never found an explanation for the triangular-shaped craft, and these sightings remain unexplained to this day.
So, are UFO´s real? If so what do you believe they are & do you think we will ever find out?
They’re real in the sense that that some of them appear to be solid objects that can be filmed, that sometimes show up on radar, and that sometimes demonstrate speeds and maneuvers that our military jets can’t match. But even those of us who have looked at this issue from within government don’t know what we’re dealing with, and of course there may not be a single neat solution to the mystery. That’s why we need more scientific study, and – as is currently being discussed in the US – Congressional hearings, to get to the bottom of what the Pentagon’s UFO program has concluded.
And to finish, Nick what do you do now that you’ve left the MOD?
I took early retirement from the MOD in 2006 and now do consultancy and spokesperson work for alien-themed Hollywood movies, TV shows and video games, as well as doing freelance journalism for the BBC and for various national newspapers. I also came out of retirement to help with a project to declassify and release almost all of the MOD’s UFO files, undertaking literally hundreds of TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and online interviews to promote the release of these real-life X-Files. In January 2012 I moved to America (my wife is a US citizen), and I continue to keep busy with a wide range of projects, the latest being Aliens at the Pentagon (a DVD about the Pentagon’s UFO program) and Blood Brothers, a thriller about terrorism in the UK.
If you enjoyed this interview then check out Nick on social media.