Frequently Asked Questions
The material below is drawn from a variety of Nick Pope's media interviews and from questions submitted to Nick via this website:
What did you do before you took up your post on the UFO project and how did you get the job?
I joined the Ministry of Defence in 1985. At the time, the policy was to move people every 2 or 3 years - either on level transfer or promotion - so that everybody gained experience in a wide range of different jobs: policy, operations, personnel, finance, etc. I'd done 2 or 3 different jobs and prior to taking up my post on the UFO project I was working in a division called Secretariat(Air Staff) and had been seconded into the Air Force Operations Room in the Joint Operations Centre. I worked there in the run-up to the first Gulf War, during the war itself, and in the aftermath of the conflict. I was a briefer, preparing material for the key daily briefings to Ministers and the Service Chiefs. My job was to collect raw data about RAF operations, and pick out the key things that senior personnel needed to know: details of any casualties and losses, targets attacked, battle damage assessment, etc. It was an interesting and very high-tempo job. It was while working there that I was approached and asked whether, after I was released from duties in the Joint Operations Centre, I would like to run the UFO project, which was embedded in another part of Secretariat(Air Staff). I accepted the invitation. So, in a sense, I was headhunted.
What were your views on UFOs before you took up your post?
I knew little about the subject and I certainly had no belief in extraterrestrials. So while I was open-minded in all my investigations, my start point was broadly sceptical.
Can you explain a bit more about that post? What were its aims?
The MoD's UFO project has its roots in a 1950 initiative by the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Henry Tizard. He said that UFO sightings shouldn't be dismissed out of hand without some form of proper scientific study. The MoD has been looking at the UFO phenomenon since the early Fifties and has received over 10,000 sighting reports to date. In all that time, the objectives haven't really changed much. The policy is to investigate UFO sightings to see whether there's evidence of anything of any defence significance, i.e. evidence of any threat to the defence of the UK, or information that may be of use to us, scientifically or militarily. Having a UFO project in no way implies a corporate belief in extraterrestrial visitation. It simply reflects the fact that we keep a watchful eye on our airspace and want to know about anything operating in the United Kingdom's Air Defence Region. Many other countries had similar research efforts. The Americans had Project Blue Book, which was run by the United States Air Force. Although the British effort was on a much smaller scale, the terms of reference and methodology were virtually identical.
What security clearances did you hold?
This isn't something that I can discuss.
What type of evidence did you encounter and how did you go about investigating cases?
I had access to all the previous UFO files, some of which had been very highly-classified, so I had a vast archive of data to assess. This enabled me to undertake various research projects, looking for trends, etc. But the bread and butter of the job was investigating the new sightings that were reported on a virtually daily basis. We used to receive 200 - 300 reports each year. The methodology of an investigation is fairly standard. Firstly, you interview the witness to obtain as much information as possible about the sighting: date, time and location of the sighting, description of the object, its speed, its height, etc. Then you attempt to correlate the sighting with known aerial activity such as civil flights, military exercises or weather balloon launches. We could check with the Royal Greenwich Observatory to see if astronomical phenomena such as meteors or fireballs might explain what was seen. We could check to see whether any UFOs seen visually had been tracked on radar. If we had a photograph or video, we could get various MOD specialists to enhance and analyse the imagery. We could also liaise with staff at the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at RAF Fylingdales, where they have space-tracking radar. Finally, on various scientific and technical issues, we could liaise with the Defence Intelligence Staff, though this is an area that I can't discuss in any detail.
What were the results of your investigations?
Around 80% of UFO sightings could be explained as misidentifications of something ordinary, such as aircraft lights, satellites, airships, weather balloons or planets. In around 15% of cases there was insufficient information to draw any firm conclusions. Approximately 5% of sightings seemed to defy conventional explanation.
What sort of cases got into this 5% category?
UFO incidents where there were multiple witnesses, or where the witnesses were trained observers such as police officers or military personnel. Sightings from civil or military pilots. Sightings backed up by photographic or video evidence, where technical analysis found no signs of fakery. Sightings tracked on radar. Sightings involving structured craft seemingly capable of speeds and manoeuvres way ahead of even the most advanced aircraft.
What do you think about this 5%? Could they be extraterrestrial spacecraft?
I certainly can't rule out the possibility. There's some intriguing evidence, but no hard proof.
Have you ever seen a UFO yourself?
No. Sadly, I haven't.
Are governments covering up the truth about UFOs?
Well, I can only speak with any authority concerning the British Government. To the best of my knowledge, there's no cover-up and no conspiracy. While the MoD has consistently tried to downplay the subject, they've never lied about it and have no evidence that would prove the existence of extraterrestrials. Where information is being withheld, it generally relates to details that if released would be detrimental to defence or national security. Examples include information relating to the capabilities of military radar systems, or to 'methods and sources'.
Could some UFOs be 'black projects'?
Clearly there are aircraft and UAVs (both experimental and operational) the existence of which is not yet public knowledge. As you'd expect, this is a subject about which I can say very little. But there are ways of eliminating this possibility from any official UFO investigations. To give one obvious example, we know where we test fly our own experimental craft, so can take this into account in any UFO investigation.
What other phenomena did you investigate in addition to UFO sightings?
In running the MoD's UFO project I found myself the recipient of reports into any strange phenomena that people had witnessed or experienced. Alien abductions, animal mutilations, crop circles, ghosts at military bases, people who claimed to be psychics and wanted to use their powers to help the intelligence agencies, questions about how we could destroy or deflect comets or asteroids on collision course with the Earth, etc. Anything weird and wonderful came my way. It's not that such things were in my terms of reference - it was simply that there was nowhere else to send them.
What are your views on crop circles?
Some of the small, single circles (and that's where the phenomenon started) may be attributable to some form of meteorological phenomenon such as a whirlwind or wind vortex. As for the more complex ones - the so-called pictograms - there's no doubt in my mind that most of them are made by people. I've seen it done. Some of the people involved in this are highly skilled and motivated, plan the formations meticulously, well in advance, and split the work between several people. Some people call them hoaxers but many of the people involved see themselves as conceptual artists. Do I completely rule out a more exotic explanation? No. In my line of work, I tried never to rule anything out altogether, and always tried to keep an open mind.
How do you feel about your work being referred to as the real X-Files, and about being dubbed the real Fox Mulder?
The media started this in the Nineties and then my own publishers picked it up. At first I was irritated, because I regarded it as a trivialisation of the serious research and investigation that I did for the government. But I came to see the funny side of it and on reflection I suppose I should be flattered.
Haven't you signed the Official Secrets Act? How are you able to write and speak about your government work?
I signed the Official Secrets Act on my first day in the MoD and even though I've left, it binds me for life. But it doesn't preclude writing or speaking about my work. Politicians invariably keep diaries and write memoirs, and military officers write accounts of their careers. There's no bar on this sort of activity, provided you follow various rules and procedures, the most obvious one being the absolute prohibition on revealing any classified information.
Are you going to write any more non-fiction books?
Yes. There's lots of fascinating information about UFOs and the unexplained that I've yet to write about, and I hope to be able to turn my attention to this shortly.
Is there going to be a third book in the series of sci-fi novels that began with Operation Thunder Child and Operation Lightning Strike?
I hope so, although making the first two books into a film or TV series is my priority here at the moment.
Why did you leave the UFO project?
After having done the job for 3 years I was promoted and moved to another post at a higher grade. There's certainly no truth to the rumour that I was moved because I was getting too close to the truth, as some conspiracy theorists allege.
What did you do at the MoD after you left the UFO project?
I went to a financial policy job where my duties included considering requests
from film and TV companies to film at military bases. We had to consider the
potential benefits in terms of PR, training and recruiting, and balance that
against the desire to generate some income. I learned a lot about the media in
that job (although I'd already been media-trained during my time on the UFO
project, not least because I had to appear on TV as an official MoD
spokesperson). After that, I went to a security job where my duties included
being Clerk to the MoD Police Committee and working with the military police.
This was a fascinating job which involved a fair bit of travel, including trips
to Germany, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and two visits to Iraq.
In May 2006 the MoD released a formerly classified UFO study that had been codenamed Project Condign. Are you the author?
No. I was involved in the preliminary discussions that led to the setting up of the study, but had left the UFO project by the time the study commenced, and played no part in it.
Why did you leave the MoD?
I left the MoD in November 2006 after a 21 year career. I'd passed the Assessment and Development Centre, so could have applied for a post at B2 level (formerly known as Grade 7 and Principal), but had already deputised extensively at this grade, so decided it was an appropriate time to move on to fresh challenges outside the Department.
There were media stories about your resigning in protest at the UFO project being closed down, and about your warning about alien invasion.
My resignation became an international news story, but some of the media coverage of my departure was inaccurate. The MoD receives more Freedom of Information Act requests on UFOs than on any other subject, including the war in Iraq. That means my successors have little or no time for the research and investigation that took place in my day. I think this is a mistake and I believe UFO sightings should be properly investigated in a scientific way. The MoD's line on UFOs is that they are of "no defence significance", but it seems to me that any meaningful assessment can only be made on the basis of a proper investigation. Frankly, anything else is assumption and guesswork.
Do you miss working for the MoD?
I very much enjoyed my 21 years working for the Department. I've done some interesting things and really enjoyed working for my country, doing something genuinely important. I miss the buzz of being a part of that - coming home to see things I've been involved in being discussed on the evening news, and knowing there are some things I've been involved in that will never be on the evening news! I miss the people too, of course, though I'm still in touch with a wide range of my former colleagues and have been back to MoD Main Building several times for social events. But all in all, I know I made the right decision, and I have no regrets.
Some people believe you haven't really left the MoD at all, and that your role is to spread disinformation about UFOs. How do you respond?
How can I respond? You can't prove a negative. The rumour isn't true, but if people believe this sort of thing they won't believe my denial, or the MoD's confirmation of my departure. I can't win.
What are you doing now?
I work as a journalist and broadcaster, as well as taking part in promotional campaigns as a paid spokesperson. I am also involved with several forthcoming TV projects.