Operation Lightning Strike - Interview


Nick Popeís attendance at the 19th Leeds International UFO Conference gave UFO Magazine the opportunity to speak exclusively to him about his new book, his current research and his views on the current state of British ufology.  Nick Popeís candid and at times hard-hitting comments make for interesting reading and give an insight into the mind of one of the most controversial figures in ufology.


UFO:     First of all, can you tell us something about your new book?

NP:        Operation Lightning Strike is a direct sequel to my previous novel, Operation Thunder Child.  That said, itís entirely self-contained, so you donít have to have read the first book.  Itís a science fiction techno-thriller about alien invasion, but it incorporates real information about UFOs and the way in which the government and the military handle a national crisis.


UFO:     So itís fiction, really?

NP:        In a sense, yes, because thereís material in the book that stems from my official research and investigation into UFOs.  If you look at the small print at the beginning of both books youíll notice that neither novel contains the standard disclaimer beginning ďThis is a work of fictionĒ.  That simply wouldnít have been true, so for legal reasons we had to draw up a disclaimer that acknowledged some of the events as real, or based on things that actually took place.


UFO:     I understand that the Ministry of Defence had to clear the book?

NP:        Iím afraid I canít discuss that.


UFO:     This must be the first time that a sci-fi novel has required official government clearance?

NP:        Sorry, no comment.


UFO:     How long did it take you to write the book, and how easy has it been making the transition from non-fiction to fiction?

NP:        It took almost exactly a year to write.  Itís difficult moving from an academic treatment of a subject to writing about it in a fictional way, and it was especially tricky having to handle concepts that simply arenít an issue with non-fiction, like character-building and dialogue.  But I did enjoy writing the book, not least because it gave me an opportunity to say things I could never have said in Open Skies, Closed Minds or The Uninvited.


UFO:     But did you still have to research certain things?

NP:        Absolutely.  The information on biological weapons is based on material in Ken Alibekís book, Biohazard.  Prior to his defection in 1992 Alibek worked on the Soviet biological warfare programme.  The design of the alien mothership is based on material from NASA, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and JPL, who are actively studying the feasibility of advanced propulsion systems using nuclear fusion or matter-antimatter annihilation.  Those are just two examples.


UFO:     Thereís a lot in the book that will arouse the suspicion of conspiracy theorists: Menwith Hill, the Aurora programme, Echelon, the idea that the ballistic missile defence programme was designed to deal with an alien threat.  Are you trying to tell people something?

NP:        Iím trying to tell a story that will be thought-provoking and controversial, but the fact that I feature something in the book doesnít necessarily mean that it exists, or that itís used in the way that conspiracy theorists believe.  I canít possibly give a line-by-line explanation as to which parts of the book are real, which are based on something real and which are pure fiction.


UFO:     But thereís no truth to the theory that these books are part of a Government campaign to acclimatise the public to a hostile alien presence, prior to some sort of official announcement?

NP:        Iím certainly using the books to expose some of the possibilities and ideas that I floated while working in Secretariat (Air Staff), but the books have in no way been commissioned by the Ministry of Defence.


UFO:     Thereís a lot of information in the book about the way in which public opinion, parliament and the media can be manipulated. What can you say about ďspinĒ?

NP:        Iíve been media trained by the MOD, which happened because the first television interview I gave was during my tour of duty in Sec(AS), putting forward the ďno defence significanceĒ party line on UFOs. Iíve also been involved in drafting press releases, letters for Ministers to send to MPs and speeches for Ministers to give in Parliament.  We live in an age where presenting information is important, and the book gives people an insight into this.


UFO:     Iím interested, given that youíre a ufologist, in whether youíve portrayed the aliens as good or evil?

NP:        Without wanting to give too much away, and if youíll excuse the pun, there are shades of grey.  I wanted to get away from the idea that something must be either good or evil.  All too often writers and directors present something where the public know which side to cheer for.  Thatís lazy, and lifeís not like that.  So in Operation Lightning Strike thereís room for debate, because both humans and aliens do some terrible things.  But thatís not necessarily indicative of evil.  Very few people deliberately set out to be evil, and those who do bad things generally do so for what they genuinely believe are good reasons.


UFO:     The book contains some strong statements about environmental issues.  What can you say about that?

NP:        This is another area that Iíve researched thoroughly, not just with the usual sources available to the public.  I was shocked, and itís clear that weíre in much bigger trouble than even most activists realise.  All the environmental information in chapter 7 is true, and even that understates the problem.  The stunning NASA photograph of the 11 million square mile gap in the ozone layer that was released in September illustrates one problem.  But the biggest threat comes from what global warming will do to the Earthís climate, and the recently published photographs of open water at the North Pole are only the most graphic illustration of just how much the polar ice cap is melting.  Unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced, quickly, weíre in big trouble.


UFO:     Is it true that Operation Thunder Child is being made into a film?

NP:        The TV rights have been optioned by Carnival Films who made Bugs, Shadowlands and Poirot.  The screenplay is being written by Christopher Russell, whose credits include Bergerac, Eastenders, The Bill and A Touch of Frost.  I hope to have more news about this shortly. 


UFO:     What is your next writing project?

NP:        I want to write a third sci-fi novel, entitled Operation Storm Cloud, not least because every sci-fi author dreams of writing a trilogy!  Iím also working with Brigitte Grant on a book - The Alien Within - about her extraordinary UFO and abduction experiences, which are unparalleled in the literature.  Finally, Iím working on a Gulf War techno-thriller entitled Desert Fury, which is a sort of ďwhat ifĒ novel where things go very differently from what actually happened.  During the Gulf War I worked in the Air Force Operations Room at the Joint Operations Centre, and that was very helpful in the research for this book.  Again, I hope to have some firm news about this very shortly.


UFO:     Will you stay in the Ministry of Defence, or leave at some stage?

NP:        Iíve been there over fifteen years now, have done some fascinating jobs and worked with a great bunch of people.  Iíve seen things and done things that have changed my life for ever.  But as for the future, who can say?  At some time I might decide to write and lecture on a full time basis.


UFO:     And yet there must have been tough times too, when certain people tried to ban your first book?

NP:        Iíve only ever had problems from one or maybe two individuals.  The vast majority of my colleagues and managers have been interested in my UFO research and investigation, and supportive of my decision to go public.  Iíve always played by the rules, and submitted manuscripts to the MOD well ahead of publication, making changes where called upon to do so.  This is no different from the way in which Gulf War Generals such as Patrick Cordingley and Sir Peter de la BilliŤre wrote their books, based on officially gained knowledge and experience.  Thatís why itís a nonsense to call me a whisteblower, as some people have.


UFO:     Youíve made some fairly outspoken comments about the state of British ufology lately.  Can you say something about this?

NP:        What most concerns me is the lack of work being done with regard to cases of alien abduction.  I get about thirty new cases each year, and many of these people go on to tell me that other authors or UFO groups theyíve contacted havenít even written back.  Undoubtedly there are some people doing very good work out there.  James Millen is one - he runs the Witness Support Group named in honour of the late Ken Phillips.  Brigitte Grant, who founded the Southwest Witness Support Group, is another.  But there are not enough people doing such work, and we are way behind America, where investigators such as Budd Hopkins can call upon a network of therapists for help in dealing with cases and helping the people concerned come to terms with their experiences.


UFO:     Aside from abductions, where does British ufology go next?

NP:        This Autumn will be a critical one for British ufology, not least because the publication of two major books may see a welcome resurgence in public interest.  This fell away somewhat after the summer of 1997, when the 50th anniversaries of Kenneth Arnoldís ďflying saucerĒ sighting and the Roswell incident saw interest at a peak.  Timothy Goodís new book Unearthly Disclosure will help here, but the big news and indeed the big test for British ufology will be Georgina Bruniís sensational new book on the Rendlesham Forest incident, You Canít Tell The People.


UFO:     Why do you say that?

NP:        Georgina has spent three years researching this case, and has written what I believe will come to be seen as the definitive book on the incident.  Sheís re-interviewed most of the key players, eliciting further details on a number of important points.  The most significant thing about her book is the inclusion of testimony from new witnesses and comments from politicians and senior military figures.  But Georgina is a strong personality and her relentless approach in pursuing the truth about these events has already upset a few people.  The book will dent a few egos, mainly where people have been exaggerating their role in the case or trying to write themselves into the story, either as witnesses or as researchers.  And without wanting to give anything away, anyone who has been associated with the theory that the UFO might have been a mistaken sighting of the Orford Ness lighthouse is going to look very, very foolish.


UFO:     Youíve written the foreword to the book?

NP:        Thatís right.  Itís no exaggeration to say that this may be one of the most significant UFO books ever written.  Thatís why, as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the events, itís important for British ufology, because itís British ufologists who should be in the forefront of following up some of the information that Georgina has uncovered, and taking things forward.  This case could be as big as Roswell, but people need to set aside their preconceived views on the case and react in a positive fashion to the new evidence that Georgina has uncovered.  But I have a nasty feeling that some of the sceptics have made up their minds before theyíve read the book.  I hope Iím wrong, but on past evidence I suspect Iím not.


UFO:     On a different subject, I was surprised to hear you talk at the Leeds conference about psychic matters and channelling.  Whatís going on?

NP:        You canít ignore the data, and Iím not afraid to change my mind about things.  And thereís no denying the link between psychic matters and ufology - most notably in abductees who have developed psychic abilities or had them enhanced somehow.  I have case after case where the person concerned has a history of paranormal experiences, and this simply canít be ignored, even though I admit itís more convincing to talk in terms of scientific analysis of radar tapes, photographs or alleged landing sites.  But I must pay tribute to Brigitte Grant for this - sheís encouraged me to look into such things and has taught me a lot about the psychic and spiritual side of the phenomenon.


UFO:     What has been the reaction to your speaking out on this?

NP:        Very positive.  After the conference I got more feedback about this than about anything else.  People were coming up to me and saying how refreshing it was to have this subject aired.  In the September/October edition of UFO Magazine I wrote about the conference held in Istanbul in June this year, successfully bringing together scientists like John Mack and Stanton Friedman with channellers such as Lyssa Royal and Marcia Schafer.  This made for a fascinating conference and showed that scientific ufology and a more New Age approach are not incompatible.


UFO:     Any final comments?

NP:        Leave personal attacks out of ufology.  Approach everything with an open mind.  Always try to learn from other people.  And perhaps most importantly, remember that although ufology raises some serious issues, it can be fun and enjoyable too.  Donít take yourself too seriously and donít be afraid to have some fun.


UFO:     Thank you, and good luck with Operation Lightning Strike.

 NP:       Thank you very much.