Shadow Boxing

David Clarke and Andy Roberts. Out of the Shadows: UFOs, the Establishment and the Official Cover-up, Piatkus, 2002.
There is considerable confusion among ufologists about government secrecy concerning UFOs. Many of them apparently fail to understand that what is kept secret is the investigation of UFO reports, not the UFOs themselves. It is not surprising that governments keep their UFO investigations secret, as many amateur UFO organisations also find that they need to carry out their initial inquiries without informing the news media or other ufologists, as it is not possible to carry out a serious investigation of a UFO incident in a blaze of publicity. Also, UFO witnesses have the right to demand that their names and addresses are not published without their permission.

In this book, Clarke and Roberts show that there was just as much disagreement and confusion among the professional British UFO investigators as among the amateurs when faced with numerous reports of strange objects in the skies. However, scepticism generally prevailed among senior RAF officers and their scientific advisors. They rejected the view that the UFOs were real, physical objects for two main reasons: the lack of physical evidence; and the lack of independent witnesses to apparently inexplicable sightings. They were not too impressed by anomalous radar echoes, as they knew that these could be caused by abnormal atmospheric conditions, by interference between different radars, or by faulty components in radar equipment.

A good example of the cautious approach appears in the authors' account of two sightings at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough in 1 950. On 14 August, Flight Lieutenant Stan Hubbard heard a strange humming sound and saw a discus shaped object which passed overhead making humming and crackling noises. He estimated that the object was at a height of about 1000 feet and was about 100 feet in diameter. He also said that there was at least one other witness, an airwoman from the nearby flight dispatches office, who was hysterical. Scientific intelligence officers who interviewed Hubbard refused to comment on the other alleged witness. In their report they accepted that he had honestly described what he had seen, and added, " ... but we find it impossible to believe that a most unconventional aircraft, of exceptional speed, could have travelled at no great altitude, in the middle of a fine summer morning, over a populous and air-minded district like Farnborough, without attracting the attention of more than one observer."

They concluded that Hubbard was the victim of an optical illusion. The intelligence officers remained sceptical when Hubbard reported another sighting at Farnborough on 5 September. This time there were five other witnesses. They noted that the object was at a great distance, giving plenty of scope for misinterpretation, particularly as the witnesses would have recalled Hubbard's sighting of 14 August. The six witnesses were together in one group, and the intelligence officers again noted that there were no independent witnesses. The witnesses were not happy with the official verdicts on their sightings, and doubtless most ufologists would consider this case to be a typical example of government cover up. But this is an example of common sense rather than cover up. Some ufologists are all too ready to accept certain reports as evidence of alien spacecraft without considering other possibilities, and without careful scrutiny of witness testimony.

Although much has been written about foo-fighters, it is nearly all based on American reports. Clarke and Roberts have unearthed some interesting documents concerning RAF reports and investigations into them. The term ''foo-fighter' was unknown to British aircrew and two of the commonest terms they used were 'the light' and 'the thing'. Investigators were unable to provide plausible explanations for many of the reports, but as they had no reports of aircraft being damaged or destroyed by the mysterious objects, they concluded that, whatever they were, they were fairly harmless.

The Swedish ghost rockets of 1946 caused rather more consternation in the Air Ministry, as many believed that the objects were Soviet missiles. There was a very large number of reports, but the sceptical Air Ministry scientist Dr R.V. Jones said that at least a small percentage of them must have crashed on Swedish territory and he challenged investigators to produce samples of wreckage. One fragment allegedly from a ghost rocket was found by scientists at Farnborough to contain small amounts of iron, nickel and copper, with 98 per cent of an unknown element. This failed to dent Jones's scepticism. He asked the scientists if they had tested the sample for carbon. They had not, and when they did so and had a good look at the sample they realised it was just a lump of coke.

The authors have reinvestigated the Lakenheath/Bentwaters case of 13-14 August 1956, by searching for documents and interviewing witnesses. Their comments will not please the ETH crowd. They write, " ... as was the case with many other 'classic' UFO incidents, when the 'evidence' is carefully scrutinised, the facts are found to be not as clear-cut as they have often been portrayed in the UFO literature. Natural phenomena, human perception and the will to believe on behalf of both witnesses and commentators have all contributed to the creation of an elaborate story from very mundane origins."

This book is certainly far removed from armchair ufology. Clarke and Roberts have concentrated on setting out the facts, based on their extensive studies of official documents and interviews with witnesses, and very little space is devoted to theories or speculations. This makes it a valuable reference source and an essential purchase for what Jim Moseley calls 'Serious Ufologists'. -- John Harney Magonia 78, June 2002.

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