Oct 20, 2018 I Robbie Graham

UFOs: Why You Don’t Need to “Believe”

Flying saucers have been part of our cultural landscape for over 70 years. For most of this time, they have teetered precariously on the fringes of acceptable debate, widely considered to be the stuff of fantasy and paranoia.

But it may be that attitudes are gradually beginning to shift. In December 2017, the US government broke its decades of silence on the UFO issue through its proxy acknowledgement of a Pentagon UFO project called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The conclusions of the project, which ran from 2008 to 2012 at a cost of $22 million (and which continues quietly to this day), were that “aircraft” of apparently unearthly origin are routinely penetrating America’s airspace.


These aircraft, according the former head of the Pentagon project, Louis Elizondo, exhibit flight characteristics that defy the laws of our known physics. They do not belong to the United States of America, nor, apparently, to any other nation on Earth. Moreover, it also emerged that the Pentagon has recovered metal alloys from UFOs which are currently being stored and studied under lock and key by billionaire defense contractor Robert Bigelow.

Since then, a number of videos have surfaced of UFOs being tracked and pursued by military aircraft in cases investigated by the Pentagon’s AATIP program. The military officers involved in these cases were later interviewed on primetime news shows and treated by their hosts on Fox, CNN and others with the utmost respect. Could it be that the corporate media are fast recognising as legitimate a subject that for so long has served as little more than tabloid fodder? If so, we must ask ourselves a question: is it still considered kooky to believe in UFOs?


As someone who has carved himself a semi-career in the weird world of “UFOlogy,” I would of course argue that it has never really been kooky to believe in UFOs. Indeed, I would argue that “belief” in UFOs has never really been required. Unidentified Flying Objects, whatever they truly represent, exist. This much is clear. They are real, and governments around the world have known this for many decades.

UFOs and national security around the world

The US government’s interest in UFOs dates back to the summer of 1947 when America’s national security apparatus was besieged by hundreds of reports from concerned citizens and military personnel of what appeared to be metallic disc-shaped objects traversing the nation’s skies, sometimes in formation and often at impossible speeds. On 24 June 1947, a private aviator and businessman, Kenneth Arnold, reported seeing a chain of nine unusual objects over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. He described the objects’ movement as being “like a saucer if you skip it across the water,” inspiring the press to dub the mystery objects “flying saucers.” Many hundreds of saucer sightings were reported worldwide in the months to follow.

In 1948 the US Air Force produced its top secret and highly controversial “Estimate of the Situation,” an official report concluding flying saucers to be “interplanetary” in origin. Other factions within the Air Force, however, favoured the more palatable idea that the saucers were the product of technological innovations in the Soviet Union. Either way, secrecy regarding the issue was of paramount importance as the question of whether the objects were physically real had already been affirmatively answered in the minds of America’s military leaders. In a once secret letter to Air Force Headquarters dated 23 September 1947, General Nathan Twining, head of Air Materiel Command (AMC), stated that flying saucers were “real and not visionary or fictitious,” that they had “metallic or light reflecting surface[s],” were “circular or elliptical in shape, flat on bottom and domed on top,” and were sometimes sighted in “well-kept formation flights varying from three to nine objects.” In a previously top secret Canadian government document dating from 1950, Wilbert Smith, head of the Canadian government’s UFO research project, noted of UFOs that “The matter is the most highly classified subject in the United States government, rating higher even than the H-bomb.”

Today, numerous governments worldwide maintain dedicated and costly UFO study projects, collating and often investigating what collectively amount to thousands of UFO sighting reports made annually to authorities. In South America alone, the governments of Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, and Brazil, either operate UFO investigations units or actively collect UFO sighting reports through their militaries. Other governments, including those of France, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, and Russia, have, in recent years, released to the public thousands of pages of previously classified UFO files.

The UK government has engaged with its citizenry through a process which has seen the release of thousands of previously classified UFO files through the National Archives. According to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), UFOs (or UAPs—Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) “certainly exist,” but are “still barely understood.” In a formerly secret 400-page assessment of the UFO phenomenon released in 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act, the UK Defence Intelligence Staff acknowledged that:

"The phenomena occur on a daily, world-wide basis. That UAP exist is indisputable. Credited with the ability to hover, land, take-off, accelerate to exceptional velocities, and vanish, they can reportedly alter their direction of flight suddenly and clearly can exhibit aerodynamic characteristics well beyond those of any known aircraft or missile—either manned or unmanned."

The report also notes that “attempts by other nations to intercept the unexplained objects, which can clearly change position faster than an aircraft, have reportedly already caused fatalities,” and warns that, with the increasing density of UAP reports in the UK air defence region, “a small possibility may exist... of a head-on encounter with a UAP.”

There appears, then, to be a broad consensus among the governments cited above: UFOs are objectively real, albeit currently not fully understood by science. They are worthy, at best, of focused study, and, at the very least, of sustained monitoring in the interests of aviation safety and national security.

It seems that UFOs, regardless of their precise nature and origin, are objectively real. Moreover, it would seem that at least some UFOs are the product of non-terrestrial intelligences and that various governments, or military and intelligence groups within them, are well aware of this fact. Let us address this preceding sentence in two parts. First, why should we indulge the notion that some UFOs may be otherworldly in nature?

We are not alone

In 2015, NASA Chief Scientist, Ellen Stofan, announced her conviction that signs of primitive alien life will be discovered within just ten years from now. “We know where to look. We know how to look,” she said while speaking at a panel discussion broadcast on Nasa TV. “In most cases we have the technology and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road.”

Stofan was discussing the discovery of rudimentary alien lifeforms. However, renowned theoretical physicist Professor Mickio Kaku has gone considerably further with his suggestion that alien life may already be visiting us and that some UFOs could indeed be extraterrestrial spacecraft. According to Kaku, considering the age of the universe (13.82 billion years), many, if not most extraterrestrial civilizations will be technologically thousands or even millions of years more advanced than our own (ours is so young it barely registers on the cosmic timeline). If such civilizations exist, certain physicists, including Kaku, consider it likely that they will have developed hyperspatial technologies that enable their spacecraft to circumvent the light speed barrier, thereby opening the gates for interstellar travel.

The popular assumption in the UFO community is that true UFOs are extraterrestrial vehicles—an assumption undoubtedly reinforced by Hollywood, which prefers a simplistic approach. However, while the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) is appealing on many levels, some have argued that it fails to account for all aspects of UFO phenomena as reported by witnesses. Certainly, it has been my own experience that the closer one looks at UFOs, the harder it becomes to reconcile the phenomenon solely with visits from outer space. Indeed, in a puzzling amount of cases, the phenomenon seems to tailor its manifestations to the expectations of the individual perceiver based on spiritual or ideological values. Extraterrestrial intelligences may play some role in all of this, but it would be a mistake to consider ETs as a definitive solution to the UFO riddle.

Still, the ETH has considerable merit on the face of it. Extraterrestrial life in primitive forms almost certainly exists. If it exists, then the laws of evolution dictate that extraterrestrial intelligences far in advance of our own probably exist. As has been stated very recently by military personnel linked to the Pentagon’s UFO study program, structured craft exhibiting performance characteristics well beyond Earth’s most advanced technologies definitely exist, and have been quietly studied for years. It therefore seems not unreasonable to suggest that at least some UFOs may be of non-human origin, despite historical assertions to the contrary.

As for my suggestion that various governments—or military and intelligence groups within them—are quietly aware of the possible non-human nature of UFOs, this is a logic based not on Hollywood movies or TV shows such as Men In Black or The X-Files, but on tens-of-thousands of pages of declassified government documentation which, collectively, paints a surprisingly clear (though certainly not explicit) picture of a decidedly unearthly phenomenon that for over six decades has held, vice-like, the attention of the powers that be, not only in the United States, but around the world.

The real X-Files: UFOs and officialdom

On 31 January 1949, the FBI issued a memo on UFOs entitled “Protection of Vital Installations.” The classified document was sent to the Army’s G-2, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The memo reveals that a meeting between these authorities had recently taken place concerning UFOs, and states that “the matter of ‘Unidentified Aircraft’ or ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,’ otherwise known as ‘Flying Discs,’ ‘Flying Saucers,’ and ‘Balls of Fire,’ is considered top secret by intelligence officers of both the Army and the Air Forces.” The FBI document catalogues a list of incursions by unknown objects into restricted airspace surrounding the Atomic Energy Commission’s highly sensitive research installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico, throughout December 1948 and into early 1949.

The memo goes on to explain that “the unidentified phenomena travel at the rate of speed estimated at a minimum of three miles per second and a maximum of twelve miles per second, or a mean calculated speed of seven and one-half miles per second, or 27,000 miles per hour.” Needless to say, such speeds are well beyond the capacity of any terrestrial aircraft of the 21st Century, never mind the 20th. Even more eye-popping are the memo’s statements that “on two separate occasions a definite vertical change in path was indicated,” and that the appearance of the object was “round in a point of light with a definite area to the light’s source.” Some of the lights were “a diamond shape,” while others were “elongated.”

It should be noted that this memo came at a time when the US government was insisting to the public that flying saucers were of no defence significance and that all UFOs could be explained away either as conventional aircraft, hallucinations, misidentifications of natural phenomena, or outright hoaxes. And yet, as the document makes clear, behind the scenes, the phenomenon was deemed to be of extreme defence significance and considered “top secret.”

Almost four years later, on 2 December 1952, another jaw-dropping UFO-related document was produced, not by the FBI, but the by CIA. In a secret memo to CIA Director, General Walter Bedell Smith, the Agency’s Director of Scientific Intelligence, H. Marshall Chadwell, wrote of UFOs:

"At this time, the reports of incidents convince us that there is something going on that must have immediate attention.... Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and travelling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles."

In other words, in the absence of other satisfactory explanations, these objects were, in all likelihood, intelligently controlled craft not belonging to the United States government, nor presumably, to any other terrestrial power. Reading between the lines, it seems that Chadwell was seriously considering the possibility that these objects were of non-terrestrial origin, but he knew better than to state so explicitly in official documentation. Such discussions are better held in a quiet office, face-to-face.

To this day, despite the Pentagon’s proxy acknowledgement of its shadowy UFO study program (AATIP), the United States government remains reluctant to officially acknowledge the underlying exotic nature of UFOs (official acknowledgement opens an enormous can of worms). Other governments, however, have been relatively vocal about the phenomenon and are becoming more so with each passing year.

South American officials in particular have been especially forthright regarding military encounters with UFOs. Speaking on the direct authority of the President of Equador, Rafael Correa, Colonel Wilson Salgado of the Ecuadorian Air Force stated in an interview for the 2010 documentary UFOs in South America: Disclosure Has Begun:

The information we have available—not just our information, but also that coming from abroad, in particular the United States—makes me confident that we are dealing with... Unidentified Flying Objects. In real terms, these are extraterrestrial objects, and I’m sure of it. We share the universe with other beings.

In February 2012, Colonel Ariel Sanchez, head of the Uruguayan Air Force’s Commission for the Reception and Investigation of UFO Reports (known as “Cridovni”), told American journalist Billy Cox of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, “I believe that Uruguay, as well as Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and of course, Brazil, all have declassified only the smallest part of their files.” Sanchez said that the UFO information thus far released by these governments is but “the tip of a huge iceberg.”

Some of the most remarkable statements from military officers on UFOs have come from France, a country in which these phenomena been actively investigated at an official level since 1977. In 1999, the Institute of Higher Studies for National Defence—a military think tank—prepared a ninety-page report detailing the results of an independent study on UFOs. The white paper, now commonly referred to as The COMETA Report, was compiled by a group of thirteen retired top-tier generals, admirals, and government scientists (including the former head of the French Tactical Air Force, General Bernard Norlain, and the former head of CNES [the French equivalent of NASA]), Andre Lebeau. The report documented the existence of unidentified flying objects and their implications for national security. Copies were received by President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The report concluded that, for a small percentage of UFO sightings, the extraterrestrial hypothesis was valid. It stated that some UFOs represent “completely unknown flying machines with exceptional performances that are guided by natural or artificial intelligence” and noted that, although the extraterrestrial hypothesis “has not been categorically proven... strong presumptions exist in its favour.” The report then goes on to consider in detail the likely consequences of open extraterrestrial contact for politics, science, and religion.

Concerning the US government’s historical UFO research, the COMETA report states:

"It is clear that the Pentagon has had, and probably still has, the greatest interest in concealing, as best it can, all of this research, which may, over time, cause the United States to hold a position of great supremacy over terrestrial adversaries, while giving it a considerable response capacity against a possible threat coming from space. Within this context, it is impossible for them to divulge the sources of this research and the goals pursued, because that could immediately point any possible rivals down the most beneficial avenues. Cover-ups and disinformation (both active as well as passive) still remain, under this hypothesis, an absolute necessity. Thus it would appear natural in the minds of U.S. military leaders, secrecy must be maintained as long as possible."

In addition to the reams of official documents and scholarly white papers hinting at a non-terrestrial origin for UFOs, there are also many retired, and in some cases serving, government, military, and intelligence officials who have testified publicly to their own knowledge of UFOs and/or the intelligences behind them, and to the extreme secrecy surrounding these issues. Notable among these individuals are former CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter; former Special Assistant to Deputy CIA Director Richard Helms, Victor Marchetti; Senator Barry Goldwater; Gemini astronaut Col. Gordon Cooper; former UK Chief of Defence Staff and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Hill Norton; billionaire financier Lawrence Rockefeller; Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell; former Governor of Arizona Fife Symington; and Japanese Defense Minister Shigiru Ishiba.

And all of this is to say nothing of the literally millions of individuals from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe who, over the past seven decades, have reported seeing not only structured craft unlike anything known to have been built by man, but also—and crucially—non-human entities in the vicinity of, and inside said craft.

So, what are we to make of all this? It may very well be that our reality is drastically stranger than we have been led to believe, and that certain organisations—or certain individuals within them—are only too aware of this. The UFO phenomenon—whatever it is—shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. In fact, mainstream media platforms are now more willing than ever to cover the UFO subject without the once-obligatory references to The X-Files and throwaway jibes about little green men and anal probes. If UFOs ever do shape up to be an ongoing hard news story, a topic of legitimate debate, will this change the social status of the UFO believer? Or, indeed, will “belief” finally be removed from the UFO question altogether?

Robbie Graham
Robbie Graham has lectured around the world on the UFO subject and has been interviewed for the BBC, Coast to Coast AM, Canal+ TV, Channel 4, and Vanity Fair, among many others. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, New Statesman, Filmfax, and Fortean Times. He holds first class degrees in Film, Television and Radio Studies (BA hons) and Cinema Studies (MA) from Staffordshire University and the University of Bristol respectively. He is the author of Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies (White Crow Books, 2015) and the editor of UFOs: Reframing the Debate (White Crow Books, 2017). Visit robbiegraham.uk

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!