Martian or Russian? A chat with UFO researchers Nick Pope and Philip Mantle
Whether you’re a believer or not, these shows will make you wonder whether we’re truly alone, or if human history is in fact interspersed with encounters from another world.
Just a couple of shows which you can enjoy are:
- Ancient Aliens, S11
- Aliens at the Pentagon
- Alien Autopsy: The Search for Answers
Find out what’s coming up on UFO Week for you to get stuck into some sci-fi favourites and UK premieres of top alien exposés.
For a peek at what’s to come, we (virtually) sat down with UFO researchers Nick Pope and Philip Mantle to find out more about what the study of UFOs is all about, what their theories are and what light they can shed on this fascinating subject.
Nick Pope previously worked for the Ministry of Defence and is now known as one of the world’s leading authorities on UFOs, consulting on a number of alien-themed films, TV shows and video games (you may recognise him from Ancient Aliens). Philip Mantle is a British author, lecturer and well-known Ufologist – so if anyone knows UFOs, it’s these guys!
So what happened at Roswell? What do we all get wrong about UFOs? Read on to find out... Plus, find out how to get a chance to win a CELESTRON 114AZ-SR Reflector Telescope (value £149)!
So, Nick and Philip, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how you got into the study of UFOs?
Nick Pope: I was a civilian employee at the UK Ministry of Defence. The posting policy is that you get moved around every few years, and I was due for a move just at the time when the job which involves investigating UFOs turned up. So, it was a case of right place, right time. Just blind luck, really, that I fell into this most fascinating job in government. I had no previous interest in the subject, no particular beliefs either way - I was I was neither a true believer nor a diehard debunker. I just went in really with an open mind and thought I'll see what happens.
The next three years doing the job were, obviously, life changing, [...] and after I left the posting, and particularly after I left the MoD in 2006, by that time, the British government was declassifying and releasing some of the old case files that I worked on and wrote. This meant I was not overly constrained by the Official Secrets Act anymore, and because the material was out there, and I felt that this whole subject was too interesting and too important to walk away from, I've kept up my involvement in a private capacity. But the job itself, I just fell into it by my happy chance.
Philip Mantle: I was always interested in all things paranormal as far back as I can remember. […] When I was at high school, I read a book on astronomy that only had one chapter about UFOs in it, basically dismissing it, but nonetheless, it intrigued me. Then in late 1978-1979, I went to work in what was West Germany. I couldn't speak the language, so I asked my mum to send me some books. I couldn’t watch the television - I couldn't understand the word of it - so she sent me a box of books about UFOs. So by the time I got back home the following March I was well and truly hooked.
At the time, I used to live about five miles from the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire. they published then and still do in an evening newspaper, The Evening Post, and my aunt knew of my interest in the subject, so she brought the newspaper around one evening and it was a small ad for the formation of the Yorkshire UFO Society. They were having a meeting that coming Sunday in Leeds, so I got on the bus that Sunday into Leeds. The Society was set up by two brothers Graham and Mark Birdsall. They put on a presentation, and that was me hooked. There weree more books I could get to lay my hands on! So that's how it all began, and I've never looked back since that very day.
Why do you think governments around the world denied their interest in UFOs for so long?
Nick Pope: A couple of reasons. The government organisations which are embedded in the study of UFOs, chiefly the Ministry of Defence and the Air Force, are just naturally secretive organisations where the default position is to say as little as possible.
But I think there are a couple of other reasons for UFO secrecy. Firstly, we came at this, initially, at least, not because we corporately believed in extraterrestrials, but just that we wanted to know about everything flying in our airspace. At the back of our mind, particularly with this having all started during the Cold War, was “could any of this be as it was at the time Soviet or Warsaw Pact?” So, it started more looking at this from a defence and national security point of view - just wanting to be sure about everything in the UK’s air defence region. But then I think, inevitably, pop culture kicks in and the idea that we might be visited comes up in discussions even internally, and we certainly didn't rule it out. We tried not to take sides or take a position. We always said to keep an open mind about the possibilities about life out there and visiting us, but that our role was really just the defence role. So, we needed to look at this and say, “is there evidence of anything that's a potential threat here?” Whatever it is. The soundbite we used sometimes was, “it's probably more likely Russian than Martian” - but we didn't rule out the Martian because, as I say, we had about two or 300 sighting reports each year. Most of them could be explained as misidentifications, but some couldn't, and we kept an open mind on those.
Philip Mantle: Well, for me it’s the nature of government to keep secrets. Also, certainly in the Western world, we would never admit in a thousand years that we don't have control over our air space. When you contact the Ministry of Defence and asking them for their policy, their statement is that they have never found anything of defence significance. The term “defence significance” is key here – so in other words, when they were getting UFOs sightings reported to them, first and foremost they would look to see if there was any intrusion by one of our enemies, and that has been for a long time the Eastern Block and the Russians.
The thing we need to understand is we do not investigate UFOs - we investigate reports of UFOs - we can go speak with the people who were involved but I can't give you a piece of a flying saucer and say “they left this behind put this under the microscope.” I can't give you a proverbial alien in a fridge and say have a look at that - so it is a spurious subject.
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about UFOs?
Nick Pope: I think the first one is that the term UFO has become erroneously synonymous with extraterrestrial spacecraft in some people's minds. Some people say, “do you believe in UFOs?” Well, you can't not believe in UFOs - people see things in the sky every day that they can't explain, and those are UFOs. What they really mean, of course, is do you believe that some UFOs are alien spacecraft, and that that kind of sloppiness of language is difficult, because you get into all sorts of problems with it. That's one of the reasons why we at the MoD in our internal discussions changed the language. So, we dropped UFO, and we replaced it with UAP, which was an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. We didn't invent that term. It had been around for a while out in the UFO community, but we adopted it for our internal classified policy discussions so that we wouldn't run into all this pop culture baggage that the subject has.
One other huge one is that these sightings only take place in remote countryside locations, whereas in fact there are more sightings in the big cities than anywhere else. Intriguingly, London is number one hotspot when I was doing this job. But I suppose if there's 810 million potential witnesses and there's something strange in the sky, it may be more likely to be seen, even with light pollution and obstructed views.
Another misconception is, in the US especially, that there's this still this cliché of the redneck witness. You know, “I was driving down my road in my truck and aliens took me up and probed me.” This was one of the misconceptions that I had myself - that it was all members of the public seeing these things, and I didn't realise that quite a lot of the people that would be reporting sightings to me in the MoD would be police officers, pilots, military personnel, radar operators. So that was my misconception, that this was a public thing, whereas in fact a lot of our own people were seeing things and of course, particularly if you have an RAF pilot who sees something, and then simultaneously it something tracks on radar, and maybe even filmed with gun cameras, that's fascinating! And of course, that's exactly what's going on in the US right now. You've probably seen those three videos that the US Navy released, and they're 100% authentic. There's a press release on the Department of Defence website saying these are our videos, and no, we don't know what, what the objects or phenomena are.
Yep, that’s right, the Pentagon released the UFO videos themselves, one of which was recorded in 2004, the other two in 2015. Look for yourself 👇
Philip Mantle: People think that UFO equals alien spaceship. Well, that's not the case. The idea that these are, you know, spaceships from another civilization out there in the universe is just one of many theories that have been put forward to try and explain the phenomena. We can't really tell of course, its the most popular theory and the most romantic I think - I think even some of the hardened sceptics would love it if they were proven wrong - that UFOs were indeed spaceships from another world.
But we have to remember what the U stands for is unidentified, and my role as a UFO researcher investigator is to gather the data, gather the information, and add it to the pool of knowledge about the subject, and hopefully, at some point, somebody will come up with a definitive explanation. Pretty much like they have done with other sciences down the years. Previously astronomy wasn't an accepted science, they believed rocks could not fall from the sky. Well, of course they do. And the fact was many people documented these observations down the years, and now we know them as meteorites.
So, Nick, after working in Ministry of Defence and after these new videos have been coming out, where do you stand now? Would you say you're a believer?
Nick Pope: I think I would character I'd probably a little bit more Mulder than Skully now. I think I am absolutely convinced that there's life out there in the universe. I think it would be inconceivable to me that we were alone, because from everything we know about the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, they’re going to be the same in the observable universe, and the factors that gave rise to life here should give rise to life elsewhere. I think it's only a matter of time before we find out.
Whether or not we're being visited, I’m still undecided about that, simply because I haven't yet got my hands on a smoking gun. But some of the things going on at the moment, like those US Navy videos, bring us closer and closer to that. So, I certainly hope we're being visited, because the world would be much more interesting with aliens.
Philip, for BLAZE’s UFO week, you're a big part of Alien Autopsy: The Search for Answers. This footage supposedly shows 17-minutes worth of black-and-white footage of a secret medical autopsy of an alien, done by the United States military. The programme examines the footage and your investigation of whether it was genuine or not. What was your reaction when you first saw your that footage? And how do you feel about it now?
Philip Mantle: We have to remember that the film itself [Alien Autopsy] was released on television in around the world in 1995. However, I'd been discussing the film with its owner at the time Ray Chantilly since 1993. He actually wrote to us at the British UFO Research Association asking for help with that UFO Documentary. No mention at first of any of any alien autopsy, that only came later.
I’d seen all the film, prior to its release on television. What people don't know or don't realise is that there's a number of different films, only a couple of which have been seen on television. But when we got to see them in his office in London, we could confirm, if nothing else, that film did exist. Bearing in mind I'd been talking to him then for about a year and a half having not seen anything. At one point, I told him I just didn't believe him anymore, because a lot of people make claims but they have nothing to support it. No documents or photographs. So here the last, we did have some film, if nothing else. So, I could confirm it wasn't just another tall story. And I was intrigued. I have to be honest, I was. I was fascinated by it.
But you have to remember this was now 1995, the height of The X Files, so the paranormal was beamed into everyone's houses on a weekly basis, and the media were hungry for UFO and paranormal stories. And this seemed to be the perfect one - a bit too perfect. But it was nonetheless intriguing when I first saw it.
When we think of UFOs, we inevitable think of the infamous case at Roswell in 1947. What are your theories are on what happened at Roswell?
Nick Pope: Well, in doing any investigation the important thing is to go back to what was first said, and the very first thing was the US military themselves putting out the story saying: “we have recovered a flying disc.” And for about three weeks in the run up to Roswell, flying saucer fever had swept the US because of a sighting on 24th June where a pilot reported nine objects flying at incredible speed in formation, and that's where the media invented the term flying saucer, because the pilot said when he was interviewed afterwards that the objects kind of had a funny jerking motion, like a plate would if you skipped it across the water.
And then three weeks later, something crashed at Roswell, and the US military themselves put out this news release saying we've recovered a flying disc. And that was the first thing - all the other theories, rumours and stories came afterwards. I think most investigators would say, go back to the source. Before the story started getting slightly embellished and changed in the telling, see what the ground zero report was, and that was the ground zero report: these flying discs, we've got one, and then 24 hours later, they said it was just a weather balloon.
The idea of it being a weather balloon seems a little hard to believe because the unit involved in this was the 509th Bomb Group, and that was the only atomic bomb capable squadron in the world at the time. This was this was the number one elite military unit in the United States, and if ever there's a bunch of people less likely to misidentify a weather balloon - which they saw all the time - it was these people.
So going back to the original source? The answer is well, it was a flying disc. Now, could it have been some secret prototype aircraft that was being tested? Or could it be extraterrestrial? I guess either. Nearly 80 years on, it's probably going to be impossible to find out because all the primary witnesses are dead, a lot of the evidence is probably lost or buried so deep in government that now it’ll never come out.
However, the Senate Intelligence Committee in the US has recently asked Director of National Intelligence for a report on UFOs, the phenomenon and a sort of who-knows-what within the US government because they were fed up with all these different intelligence agencies having a little bit of the story and not sharing information, and no one quite knows who's doing what, particularly with these highly classified programmes. So maybe, nearly 80 years later, we will finally get to learn about this.
Philip Mantle: Roswell, without a doubt, is the best known UFO case anywhere in the world. I don't care where you go, if you mention Roswell, people will say “oh, the place with the flying saucer crash.” They might not know much more than that, but that's enough.
So, there's a number of theories put forward again to try and explain what happened. Everybody agrees that something came to ground in Roswell. There is no argument over that even the sceptics will say yes, there was wreckage, there was debris. The United States Air Force have published two official reports on it and they admit there was degree of wreckage.
The first theory - it was indeed some kind of balloon. The air force will tell you it was balloons that were related to a secret project called Project Mogul. They use weather balloons to launch equipment into the higher atmosphere to test for atomic Soviet experiments. The balloons themselves and the equipment was standard, it was the project itself was called Project Mogul which was the secret part, but what we have to remember is that Major Marcel was the first military man on site to recover some of this record wreckage. He worked at Roswell Army Air Force, he was the base intelligence officer, and they used to release their own weather balloons twice a day. So I think Major Marcel would recognise a down weather balloon when he saw it.
The second possibility is that this was some kind of military experiment that went drastically wrong and that human beings were involved. Perhaps the humans were prisoners of war, because we’re only two years after the end of the Second World War, and the US still held prisoners. And perhaps they broke a number of conventions of human rights, or whatever you would like to call it. It’s not that far away in the desert that the atomic bomb was tested - so, could it have been some kind of experiment that the Americans got wrong? Possibly.
The third and possibly the most popular option is that this was a UFO from a flying saucer, a spaceship from another world. It's the theory that draws the people into Roswell every summer for the festival and conference they have there every year.
There's no proof definitively for any of these three, that you just have to read the data and come to your own conclusion. But something definitely did happen at Roswell. All of them said yes, the wreckage was found, and it was recovered. It was shown to the Sheriff and Major Marcel who went to collect to some of it, but he mistook it, and they now say it was a balloon.
What is interesting is on the way home that night, Major Marcel got his son and his wife out of bed. He’d collected some of this material was taking it back to the base and he showed them it. Marcel Jr. picked a piece up and it's called an I-Beam - it looks like a capital I, was about 12-14 inches long, and it apparently had these little hieroglyphic type things on it. And his father said to him, “son, you may be the first person to see writing from another world.” And he stuck to that story for rest of the life. When I asked Marcel Jr about his father, I said let's assume your father got this wrong, and he mistook it and it was some kind of balloon - was he reprimanded? Was he transferred somewhere out of the way because he was an embarrassment? And he said, “no, he actually got promoted.”
Wouldn't it be amazing if it was in fact, you know, the first contact, but unfortunately it went wrong and ended up in a crash? What I would say is, again, look at the information, look at the data, and draw your own conclusions.
So how about the Rendlesham Forest incident, which is known as the "British Roswell." Do you know what happened there?
Philip Mantle: Rendlesham Forest is situated between twin airbases - they were US United States facilities at the time and what is interesting is that they also had a nuclear arsenal. It wasn't known at the time but they did have a nuclear arsenal with weapons there, and they had a whole fleet of military aircraft they were on the front line of NATO. This wasn't just some little place stuck out in Suffolk where you went for a cup jolly couple of years to enjoy yourself.
So, in December 1980 some strange lights well witnessed descending into Rendlesham Forest. It's off base it's on Forestry Commission land and three security men were sent to investigate. One of them when they got their stayed with their vehicle the other two Sergeant Jim Benestan and his colleague John Burroughs went into the forest – they could see these lights in the forest and they got very close to it, and what Jim Benestan claims he saw It was a triangular shaped object, about the size of a large car, maybe a little bit bigger, hovering or on legs just above the ground. It was a dark colour and again, as with the Roswell wreckage, he claimed he saw these strange inscriptions or hieroglyphs down the side – he even touched it and it was hot. His colleague however said he just saw the strange lights – they were mesmerised by them. This thing took off into the woods, they chased it for a while but couldn't catch up.
Two nights later, the Deputy Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Holt was having a dinner at the base and he was interrupted and one of his colleagues who said it was back. Now, the Colonel hadn’t seen it on the first night so he thought right, I'm going to put this to bed. He takes a party of men, headed off into the forest as well as his pocket dictaphone and recorded what they were seeing. They saw a whole series of events, a lot of which he is recording as they went along on his dictaphone. So he said beams of light shone down onto what he calls the weapons storage area, and at that time of course that weapons storage area had nuclear weapons on it. So a few days later the Colonel wrote an official memo about the event which was sent to the Ministry of Defence in the UK and to the headquarters of the United States Air Force. It was only a couple of years later when a number of people came forward to speak about it.
One thing about Rendlesham is that all the personnel who were involved are still alive and kicking as far and are on the record, whereas when we talk about Roswell, sadly all those who were there have now passed away. We can’t interview anyone, but here we have a case which happened at the frontline NATO base with nuclear weapons, so we should be concerned. Even if they got it wrong, we should still be concerned because these were military men who were on the front line. And it’s a fascinating story – I have no doubt that Mr. Benestan and Mr. Burroughs encountered something truly bizarre that night, and I can be as sceptical as anyone but I personally cannot find a rational explanation for what they encountered, and neither can they. And the Colonel – just like Major Marcel at Roswell – he was he was eventually made a full colonel, he had a full career working In Washington DC at the Pentagon, so it didn't do his military career any damage. Fascinating events.
Nick Pope: It's Britain's best known UFO incident, and almost everything, as an investigator, that makes a good case came together in this one incident:
A lot of the witnesses were military. There were two United States Air Force based in Salford. The witnesses included a really skeptical deputy base commander - there were UFO incidents over three nights, and by the third night he was so fed up with this that when he was told that the UFO had returned, he went out to the into the forest with a team of men to debunk it, and he ended up seeing the thing himself. At one point - this was really bizarre - he said the thing was skipping around in the sky at extraordinary speed, maneuvering like no aircraft was capable of, not even now. And then he said it shot a narrow beam of light down at the ground in front of him and his men. And he remembered thinking afterwards, was this a weapon, was this a warning, or was this communication?
The UFO was also tracked on radar. There was physical evidence because this wasn't just lights in the sky on the first night, some people actually saw it land in Rendlesham Forest. And when they went to the site afterwards, they found indentations in the hard frozen ground and burn marks on the sides of some of the trees in the clearing where this thing had come down. They also found levels of radioactivity that were subsequently assessed by the MoD (Ministry of Defense) as significantly higher than the average background. So as I say, it's almost like the perfect storm of a UFO case.
Everyone's got a theory: some claim travellers from the future, sceptic say, meteors and fireballs – the truth of it is, no one knows. And in one way it's a UFO investigation is like a police investigation. If you don't solve it in the first 48 hours, you probably never will. But as I say, one can always hope that even 40 years on with Rendlesham and nearly 80 years on with Roswell maybe, just maybe, someone will turn something up. I think it's more likely in the US because you've got the Senate Intelligence Committee gripping it....and of course, the current Vice President Kamala Harris sat on that committee, so presumably she's had the briefing already. There have been classified briefings about all this in Congress, not specifically Roswell, but the US Navy sightings and the phenomenon more generally, and people have apparently been quite shocked by whatever it is they've been briefed. They've come out and they've, they've said, “Well, yeah, I've been briefed, but I can't discuss it. It's all classified.” But as I say, they went on then to demand this report from Director of National Intelligence. So, one can legitimately speculate that something spooked them.
Since we've had so many advancements in film and photography, do you think that could actually harm the study of UFOs or help things as it's now easier to fake footage?
Nick Pope: There's good news, and there's bad news. The good news is that of course, a much higher proportion of UFO witnesses now manage to get film or photos on their smartphones. But the downside is that it's almost a case of information overload - there's just so much material out there. And a lot of it is CGI hoaxes, and you can do so much these days with Photoshop or some of the other programmes that it becomes almost impossible for anyone outside of the intelligence community and imagery analysis community to sort out fact from fiction.
The fact that the MoD stopped its UFO investigations in 2009 means that there's no focal point for any of this. So, you've got all the UFO groups having photos and films sent to them, and the media gets some material. But there's no single focal point within government anymore. And what that means is that there's just a whole bunch of stuff out on the internet. Who knows, maybe the greatest UFO photo - maybe that elusive, real life smoking gun is out there - but it's buried in such a sea of fuzzy lights and fake photos that nobody would ever find it - the best place to hide a book is in a library.
Philip Mantle: I have a colleague who will now not accept any UFO film or photographs for analysis because the technology has gotten so good today that you can do it on your mobile phone – I think there was an app at one point and it will put a flying saucer in your picture with you, so it's very difficult to say what is real and what is fake. What is interesting is we have more cameras now available than ever before with mobile phones and CCTV cameras, and yet the images of UFOs have somehow gotten worse! One of the most common things in my inbox are people saying “I've taken a picture of my kids playing in a field and when I've uploaded it to my laptop there is something in the sky behind them which I didn't see at the time”, and it’s birds, it’s almost always birds - you'll be amazed by how many people think birds in photos are UFOs.
People want to believe I guess...
Philip Mantle: I think the photography has gotten worse, whereas we can look back to photos from the ‘50s and get more because it was much more difficult to perpetrate a hoax in those days, and we can subject old photographs and film to today's modern digital technology to see if there were any wires or strings and things like that, and of course, quite often, there wasn't.
Are you a fan of sci-fi TV and movies yourself?
Nick Pope: I've always been a Doctor Who fan - it's just so thought provoking and entertaining at the same time. But in terms of movies, specific movies that speak to UFOs and aliens, I think the two ones that I really love are Contact (1997) and Arrival (2016), because they're not just about aliens, it's about us. I think our reactions to all of this, how we would respond, how it would affect society - those are fascinating questions to me, and almost every aspect of our lives would be affected by first contact. I always like to say with this, the sceptics have to be right every day, whereas the believers only need to be right once, and everything changes.
Philip Mantle: I've always been a fan of science fiction, and my favourite sci-fi film is one with a flying saucer in it: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - a classic black-and-white science fiction film with a double meaning to it and an alien robot.
It’s just amazing to see how UFO culture and research permeates into our culture. The most famous flying saucer film of all time is Close Encounters of the the Third Kind (1977) made by Steven Spielberg, and the consultant on that was Dr J. Allen Hynek, who came up with the phrase ‘Close Encounters’ - it was his categorisation system. He’s even in the movie, he plays a little cameo! Dr. Hynek was an astrophysicist and he was the scientific consultant on Project Blue Book, which was the United States Air Force official UFO study. Initially he was extremely sceptical, but come the 1960s he investigated a case at Socorro, New Mexico of a UFO landing witnessed by a police officer, and I believe that was the turning point for him.
There’s a little scene in it when the UFO lands at the end and everybody walks forward – you see an old boy with glasses and a beard and a pipe – that's Dr Hynek. Even the main character in the film, the main researcher Claude Lacombe, he’s the French researcher, and he’s also based on a real life UFO researcher whose name is Dr Jacque Vallee. He’s French but he lives and works in the United States, and was a good friend and colleague of Dr Hynek, so even some of the characters in the film aren’t based on fiction but reality. Some of the incidents in Close Encounters are from Dr Hynek’s files, but they’ve obviously been given the Hollywood treatment, so Close Encounters is from a UFO researcher, not Steven Spielberg!
And lastly, what’s the wildest theory you’ve heard about UFOs or aliens?
Philip Mantle: We used to have our own little in-house magazine which we self-published many years ago, and a gentleman used to write to us on a regular basis and he believed that yes, we have aliens on Earth, but they’re not from outer space. He believed that there was a species of dinosaur that didn’t die out when the rest of them did 65 million years ago, and that it continued to evolve and that is the creature that we see today. It’s had a parallel evolution with mankind, but its from Earth and its very bright, bipedal and looks like the aliens people describe, but its not an alien! It’s an evolved dinosaur, and of course the technology evolved along with it and enabled it to travel...so that’s one of the wackiest theories I’ve ever heard...and he was very serious about this!
We sense another movie in the making...
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