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Room 101


A Room 101 Interview with Mark Pilkington

Is it possible that instead of perpetrating a UFO cover-up the US intelligence agencies have really been promoting ideas like alien abductions, UFO crashes and recoveries, and secret bases all along. That’s what Mark Pilkington alleges in his controversial new book, Mirage Men: A Journey in Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs. Sceptical but putting nothing past the US military-industrial complex I decided to actually read the book a lot of UFOlogists will try and ignore. Impressed, if not convinced, I decided to get in touch with Mark Pilkington to ask the author a few questions.

Richard Thomas: First things first. Thank you for giving us the time to answer these questions, I really appreciate it and I’m sure our readers will too.

Reading the book your obviously a lot more sceptical about UFOs or to be more precise the ETH than you were when you first got interested in the subject. How did you first become interested in UFOs and how has your view of the phenomenon evolved since that time, and why?

Mark Pilkington: I've been interested in fortean phenomena all my life – HG Wells' War of the Worlds was my favourite book aged about 7 or 8 and I grew up reading 2000AD (the British SF comic) and as much SF, fantasy and horror as I could get my mitts on. I found my first copy of Fortean Times in the mid 1980s aged about 13 and read Timothy Good's Above Top Secret when I was 14 in 1987. UFOs always appealed to me because they seemed to be the most accessible form of anomalous phenomena – you could look up at the night sky wherever you were and imagine seeing one.

I'm not sceptical about UFOs themselves – people see them every day – nor am I sceptical of the existence of ET life, I believe it's out there, and I can accept that it will come here and perhaps even has done at some point in our past. What I *am* very sceptical of is the popular notion of ET visitation as presented in the UFO lore that has emerged since the late 1940s. This has developed out of a multi-directional feedback loop between UFO experiencers, UFO book authors, mainstream popular culture and those in the military and intelligence worlds who would exploit and shape these beliefs and ideas.

Each era gets the UFOs and ETs that it desires, they are a culturally constructed phenomenon. In the book I demonstrate, for example, that there's nothing alien about flying saucers, which were synonymous with ET visitation from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Whether or not the Germans, British or Americans ever successfully flew disc-craft at great speed, they certainly tried, as far back as the 1930s. Perhaps they did fly but were less useful than more conventional types of aircraft.

Richard Thomas: You write early in the book about some UFO sightings of your own you had (or thought you had) when you were younger. What did you see and is there any doubt at all in your mind that these weren’t anonymous like you originally thought?

Mark Pilkington: I open the book with a sighting of three silver spheres seen by myself and two friends in Yosemite national park in 1995. I still have no idea what these were, though I'm still confident that they weren't balloons. I actually tried to track down my companions, who I've since lost touch with, to ask them to send me their memories of what we saw, as I thought it would be a fascinating demonstration of the fallibility of memory if they described something entirely mundane or different. If I hear from them I will certainly publish their stories on the Mirage Men blog. As I point out in the book, silver spheres were seen at least as far back as WWII, and are still reported to this day. I have no idea what the things we saw were.

Richard Thomas: I haven’t looked into it much but after I read the back of your book I automatically thought of Project Blue Beam, a conspiracy theory on the web that the US Government are planning on staging a fake alien invasion to bring about a global police state. Do you think there might just be a seed of truth to such paranoid thinking?

Mark Pilkington: The earliest version of this story I know of is a speech made by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden to the UN in March 1947, in which he posits that an invasion by Martians would be the only thing that might unite the world's nations. Of course the Roswell incident took place four months later, something that was picked up on by former intelligence agent Bernard Newman in his 1948 novel The Flying Saucer. In which scientists stage a fake invasion to bring about world peace.

Reagan famously alluded to the idea again in 1987, also talking to the UN. It's a common motif in science fiction - I was recently pointed to an Outer Limits episode, “The Architects of Fear,” which follows the same premise. There are rumours that Wernher von Braun believed that a false ET invasions was on the cards, and it's something that UFO researcher and Manhattan Project scientist Leon Davidson also talked about in the 1960s referring to the contactees, who he thought were being deceived in elaborate setups by the intelligence agencies. It's a very appealing idea whether true or not.

I think it's a reflection on our times that the Blue Beam story uses the same premise to warn of an impending global police state, rather than world peace!

Richard Thomas: Briefly as possible who exactly are the “Mirage Men” and how did you first become aware of them?

Mark Pilkington: Ultimately everyone who talks or writes about UFOs become Mirage Men as their stories influence the field. In the book I'm specifically referring to those people from military and intelligence organisations who have used the UFO lore as a cover for their operations and, in extreme cases, have seeded new material within the UFO culture to further muddy the waters.

Richard Thomas: Perhaps the best evidence for UFOs are radar reports, but in the book you explain quite convincingly how such evidence might not be as convincing as researchers originally thought. Could you explain why this is to the readers, and what this might mean?

Mark Pilkington: Yes I talk about the Palladium system for spoofing radar returns, which I stumbled upon by accident while reading James Bamford's NSA biography Body of Secrets. By the mid 1960s this had got very sophisticated and was being used by the NSA and CIA. It was used with drones for example, to create the impression of much larger aircraft. I later found out that Leon Davidson had talked about the technology in the late 1950s, with reference to the famous 1952 Washington DC UFO overflights.

The radar ghosting phenomenon was actually first observed in 1945. By the mid-late 1950s the technology to create them was being used to train radar operators in the civilian domain. So the circumstantial evidence that the 1952 UFO wave was a demonstration of *somebody's* radar spoofing abilities is quite compelling.

Richard Thomas: In Nick Redfern’s book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story. he speculates that horrific Cold War experiments carried out on Japanese prisoners of war might be the truth behind the saucer crash story. Do you think the US Government are using the UFO lore to cover-up this and similar crimes, or, do the “Mirage Men” have other motives?

Mark Pilkington: I don't know what happened at Roswell, and the story has grown far too convoluted now ever to be satisfactorily resolved. Nick Redfern and I certainly think along similar lines at times and aspects of his Body Snatchers theory are quite convincing. We have to remember that the years following World War II were difficult and often desperate. The threat of Soviet infiltration and/or atomic annihilation was extremely serious, and the US government, like those of every nation, was prepared to do awful things to maintain the status quo.

The point about Roswell is that *whatever* came down, whether it was a Mogul balloon or something more exotic, the saucer deception worked – nobody took the blindest bit of interest in the Roswell story for at least 30 years, though someone in the military and or intelligence world appears to have been promoting saucer crash stories as early as 1950 .

So in that respect Walter Haut and the others who put out first the flying saucer, then the weather balloon press releases are amongst the first Mirage Men that we can identify. As an aside, William Davidson and Frank Brown, the two Air Force Intelligence agents who died while investigating Kenneth Arnold in Tacoma, Washington, should also be added to that roll of honour.

Richard Thomas: The idea that the US intelligence agencies might have encouraged or perhaps even invented much of the UFO cannon, i.e., crashed saucers, recovered ET hardware and bodies, etc, I’m sure will be rejected out of hand by most UFO researchers. Why do you think this is?

Mark Pilkington: Some prominent researchers have invested a huge amount of time, energy and credibility in believing and promoting the ETH and tales of an attendant cover-up. It will probably be harder for some of them to consider the ideas I present in Mirage Men without prejudice, though the positions certainly aren't mutually exclusive.

But, as Leon Festinger showed in his book When Prophecy Fails, there's a strange effect that when someone's deeply-held beliefs are challenged or shown to be delusional, especially when issues of credibility are at stake, rather than accept a new set of beliefs, they will cling more strongly to the old ones, reinforcing them with increasingly warped logic. Festinger studied a 1950s UFO group and his findings are just as relevant today as they ever were.

I'm just putting forward my take on a very complex story. I wrote Mirage Men to be an outward-looking book that would interest people outside of the UFO community, I also wanted to present a reasonable and responsible critique of the mainstream ETH to those who are already well-versed with the UFO lore. Most people who have contacted me seem to agree that I've done a decent job of this, though there's also been some hate mail. Generally I think I've only succeeded if I find myself take flak from both sides of the sceptical divide!

Personally speaking, I have no problem with people believing anything they like, as long as others aren't being exploited, harmed or prejudiced against as a result those beliefs. Taken literally, I think beliefs in ET visitation are actually more logical than those of any of the major religions for example.

Most UFO beliefs are quite harmless, even positive, though I think it's a shame that some people use them as a means to undermine human ability and potential, for example suggesting that advanced technologies or the feats of ancient cultures can only be attributed to aliens rather than human ingenuity.

Richard Thomas: What would your answer be to people who say that too many honest and credible witnesses have reported seeing phenomena that Earthly explanations just can’t explain?

Mark Pilkington: I accept that there are always going to be cases that refuse to give up their mysteries under even the most focussed scrutiny, and in those instances it's ultimately going to come down to what people prefer to believe.

I'm fascinated by the 1980 Cash-Landrum incident for example. If even half of that incident was accurately reported by the witnesses then there are either some remarkably advanced toys in the human arsenal, or we really have been borrowing, or stealing them from someone else.

Some of my friends have had some really spectacular and bizarre UFO sightings, but personally I just don't see the need to invoke the extraterrestrial hypothesis. As military analysts have pointed out since the late 1940s, the patterns of behaviour ascribed to UFOs make no sense as part of a surveillance or invasion plan. Meanwhile if some secret cabal has been negotiating with the aliens, then what have they got to show for it? Where are the technological leaps or anomalies?

I've been reading Paul Hill's Unconventional Flying Objects. Although himself an ET believer, Hill, who worked on successful flying platform designs in the 1950s, points out that there's very little about UFO reports that is truly inexplicable – they obey, rather than defy the laws of physics. My own belief, and it's only a belief, is that some highly advanced experimental craft have been flown over the years, perhaps much further back than we realise.

Richard Thomas: Probably the big UFO story of 2006 was Project Serpo. In the book you meet Bill Ryan who runs the website where the most controversial documents since the MJ-12 papers were first posted. How do you think the story first began and if the “Mirage Men” were behind it what might have their intentions have been?

Mark Pilkington: Yes John Lundberg and I got involved with Bill Ryan within a few weeks of Serpo breaking and followed him to Laughlin for his ufological debut. That's a key section of the book. I don't know whether Serpo was a 'Mirage Men' operation, though in the book I do suggest a few purposes it might have had if it was. What we can say for sure is that the Serpo story, ridiculous as it seems, single-handedly reinvigorated, even resurrected, the UFO field at a time when it was almost entirely moribund.

In 2004 when John and I first began mooting the idea of Mirage Men you couldn't get anybody to take the least bit of interest in the UFO subject other than to say that it was a cultural dead zone. Now UFOs and ETs are once again big business with a flood of books, films and TV series headed our way. While interest in UFOs, like anything else, is always cyclical, I really think that Serpo was the seed for this particular wave of interest.

Richard Thomas: Have you found any evidence that Britain or other countries might have their own “Mirage Men,” I don’t believe them myself but there are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding Nick Pope, for instance?

Mark Pilkington: I don't know about Nick Pope, though he *did* come to my book launch. hmmmmmmmm.

Seriously, my understanding - confirmed by a source who wishes to remain anonymous for now (yes, him again!) - is that the USAF's OSI (Office of Special Investigations) and the RAF's Provost and Security Services often work together, or at least keep each other informed of operations on UK soil. AFOSI have certainly run a few Mirage Men type operations over the last forty years, and I'm aware of at least one UFO-themed disinformation operation conducted on UK soil in the 1990s. I hope to be able to write more about this in the near future.

Richard Thomas: Thanks Mark, where can readers find the book and have you got any other projects or a website you’d like to plug?

Mark Pilkington: Thanks Richard. Mirage Men is currently available in the US and the UK via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and the rest. I've set up a web site for the book, which I'm using to explore some of the book's ideas and themes further.

I also run Strange Attractor Press, publishing books including Welcome to Mars by Ken Hollings, which is about American in the heyday of the flying saucer era, and The Field Guide, by Rob Irving and John Lundberg, which is an insider's history of the crop circle phenomenon, including detailed instructions on how to make your own.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.