Interview with Ralph Noyes
Dave Clarke & Andy Roberts, May 1989)
CR: Clarke & Roberts
RN: Ralph Noyes
CR: Firstly Ralph could you give us some idea of your background in the Ministry of Defence and the sort of clearance you had whilst working at Whitehall.
RN: I reached a fairly senior grade in the MoD and had access to whatever documents were necessary to my responsibilities. These included Top Secret material generally, as well as many other papers of a still more restricted character (for example, operational orders specifying how and when the Prime Minister would be advised to consider the British response to a nuclear threat to this country).
But I'm also perfectly clear that much else was going on in the MoD which I didn't know about because it wasn't relevant to the jobs I was doing: for example, I remained as ignorant as the rest of us about that "anthrax island" in the Hebrides which my colleagues in the Navy Department successfully kept under wraps for about four decades until 1988! (I simply didn't "need to know" about that unpalatable episode for the sake of my own work in the Air Force Department; and nobody - quite rightly - ever told me). If somebody above me had wished to conceal from me that the British or other governments were in touch with extraterrestrials, they could certainly have done so. But I'm pretty sure that I would have got some intimation of this, even if concern for my career prospects might have persuaded me not to enquire further! But I never had the faintest whiff of any such thing.
More important than my own testimony, however, is the fact that Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Hill-Norton, who was the Chief of Defence Staff from 1971 to 1973, never had the smallest indication of ET contact. He was the Defence "supremo"; nothing of Defence significance would have been kept from him; I'm clear from several discussions with him that he knew nothing of any extraterrestrial approach up to the date of his retirement in the mid-1970s. Those who still wish to disbelieve me or Lord Hill-Norton (on the grounds that we are either deceitful or ignorant - or perhaps merely incompetent!) will have to consider how the supposed "ET faithfuls" in Whitehall have managed (for four decades?) to secure government funds, Whitehall office space, telephones, secretaries, waste-paper baskets and total secrecy without so much as a word to the rest of us or any difficulty with the Controller and Auditor General, who keeps Whitehall accountable for every penny spent.
CR: During your time at Whitehall, what specific UFO incidents do you recall that were investigated, and what conclusions were reached?
RN: In the several capacities which brought me into touch with UFO reports during my 28 years in the MoD I encountered several reports, particularly those from military establishments, which indicated "high strangeness." I, and military colleagues, had little doubt something had taken place for which we had no explanation. The classic instance is Bentwaters/Lakenheath in 1956 (and other cases are entering the public domain as files are released under the 30 years' rule). Not once, however, was there the faintest suggestion that extraterrestrials might be in question. We suspected the Russians...We suspected faulty radar...We wondered whether RAF personnel might be succumbing to hallucinogens...But we found no evidence of any such things and in the end (and fairly swiftly) we simply forgot these uncomfortable "intrusions" as rapidly as fire brigades forget apparent cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion and local Councils forget the complaints of their tenants about poltergeists occurrences.
We never had the smallest evidence that Brothers from Space were responsible for our transient unease - and I do believe that we would have picked up anything of that kind, given our highly effective radar cover and the incessant watch kept on radio communications by GCHQ and the NSA.
CR: Which departments in Whitehall received UFO reports, and is it possible that you never had access to the "good reports"?
RN: The immediate recipients of reports of any disturbing phenomena in British airspace were always the Air Staff - the Royal Air Force officers who lived on the same MoD corridor as myself. They would have shouted very loudly to me - as the civilian colleague able to get them the ear of Ministers and/or necessary funds - if they had detected anything needing funds or Cabinet backing. They never did. My impression is that unexplained reports were passed to scientific colleagues (especially the Meteorological Office) when the Air Staff had dismissed them as being of "no defence significance".
If "good reports" were being kept from me (however you define "good"), the Air Staff were - quite unwontedly - missing the opportunity which only I and my Division could offer them of grabbing a bigger slice of the Defence Budget for the RAF (e.g. for research and/or defensive measures against Space Invaders). If Defence Intelligence - DI 55 is the currently fashionable name - are doing some cloak and dagger job on ETs, I wish them well\rquote but it doesn\rquote t yet seem to have been reflected in hardware budgets for any of the Services.
CR: What's your opinion of claims that the Government uses UFOs for the purposes of disinformation?
RN: I can't imagine that any government department, however ill-intentioned, would be so silly as to conduct a propaganda campaign about "UFOs", however covert.
Let's suppose that the MoD and the Pentagon really do have evidence of extraterrestrial visitation, perhaps even to the point of hiding saucers and little space-folk at some military establishment. Let's suppose that they're desperately worried about all those anonymous chaps who keep ringing Len Stringfield and/or appearing on TV with funny voices. Let's suppose that they want to keep the rest of us in ignorance. Would they really take the risk of putting "disinformation" into the public domain? Would they succeed if they tried? Things may have changed since my own days in Whitehall; but when I or my colleagues (with Ministerial approval) felt it necessary to conceal something, we simply clammed up and stone-walled. We would never have been so stupid as to engage in active lying. Quite apart from questions of morality (which certainly operated in my own time), no competent official would have taken the risk of being detected! It was simpler and safer to keep quiet.
CR: What's your standpoint on the Rendlesham Forest incident?
RN: There is no doubt at all that the MoD played a thoroughly dishonest game over the Rendlesham affair. I have already put some of my reasons on record in the afterword to my science fiction novel A Secret Property, and in a paper, UFO Lands in Suffolk, printed in Timothy Good's UFO Annual 1990 (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989). We know - the responsible Minister even admitted as much in the British House of Commons after more than two years prevarication - that the MoD received an astonishing report in 1981 from a responsible USAF officer (Lt. Col, now Brigadier General, Charles I. Halt) of very weird phenomena which (as he believed, and seemed in part to have witnessed) had taken place in the vicinity of a major military establishment in the UK in December 1980. The MoD had flatly denied the existence of this report in response to enquiries put to them in 1981 and 1982. We would probably still be faced with this bland denial but for the action taken by American citizens under the US Freedom of Information Act in 1983. In response to enquiries made to the USAF by CAUS (Citizens Against UFO Secrecy) the USAF obtained a copy of Halt's report from the MoD and released it into the public domain in mid-1983.
The case itself is complex. I have given my own views about it in the papers mentioned above - essentially that Halt and several others came face to face with a striking manifestation of the "UFO phenomenon" (whatever that may be) in the December of 1980. Other commentators may disagree; alternative theories abound. My only immediate point is that the MoD have resisted all attempt to obtain a sensible statement, even under sustained pressure to the Defence Secretary from Lord Hill-Norton. Why? Simply, I think, because it embarrasses them. Either they must admit that a senior USAF officer at a highly sensitive base in the UK went out of his mind in December 1980 (with unthinkable potential consequences in defence terms) or they must acknowledge publicly that weird things occur for which no explanation is at present possible. Can we be surprised that they stalled and cheated? I would have done the same had I had the ill luck to be in post at the relevant time! (Let others among you who are without sin cast the first stone).
The Rendlesham incidents remain open to debate. I will merely add that they could not possibly have been a mere military misfortune - eg the loss or crash in Rendlesham Forest of a bit of troublesome hardware. I have given my reasons more fully in the papers mentioned above. Perhaps I may be forgiven if, in this paper, I merely summarise my conclusion by the assertion (based on hard MoD experience) that major military mishaps can't be concealed, anyway in this country, and that not even the stupidest of officials would attempt concealment by seeking to over-excite local UFOlogists.
There was never, in my day, a deliberate policy of concealment or a deliberate plan of obfustication. We received hundreds of reports from the public of unidentified sightings - just as I receive, today, from a cuttings service to which I subscribe, hundreds of similarly vague reports of things seen in the sky (if I may parody) worthy citizens who have seen something on the outskirts of Wigan while walking the dog. I and my staff dealt as courteously as we could with these well-intentioned communications - and we invariably considered (often with a sigh) whether they just possibly reflected some Russian breach of the "rules of the game." They never did . . . . Only very occasionally (and usually from Defence establishments) did we receive anything definite, for example from Bentwaters/Lakenheath in 1956 and from RAF West Freugh in 1957. And they also, alas, never provided solid evidence which Defence scientists could get to grips with. They never happened twice in the same place; they never did us perceptible damage; we never had the faintest idea of what had occurred; we were very glad that the public never got to hear of them; we would have stone-walled like crazy if Parliamentary Questions had ever been asked.
CR: What is your viewpoint on the nature of the UFO phenomenon, and how best it should be studied or investigated in the future?
RN: It is only since I left the MoD (in 1977) that I have seriously tried to consider what may possibly lie behind the "UFO phenomenon." It was impossible to discuss it seriously within the Department: I would merely have "rubbished' my working relationship with the RAF and scientific colleagues if I had disclosed the interest I felt in the better reports which reached us. What I retained from my MoD experience - greatly reinforced by much that I have since read - is that the "phenomenon" is veridical and important, and that the expert methodology developed over the past century by scholarly people in the field of the so-called "paranormal" may possibly be relevant. I wouldn' put it higher than that at present. I can't even define "paranormal" to my own satisfaction! All I can be quite sure of is that we, in UFOlogy, are dealing with transient and somewhat insubstantial events of a bizarre character, and that we are not alone in doing so. I think they matter. I also think that we and the "parapsychologists" might have some useful exchanges.
Copyright © David Clarke and Andy Roberts 2003