Welcome to the September 2013 column and the latest round-up of news and views on the unexplained, conspiracy theories, the weird and the wonderful.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
I've been working with 2K Games in a consultancy role on the launch of the most eagerly-anticipated computer game of the year, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This latest offering in the popular XCOM franchise is actually the origin story and takes you back to 1962, and how it all began. My role has been to help start a conversation with the people who play games like this and ask, how real could this be, in terms of themes such as extraterrestrial life, alien invasion, government secrecy and the related question of government cover-ups and conspiracies. Could/would they really "erase the truth" about this? If you're a gamer who's interested in UFOs and government conspiracies, you'll want to check out this fantastic new alien invasion-themed computer game. The game is a challenging third-person tactical shooter where you plan missions, command a squad and take part in a high-stakes war where your every decision can mean the difference between life and death for you, your squad and for humanity itself. The graphics are stunning, the story intriguing and the gameplay challenging - but great fun. Click on www.2kgames.com for further details of this amazing new game, available now.
A graphic from The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
The Secret Life of Uri Geller
A new BBC documentary re-examined the claims about alleged psychic and celebrity spoon-bender Uri Geller from a surprising new angle, looking at claims that Geller was employed as a psychic by Israeli intelligence. I appeared in the documentary talking about how, more generally, various governments, military bodies and intelligence agencies have dabbled with so-called "remote viewing", in attempts to see whether psychics could help locate people and items of interest. Obviously this is not an area that I was able to discuss in detail, though some previous US and UK government documents on the subject (including a Ministry of Defence study that I am aware of) have now been declassified. Watch out for Vikram Jayanti's intriguing documentary and decide for yourselves what you think about a story which really is a real-life X-File.
Encounter in Rendlesham Forest
I am pleased to say that St. Martin's Press has revealed the front cover of the new book on the Rendlesham Forest incident that John Burroughs, Jim Penniston and I have written. We are all very pleased with the powerful and striking artwork and design. The book will be published in March 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin's Press) and I'll be saying more about this in future issues of Hot Gossip.
Crop Circles or Flop Circles?
Has the bubble finally burst? After years and years of spectacular patterns appearing in the crop fields of southern England, the 2013 'summer season' of crop circles produced ... well, not very much. When compared to some of the vast and perfectly symmetrical patterns that have appeared in past years, this year has seen very few formations. Those that appeared are, frankly, pretty poor in comparison to what has gone before. Have the aliens got bored and moved on elsewhere? Or are crop circles made by people, and have those people decided they have better things to do with their summers, leaving only a few copycats and wannabes? You decide! Click on www.dailymail.co.uk to see how the Daily Mail reported on the sad lack of new and spectacular crop circles.
Final British Government UFO Files Released
As foreshadowed in previous columns, the five-year program to declassify and release the entire archive of Ministry of Defence UFO files has now come to an end. The tenth and final batch of these real-life X-Files was released on 21st June. As I worked on these files and have been the public face of the release program, I was busy with a seemingly endless round of media interviews on this story, as well as writing a double-page feature spread of my own, in The Sun, giving an overview of the declassification effort and picking out my favourite cases from the final files to be made public.
Click on www.nickpope.net for further details of the release of MoD's UFO files.
Nick Pope at the National Archives, opening the real-life X-Files
JFK Assassination - 50th Anniversary
As reported previously in this column, interest is growing in the forthcoming 50th anniversary of an event that almost single-handedly gave birth to the modern conspiracy theory movement - the November 1963 assassination of JFK.
The assassination of JFK was a defining moment in American history and marked the birth of the modern conspiracy theory era. The Warren Commission, set up to investigate the killing, concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President and that he acted alone. The evidence was overwhelming, in particular, the so-called "backyard photos", which showed Oswald posing with the murder weapon. Even the House Select Committee on Assassinations (which did later support the idea of a conspiracy - albeit on dubious evidence) concluded that the photos were genuine, as did Oswald's wife, who took them. However, almost immediately, some people began to question the official version of events.
The Warren Commission was not without its flaws (exactly the same can be said of the 9/11 Commission), but this does not render their fundamental findings unsound. Despite a multitude of claims and theories, no compelling evidence has been brought forward to call into question the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots and that he acted alone. More to the point, no competing theory is supported by nearly as much evidence as the official conclusion.
Most of the conspiracy theories concerning JFK's death can be eliminated by the simple application of the 'means, motive and opportunity' test. These conspiracy theories range from being merely self-contradictory and illogical, to being demonstrably false and patently absurd. That's not to say that people who believe in conspiracy theories are crazy. To this day, vast numbers of ordinary people believe in JFK conspiracy theories, alongside ones relating to the moon landings or to 9/11. Distrust of government is a big factor in all of this.
Often, with the untimely death of a famous person, people look for some sort of deeper meaning. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, is a good example. It's as if people are unable to accept the fact that one of the most famous and beautiful women in the world died in so mundane and pointless a way: a car being driven at high speed; a driver who had been drinking; a passenger who was wearing no seatbelt. So it is with JFK. People look for a more complex story, even though modern history, sadly, is full of instances where a single, deranged individual shoots a famous person (e.g. John Lennon) or large numbers of people (e.g. the Sandy Hook school massacre), for reasons that may never be fully known. The motivations for such acts are the subject of much debate and controversy. There is unlikely to be a single, neat answer, but the root cause usually involves a combination of mental illness, a perceived grievance and a desire to do something that will make the world pay attention to an individual who was previously ignored or disliked.
The assassination of JFK is an excellent example of a principle known as "Occam's Razor": when examining competing theories, the one that makes the fewest assumptions is most likely to be the correct one. The simplest explanation that fits the facts in relation to the assassination of JFK is that Lee Harvey Oswald really was the lone gunman. It may not be as interesting as the various conspiracy theories, but it's almost certainly the definitive explanation.
I'll be writing more about this story next time around.
Author, journalist and TV personality Nick Pope used to investigate UFOs for the British Government and is now recognised as a leading authority on UFOs, the unexplained and conspiracy theories.