Back in November 1955, a Soviet train was crawling out of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, when someone burst into one of the carriages, claiming he had seen a ‘flying saucer’ in the twilight sky.
‘We turned off the light as quickly as possible,’ said a witness. ‘I saw a shadowy form above the horizon to the south.
Its profile was not clearly outlined against the night sky but it appeared to be shaped like a partially deflated balloon with a slight dome on top . . . It was off the ground and rising rather slowly in a vertical direction.’
The object will sound familiar to fans of UFO films: a white light on top of the ‘dome’ and a pink-white glow moving clockwise around the perimeter, like a pinwheel.
The object, the size of a small aircraft, was at most two miles away, the eyewitness estimated.
Back in November 1955, a Soviet train was crawling out of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, when someone burst into one of the carriages, claiming he had seen a ‘flying saucer’ in the twilight sky, writes TOM LEONARD
It suddenly stopped rising and spinning ‘and then it moved towards us at tremendous speed, passing over the train’ and out of view ‘much faster than a jet plane doing a fly-by’.
And where does the report of this strange, otherworldly visitation come from?
Not some crazed conspiracy theorist or Hollywood B-movie script but the Central Intelligence Agency itself — America’s most secretive federal body.
Now, a haul of 700 formerly confidential files has finally been made public.
According to the tagline of the 1990s U.S. sci-fi drama The X-Files, ‘the truth is out there’ — but based on the newly released papers, it’s going to take some digging to find it.
The enormous tranche of documents, released online, is already being sorted through by UFO buffs.
It provides compelling evidence of how, even as Washington was publicly dismissing the possible existence of flying saucers and little green men, the CIA was quietly following lead after lead.
The notoriously cloak-and-dagger agency claimed it stopped investigating UFOs in 1952 — a lie that wasn’t exposed until 1979.
According to John Greenewald Jr, who founded the Black Vault website to which the latest documents were uploaded, his 25-year struggle via thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests to get the CIA to give up all its file secrets ‘was like pulling teeth’.
Even when the CIA did oblige, it made sure it didn’t make it easy to disseminate the information, providing Mr Greenewald with a box containing more than 2,700 pages, which had to be scanned individually. Some seem complete, others are heavily redacted, still others are almost illegible.
The CIA assured Mr Greenewald that the file accounts for its ‘entire’ collection of declassified ‘UAP’ (unidentified aerial phenomena) intelligence, although he warns that it is impossible to verify such a claim.
As with the incident in Baku, few of the files provide any context or explanation — all we can be sure of is that the CIA decided they warranted further investigation.
Another intriguing file describes a midnight explosion in 1991 in Sasovo, a town south-east of Moscow, which was so powerful that it blew out windows and rocked large buildings.
The Russian military blamed an explosion of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser, but some people insisted they had seen a strange ‘moving fiery sphere’ in the sky and were convinced it was a UFO.
It was dubbed the Sasovo ‘wonder explosion’ and Russian officials said they were confident it would soon be satisfactorily explained. If it ever was, there is no evidence in the CIA file.
The relatively high number of Russian UFO sightings that interested the CIA may well be down to a suspicion that they had a military rather than an extra-terrestrial explanation, so if the Soviets were developing advanced new weapons it would be useful for the U.S. to know.
Perhaps the most disturbing file released this month describes how, in January 1985, a passenger plane crew en route from Rostov in southern Russia to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, encountered what they believed was a UFO.
The co-pilot was flying the plane through the night sky when he noticed an odd-shaped star on their right side.
According to the tagline of the 1990s U.S. sci-fi drama The X-Files, ‘the truth is out there’ — but based on the newly released papers, it’s going to take some digging to find it
All of a sudden, a thin beam of light emerged from it, falling vertically down to the ground.
The co-pilot had barely had time to alert his engineer when, he said, ‘the beam of light suddenly opened up, turning into a brilliant luminous one’.
All four people in the cockpit reportedly watched in disbelief as two more cones of light appeared from the object, which they estimated to be 40 km to 50 km away, followed by a ‘blinding white spot surrounded by concentric coloured circles’.
As the captain weighed up whether to report what they were seeing to the ground, fearing they would be assumed to be mad, the co-pilot tried to sketch it.
Wonder turned to terror in the cockpit as the white spot was replaced by a huge green cloud.
As the plane’s captain veered away on a new course, ‘the object began coming closer at a tremendous speed, intersecting the aircraft’s course at a sharp angle’ before seeming to stop suddenly in mid-air.
The crew contacted air traffic control in nearby Minsk, who said they could see nothing untoward.
After rising and falling vertically, the ‘green cloud’ then followed the plane ‘as if it were attached to it’, with ‘little lights’ sparkling from inside ‘like those on a [Christmas] tree’.
It then ‘zigzagged’ around the plane, and — as the co-pilot exclaimed ‘Look, it’s imitating us!’ — assumed the shape of a ‘sharp-nosed ‘cloud airplane’, without wings, with a tapered tail’ as it beamed yellow and green light.
When passengers asked what it was, the captain told them it was the Northern Lights.
According to the report, the ‘cloud plane’ was also seen by the crew of a Tupolev Tu-134 jet travelling in the opposite direction.
The report finished: ‘There is only one conclusion that may be drawn: the Tallin crew dealt with what we call a UFO.’
It wasn’t just the Russians reporting such occurrences. In 1953, the CIA was drawn to reports of a supposed UFO sighting in the sky over Sweden.
An airline captain who had been an RAF pilot in World War II described it as ‘a completely unorthodox, metallic, symmetric round object’ that he likened to a ‘flying lozenge’, which was travelling ‘at the speed of sound’ towards him.
The sighting lasted for four or five seconds until the object shot under his wing and disappeared. It was also witnessed by a flight mechanic.
It was later claimed the UFO must have been an advertising balloon. The CIA marked the report as ‘unevaluated’.
As to why the CIA was investigating UFOs while publicly insisting that it wasn’t, a 1976 internal memo — again part of the Black Vault haul — provides a few answers, even if people’s names have been redacted.
The memo, written by a junior CIA director, revealed that ‘at the present time, there are offices and personnel within the agency who are monitoring the UFO phenomena’, albeit unofficially.
It added: ‘In particular, any information which might indicate a threat potential would be of interest, as would specific indications of foreign developments or applications of UFO-related research.’
In fact, as the writers of The X-Files and many other TV shows and Hollywood films have suggested, the U.S. government has long been more interested in UFOs than it has admitted, even if there is no evidence of official contact with aliens.
The U.S. government has long been more interested in UFOs than it has admitted, even if there is no evidence of official contact with aliens
A 1952 internal memo recommended continued CIA surveillance of ‘flying saucers’, adding: ‘It is strongly urged . . . that no indication of CIA interest or concern reach the Press or public, in view of their probably alarmist tendencies to accept such interest as ‘confirmatory’ of the soundness of ‘unpublished facts’ in the hands of the U.S. government.’
The Black Vault’s trove includes typed minutes of a meeting in August that year, at which U.S. officials discussed how various agencies, particularly in the Air Force, would get the ‘flying saucers’ information the spy agency required.
Someone has added in their own handwriting, ‘where so many ‘flying saucers’ have been reported of late’.
There is now evidence that such quiet interest may not have been entirely misplaced, as senior U.S. politicians are showing a new interest in UFOs.
In passing the government’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill at the end of December, Congress inserted a clause giving U.S. intelligence agencies six months to reveal everything they know about UFOs.
In April 2020, the Pentagon confirmed that three declassified videos of U.S. Navy pilots encountering what appear to be UFOs were legitimate rather than fake, and depicted ‘unexplained aerial phenomena’.
The videos related to training missions over the Pacific in 2004 and 2014 when fighter pilots encountered objects that flew at extraordinary speeds and with a manoeuvrability far beyond current technology.
Backed by the accounts of experienced pilots, the incidents really are very difficult to resolve.
Harry Reid, the former Senate Democrat leader, said the footage ‘only scratches the surface of research and materials available’, adding: ‘The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this.’
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Hillary Clinton was asked if she thought Earth had been visited by aliens and replied: ‘I think we may have been.’
She pledged, if elected, to release information about Area 51, the remote Air Force base in Nevada believed by some to be where the government stores classified information about aliens and UFOs.
Asked if she believed in UFOs, the former Secretary of State said: ‘There’s enough stories out there that I don’t think everybody is just sitting in their kitchen making them up.’
It is certainly not the first time U.S. fighters have encountered alarming mystery craft.
According to CIA files, in a 1976 incident over Iran, two F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers pursued a large UFO that apparently dispatched smaller craft, one of which ‘headed straight towards the F-4 at a very fast rate of speed’, said the CIA report.
‘The pilot attempted to fire an AIM-9 missile at the object but at that instant his weapons control panel went off and he lost all communications.’
He managed to evade the craft, then watched as it ‘returned to the primary object for a perfect rejoin’.
In the late 1970s, UFO researchers said they had sworn statements from retired Air Force colonels that at least two craft had crash-landed and been recovered by the U.S. military.
One crashed in Mexico in 1948 and the other in Arizona in 1953, they said.
The unidentified witnesses reportedly said they glimpsed dead aliens who were about 4 ft tall, with silverish complexions and wearing silver outfits that ‘seemed fused to the body from the heat’.
The U.S. space agency Nasa says one of its main goals is the search for life in the universe, but it has yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life.
It isn’t just X-Files devotees who insist that isn’t true. Last month came jaw-dropping claims that the leaders of the U.S. and Israel were in touch with a ‘galactic federation’ of aliens who had helped them set up a secret underground base on Mars, but who believed humanity in general wasn’t yet ready to learn of their existence.
And who said this? Haim Eshed, former head of the Israeli Defence Ministry’s space directorate.
If what the ex-general and professor said is true, believing that mysterious lights in the sky are flying saucers should be a doddle.