The Paris Review

UFO Drawings from the National Archives

The National Archives AIR 2/18961. Painting of a UFO spotted on 18 January 1975, near Birmingham. Later identified as satellites Zond 4 and Cosmos 460.

With its origins in the aftermath of World War II, belief in extraterrestrial visitations has grown into one of the most widespread and persistent of modern mysteries. As one measure of its impact on British society, a 1998 opinion survey for the Daily Mail found that one third of the UK’s population believed that “extraterrestrial life has already visited Earth.” Of these, 2 percent (1.26 million people) claim to have seen a UFO or had direct experience of alien visitation.

In conspiracy culture, stories circulate telling of UFO crashes, government cover-ups, and secret agreements between the U.S. military and alien intelligences. In the UK some believe the Ministry of Defense (MoD) operate a “secret army against the aliens” and employ special agents—the legendary Men in Black or MIB—to silence witnesses and remove hard evidence of UFO visitations. But in 2007, after decades ofpublic interest in the content of their archives, thousands of pages of formerly secret documents were scanned and uploaded to the Internet. Only a small amount of information was “redacted” to remove names and addresses of people who had reported sightings and, occasionally, secret information that might harm national security if released. These are some examples of what was contained in those files, sent in by citizens to report their sightings. 

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