Sign Historical Group

Julian Hennessey:  The U.K. Government and UFOs

  - An Introduction by Jan Aldrich

British researcher Julian J. A. Hennessey wrote this summary of the state of British Ufology in the early 1970s. In it he sought to outline some significant events in British UFO history and record his own involvement in UFO research which started in the 1960s.

Hennessey hoped his essay would be published in England.  When that did not happen, he gave it to Dr. J. Allen Hynek for possible publication in the US.  Sometime ago I located this UK UFO research "time capsule" among some of Hennessey's papers at the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), an organization founded by Hynek and which absorbed the now-defunct Washington, D.C. based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).

For many years Hennessey worked as a NICAP representative in Great Britain.  He investigated a large number of cases in the British Isles and Europe (1) (2) (3) including reports from airline crews. (4)  One such report from a British airliner near Barcelona, Spain, lead to the pilot becoming one of Hennessey's associates (5)  in the NICAP European Investigative Subcommittee #1 of which Hennessey became Chairman. (6)   (NICAP set up small units with members who had investigative or scientific skills to examine and document local UFO reports.)  Hennessey also founded Euronet, a volunteer observer network involving over a dozen European airline companies which agreed to forward UFO reports to Hennessey's subcommittee.(7)   In the process Hennessey was also able to obtain older reports from airline company files.  FINNAIR sent him several aircrew reports.

Hennessey contacted the Colorado University UFO study group (The Condon Committee) and offered his help.  He also mentioned that he could probably obtain official UK documents with the assistance of some members of Parliament, among them Sir John Langford-Holt and Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus.

A key aspect of Hennessey's research was his persistence in undertaking correspondence with various officials in the British government who might assist in uncovering UFO-related records.  Writing from NICAP headquarters in Washington, D. C., Don Berliner, who had just managed to obtain the release of the Project Grudge and Project Blue Book status reports 1-12 through the intervention of the Moss Subcommittee on Freedom of Government Information, advised Hennessey the best way to deal with officials was to keep up the pressure.  No one had to tell Hennessey that. He already had a reputation within government circles as a tenacious seeker of records and answers, as government records now available demonstrate.  However, when frontal assaults provided little progress, resorting to inventive and audacious flanking movements sometimes did.

Hennessey had contacted RAF Group Commander W. P. Whitworth about the 1957 UFO report at West Freugh.  Whitworth, then retired, replied to Hennessey that the Ministry of Defense had given permission to discuss the case with him.  This was a complete turnaround from previous instructions by the Air Ministry that Whitworth was to "say nothing about the object." (8)  (As would later be revealed to Hennessey, UFO reports prior to 1962 had been destroyed.  Recently, however, a copy of this case that escaped destruction was located.)

As part of his ongoing research, Hennessey somehow found the official internal telephone numbers to various government offices.  He called the London Air Traffic Control Center (Military) (LATCC) and asked to review their UFO files.  Apparently the official who took his call thought that Hennessey must be authorized to have this information because he had the unlisted telephone number.  Hennessey went to the LATCC and copied various reports.  Later he was told that all further LATCC information would come through S4f (Air), the office which handled public inquiries on UFOs.

In a letter from the Ministry of Defense, Hennessey was informed they were aware of his visit to LATCC and that in future all information had to come through proper channels.  They reiterated that the current MOD policy remained in effect whereby all their records were officially embargoed for 30 years before being made available to the public.

Hennessey later made a trip the Meteorology office where he viewed and copied files of interest.  On one dossier cover sheet he found that the records were scheduled for destruction according to disposition instructions on the files.  Hennessey informed his local member of parliament, Sir John Langford-Holt, of the situation and an official enquiry was sent to the MOD.

The response from the MOD included barely suppressed aggravation with Mr Hennessey, claiming he'd taken "advantage" of the Meteorological Office staff and that much of the data could be found in the National Meteorological Library in any case.  Referring to the disposition of the records in question, the Ministry spokesman claimed the instructions Hennessey had seen was only a recommendation.

After detailing information about the general release of records, the then-Ministry spokesman, Mr. Brynmor John, told Sir John:

"As Mr. Hennessey has been told repeatedly, the Ministry of Defence files on Unidentified Flying Objects contain no more correspondence than is necessary to establish the possible defense implications and this may sometimes involve references to classified material.  The files must remain closed to the public under the rules laid down by the Public Records Acts.  Mr. Hennessey told us on 19th December 1971 that he was fully aware of these rules and he has also referred to them in his latest letter.  He should also be informed that, for obvious reason, we shall review the files before their eventual publication in order to eliminate any information of a classified nature."

A further interesting revelation is made later on in the letter:

"....The retention of BMEWS tapes and air defense radar film is ruled out because of the cost and the problem of storing the accumulating material.  There are also security objections.  No films are made of civil air traffic control unit radars."

(MOD letter, Brynmor John to Sir John Langford-Holt, MP, dated 29 March 1976Click to view letter here)

Early on Hennessey was told that official statistics for UFOs before 1959 did not exist, and the implication was that UFO files were misplaced.  In direct correspondence and in questions through members of Parliament, it was finally revealed that official UFO records were periodically destroyed and no records before 1962 existed.  (With the recent release of records in the UK and with the newly enacted Freedom of Information Act, many pre-1962 records have been located among other files or in files that escaped routine destruction.)

Hennessey's activities probably lead to a policy change which stopped the destruction of UFO records.  Internal government correspondence also indicated a shake up in the way UFO cases were investigated.  At about this time Hennessey had written NICAP that he was determined to publicly dispute official explanations for UFO cases which seem implausible or without factual basis.  Perhaps part of Hennessey's success in locating material and sources lay in the fact that he approached his work methodically and without recourse to sensationalism.  The ease and confidence with which many military-related witnesses dealt with him would lend weight to that position.

In addition to investigative activities with the NICAP subcommittee, Euronet, and working on the release of official information, Hennessey engaged in a wide range of other activities: canvassing Members of Parliament and the House of Lords on their interest in UFOs, and writing to embassies at the United Nations concerning other countries' official interest in UFOs. (9)  Hennessey also approached the British Prime Minister, and the Canadian and Australian governments to try to get the UFO problem taken up by the United Nations.  Due to Hennessey's efforts, the Korean Meteorological Office agreed to send UFO reports accumulated during their operations to NICAP.  However it seems that after the agreement was made in principle, follow-up contact with the proper official was never made.  (I was somewhat marginally involved here and there seemed to be a mistake concerning the name of the correct official to contact.)

Hennessey wrote to the US Air Force about the Project SIGN Top Secret "Estimate of the Situation" (EOTS).  He received back an interesting admission unlike any other received to that time.  The Air Force conceded that Ed Ruppelt's account of the EOTS was probably correct, that the document did exist at one time, but it was never considered the official position of the Air Force.  (10)

Later he and Hynek investigated some UFO cases in Great Britain together, and Hennessey tried to represent Hynek's interest to UK government officials.

An official view of Hennessey's research pursuits can be found in the recent book, Out of the Shadows: UFOs, the Establishment and Official Cover Up by British authors, Dr. David Clarke and Andy Roberts.  During the authors' research into official records, they found not only Hennessey's correspondence, but internal official comments on his activities.

John Stepkowski and I felt that Hennessey's detailed article was an important early historical UFO document and should be made public.  In the current world, however, it requires some context to understand the significance of Hennessey's pioneering efforts to deal with an overly-zealous government bureaucracy in which official secrecy was mandated by law.  To gain an accurate view of UFO research in Hennessey's time, it is necessary to discuss the UFO situation in the US and England, and the history which led to the formation of NICAP.  A more detailed treatment which will place the events chronicled here in a wider historical context is in preparation, but for now we present Julian J. A. Hennessey's unique look into British UFO research in the 60s and 70s.

- Jan Aldrich            

(1) National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 1, May-June 1967, page 8, Washington, D. C.: British Radar/Visual Case

(2)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 3, November-December 1967, page 3, Washington, D. C. "Flying Cross" UFOs Over Britain

See also, UFO Investigator,  Volume IV, Number 4, January-February, 1968 and subsequent issues on Important New Details on Flying Cross, Hennessey's investigation of the Angus Brooks sighting of October 26, 1967.

(3)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 5, March 1968, page 3, Washington, D. C. EM Case During British Flap

(4)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 4, January-February 1968, page 3, Washington, D. C. British Jet Crew Spots UFO

(5)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 3, November-December 1967, page 1, Washington, D. C., Excerpt from Sightings Evidence Grows

(6)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 5, March 1968, page 6, Washington, D. C. European Subcommittee Formed

(7)  National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, UFO Investigator, Volume IV, Number 8, September-October 1968, page 4, Washington, D. C. European Airline Network

(9)  Several such canvasses of foreign countries, embassies, armed forces and scientific establishments had been done.  The results when taken together were rather amusing as some foreign governments with publicly known UFO programs would answer one survey that there was/were not such program(s) while, to another enquirer the opposite answer was given.  Beside Hennessey, several other such canvasses were conducted:  NICAP member John Laval wrote to many foreign governments earlier than Hennessey, the US State Department at the behest of the Condon Committee, and Donald Menzel as an agent for the Condon Committee.  Both the Chilean and Argentine governments told the State Department that they had no such programs, although the Condon Committee had been in touch with the Chilean project early in the Colorado study formative stage.  Both the Argentine Navy and Air Force had programs, as the Condon committee was informed by several sources, but chose only to publish the State Department result.  When Richard Greenwell informed them of the error in the Condon report, Condon simply labeled the letter, "No response required."

(10)  Article in preparation.

Sources: Joe McGonagle's biography on Hennenssey now in revision, files of letters and other material supplied by Julian Hennessey, Joe McGonagle, Dr. David Jacobs, and Richard Hall.  Additional material was from CUFOS files and the Condon papers at American Philosophical Library.