Department of Flying Saucers

Nick Pope, formerly with the UK’s Ministry of Defence, warns that space aliens will be drawn to the Olympic’s Closing Ceremonies. Read more about the UK’s UFO program—which ran from 1959 to 2009—here.

Lenticular clouds tend to remain stationary; their longevity and their saucer-like appearance sometimes lead to misidentification as otherworldly spacecraft. (NOAA)
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The study, circulated in 2000, was titled the Condign Report. It started open-mindedly enough—“That [UFOs] exist is indisputable”—but then lowered the rationalist boom. The vast U.K. archives contained no evidence of “incursions by air objects of any intelligent (extraterrestrial or foreign) origin,” nor any “artefacts of unknown or unexplained origin.” Whatever was out there, in short, it looked like no threat to Her Majesty’s security. MoD UFOlogists spent much of the following decade first fending off and then acceding to freedom-of-information requests, finally closing down altogether last December.

That left only the unassuming Yvan Blanc to carry on, as planet Earth’s de facto arbiter of the mysteries mankind just cannot leave alone. The ex-satellite engineer does seem a bit dazed during an hour-long talk on a mild Toulouse winter afternoon, not by evidence of distant civilizations but by the abrupt change in his own life after a quiet career.

Long a cog on the intricate machinery of multi-year space projects, Blanc has become a reluctant minor celebrity in France. “You can’t stay for long in this job because it is hard to be in the public eye and maintain neutrality,” he says. An aerospace team player, Blanc feels doomed to intellectual loneliness, despite a GEIPAN advisory board that ranges from generals to psychologists, and his 100 eager citizen-investigators. “The very small number of scientists interested in this field are laughed at by other scientists,” he observes calmly. “And of course we are attacked by the UFO community.”

Yet the unlikely Man in Black is plainly having fun too. He betrays the slightest hint of swagger referring to the “professional investigation techniques” he deploys on witnesses, and obvious pride when he ends the interview with a tour of the case illustrations on his wall. Outside CNES’ gates it seems like an ordinary afternoon in an ordinary city, with ordinary explanations for any object that might happen to fly overhead. But you never know for sure. At least that’s what Yvan Blanc says.

Craig Mellow is a freelance journalist in New York who reports frequently from Europe.

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