Government agencies have, under duress, declassified millions of pages of documents in recent years. But we also know more unreleased files are suspiciously “missing” or inaccessible, as are mountains of Top- Secret papers that various agencies admit do exist but are kept hidden from public view.
Government secrecy over famous cases like Roswell, JFK, the CIA’s MKUltra, and the death of Princess Diana, add weight to ‘conspiracy’ theories. In fact, many of us suspect the official version of events is a lie, a smokescreen hiding some terrible truth that threatens the carefully constructed narrative of the powers-that-be.
To help get to the bottom of all this, we spoke to one of the world’s most sought -after speakers and media spokespersons on the subject of government conspiracies, hidden files and classified information.
Nick Redfern is a full time journalist, researcher and author of numerous books about unsolved mysteries and government conspiracies. In the following interview he discusses some of the fascinating material covered in his recent book For Nobody’s Eyes Only: Missing Government Files and Hidden Archives That Document the Truth Behind the Most Enduring Conspiracy Theories.
NEW DAWN (ND): What is the Freedom of Information Act? How does it operate in the US and UK?
NICK REDFERN (NR): It was on Independence Day, 1966 that US President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a historic piece of documentation that brought into being the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA permits members of the general public and the media the right to file a request with government agencies to (a) obtain copies of files that may already be declassified; or (b) request that files which are currently withheld either in whole or in part be declassified into the public arena. The FOIA is not a tool that is guaranteed to open all doors, however.
There are many clauses within the Act that permit government, military, and intelligence-based bodies to withhold their files, if they deem it appropriate to do so. The grounds for denial of access to files via the FOIA include national security concerns, matters having a bearing on the defence of the nation, privacy issues, data relative to legal and criminal subjects, and the internal operations of the relevant agency or agencies.
In the same precise way that official documentation in the United States is subject to varying levels of secrecy, such is the situation in the UK, too. At the turn of the 21st century the Labor Government of the day passed the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which followed broadly similar guidelines to those present in the United States’ FOIA.
A glance at the rest of the world shows that many developed nations have followed in the tracks of both the US and the UK. Freedom of Information laws apply in numerous nations, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.
Like Britain and the United States, all of the above countries have laws that permit agencies to keep files under lock and key as they pretty much see fit, providing that justification is seen as being firmly warranted.
ND: What are Special Access Programs and how do they help secrets to be kept?
NR: Contrary to what is often assumed or claimed by alleged whistleblowers of distinctly dubious credibility, there are absolutely no levels of secrecy that extend beyond Top Secret. Not a single one. That does not mean, however, that having a Top Secret clearance provides a person with carte blanche access to every secret, every conspiracy, and every cover-up under the face of the sun. In fact, quite the opposite is the general rule of thumb.
Here we come to something termed “need to know.” Person “A” might have the same level of clearance, let’s say Top Secret as person “B.” But, here’s the important thing: to protect the security and secrecy of the project on which “A” is working, he or she is given a classified piece of data that acts as a key to open the door to that same project. That key might be in the form of a piece of documentation, such as a sternly-worded, non-disclosure agreement.
Alternately, it might be a classified code word that, without which, access to the program would be denied at all times. So, we have a situation where “A” and “B” possess the exact same clearance level of Top Secret, but only “A” knows what is afoot in the classified world of “Project X.” Such Project X-type operations are termed SAPs: Special Access Programs.
In the United States, where SAPs are far more prevalent than anywhere else, they primarily relate to (a) the “research, development, testing, modification and evaluation or procurement” of new and sophisticated technologies; (b) the “planning and execution of especially sensitive intelligence” operations; and (c) the “execution and support” of classified military programs. It is within the arena of SAPs that some of the most guarded of all secrets remain deeply buried.
ND: Will you tell us the story of the missing files on the Roswell UFO crash of 1947?
NR: In early 1993, United States Congressman Steven Schiff began probing into the many complexities of the Roswell affair. His first port of call, as he sought out the files on the controversial saga, was the Department of Defense (DoD). In a March 11, 1993 letter to Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, Schiff explained that during the previous fall he “became aware of a strange series of events beginning in New Mexico over 45 years ago and involving personnel of what was then the Army Air Force.”
It was specifically on the matter of this “strange series of events” that Schiff wanted definitive answers. And he wanted them soon. Thus began an inquiry that ultimately led to major, official revelations concerning missing and unaccounted for, files on the Roswell controversy. During the course of their search for records to try and understand what had really taken place in New Mexico in early July 1947, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) learned that a massive amount of official documentation generated from within the confines of the Roswell Army Air Force, between March 1945 and December 1949, had vanished.
Moreover, that same documentation had disappeared under very questionable circumstances. When GAO investigators asked for an explanation, they were told by the Chief Archivist for the National Personnel Records Center that its staff had been unable to ascertain how, why, and under whose jurisdiction, the files had vanished.
ND: What is the truth about the vanished files on England’s famous alien landing at Rendlesham Forest in 1980?
NR: Between the nights of 26 and 29 December 1980, multiple, extraordinary UFO events occurred within Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England that involved military personnel from the nearby Royal Air Force stations of Bentwaters and Woodbridge. Since that now long gone period, countless US Air Force personnel, who were stationed in the area at the time, have spoken out regarding their knowledge of a small, triangular-shaped object that was seen manoeuvring in the forest.
Others described seeing in the dark woods almost ghostly, extraterrestrial-type beings of short size and with eerie, feline-like eyes. Strange and unknown lights were seen dancing around the night skies, circling both the forest and the twin military facilities. There were stories that the amazing movements of the UFOs were caught on radar. And there was even hushed talk of those military personnel involved in the incident being silenced by ominous Men in Black-style characters.
In May 2011, as the UK’s Freedom of Information Act revealed, 11 years earlier the British Ministry of Defense received a request, from a member of the public, for copies of its own records on the Rendlesham Forest incident. In dealing with the request, government officials discovered what they termed a “huge” gaping hole where there should have been stacks of papers of a specifically defence-intelligence nature.
The hunt was soon on to find out where those papers had gone. It was a quest that led one official to speculate that perhaps someone with access to the Rendlesham files had “taken them home.” A far more intriguing document notes that the disappearance of certain files on Rendlesham, the specific contents of which remain unknown to this very day, might be interpreted to mean that “a deliberate attempt had been made to eradicate the records covering this incident.”
ND: Do you have any stories in the book about missing official files in Australia?
NR: Yes, I do. In one of those surreal situations where truth really is stranger than the strangest of all fictions, in early June 2011, the Australian Department of Defence revealed to the world that it had “lost” its collection of UFO files. The revelation surfaced in the immediate wake of a two-month-long quest to find the records. The search itself had been prompted by a Freedom of Information Act request, submitted by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, for Australia’s UFO papers to be declassified.
Only when senior military intelligence staff went looking to decide what could, and what could not, be declassified did they find that it didn’t really matter after all, since there was nothing to declassify. At least, that is, aside from one solitary file titled, Report on UFOs/Strange Occurrences and Phenomena in Woomera.
Staff at Australia’s Freedom of Information office said that searches were undertaken at a variety of official establishments, including the Headquarters Air Command RAAF Base Glenbrook; the Canberra-based National Archives and the Defence Record Management System. It was all to no avail: “…the files could not be located and Headquarters Air Command formally advised that this file is deemed lost.” [Source: ‘Alien abduction? Defence’s X-Files are lost in space’ by Linton Besser, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2011]
Since, officially, at least, the Australian Government had been out of the UFO game since 1996, it was seen as nothing but normal administrative procedure to destroy the files, the FOI office added. Curiously, however, it wasn’t just the files that were missing: the surrounding documentation that gave the order for the files to be destroyed was gone, too.
ND: How many documents on the JFK assassination of 1963 remain classified?
NR: The problem with the JFK case is not so much what remains classified, but what was shredded and destroyed decades ago and which, if it had survived, might have shed further light on the matter. As one perfect example, when, in the 1970s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was busily trying to determine who shot and killed JFK, it discovered that nothing less than Lee Harvey Oswald’s Army Intelligence file had been destroyed.
Suspecting there was far more than just mere bureaucracy at the heart of the destruction of the Oswald records, the HSCA demanded that the Department of Defense provide it with a full explanation of the circumstances that led to the irreversible loss of the Oswald file. The DoD replied that while the file was noted for shredding on 1 March 1973, it was “not possible” to ascertain, precisely, the date on which the “physical destruction was accomplished.” The DoD assured the HSCA that the destruction had been a purely routine matter, and not in any way suspicious.
There was, however, a lot that could not be ascertained: “It is not possible to determine who accomplished the actual physical destruction of the dossier,” said the DoD, adding: “The individual ordering the destruction or deletion cannot be determined.” And, perhaps, most significant of all, on the matter of the actual contents of the file, the DoD told the HSCA: “The exact material contained in the dossier cannot be determined.”
In light of the above, it’s worth noting the HSCA’s conclusions on this particular matter: “The committee found this ‘routine’ destruction of the Oswald file extremely troublesome, especially when viewed in light of the Department of Defense’s failure to make this file available to the Warren Commission.”
ND: Is the British Government withholding files concerning its secret surveillance of the late Diana, Princess of Wales?
NR: In the final weeks of 1998, the US National Security Agency (NSA) confirmed that it possessed more than 1,000 pages of classified documents on Princess Diana. That statement prompted a lot of debate about what, precisely, those NSA files contained. The NSA chose not to provide much by way of an answer. That didn’t stop Britain’s popular, mainstream newspapers from having their say, however.
The Daily Mirror suggested the material was being withheld because its release would confirm Diana’s secret affairs during her marriage to Prince Charles. The Daily Record offered the theory that the files, if declassified, might show the full and shocking extent to which the NSA had spied on Diana, possibly right up until the time of her death in 1997.
The Washington Post took a less sensational view of the matter. It opined that the truth of the NSA’s surveillance was most likely far less lurid than suggested by the British press. The Post added some useful data, which outlined at least some of the facts relative to what was being withheld from public view. As the newspaper noted, although the NSA refused to release its files on Diana, it did confirm that one such file amounted to 1,056 pages, and that 39 additional files, totalling 124 pages, also existed. Those particular records, the NSA was at least willing to admit, were deemed non-releasable for national security reasons relative to how the agency undertakes its surveillance operations.
The National Security Agency is not the only US Government agency that has admitted to possessing files relative to Princess Diana that it flatly refuses to declassify. The CIA has an undisclosed number of records on file, which might, therefore, mean ten or ten thousand, we just don’t know. The Defense Intelligence Agency confirms it has what it describes as “product” on Diana.
Rather notably, in 1999, Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which had been digging into the matter of the NSA’s papers on Diana, uncovered something very interesting. A number of the files that the National Security Agency possessed on Diana had been forwarded to the American eavesdropping agency by Britain’s MI5 and MI6. Not only that, they were classified Top Secret. The Guardian noted, of the discoveries its reporters had made, that the files were not focused so much on Diana herself, but on certain company that she kept.
ND: Why were numerous documents on the CIA’s “mind control” program, MKUltra, destroyed in the 1970s?
NR: In late 1972, Richard Helms, who held the position of CIA director from June 1966 to February 1973, learned to his complete and utter consternation, that certain people within the US media had been given snippets of data on the ins and outs of MKUltra. The source of the leaks was never identified or proved, but Helms considered it very possible that the leaks came from right within the heart of the agency itself.
Realising quickly and astutely that any mainstream media exposure of the story pertaining to the work of MKUltra could prove disastrous, Helms knew there was no alternative but to ensure that as many of the MKUltra documents as possible never, ever saw the light of day. To many people, this might seem very strange. After all, Helms was ordering the obliteration of – literally – tens of thousands of pages of historical material on a project of undeniably ground-breaking proportions. But, there’s an important reason why Helms’ decision made complete sense to both him, and to those within the CIA working in the mind control arena.
By 1972, the decades-old files in question were certainly of historical significance, as they told and revealed the scope of the program, as well as some of the controversial things that had been done in the name of national security back in the early to mid 1950s. Their continued existence in 1972, however, wasn’t seen as necessarily being crucial to the CIA. By the early 1970s, the research and development work was long over, the programs were all up and running in stealth, and there was no need to commit anything to paper anymore.
So, destroying the original research material spawned way back in the 1950s bothered Helms not a single bit. In fact, trashing the whole lot serve a very good purpose, from Helms’ position – it would help prevent the secrets surrounding the extent to which mind control programs were part and parcel of everyday life at the CIA from falling into what Helms saw as being the wrong hands.
ND: What prompted the destruction of the late J. Edgar Hoover’s “Secret Files” after his death in 1972?
NR: J. Edgar Hoover was noted for his dedication to the compilation of files on just about anyone and everyone that he saw as being ripe and relevant for covert surveillance. But, as well as the regular files that the FBI created and updated on a daily basis, Hoover had at his disposal another collection of documentation, a very different and unique collection.
It was one deemed for his eyes only. That collection was highly sensitive and filled with all sorts of gossip, scandal, national security data and deep secrets on a lot of high-profile individuals. The voluminous document collection in question has become infamously known as the Secret Files.
Unfortunately for historians, after Hoover’s death, from heart disease, on 2 May 1972, those same files were quickly destroyed. The secrets those voluminous papers told went, just like Hoover, himself, to the grave. It was all the work of an old lady, a septuagenarian, who was fiercely loyal to her boss, J. Edgar Hoover. Her name was Helen Gandy and she pretty much outwitted everyone as she sought to ensure Hoover’s secrets didn’t become open knowledge.
ND: What is the story of the missing evidence in the 2003 death of United Nations weapons inspector David Kelly?
NR: Dr. David Kelly was a man with a great deal of fingers in many secret and sensitive pies. Back in 1984, Kelly accepted the prestigious position of Head of Microbiology at Porton Down, near Wiltshire, England. Kelly also served as the British Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Adviser to the Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, and to the Foreign Office’s non-proliferation department. And, on top of that, he was Senior Adviser on Biological Weapons to the United Nations.
On the afternoon of 17 July 2003, Kelly took a stroll to an area of picturesque English woods known as Harrowdown Hill. He was not seen alive again. The official story is that Kelly swallowed a considerable number of strong painkillers, 29 in total, and sliced into his left wrist with an old knife which he had had in his possession since boyhood (a blunt knife, as an examination of it by police showed). Death soon followed. Kelly’s body was found, after his wife reported him missing, the following morning.
In October 2007, thanks to documentation that surfaced under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, a baffling and disturbing revelation was made: the knife that was used to slice into Kelly’s artery was totally lacking in fingerprints. But that’s not all.
Kelly’s glasses, his cellphone, a water bottle and the packet that contained the co-proxamol pills which Kelly swallowed (or that he was forced to swallow), were also completely clean of prints. Why Kelly would have wanted to carefully wipe every single print off of every one of the above items is a mystery that still lingers on to this very day. Unless, of course, Kelly wasn’t the person who carefully wiped them all clean.
Some might say, well, perhaps Kelly was wearing gloves at the time. Then, having wiped the items clean, he left no further prints on them. That would be fine, except for one glaring issue: Kelly was not wearing gloves when he left the house the day before his body was found, and no gloves were found on his hands, near his body or anywhere at the scene.
If the absent blood and fingerprints weren’t enough to convince people that Kelly had been murdered, the next revelation most certainly changed the minds of many. Kelly’s glasses, which he routinely wore, lacked any and all signs of tell-tale DNA. Glasses, which fit snuggly against the skin of the wearer, should be teeming with minute DNA. Not with Kelly’s glasses, though. The cleaning of the glasses had been achieved to such an incredible extent that not even one microscopic DNA cell could be found anywhere on what was, without doubt, an item that Kelly used every day of his life.
Clearly, the scene had been cleaned up by sources unknown, and any evidence suggesting suicide wasn’t the cause, was destroyed.
ND: Considering what has come to light about the US invasion of Iraq and non-existence of Saddam’s WMDs, can we expect that in the near future more documents will come to light on 9/11, the Iraq War, etc. and will this rewrite the currently accepted version of events?
NR: I think it’s very hard to say as I’ve found it usually takes decades for the full picture (or, as close as we can get to the full picture) to come out. Take, for example the Roswell story. The mass of missing files from the old base to where the Roswell debris was taken, back in 1947, could, in theory, have vanished back in the 1940s or 1950s. But the fact they were missing remained totally unknown until the 1990s. Plus, we should not forget there are a number of pieces of legislation that allow the continued withholding of official files for significant periods of time.
ND: How did your research into this classified material reinforce or change your view of government cover-ups and the official version of history?
NR: For me, at least, when files go missing and on a massive scale, it points to one thing and one thing only. It’s very simple: history as we perceive it is not as it should be perceived.
For Nobody’s Eyes Only: Missing Government Files and Hidden Archives That Document the Truth Behind the Most Enduring Conspiracy Theories (New Page Books, 2013) is available from all good bookstores and online retailers.