During our podcast conversation this month, Martin and I started to talk about how UFOs and alien life are generally better accepted in foreign cultures, such as in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The overall picture looking beyond the USA is that aliens are generally a better accepted concept and the UFO phenomenon is witnessed everywhere in the world. Thanks to our digital age all populations of the world are now participating in collecting and sharing clues that one day should translate in solving the UFO riddle. Once more I feel that we have passed sometime last century the stage of figuring out if UFOs are real. Thanks to overwhelming circumstantial evidence we have now moved into the fascinating stage of trying to figure out what they are.
One such landmark moment in our collective realization that UFOs are more than weird popular folklore was certainly the 1999 French semi-official COMETA report. And here I would like to concentrate on how France has contributed to our understanding of the UFO phenomenon. And we should not be surprised since Dan Aykroyd’s alien family “The Coneheads” always claimed to be French!
A group of former air force commanders, civilian and military pilots, general the French Air Force, Air France technical director, squadron commander of the National Gendarmerie, high ranking member of the military school: the Institute for High Studies of National Defense, compiled a 90 pages report of the best UFO cases, detailed main hypothesis concerning their origin and ventured to give defense recommendations to the highest authorities of the state. The COMETA report addressed in its title its main concern: UFO and Defense – How should we prepare.
The report was not initiated by the French Ministry of Defense; it was very much a private endeavour which took three years to complete. Additional members of the Cometa group included a France National Space Center director, a high ranking director of the DST, the French FBI, and an Admiral. You can find a translation of the report in English here:
The report was presented to the President Jacques Chirac and to the Prime Minister of the time. Soon afterward VSD Magazine, the French equivalent of TIME magazine, published the report in its entirety ensuring that it would remain thereafter in the public domain.
The main position of the report was that: “We should not dismiss the UFO problem. Apparently flying object totally unknown to us, with impressive flight capabilities and remarkable silence and manoeuvrability, are seen by civilian and military pilots who still too often are afraid to report them for fear of being ridiculed. The hypothesis of an extraterrestrial origin of those crafts first reported in 1947 by US military personnel has been scientifically investigated and is the most plausible explanation. Although not proven categorically, if exact the consequences are enormous.” P.16
Follows a number of defence recommendations at the national, European Union and the international level to prepare for the worst, i.e. the possibility one day of a full blow alien invasion. All through the report the authors indicate that they suspect that the US government knows much more than it says and that significant pressure should be applied on Washington to obtain constructive cooperation on this issue.
The French government has not endorsed the report neither it has distanced itself for it. Still to this day the full PDF file can be downloaded in the official website of the French Space Agency.
At the time a number of skeptics have taken arms against COMETA without being able to punch holes through it. In markedly elitist France, all the members of the COMETA group did belong to that cast of high public servants, high cadre of the Military, and former member of elite national schools. You can disagree with them but you cannot mount a press campaign to defame or ridicule their views or their work. The skeptic launched a loud but ineffective campaign. But as a testimony to the inhibition power of the UFO subject, let’s just indicate that the two largest French newspapers, Le Monde and Le Figaro did not cover the release of the report. As Leslie Kean rightly analysed in UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record, the COMETA report remain 14 years later the best semi-official reference document on the subject.
Interestingly COMETA did not come out of the blue. It was greatly facilitated by a much more ambitious and this time 100 % official endeavour. Since 1977 the French Space Agency together with the French Gendarmerie (French Military Police imbedded at the local level to provide broad base protection services to the French public) had joined force to create a permanent structure, the GEIPAN, financed by the State, operated by a number of civil servants, with the mission to collect UFO reports from the public, study them, grade and archive them. The whole archive is searchable and available to the public online. It is as if NASA together with Homeland Security had devoted resources and staff to study the UFO phenomenon, was doing MUFONs work, and had created a website where every citizen could peruse the best UFO cases per year, cities, and categories going back the last 35 years.
Additionally the GEIPAN is supported by the French Ministry of Transport, and coordinates as well with the National Police, Civil Security, the Directorate of Civil Aviation, and the Air Force. The GEIPAN has direct access to radar data, space observation and meteorological expertise. After 35 years of multi-agencies cooperation on the matter, what is the French government take on the UFO phenomena? Well, 22% of cases are ranked D or credible witnesses witnessing the unexplainable. This is significantly more than the 5% we usually hear about in the USA. The phenomenon is constant across decades and across all regions of France. What would be the picture today if we had the same resources available in every country across the world?
Whatever we like it or not, UFOs are very much part of our reality.
Marc Sima is the author of contemporary fiction TEXAS LIGHTS, the story of a Canadian spy sent to investigate the 2008 Stephenville lights.