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Mark Pilkington


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Mark Pilkington has himself seen UFOs in company with other witnesses, not once but twice. He has no doubt that the things he saw were real physical objects, and these experiences, understandably, led him to have a deep fascination with UFOs. A decade after his last sighting he joined up with John Lundberg, a crop circle maker, to film an investigation of links between UFO researchers and governmental intelligence agencies in the USA. Pilkington and Lundberg suspected that these agencies were feeding disinformation to selected members of the UFO community and they wanted to discover what was going on.

Their investigation centred on one individual in particular, Richard Doty, "a Mephistophelean character who haunted the underworld of UFO literature". Doty had worked for the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), which is described as "a sort of internal FBI for the Air Force". Pilkington and Lundberg went to a UFO convention in the USA, where they met Doty, who turned out to be surprisingly co-operative. Although he had indeed been responsible for feeding false information to prominent UFO researchers, he evidently himself believed that the US Air Force had made contact with aliens.

The book takes a devious path through the complex webs of disinformation that Doty and others were involved in spinning. The story is so murky that it can be difficult to follow; it would have been useful to have a list of the main characters, since otherwise it can be difficult to remember who they are, especially when, after their first appearance, they are often referred to only by their first names. But it seems clear that Pilkington did discover a lot of evidence for the existence of an intelligence conspiracy.

The "UFO community" largely accepts that the US government is trying to mislead UFO researchers, but it doesn't conclude from this that there is nothing to be discovered—quite the contrary. Conspiracy theorists are convinced that there is a deeper truth underlying the disinformation. And the spreaders of disinformation encourage such beliefs by fostering cognitive dissonance. "The Mirage Men want us to believe simultaneously in both extremes of possibility: that the UFOs and their occupants are real, and that they have never existed at all."

Given that the conspiracy did and still does exist, what is its purpose? Pilkington implies that there is no one single motive to be discerned; more than one agency is involved and there is rivalry and lack of communication among them, so that the spreading of disinformation becomes a self-sustaining activity. But, in part, the aim seems to have been to mislead people who had seen real experimental aircraft. Pilkington provides a remarkably long list of those which are known about, and no doubt there are many more still kept under wraps. It certainly appears plausible that sightings of such craft could have generated some reports of UFOs.

Pilkington still doesn't know what it was that he saw, but he doesn't accept the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Most sightings of UFOs, he thinks, can be explained as misperceptions of known objects or glimpses of secret aircraft, but we probably are left with some genuine unknowns—perhaps unusual atmospheric phenomena that remain to be discovered.

I found the information in this book to be illuminating; it provides a different way of looking at the some of the more startling reports about UFOs that have appeared. As Richard Feynman said, "I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence."

22 September 2010

%T Mirage Men
%A Mark Pilkington
%I Constable
%C London
%D 2010
%G ISBN 978-1-84529-857-9
%P 338pp
%K ufology

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