New Zealand has a rich history of UFO sightings dating back to the “airship” sightings of 1909. Significant widely publicized sightings occurred throughout the 1950s
Kaikoura Lights image 1978/9 (Quentin Fogerty, Australian film crew)
and 60s, including some that became “household names”, such as the 1959 Moreland sighting and the 1969 Ngatea UFO landing site. Public interest was high, and it is clear from witness testimonies that the Air Force carried out investigations. A decade later the Gisborne UFO Flap involving hundreds of reported UFO sightings dominated the late 70s, but these were eclipsed by the controversial Kaikoura lights sightings of 1978/79.
The Kaikoura Lights sightings, with all-important film footage and radar returns, divided public opinion, and evidence suggests the Ministry of Defence colluded with the National Government in power at the time, and with certain astronomers, and scientists from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) to conceal the true nature of the events and turn public opinion towards “natural” explanations for the Kaikoura Lights, despite reports and testimony from the pilots and ATCs involved. Ever more ridiculous explanations for the anomalous lights were fed to the public, ranging from Venus (quickly discounted), to the lights from squid boats reflected on clouds, and city lights reflected off flocks of birds in flight. This attitude engendered public outcry, and subsequently the authorities lapsed into silence concerning UFO sightings and reports lodged to the Defence Force were invariably politely deflected for several decades.
Dominion Post 1979. Satirical cartoon on the Kaikoura UFO “squid boats”
This situation abruptly changed with the decision by a number of (mainly western) governments and MODs worldwide circa 2007-09, to gradually release (some of) their MOD UFO files – and the New Zealand Ministry of Defence and Defence Force moved from a position of non-disclosure and dismissal, to (partial) declassification within one year. (NB: Some South American countries had also released files, with refreshing openness and validation of the UFO phenomenon).
Was this a semblance of disclosure to appease the masses?
The lobbying and file release process
Let’s start by defining the difference between the Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Defence Force. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is the public service Department of New Zealand charged with advising the government on defence policy, as well is overseeing the New Zealand Defence Force. The New Zealand Ministry of Defence is not specifically charged with any formal responsibility for investigating UFO’s, and neither is any other government department, however it became clear through the release process of the MOD files that other government departments also hold UFO sighting material, as yet unreleased. The Ministry claims to have taken an active interest in all UFO reports and to have conducted investigations within the limitations of its resources.
Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae Chief of Defence Force 2006-2011
The New Zealand Defence Force itself consists of three services: The Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the New Zealand Army, and is commanded and headed by the Chief of Defence Force (CDF). New Zealand’s armed forces have three defence policy objectives: to defend New Zealand against low-level threats, to contribute to regional security, and to play a part in global security efforts. New Zealand considers its own national defence needs to be modest, due to its geographical isolation and benign relationships with its neighbours.
In January 2009, Suzanne Hansen, Director of UFOCUS NZ Research Network, and the late Graeme Opie, at that time Senior Air Traffic Controller at Hamilton Airport and UFOCUS NZ sighting investigator, initiated a FOIA submission directly to the NZ Chief of Defence Force (CDF), who at that time was Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, and continued to lobby for access to Royal New Zealand Air Force files concerning UFO sightings. Our intent was more about public relations – drawing attention to the UFO phenomenon in NZ – than an expectation of significant disclosure. Initially, in February, we were advised by an Air Force Senior Communications Officer, that work on our request had begun, with an estimated time-frame of 20 working days. Communications from the CDF were positive and polite.
In April 2009, we received a written response from the CDF, stating:
“Other relevant files are held by this headquarters, but they contain classified and staff-in-confidence information. In terms of s18(f) of the Official Information Act, it would require a substantial amount of collation, research and consultation to identify whether any of that information could be released to you …” and:
“In the longer term, recognising the ongoing public interest in this topic, I should like to see a summary of information held about UFO sightings introduced, in much the same way as that which is produced by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. Given existing constraints, however, I cannot predict when this objective could be achieved.”
“I am pleased to be able to inform you …”
We continued lobbying and wrote to the Chief of Defence again in October 2009, and January and August 2010. In a letter of response to UFOCUS NZ dated 2 December 2009, he stated:
UFOCUS NZ’s copies of the NZ MOD UFO Files
“I am pleased to be able to inform you that two NZDF officers have begun the task of assessing classified files held in relation to this topic with a view to declassification. … I would expect that files which are transferred would be subject to extensive embargo periods in terms of access by the general public. … I will write you again when the declassification exercise has been completed.”
Things looked considerably more promising when in a letter of response to UFOCUS NZ dated 20 September 2010, the CDF stated:
“I am pleased to advise that the task of declassifying the files in question has been completed. The next step is to progressively review each declassified file in order to ensure that NZDF’s obligation in terms of protecting personal privacy are met, having regard also to the public interest considerations which are involved.”
Now following in the footsteps of fellow Commonwealth countries the UK, Australia and Canada, the NZ Ministry of Defence in conjunction with the Defence Force, made the decision between September and December 2010 to release 2,010 pages of UFO files to the National Archives. The 1st tranche (12 volumes) of previously classified files on New Zealand Air Force UFO sightings dated 1952 – 2009, were released to the National Archives on 22nd of December 2010, and a 2nd smaller tranche (3 volumes) embargoed until 4 am Thursday 31 March, 2011, (printed copies of all files were sent to UFOCUS NZ Research Network and the Christchurch Press).
In theory only, more than 50 years of UFO secrecy in New Zealand were now officially over.
However, it is important to highlight several issues in relation to the files:
- Only the Air Force UFO files were released; Navy/Army files remain classified at this point.
- Embargoes remain on some Air Force files; access to the original files will be restricted until the year 2050 at the earliest for privacy reasons.
- UFOCUS NZ’s archive includes a number of significant UFO events that we know were investigated by the Air Force, but reports were not included in the released files.
- Probable Defence Intelligence Files remain inaccessible, as well as those in other Defence Department sections (Navy/Army).
- UFO related content still exists in other government agencies’ files such as Civil Aviation, Ministry of Transport, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Air Traffic Control, Police National Headquarters, New Zealand Meteorological Service, and Carter Observatory.
Personal message to the author
In relation to some of the dubious explanations proffered by government departments and professionals concerning the Kaikoura Lights sightings in particular, the Chief of Defence wrote to alert some of the agencies above, that some of those comments would be contained in the files. He stated that while most correspondents were remarkably restrained in their comments (given a degree of scepticism about the subject), he warned that some material could still “give rise to minor embarrassment.”
We are aware from subsequent research that there is a huge amount of unreleased and embargoed MOD and other departmental files on NZ UFO sightings. The 15 files released largely contained departmental memos, the writings of an individual, and previously widely publicized reports – many pages were redacted, and therefore unreadable. In line with right-to-privacy issues, the NZ MOD UFO file declassification was not, and could never be, an act of full disclosure.
A matter of timing – avoiding scrutiny?
The NZ MOD chose the 22nd of December, just three days before Christmas to release the initial 12 volumes of files. A token public statement beforehand from Air Force Squadron Leader Kavae Tamariki was to the effect that the Defence Force would not comment on the content of the files.
He briefly stated, “We’ve just been a collection point for the information. We don’t investigate or make reports; we haven’t substantiated anything in them.”
“The Defence Force did not have the resources to investigate UFO sightings”, Tamariki said.
However the claim that the Defence Force did not investigate sightings was blatantly incorrect, as witnesses to major sightings have confirmed.
Images from the files
The Ministry of Defence has always claimed it is not specifically charged with any formal responsibility for investigating UFO reports, but that it does take an “active interest” in them, and “conducts investigations within resource limitations as necessary”. However, the released files clearly reveal there was a “loosely” official investigative committee formed in the early 70s, with scientific, technical and aviation expertise, but which saw the UFO “problem” as scientific rather than defence related. It was disbanded in November, 1976.
If the MOD’s decision to release the files just before Christmas was part of a strategy of avoidance of any obligation to answer questions, it worked very well – the general public was occupied with Christmas festivities and summer holidays, and the MOD was “unavailable” to answer questions for several weeks over the Christmas public holiday period. Closed down. Gone to the beach.
However the release of the UFO files generated huge media interest, both nationally and internationally, creating mayhem when they discovered the only group available to respond to their questions was UFOCUS NZ – who had not yet received their printed copies of the files, and therefore could only speculate on the contents. The media contributed with snippets released online by the Christchurch Press, focusing mainly on the bizarre and outlandish contents, along with some high credibility but already-known cases.
By the time the contents of the files became known, public interest had waned by New Year and the media had moved on to reporting on summer activities. As a result, the MOD/Defence Force neatly avoided explaining why – for example – the files contained scores of memos noting military, commercial and private pilot UFO sighting reports, and yet the files contained no Air Force reports related to most of those sightings, apart from well-documented cases followed by the media at the time. Remember, the MOD claimed to have taken an active interest in all UFO reports and to have conducted investigations within the limitations of its resources, however the Defence Force claimed it did not have the resources to investigate UFO sightings – but one might expect the Air Force would at least investigate and write reports on the aviation sightings, as opposed to public sightings. Why were they deemed unworthy of investigation? Or were they?
Otago Daily Times, 1955
Photo from “Policing the Tairawhiti” by John Robinson, showing melted globules of fencing wire from the Matawai event
In addition, UFOCUS NZ holds historic UFO reports in our archive that witnesses state were investigated by the Air Force, but no such reports were included in the MOD files, indicating they may still be rated “classified”. One such example is a UFO event that occurred in remote rural Matawai in 1969: a farmer mustering sheep was surprised when his dogs suddenly bolted and he heard a sound like steam brakes applied. A hundred feet above him he saw a rotating “flying saucer”, and dived to the ground, losing consciousness for an hour, when he was woken by a dog licking his face. The fence line had been demolished, with three strands of wire melted and hanging in globules over several yards, and splintered fence battens were spread around on charred ground. The incident was investigated by a Chief Police Inspector, a Constable, and an Air Force Officer, the latter stating he had just come from the Taupo area where “a lot of flying saucer sightings” had been reported. The witness stated the Air Force Officer took samples and warned that the Air Force would deny all knowledge of their involvement. The media was not involved.
I note that one of my letters to the CDF contained in NZDF U.A.S File 1630/2 Volume 3, has a hand-written departmental signed note on it dated 11/11/09, stating, “This document/action withdrawn hurriedly by ACAFCS without explanation on 29 Oct 09. Dealt with elsewhere.”
In this letter I recounted the Matawai UFO sighting above, and expressed my expectation of seeing a report about it in the files. Could it be that a reference to this sighting was hurriedly found, to be included in another file – a brief departmental memo from Police being the only mention we found of this extraordinary event – but no Air Force report.
Other contributing factors
Two significant decision-making events occurred in NZ prior to the release of the MOD UFO files:
- The first file release was delayed until after the NZ Privacy Act was amended on 7 September 2010. A Chief of Defence Force office spokesperson advised, “The declassification of the UFO files is now a “work in progress” in conjunction with Archives New Zealand. The files must be amended to meet new requirements of the Privacy Act.”
- NZ is a member of Five Eyes (FVEY), an alliance for joint cooperation in signals intelligence comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As of 2010, the four Commonwealth country members now also have access to SIPRNet, the U.S. government’s classified version of the Internet. 2010 amendments to the NZ Privacy Act also related to intelligence and privacy rights, and the rights of individuals and groups to make FOIA applications.
Is there a relationship between these two factors and the subsequent release of the files?
The Defence Force did not want UFOs on its radar!
Have you spotted a strange light or object in the sky? A non-human entity or craft of unknown origin? With the release of the files the Chief of Defence stated in a staff guide from October 2009,
“The NZDF does not have any expertise or role in respect of … “flying saucer” matters, nor is it qualified to address questions on the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial life forms.”
“The NZDF believes that rational explanations, such as aircraft lights or natural phenomena, could be found [for UFOs/UAPs] if resources were diverted for this purpose but … it would be inappropriate use of Defence resources.”
It is interesting that just prior to the release of files, the NZ Defence Force changed their terminology from “UFO” to “UAS” (unusual aerial sighting) and “UAP” (unusual aerial phenomenon), thus broadening and diluting the focus away from UFOs (as in “unidentified aerial flying objects”) to include such natural phenomena as for example, unusual clouds, contrails, weather bombs etc. Upon releasing the files, the NZ Defence Force made the extraordinary statement that they believed all UAS/UAP reports could be explained by misidentified aircraft or natural phenomena. They advised that anyone observing an “unusual aerial phenomenon” should report it to:
- The Police Force, who were neither interested, resourced nor trained to deal with such events,
- Civil Aviation Authority
- Or, (in a somewhat “Freudian slip”), to a civilian UFO research and investigation group.
The New Zealand Defence Force and MOD wanted UFOs/UAS off their radar – out of their sphere of operations.
Relinquishing responsibility … and control?
In my view as a long-time NZ researcher and sighting investigator, the release of any MOD UFO files cannot simply be viewed as documents, file numbers and memos. The information encapsulated in them is also about history, and most importantly, it is about people – people who have witnessed and observed something unknown and extraordinary, something that has shaken or altered their worldview forever; a potential treasure trove of sociological and scientific data. At this time of technological advancement and alleged secret aircraft and weaponry, these aspects may be more significant than just the sighting details themselves.
By relinquishing all responsibility (at least publicly) towards investigating any future “unusual aerial sightings” (UAS/UAP), the NZ MOD/Defence Force has also released control over something illusive they clearly believe they cannot be seen to acknowledge, and cannot combat. Despite their assertions of natural phenomena and misidentified aircraft, they are essentially dealing with the unknown.
Within the intervening 7-10 years of global MOD file releases since circa 2009, the world has rapidly moved on – and this was foreseeable. Science and astrophysics have largely accepted the likely existence of life beyond our planet. The secrecy and control of yesteryear is no longer relevant to many people. It is all about the “now” environment and the inevitable march of progress, space discoveries and evolution.
There must surely come a time of peak revelations, where we reach a “hundredth monkey” scenario, whereby the extraordinary and unbelievable, becomes accepted and investigated. How will many MODs respond to this, considering it will be difficult for them to go back on their positions having dismissed the idea of an extraterrestrial presence, and all responsibility having been been relinquished?
We now face a massive conundrum
There now exists worldwide, a significant ever-increasing body of credible information, evidence and witness testimony concerning UFOs.
Increasing numbers of former military and aviation personnel worldwide have revealed what they have witnessed concerning UFOs. Scientists are more involved in UFO research than is widely realized. Advanced technology is emerging at an astonishing rate. Experiencers of contact with off-world intelligences are coming forward in droves. Exopolitics groups are already promoting political science and policy concerning future extraterrestrial contact. There is a “meeting” of these hitherto entirely separate “camps” occurring in UFO and related research, outside of which many MODs and governments now stand. “Disclosure” in its many unofficial forms is already happening on a daily basis, and proponents pushing for full governmental disclosure may begin to realize they have been “flogging a dead horse”.
Conspiracy theorists warn us of a potential future “false flag” scenario involving an alien threat to our civilization, but it begs the question: how would a false flag scenario work if many western governments and MODs have already closed their books, and their doors, on the idea of the existence of UFOs (as in “craft”) and extraterrestrials? Or will the gradual, drip-feed release of files and information (soft disclosure) by some governments and MODs, such as the USA, UK and Australia, allow “room to move” in the event of a false flag situation? The USA, of course, which has remained both conspicuous and powerful in its silence for so long, but due to “leaks” and admissions by former government employees, is now in a position of having to verify and explain.
Inevitably in the next few decades – with or without further official military/government disclosures – humanity will doubtless have to face the full acknowledgement that we are not the only intelligent life form in the universe – and probably not the smartest life form either.
Suzy Hansen (c) 2018
- NZ MOD UFO Files
- UFOCUS NZ archive
- Robinson, John, ‘Policing the Tairawhiti’
- Gisborne Herald 1995