As fans rush to see the anticipated X-Files movie today, another unusual phenomenon is unraveling.
The truth, it seems, is out there. And it can be found where special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully might never look--on the FBI's own Web site.
The agency has been quietly posting documents on the Net about reported unidentified flying objects, alleged alien abductions, and unexplained animal mutilations. More than 1,600 pages dating back to the 1940s are now public on the site, although most contain blacked-out passages and missing names.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) files may not reveal all there is to know about the possibility of life on other planets, but they give true believers--and even skeptics--a peek at the government's investigations into decades of mysterious sightings.
Included in the batch are random reports, such as a September 19, 1947 memo to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover regarding "flying discs" near Seattle, Washington. "[A man] sighted a silver object streaking across the sky," the memo states. "It was observed by these three people while they drove from 20 to 30 miles. All three people saw it, they decided they must be 'seeing things.'"
There also is only one document about the infamous craft that reportedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. A July 1947 memo to the FBI office in Cincinnati about the craft states, "The object resembles a high-altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector?Disc and balloon being transported to Wright Field by special place examination?National interest in case?National Broadcasting Company, Associated Press, and others attempting to break story of location of disc today."
On the site there are 12 pages from "Project Blue Book," the Air Force program to investigate UFOs, which was shut down in 1969 on grounds that "there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as 'unidentified' are extraterrestrial."
It's no coincidence that the documents were released the same year Walter Andrus started investigating UFOs. He is glad to see the FBI opening its files, but he doesn't expect to find much. All the files posted on the site were at one point made public to individuals or organizations such as the Mutual UFO Network, which he founded in 1968.
"They don't make things convenient even if they say they do," Andrus said today.
"This is one way to pass people off if they ask for a document--they'll just refer people to the Web site to dig through all those files," he added. "It is good that the FBI has gone this far. It's advantageous because the government has been very uncooperative in releasing information."
Although some Net users complain that files can take from several minutes to up to 30 minutes to download, the FBI says it's no conspiracy.
"We hadn't really had complaints about it," FBI spokesman Paul Presson said. "It's a pretty enormous volume of information we put up there. This is a technical issue--it's not a speed bump we were trying to put up to keep people from viewing [the material]."
Presson said there are a total of 16,000 FOIA files online, including details about the 1962 Alcatraz Prison escape, Amelia Earhart's disappearance, and the agency's goods on Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Elvis Presley, and Bonnie and Clyde.
The agency plans to put up to 1.3 million documents on the Net.
Some say the FOIA documents actually discount the Air Force's assertion in Project Blue Book.
"The Air Force got out of the UFO reporting and investigating business, publicly at least, in 1969. [The] FOIA documents disprove their contentions that they lost interest in UFOs," said Jeff Westover, who is compiling UFO reports in Michigan.
Even with the online release of the FBI documents, it's hard to find a lot of information about UFO sightings or extraterrestrial life without the work of nongovernmental groups, he said.
"I'm sure they've kept any sensitive UFO information, especially if it deals with any national secrets, off the Internet, and have only released the benign reports," he added. "Their move to go online with some of their information was smart in an organizational, business sense. And it has wonderful public relations benefits."
Even if the FBI Net documents aren't the real X-files, some fans of the TV show are glad to see part of the real-life mystery being unveiled.
"The institutional bureaucracy of the FBI has always been to keep anything that embarrassed the county or FBI close to the vest," said Dawson Rambo, who runs an extensive X-Files fan site.
Despite what the files say, Rambo said he doesn't believe it is scientifically possible for distant space travelers to reach Earth. So he turns to the X-Files to explore the possibility.
"Some of the stuff related to UFOs probably hasn't been released and we'll never know because none of us has the security clearance to peer deep enough into the files," he added. "Do I believe we've been visited by extraterrestrial life? No. But the show is fascinating. I'll say that."
Still, Andrus of the Mutual UFO Network suggested that the FBI's Web site itself could be part of a bigger government conspiracy.
"The U.S. government has lied for over 50 years about UFOs and now no one wants to be put in the position to admit that," Andrus said. "So they have elected to leak the information out gradually. This latest FBI release is just part of that tactic."