In case you missed this little item in the news, it appears that Australia's military has somehow misplaced its “X-Files" -- official records of UFO sightings.
After a two-month search, an Australian Department of Defense spokeswoman simply said, "The files could not be located and Headquarters Air Command formally advised that this file is deemed lost."
How does this happen? How can documents, some of which are previously considered too sensitive for public consumption, just casually vanish?
What seems to have slipped through some of the red-tape cracks in this story is that the loss of UFO files -- some big ones -- has happened before, in other countries, and with no substantial conspiratorial backlash.
"Yes, I've lost files. Of course, if you lose any file, obviously, it's a mistake," said Nick Pope, who headed up the British government's UFO project, analyzing classified files at the Ministry of Defense from 1991 to 1993.
"If you lose a classified document or file, it's more of an issue," Pope told AOL. "The higher the classification of material, the more stringent the rules and procedures for tracking the whereabouts of the document or material."
And the same thing happened in the U.K.
Just three months ago, it was revealed that British files had mysteriously gone missing -- files about a significant 1980 UFO encounter that took place at joint British/American airbases in the U.K.'s Rendlesham Forest.
"I can understand why UFOlogists and conspiracy theorists might react to the loss of files," Pope said. "Particularly with the Australian story having come after the British story about the Rendlesham files. I can understand why people would say, 'This must be a conspiracy.'"
Pope's 21 years working for the British Ministry of Defense has taught him the way government bureaucracy works: "Files go missing all the time."
"If these [Australian] files were unclassified, I can well understand material being lost," Pope explained. "Sometimes, material is inadvertently destroyed.
“It's possible to imagine a scenario where someone who had no interest or involvement in the subject was reviewing material on UFOs and simply said, 'This is just a whole bunch of people who've seen flying saucers -- this isn't really the sort of thing that we'd want to keep,'" he added.
Another knowledgeable voice in the history of official UFO studies is retired Army Col. John Alexander, who used his high security clearance to spend 25 years going through top levels of the U.S. government and military, searching for evidence of a UFO cover-up (and he found no such evidence).
Alexander, author of "UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies and Realities," is not at all surprised that Australia can't find their UFO files.
"Rather than a nefarious scheme, it is more likely that they were just lost due to neglect," he wrote in an email to AOL.
Whenever news breaks about some country releasing UFO files to the public, it's easy to get caught up in the hype of it all, wondering if finally, some never-before-seen "smoking gun" file will be revealed, proving once and for all that Earth is being visited by intelligent beings from another world.
But Pope says we shouldn't downplay the release of UFO files.
"I think they're important in terms of what they tell us about what people are seeing. It's important and interesting that we have a record of things.
"But while there is no spaceship-in-a-hangar smoking gun in any of these files, the world will not end because some files have been lost," he added.
Alexander takes a slightly different approach to the idea of governments releasing UFO information.
"However interesting to some people, unless there is a threat, or some other urgent need to keep the data, UFOs are not important to most governments," he wrote. "The reason that the UFO information is being released is mostly to get those asking questions off their backs. It has little to do with baring their souls, they simply don't care."
Thus, another question comes to mind: Why does the public and the news media generally get excited to hear any news of some upcoming UFO files about to be released?
After spending years running the official British "X-Files," Pope waxed a bit philosophical.
"I think it's because the question: Are we alone or not in the universe? -- and the related question: Are we being visited? -- are two of the most profound questions that we can ask ourselves," he said. "They're big questions, so I think when you have files on a big question, at the back of your mind, you think, 'Maybe I'm going to get a big answer.'"
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