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France’s GEIPAN: Investigating UFOs for More Than 30 Years
Of all the nations of the world, only France has a branch of the government which is openly dedicated to the investigation of unidentified flying objects, and the dissemination of the information to the public. Called GEIPAN today, it has existed in one form or another since 1977. Despite strong opposition, budget cuts etc., GEIPAN keeps rising from its ashes and still exists today. In over 30 years of operation, it has investigated thousands of accounts of mysterious objects coming from the sky. While the vast majority of these have been revealed to have normal, down-to-earth explanations, there is a small and persistent minority that have not.
The creation of this organization is the culmination of a long history of interest in unidentified flying objects by the French government. Writing in International UFO Reporter, a publication of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, Gildas Bourdais relates that he was told by Jean-Luc Bruneau, former inspector general at the Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA) that even in the 1960s, there was a proposal to create a government research group on extraterrestrial life and UFOs. The initiative for the proposal came from the military staff of President Charles de Gaulle, with his approval, and was also supported by Yves Rocard, a top French physicist at the Ecole Normale Superieure and one of the fathers of the French atomic bomb. The result was a proposal by Bruneau for the creation of a project to investigate phenomenes aerospatiaux non-identifies (unidentified aerospace phenomena). Unfortunately, the political turmoil of May 1968 in France caused this proposal to be postponed, and it was never taken up again. Thus the French government missed an opportunity to begin its studies in this area at this early date. The proposal was forgotten for a time, then revived in the 1970s.
This organization has existed in at least three different forms, each with a different name. These have all been branches of the French space program, the Centre National d-Etudes Spatiales (CNES). In 1977, CNES established GEPAN, the Groupe d-Etudes Phenomenes Aerospatiaux Non-identifies to investigate UFO reports. To head the group, CNES selected Claude Poher, a CNES engineer who had already done analyses of files containing several thousand observations worldwide. A scientific advisory board was picked which included noted astronomers, physicists, legal experts and other imminent citizens.
In reading about those early days, the figure of Claude Poher, the first head of GEPAN, emerges as a fascinating and perhaps even heroic person. He and his small staff (six or seven) meticulously investigated hundreds of accounts, and when Poher became personally convinced that UFOs were real and of extraterrestrial origin, he bravely weathered considerable criticism and even ridicule by openly saying so. If the theme hadn’t already been overdone, this man and his work would make a great TV series.
It is worth noting that GEPAN and its descendant organizations have never been affiliated with any civilian UFO groups, and have never even gotten along with them very well. Claude Poher held a gathering of more than 100 people from 40 civilian UFO groups, but while this affair was touted loudly in the popular press, it probably did more harm than good. The gathering proved difficult to manage, and fell apart in confusion. This caused an outcry from UFO enthusiasts, who seemed to feel that GEPAN had never intended to give out any meaningful information, and had staged the whole affair to create the illusion of openness. No other events of this type were ever held.
The first meeting of the Scientific Council took place in December 1977, and the second in June 1978. The result of these two meetings was the preparation of a 670-page report. The report detailed the investigation of 10 major cases and several hundred less detailed ones, which fell into four categories in these percentages:
A- perfectly identified
B- probably identified (total of A and B) 26%
C- insufficient information 36%
D- unidentified 38%
In the June 1978 meeting, Poher said that in regard to the last group, his group had concluded that there was a material phenomenon behind the observations, and that in 60% of those cases, the description of this phenomenon was “of a flying machine whose origin, modes of lifting and/or propulsion are totally outside our knowledge.”
In 1979, Claude Poher left the hotseat at the head of GEPAN and went on a sailing trip around the world with his family. When he returned, he assumed a position at CNES, and while he was not vocal about UFOs after that, he is known to have kept an interest in the subject.
From 1979 to 1983, the head of GEPAN was Alain Esterle. This was something of a golden age for the organization. The staff expanded to 10, and the group investigated some of their most important cases. Of these, there are two that stand out, the Trans-en-Provence case in January 1981 and the “L’Amarante” case in October 1982.
The Trans-en-Provence Case, which took place outside the French town of that name, involved an eyewitness account of a local resident, Renato Nicolai. Nicolai was working outside when he heard a strange whistling sound and saw a saucer-shaped object about eight feet in diameter land about 50 yards downhill from him. It only stayed there for a moment, then lifted and flew away without a sound. It left burn marks on the ground.
Nicolai called the local police, who interviewed him and referred the case to GEPAN. When that organization investigated the scene, they found that the ground at that spot had been compressed with a mechanical pressure of four or five tons, and heated to about 300 to 600 degrees C. When the soil was analyzed, traces of zinc and phosphate were found. Analysis of alfalfa plants growing near the spot showed chlorophyl levels 30 to 50 percent less than expected. This is a finding more consistent with very old leaves on the verge of death, but in this case, the leaves were young and should have had higher chlorophyl levels. This is regarded as one of the most well-substantiated UFO cases on record, since it involves mechanical evidence of the presence of the object, chemical evidence from the soil, and a curious and unexplained effect on local plant life.
Damage to plants has occurred in several other UFO sighting cases, including the “L’Amarante” case. This event took place in Nancy, France in 1982. The eyewitness was a biologist who saw an ovoid object silently descend into his garden, where it hovered motionless about a meter from the ground for some 20 minutes. When it rose and flew away, the witness said the grass underneath it rose up straight, an effect associated with very strong electrical fields. When GEPAN investigators investigated amarante plants near the site, they found that the leaves had withered and the fruit had burst open as if it had been cooked.
Not surprisingly, GEPAN faced opposition from some in the French government, who claimed that it was a waste of funds. In 1988, GEPAN was quietly closed down after repeated budget cuts, and was replaced by another organization called SEPRA (Service d’Expertise des Phenomenes de Rentrees Atmospheriques) or Atmospheric Reentry Phenomena Expertise Department. The UFO aspect was downplayed, and the group was more concerned with any objects coming into Earth’s atmosphere, which could include defunct satellites, rocket stages, etc. During this period, the actual study of UFO cases was poorly funded.
SEPRA ended in 2004, and the story could have stopped there. Fortunately, the organization was reborn in 2005 as GEIPAN- with the “I” added for information. In keeping with that addition to its name, the group made all of its old files, dating all the way back to the 1970s, available online in 2007. Not surprisingly, the public interest was enormous, and the website immediately crashed from the traffic. GEIPAN has since made available files going all the way back to sightings from the 1950′s.
Some people undoubtedly hoped that when GEIPAN released these files, a great truth would come out: proof positive of the existence of UFOs, or at least of old attempts to cover up the proof. Those people were disappointed, for while the files are extensive and contain many cases to make you wonder, there is still no absolute proof either way. Many strange things have been seen coming from the sky, and many investigations have taken place, but none of them has provided positive proof that these things are, or are not, of extraterrestrial origin.
But the investigation goes on, as it should. It is undeniable that something is happening in some of these cases. People have seen things, and in some cases, those things have left measurable physical traces.
We have reached the point now where a simple denial that UFOs exist just seems ignorant. Such a denial would be based on the assumption that space beings who can travel between the planets are simply absurd, and could not possibly exist- and we know that isn’t true.
We know it, because we are almost those beings, ourselves. UFOs and the beings who pilot them should be believable to us now, because we are on the verge of that kind of technology, and will have it within a foreseeable future. When we get it, the roles will be reversed. Even within the solar system, science has proven that the chemical constituents of life are quite common, and while the discovery of intelligent life near home is quite unlikely, there is a whole universe full of possibilities out there. We are at the beginning of interplanetary travel, and our probes are already scanning the sky in search of places where creatures like ourselves might exist. At some point in the future, if we can survive long enough, we will find a planet very much like Earth, with inhabitants who are just as smart as we are, but not as advanced. When that happens, our spacecraft will be the UFOs. The locals will point and babble when we pass over, and try to figure out who and what we are. Perhaps we will be the ancient astronauts, strangely-dressed creatures who descend from the sky bearing miracles. Or maybe we will just be a mystery.
That scenario will happen, sometime and somewhere, if we continue to expand into the universe. It seems inevitable, and it also seems inevitable that it should have happened many times as civilizations have grown up and begun to explore the worlds around them To deny that it could have happened here seems to be an ignorant attitude handed down from a bygone age, when extraterrestrial life did not seem as likely as it does now.
Louange, F. and Velasco, J-.J.: Surrock Panel Report-Physical Evidence Related to UFO Reports- Appendix 1, excerpted in UFO Evidence: ufoevidence.org/documents/doc537.htm
Poher, Claude: GEPAN Report to the Scientific Committee, June 1978, excerpted in UFO Evidence: ufoevidence.org/documents/doc1626.htm
GEIPAN Wikipedia entry: wikipedia.org/wiki/GEIPAN
Trans-en-Provence Case Wikipedia entry: wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-en-Provence_Case
Bourdais, Gildas: “The Release of the French UFO Files” in UFO Digest, January 29, 2008: bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_flyingobjects29.htm
“France Opens Secret UFO Files Covering 50 Years” in UFO Evidence: ufoevidence.org/documents/doc2028.htm
“GEIPAN UAP Investigation Unit Opens its Files” at the website of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales: cnes.fr/web/CNES-en/5866-geipan-uap-investigation-unit-opens-its-files.php