When Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado took on the roles of being the public face of 1990’s Operation Blackbird crop watch, neither had any idea as to the misfortune about to befall them. After just the second night of the surveillance operation, the pair became a national joke, duped by a clumsy hoax that Andrews had all but earlier proclaimed as genuine (I.E. made by an unknown force). It didn’t take long for talk of conspiracies to start doing the rounds: Andrews and Delgado had been set up! But just who was responsible for the Blackbird shenanigans? Was it a Bristolian who later ended up behind bars for racial abuse, the KLF or the powers of officialdom? Maybe it was Bertie Ollocks? In issue 2 of the Cereologist, George Wingfield would argue his case:
CHRONICLES OF DECEPTION: A CAREFULLY PLANNED GOVERNMENT HOAX
COLIN ANDREWS: ‘Well, we do have a major event here … er, very much excitement, as you can imagine. We do have two major ground markings … have appeared in front of all the surveillance equipment, performing absolutely to form for us; we had a situation at approximately 3.30 am this morning. On the monitor a number of orange lights taking the form of a triangle … it’s a complex situation, and we are actually analysing it at this very moment, but there is undoubtedly something here for science.’
NICHOLAS WITCHELL (BBC Newsreader): ‘I’m sure you have the nation agog. Are you quite sure you couldn’t have been the victims of some elaborate hoax last night?’
COLIN ANDREWS: ‘No, not indeed … we have high quality equipment here and we have indeed secured on high quality equipment a major event … We do have something of great, great significance … Yes, we have everything on film and we do have, as I say, a formed object over the field … We are doing nothing more now until we have helicopters over the top, to film in detail what we have before anyone enters the field.’
To those of us listening to the BBC early news on July 25th, 1990, the excitement in Colin Andrews’ voice left little room for doubt that Operation Blackbird had turned up trumps and that, at last, the formation of a whole array of crop circles had been recorded on videotape. Here, finally, was proof that the Circles were produced by some mysterious and elusive agency, possibly related to UFOs, and they were definitely not the work of hoaxers, though this latter view was no longer widespread after the amazing 1990 pictograms.
But Andrews’ and Delgado’s apparent triumph was, alas, short lived. When they did go down into the new circles that morning, they saw, immediately, evidence of human involvement. At dead centre of each of the six circles had been placed a ‘Horoscope’ board-game (subsequently incorrectly described as a ouija board) and a rough wooden cross. There was also a piece of red wire whose length corresponded to the diameter of some of the six circles. The wheat was in places trampled and broken, and it was not flattened to the ground with quite the same smooth regularity and sheen which we had seen so often in the 1990 pictograms.
The palpable embarrassment of the BBC in its later admission that this was a hoax, and the anger that was felt at Blackbird that morning was nothing compared to the disappointment of Circle watchers everywhere and those who had been gripped by the subject. We all felt desperately sorry for Colin Andrews, whose credibility had been severely damaged, and angry that serious Circles research had been subject to ridicule by this cruel hoax. Colin’s initial statements were undoubtedly ill-advised, perhaps even unwise in the extreme. But this had been predictable since Blackbird had been turned into a media circus, and he was under great pressure to ‘deliver the goods’.
Sponsored by BBC TV (Pebble Mill) and Nippon TV the surveillance project was said to be using hi-tech equipment valued at £1 million. This included several video-recording systems, infra-red cameras and image intensifiers, which should have revealed anything which moved in the dark out in those fields to the north of Bratton Castle, an ancient Iron Age hill-fort. Here, on the edge of an escarpment, was perched the Blackbird observation post, a large portakabin housing the much-vaunted surveillance kit. Only hours before the hoax was perpetrated, I’d been told that ‘only a rabbit has to move between here and Trowbridge (4 miles away) for us to know all about it’.
Sadly the truth was very different. The range of the infrared equipment was very limited; it provided images of dubious quality at more than 600 yards. During much of the project the availability of the equipment fell well below 100% because there was no engineer continuously on site to maintain it. And at those critical times when things were actually happening in the fields below, both at the time of the hoax and when a real set of circles appeared later, the duty crew either failed to notice anything on their screens at the time, or else they were asleep.
The Army, who apparently own the land on which the observation post was situated, were deeply involved in Blackbird. They were most helpful and encouraging, and supplied men to help with the surveillance. The soldiers at Blackbird, though officially off duty, did not wear civilian clothes. The Army also carried out considerable additional night surveillance of its own, using night-sights and the like, which gave far clearer vision of the fields being watched than anything in the observation post. This equipment was manned by the soldiers with blackened faces hiding in camouflaged dens. Rather curiously, the two corporals assigned for duty at the Blackbird observation post were absent on the night of the hoax, though they were there on every other night of the project. Corporal Darren Cummings was reported to have told the press: ‘We are here to prove that they (the Circles) are caused by people; the scientists are here to prove otherwise.’
In retrospect there can be no doubt that Andrews and Delgado were ‘set up’. This was no spur-of-the-moment hoax done by jolly young farmers after a night’s drinking at the Duke in Bratton or the Oak in Westbury. It was certainly not the work of one man either. All the hallmarks of a very carefully prepared deception could be seen. Whatever was said about the hoaxed formation in farmer Jonathan King’s field being crudely trampled, like several other hoaxed circles made later, this array of six circles and parallel lines was brilliantly executed. In fact, as man-made circles go, these were as good as one might ever hope to achieve.
One group consisting of a triple-ringed circle with two small satellites closely resembled a formation which had appeared near Cheesefoot Head on May 30. Beyond that a triple-in-line with a large ringed central circle was curiously similar to a formation which had appeared beside the Warminster bypass a few weeks earlier. Between the two groups lay three not very straight parallel lines, at right angles to the tramlines and unlike anything seen previously. Seen from an aeroplane, the geometry can be seen to be somewhat imperfect and unlike genuine circles. However this was certainly not apparent when viewed from a shallow oblique angle as it was from the Blackbird observation post. Most telling of all is the fact that this formation exhibited no dowsable pattern like genuine circles. This was conclusively demonstrated at a later stage by Richard Andrews.
Quite evidently the circles had been faked with great care and their creators had gone to extreme lengths to produce a superficially convincing formation which initially deceived all of the Blackbird observers. Then why were the strange artifacts, the Horoscope boards and crosses, left behind in each circle? This simply did not make sense. If a hoaxer wished to achieve a masterly deception, he would not then deliberately give the game away with these obvious signs that the circles were man-made. The BBC, in reporting the hoax, said that these objects suggested some kind of a ritual. Surely nothing could be further from the truth; no ritualist would conceivably perform under such circumstances, ostensibly in front of a massive surveillance operation. The only explanation was that the hoaxers wanted to pin the blame on ‘New Age’ or ‘occult’ groups, which the naive might believe were associated with such supposedly ritualistic objects.
Among those on the Blackbird watch there was the definite impression that not only had Andrews and Delgado been ‘set up’, but that this was an inside job. The hoaxers seemed to have known that, at half a mile’s distance, they were just out of the effective range of the image-intensifying equipment. They seemed aware that Andrews and Delgado were not present on the night of the hoax, and that the Army corporals were also absent. It also seemed that they knew of the previously agreed procedure, which stipulated that no-one should enter any circles that formed during the watch until they had first been surveyed from the air. Most telling of all was that they seemed to have correctly anticipated Colin Andrews’ reactions and what he might say to the media before the circles had been thoroughly examined. This hoax was clearly thought out with the greatest precision, and executed when the time was right, which happened to be on the just the second night of the project. And who, after all , would ‘happen’ to have six Horoscope game-boards on hand unless it had all been well prepared in advance?
So who were the cunning perpetrators of this deception and, more importantly, what were their motives? There was no shortage of candidates. On the day after the hoax Colin Andrews received a letter, postmarked Nottingham, which seemed to have been sent by the pop group KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front) a.k.a. The Timelords. It read: ‘Colin, the circles on Wednesday were just a hoax, but we can’t help to play jokes. Inconvenience caused? We’re sorry. Catch us, you’ll have to hurry. Yours, in total control, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – the Jamms. Try not to worry too hard. We find it very funny while you sit back and rake in the money.’ At the bottom of the page was drawn the KLF’s logo, a pyramid crossed by a long ghetto-blaster, then the numbers 25, 31 and the word Wiltshire. The letter had been posted on July 25, the day the hoaxed circles appeared.
For those of you who are not into Acid House music and the like, these references may seem incomprehensible. The band, KLF, consists of of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauti, alias the JAMMs, and they were best known for their number-one hit ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, with rock star Gary Glitter. It was thought that the hoax might have been intended to publicise their new album ‘Space’. Listeners to Forces Request programmes will know that the KLF and Acid House numbers are popular with squaddies. The ‘25’ presumably referred to the date of the hoax, July 25, and the ‘31’ may have been the intended date for a further hoax circle. A mystery man with a long straggly beard, wearing a ladies’ blue suede coat, a skirt and a bowler hat, who was seen on White Horse Hill near the Blackbird observation post earlier on the night of the hoax, was thought to have been Bill Drummond.
At the time Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado accepted that this pop group were most likely the ones who hoaxed the circles. This seemed to be confirmed a week later on August 2 when a further hoaxed circle was seen in the fields between Silbury Hill and Wansdyke. This vast design, 80 yards across, was an unmistakable representation of the KLF’s logo, the pyramid and ghettoblaster.
Here again Richard Andrews and Busty Taylor soon proved by dowsing that this was not a genuine circle. Others unfamiliar with KLF and still reeling from the extraordinary developments of the 1990 pictograms were less sure, and prepared to accept this as real. I sought out farmer David Read, on whose land it lay, and asked what he made of it. He told me that he had been approached by four people who wanted to make their own crop circle. They would pay for the damage caused, if he would show them where to make it, and let them create what they said was a work of art.
He took them to a field with a comparatively poor crop of wheat, and left them to work on it. The KLF logo circle took nearly six hours to complete using yardbrush broomhandles, planks, lengths of cord and marker poles. The two members of the band, the wife of one of them, and film-maker Bill Butt came away exhausted with badly blistered hands just as it was getting dark. Pleased with their work, they filmed it from the air the next day and this circle, which they insist was not a hoax but ‘landscape art’, is featured, together with the black rapper who does the vocals, in Bill’s promotional video for their latest number ‘What time is love?’
I have spoken at length with Bill Butt and he assures me that the band did not send the JAMMs letter to Colin Andrews. Neither were they responsible for the Bratton Hoax. On this they are quite adamant and there is every reason to believe them. Although they had fostered a myth in the rock music world that they had been ‘circling’ for years, their first attempt at a corn circle resulted in a ‘pathetic little mess in the corner of the field’. They then determined to do the thing properly. On the day preceding the Bratton Hoax, Bill Butt flew a hired microlight near Silbury Hill looking for a suitable venue. Having selected possible places he then went to negotiate for a field with David Read, and paid him £350 to make the circle. Few people knew of their intention at this time and it still had not been decided to make their circle like the KLF logo. Their ‘prom video’ did not feature any real circles, just the logo one. The curious business of the letter showing the logo remains unsolved. There is no certainty that this was sent by the Bratton hoaxers, though it is a distinct possibility. But the fact that the logo circle took KLF so long to make, and the fact they paid the farmer for the privilege, hardly squares with the expertly made Bratton Hoax, created in perhaps one hour in total darkness.
Among other contenders for the dubious distinction of having made the hoax is George Vernon of Bristol, a.k.a. Merlin the Magician. (I am not inventing these people, even though some of them sound to be pure fantasy, or at any rate candidates for Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Loony Party.) Merlin, it is said, markets the Horoscope zodiacal tell-your-fortune game. He also claims to be responsible for making all the Crop Circles through the power of his mind. This faculty he discovered some years ago when he slept in a cornfield near Stonehenge and awoke to find a circle had formed around him. Next year he intends to produce circles in the state of Illinois. For reasons best known to himself, Merlin says he faked the Bratton circles by rolling around in the corn, since his mental powers had obviously forsaken him that night. This story was told by your Sunday Sport’s fearless reporter Bertie Ollocks. And, if you believe what you read in Sunday Sport, let alone something written by a man called B. Ollcocks, then I daresay you’ll believe anything.
A week after the Bratton Hoax I was still wrestling with the inconsistencies of this baffling puzzle, and the illogicality of the boards and crosses in particular. It was then that I received a call from a friend which put an entirely new complexion on the matter. He had a reliable contact in a senior position in the military whose name cannot be disclosed for obvious reasons. This man had supplied sensitive information in the past which had always proved to be good. He now revealed that the Bratton Hoax had been carried out by a specially set up detachment of the Army. It had been ordered from a high level in the MoD. The operation had been carefully planned, practised in advance, and then executed swiftly and precisely in total darkness at short notice. Our source had even spoken to an officer involved in the planning of the operation, which was carried out in the utmost secrecy.
If this information proves to be untrue, I shall be the first to withdraw the allegation. But this solution is the only one which explains the many puzzling aspects of the case. To understand the motive, one had to appreciate the extraordinary situation which had arisen at the end of July 1990. With the advent of the pictograms, and the giant formation at Alton Barnes in particular, Circles hysteria had almost risen to fever-pitch. The newspapers were full of Circles, and people were driving from all over the country to Wiltshire and Hampshire to see the Circles. The excitement and the exhilaration among those who came to Alton Barnes was quite tangible. Yet the Government said nothing, did nothing, as was probably as perplexed as almost everybody else.
Somehow the situation had to be defused, and the best way of doing this was to make the populace believe that the Circles were no more than elaborate hoaxes. To do this, an elaborate hoax had to be executed, which appeared the equal of the real phenomenon, and yet could be seen to be a hoax. Blackbird would present the perfect opportunity. Thus the plot was hatched, and it was called into play on only the second night of the project, when Andrews and Delgado were not on the scene. But why the Horoscope boards and the wooden crosses? To achieve its objective the hoax had to be seen to be a hoax. There was always the ghastly possibility that Andrews and Delgado might proclaim the hoaxed circles as genuine, thereby defeating the purpose of the whole exercise, and redoubling public fervour for the Circles. Therefore, those artifacts were placed, with tell-tale military precision, at the centre of each circle, the items having been chosen to implicate a very different group of people from those actually concerned.
If we had listened to Corporal Cummings (though I do not say he was a party to this deception) we might have understood what lay behind the Bratton Hoax. As it was, the operation was a complete success, for within days the newspapers were vying with each other to run articles ridiculing the Circles and to prove that they were indeed all hoaxes. Nevertheless the Army presence at Bratton and around Silbury Hill, and Beckhampton, continued unabated for three more weeks, with extreme interest being shown in genuine Circle formations. The Army had indeed ‘proved’ that the Circles were made by people, although it knew full well that this was not the truth of the matter.
Operation Blackbird did eventually video-record the forming of a genuine set of circles — the ‘Question Mark’ — produced without any human involvement. But the organisers and sponsors of Blackbird, once bitten twice shy, made no public announcement of this coup whatever. It seems that this piece of film will not be shown by the BBC in the near future despite the small fortune that was spent by them in obtaining it.
In a letter from the BBC Director-General’s office (dated 29.10.90.) replying to an inquiry by David Dane, it is stated that ‘the BBC are not being subjected to any ‘external pressure’ with regard to the film obtained in the summer, but are merely continuing their research and consolidating the material they already possess.’ Maybe so, but there is little doubt that the Government is embarrassed by the Circles situation, and seriously worried about what action to take next year when strange events start happening in the cornfields once more. Proof of this is demonstrated by a report that a secret Cabinet level meeting was called in recent weeks to discuss the subject. No doubt they were well briefed by the military. But what the Government thinks about the Circles, and what they intend to do about them, is something they have so far kept to themselves.
Scans of Wingfield’s article are included below, albeit in form of a reprint of the article in Flying Saucer Review:
Colin Andrews would himself claim to have been set up at Blackbird by nefarious forces in his interview for Jon King’s Cosmic Top Secret book:
CA: Well, it was a very sophisticated, well-planned, and extremely expensive surveillance operation, the largest of its kind anywhere, whereby we cordoned off acres of land and set up a whole collection of cameras and equipment in order to see if we could catch a crop circle being formed on film. We had more than a million pounds’ worth of hi-tech equipment there, some of it on loan, some of it provided by the British Army, some of it paid for by the BBC and Nippon Television (Japan). It was a highly sophisticated operation set up in conjunction with the media and – in the event – the military, too. It was planned to go on for ten days.
JK: The military were involved?
CA: It turned out that way, yes. Although I don’t want to name names, I can say that within the first twenty-four hours – and remember we were on MoD land – two Army officers turned up and volunteered the technical assistance of the British Army. We were asked to leave the site for a confidential meeting with them, which took place in my car. We were offered the assistance of military personnel and equipment, but only if we would collaborate with them. As far as Operation Blackbird is concerned, on the second day, with a huge media presence – I mean, it really was the Fleet Street Circus at its height; even people in the business said that only the Royal Family had pulled more cameras and hype than this; thirty-two major national and international networks were there, bouncing their stories off satellites and beaming them all around the world – we all felt that something had to happen. And of course, it did. A hoax appeared. I then had to go on live television and tell the world that a triangular UFO had been seen over the field where the hoax had appeared, and that in my opinion, the formation was genuine. Indeed, I was pulled out of my bed to do this! I was really made to look a fool in front of the world. But what, in retrospect, is so blatantly obvious to me now that the whole thing had been a set-up was this. In my car, on my way to the scene, I made five telephone calls, which were private calls – no one knew about these calls. I was alone in my car, on a radio telephone. When I got to the site I made an announcement based on what I was told – it was pitch-black; I could see nothing, but I was put under immense pressure to make the announcement. The next day it became very obvious that we’d been set up. The world’s media heard me say that we’d had an event – there was a crop formation in the field, UFOs had been seen, we’d got it all on film: we’d had an event!
However, as soon as daylight came I saw that the formation was clearly a hoax. I remember thinking at the time: `Somebody has set this whole thing up; somebody has infiltrated our operation and knows the technical parameters of the equipment so well that in front of at least twelve infrared and low-light cameras they’ve managed to execute a major hoax.’ The making of this hoax was not captured on film – at least not officially-because it had been made just beyond the design criteria of the equipment installed. Whoever hoaxed that formation knew the equipment inside out – somebody had a very good inside knowledge of what was there.
JK: And you think the British Army or Intelligence may have been behind it?
CA: Well… I have to be careful here… but two army personnel had arrived the day before, as I’ve said, and had offered their assistance in return for my… cooperation, shall we say. To add to this, another person – again, I have to be careful here – a person who entered the research arena on that very day, the first day of Operation Blackbird (a person who has since gained an international tag, someone who is well known in the research fraternity) also arrived. And so far as I’m aware, the arrival of this person was the first step in the intelligence community’s infiltration of the crop circle research arena. So this was the first indication to me that `someone’ was very keen to find out about this phenomenon. The military were there. The world’s media were there. And also, of course, the government were there, represented by this person, whose name I dare not reveal publicly. Then came Doug and Dave, and phase two of the disinformation program got under way.
JK: So why do you think the government would have wanted to infiltrate a research program which most of the world sees as cranky anyway?
CA: What we have to understand, Jon, is this. The reason the crop circle phenomenon is considered cranky, is because of the government’s carefully executed hoax and disinformation program. They have deliberately made it seem that way. My personal view is that, even if they knew the cause of the phenomenon, they did not want this information to be shared with or leaked out to the public. I think that somebody – whoever the people are who really run governments, and it certainly isn’t who we elect as our representatives – these people feel that we have to be controlled, like children. And I think they are afraid that this, ultimately, by sensing the nature of the mechanism, would lead us to question even such institutions as religion, things that stabilize society so that they can continue to control society. And once you start sniffing in that area, it’s highly dangerous to them, to their control.
Later in the interview Andrews suggests a mysterious ‘American freelance journalist’ working on behalf of the CIA was put into the loop by the Government as to Andrews’s movements during Blackbird. If you’re aware of crop circle history you won’t need any additional hints as to this supposed CIA agent’s identity.
CA: Right. The third phase [of the Government’s deception campaign] came along in the guise of someone we both know, Jon. This person’s name was [name deleted by publisher for legal reasons]. [Name deleted], working for the agency who had already put several nails firmly in the coffin of the crop circle phenomenon, arrived on the scene in order to hammer those nails home. They needed to keep the momentum going, and that momentum came in the form of [name deleted], working for the CIA – and that is absolutely fact; I have gleaned information on this man from within the CIA and from people who knew him because he worked on the desk next to them. He’d arrived in Great Britain posing as an American freelance journalist, that was the cover story. Crap! [Name deleted] had come to do a job, and he did it very effectively. He came between people, interviewed people, put wedges between fellow researchers [identifying detail deleted by publisher for legal reasons] and all the rest of the stuff. And here’s the evidence if you ever needed it. The five phone calls I made in my car, privately, the ones nobody knew about- [name and identifying detail deleted by publisher for legal reasons) the contents of those five phone calls, and the names of the people I had phoned! How did he know? How could he possibly have known? It was obviously inside information. My phone had been tapped. And if you want to go even further on this one – and this was clearly overlooked by British Intelligence, I happened to be the guy who signed the invoices, sanctioning payment of the communication system for Test Valley Borough Council. A ten-thousand-to-one chance, but it was nevertheless true. These invoices, of course, included my own radio telephone. Now, I noticed that throughout the period that covered Operation Blackbird the invoice for my radio telephone simply wasn’t there. It seemed, for this period of time, that Test Valley Borough Council were getting my radio telephone calls for free! Very strange. But then, some weeks later, when the invoice finally did arrive in the system, the calls I’d made from my vehicle had been deducted from the bill and stamped by the British government! That phone was bugged! It was taken into a special monitoring system during Operation Blackbird because, for the duration of the operation, in order for them to make that hoax without my knowledge, my movements, my every movement, had to be precisely known by them. And the information they eavesdropped was given to [name deleted] of the CIA.