Conspiracy Theory

FBI's Most Viewed File Is Not About What You'd Expect

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Of all the files available in the FBI's online database, the most-viewed is a two-paragraph note from 1950 called the Hottel memo, and some say it proves the existence of UFOs.

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Why It's Interesting

Of all the reports filed by the FBI, which do people want to read most? You might think it would be about John Dillinger or Roswell. But no. It's actually a file known as the Hottel memo, which dates back to March 22, 1950 and is only two paragraphs. The mysterious file, which was uploaded to the Vault (the FBI's online database accessible to anyone with an internet connection) in 2011, was viewed a million times in just two years. The memo was written by Guy Hottel, then head of the FBI's Washington field office. His report details an account supposedly given by an Air Force investigator who says he recovered a trio of flying saucers-with alien crew and all. The saucers were "circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 meters in diameter," according to the memo and "[The aliens had] bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed fliers and test pilots."

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Why People Are Talking About It

Atlas Obscura describes the Hottel memo as "what some believe to be a real life X-File." But the FBI says not so much. The agency even posted about it on their official website, addressing the controversy head-on and calling the memo "an unconfirmed report that the FBI never even followed up on."

The FBI says the memo doesn't reveal what conspiracy theorists are hoping it does. "When we launched the Vault in April 2011, some media outlets noticed the Hottel memo and erroneously reported that the FBI had posted proof of a UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico and the recovery of wreckage and alien corpses. The resulting stories went viral, and traffic to the new Vault soared," the post says. "...The Hottel memo does not prove the existence of UFOs; it is simply a second- or third-hand claim that we never investigated. Some people believe the memo repeats a hoax that was circulating at that time, but the Bureau's files have no information to verify that theory. Sorry, no smoking gun on UFOs. The mystery remains..."

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The FBI's digital reading room, where any FBI report can be viewed online, is called the Vault. 00:00

  2. The FBI's most viewed file details the account of an Air Force officer recovering three flying saucers in New Mexico in 1950. 00:44

  3. There are hundreds of reports in the "unexplained" section of the FBI's Vault about UFO and alien sightings that are more popular than the most famous criminal case files. 02:03

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