Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully stood leaning against a filing cabinet with David Duchovny playing Fox Mulder in the X Files

THE X-FILES

David Barnett with a dalek author photo
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"Dear Home Office, do you have an X-Files department?"

INVESTIGATION

The idea of a covert, top-secret department of the government or security services dealing with paranormal threats is one beloved of TV, movies, comics and books. Sometimes, like Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD TV show or Will Smith’s Men In Black movies, they’re balls-out, tech-toting, suit-wearing badasses who blow stuff up. More often, though, it’s some weirdo in a broom cupboard who is all that stands between the world and supernatural or extraterrestrial doom.

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The X-Files is the benchmark for all this sort of stuff, of course, and there have recently been a slew of similarly-themed shows – Fringe, Warehouse 13 – though it’s by no means a modern phenomenon...  anyone for 70s series Project Blue Book (Project UFO in the States) in which two US Air Force officers trawled around the country investigating sightings of little green men?

So I decided to try them myself. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to contact any branch of the security services but it’s not that easy unless you want to tip them off about your neighbour buying in a load of ammonium nitrate and diesel. Eventually though, I managed to track down some email addresses, and put this question to them:

“Does [your organisation] actually have any kind of department devoted to the investigation of the paranormal in all or any of its forms?”

My first stop was the Federal Bureau of Investigation which, of course, is what the fictional Mulder and Scully are affiliated. The FBI website is surprisingly – one might even say suspiciously – friendly. They even have a section entitled “Fun and Games”, which presumably doesn’t involve trying on a set of orange overalls and shipping out to Cuba. Just the sort of people up for a bit of fun, then.

I found an email address for an office which claims to be a liaison department with Hollywood, ensuring that portrayals of FBI agents on the big screen are realistic. Unfortunately, they didn’t reply to my question. Which, the only rational explanation being, is because EVERYTHING YOU SEE ON THE X-FILES IS ABSOLUTELY REAL AND APPROVED BY THE FBI. Why else wouldn’t they bother to respond?

Oh God, I thought, as I typed in my question to the next organisation on my list, the Central Intelligence Agency. I’m becoming that person, the one who sits in a darkened bedsit wearing a tin-foil hat and gibbering about conspiracies. Still, too late to back out now. Come on, CIA, show me your covert paranormal investigators.

The silence was deafening. Somewhere in an underground bunker I imagine there’s a computer which is collating my emails to the two security and law-enforcement departments, comparing them, and making a soft but insistent beeping sound. The hand of an unseen operative prints out my messages and puts them in a manila folder, scrawling WATCH CAREFULLY on the front.

Perhaps the information was winging its way across the Atlantic, courtesy of the special relationship, as MI5 in London wondered why the online form designed for people to report their neighbours they suspected of buying ammonium nitrate was being used to ask: “Have you got a real X-Files, then? Who would I report an alien invasion or ghostly occurrence to?”

However, you can always rely on the stiff upper lip of the Home Office to help out. I sent them a message online and received a lovely reply asking me to call the office. I duly rang the number and asked if they could tell if they had a covert paranormal investigation department.

There was a brief pause punctuated only by the sort of electronic noise that I take can only mean my position was being triangulated, filed and transmitted to various secret people. “I’ll have a look,” said a voice. “But as a rule, we don’t generally comment on matters of national security.”

Result. Because a no comment isn’t a denial, yes? Within minutes they called me back (it was a good idea to leave my mobile number with them, right? Right?) “You might want to speak to the Ministry of Defence rather than us,” they said. The MoD, sadly, have yet to respond.

So... either the people who look after us actually are secretly investigating paranormal phenomena and just don’t want to talk about it for fear of causing widespread panic, or they really don’t believe in aliens, ghosts, demons or slime-encrusted elder gods from the Nth Dimension and are doing nothing – which, quite frankly, leaves means we’re all in the hands of celebrity UFO hunters Shaun Ryder, Danny Dyer and Robbie Williams.

As the X-Files would have it, the truth is out there... and, for all I know, several black cars full of dark-suited men wearing sunglasses in the depths of winter. They know who I am, they have my phone number, and doubtlessly know where I live. Fear for me.

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