The New Director of GEIPAN, France’s Official UAP Investigative Office, Discusses Science and the Study of Aerial Mysteries  

Although the U.S. Department of Defense and its All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office may be the most headline-grabbing government investigation into what the Pentagon now calls unidentified anomalous phenomena, it certainly isn’t the only officially sanctioned investigation into mysterious aerospace phenomena.

Originally established in France in the late 1970s, the French Group for the Study and Information on Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena (GEIPAN), an official division of the French national space agency CNES, has long been tasked with the examination of UAP. From its launch in 1977 until 1988, the program operated under the name GEPAN, and then as SEPRA between 1988 and 2004. The program officially adopted its current designation, GEIPAN, in September 2005.

In the past, the French Gendarmerie was officially ordered to forward all its UFO sighting reports to SEPRA, thus providing the agency with a substantial collection of such incidents to analyze.

As the official French public UFO office, GEIPAN was tasked with answering questions from citizens regarding UAP and investigating sightings, and in 2007, GEIPAN released its files and made them publicly accessible on its website.

Recently, The Debrief was able to speak with Frédéric Courtade, the new chief of GEIPAN, which currently sorts UAP sighting reports into four categories: 1) UAP A: Identified Phenomenon (24.6 %), 2) UAP B: Probably identified Phenomenon (39.7%), 3) UAP C: Unidentified Phenomenon due to lack of data (32.4%), and 4) UAP D: Unidentified Phenomenon after investigation (3.3%).

The following is a transcript of The Debrief’s interview with Courtade, conducted by journalist Baptiste Friscourt, which features minor edits for overall clarity.

Baptiste Friscourt: Hello, Mr. Courtade. You are the new head of the GEIPAN, you have a degree in materials science, you have 20 years of expertise/investigation of materials within the expertise laboratory of the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), then five years on the development of scientific instruments in planetology and exobiology as part of a project to prepare for the future, and most recently four years as manager of the Space Mechanisms and Equipment for Satellite Attitude Control department. Can you tell us what GEIPAN’s mission is and how it differs from other organizations involved in research into Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena?

Frédéric Courtade: GEIPAN, as its name suggests, is a study and information group on unidentified aerospace phenomena. This service is attached to the digital technical department of CNES. We are based in Toulouse, and we have the resources to investigate reports of unidentified aerospace phenomena reported to us by French citizens. The GEIPAN is legitimate in France. We carry out a pre-characterization and, if necessary, investigations to try to identify what has astonished these citizens – sometimes arousing their curiosity, sometimes worrying them – using a network of volunteer investigators recruited and trained by the GEIPAN which covers the entire country.

Our investigations are published on a website which is accessible to the public worldwide. Our work is monitored by a supervisory committee, COPEIPAN (Steering Committee for Studies and Information on Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena), chaired by an independent authority within French institutions and comprising civil, military, and scientific authorities and any other person with significant expertise in UAP.

Today, GEIPAN is housed by CNES, it has legitimacy, and I have an operating budget that enables me to carry out investigations and to ensure the impartiality of the results of these investigations.

We do, of course, consult associations and certain organizations that are run by scientists in Europe, but from an operational point of view, I would say that this autonomy of means enables us to be completely impartial, whatever the testimony that is given to us. We investigate facts for which the witness has given us prior authorization for publication, whatever the result.

BF: What perspective would you like to develop during your tenure?

FC: Today, GEIPAN has reached cruising speed, I think, with a body of investigators who are fairly seasoned. I have to bring in new people to complete this body of investigators. We have people who have been here since GEIPAN was created, so they are seasoned people, people who are ready to share their experience. For me, the aim is to build up this body of investigators so that we can continue to conduct rigorous investigations using tried and tested methods. My aim is also to try to increase the number of national institutions we work with, which give us access to data that we can make available to these investigators so that we have the information we need to eliminate or explore certain hypotheses and come up with a solution that we think is perfectly acceptable in terms of explaining these phenomena.

BF: What made you want to take this job?

FC: CNES is a public industrial establishment that serves the public and is responsible for bringing everything we can learn from space to French and European citizens. All this has also happened in the context of my previous jobs, working in the field of engineering, with direct relations with engineers or technicians from other organizations comparable to CNES or industrialists who help to develop space data and put it at the service of the public. In the case of GEIPAN, it’s really the direct link with the public that attracted me.

In this context, we are in direct contact with them, and we have the legitimacy to do this. So we meet people from all over the country; people who are concerned; people who are curious; people who are educated and people who are less so; people who have a culture of space and people who have none at all. It’s very enriching and that’s what attracted me to GEIPAN.

BF: Speaking of contact with the public, there is a two-edged sword here. In other words, the contact can come from people who are wondering about what they have observed, but there can also be comments from the public about the actions carried out. Have you ever come across this type of contact?

FC: Yes, of course, there are people who question our surveys and challenge us on the results. We accept being challenged and there’s nothing to worry about. We think we’re sufficiently sure when we come to our conclusions, but there may be adjustments to be made. That much is clear – we accept that. And there are also people who will have an approach that is closer to credulity, thinking they’ve been chosen to witness something that goes beyond comprehension, I would say.

And these people, of course, we receive their requests. GEIPAN also has an educational mission, to provide rational answers to what they have seen and experienced.

So, of course, this is something that happens to us.

BF: To stay on this subject, there was recently a congress in Limoges to promote a supposed extraterrestrial contact and, at the other end of the spectrum, a few months earlier there were three international conferences on the technical aspects of research into UAP.

Does GEIPAN have a position on this type of event?

FC: No, we have no position on this type of event. We were not consulted about this event, which took place on national territory. I was questioned indirectly by the press about this event.

I have to say that this is absolutely not a theme that is developed at GEIPAN and that it is not one of my missions.

BF: Last month, Francisco Guerreiro, MEP, organized a conference at the European Parliament on the subject, during which GEIPAN was mentioned several times. Were you represented?

FC: I was connected remotely, and I thought it was a very good initiative. It’s clear that for a subject which affects society, raises questions in people’s minds, frightens them, it would be very good if something could be organized on a cross-border basis.

But then, I realize how difficult it is, I can see at the national level all the things we have to put in place, in terms of cooperation with the national civil and military authorities to be able to work, but it will have to be done in a cross-border context, and that is likely to pose a lot of problems, especially as the Parliament is going to change. However, I think it’s a very good initiative to put UAP in the context of European space law, because I’ve realized since I took up my job that a huge number of people are passionate about this phenomenon – UAP/UFOs – and having an institution, a delegation, an authority that could provide a framework for all this would be great.

BF: Do you envision GEIPAN taking on a European mandate, or Europe creating ex nihilo a structure GEIPAN would participate in?

FC: That’s more like it. GEIPAN’s mission is a national one, and I’ve spoken to the people at CNES who deal with European affairs, who also have a positive view of this, but it’s not on the agenda to take the lead or any kind of leadership in this area. So, it would really be a matter of ensuring that Europe can benefit from the organization that we have put in place and which is working very well.

BF: At this conference, one of the main lines of argument used was the possible danger to air safety posed by UAP. Do you share this point of view within GEIPAN?

FC: In the modern history of UFOs, it’s true that observations by pilots have been exacerbated over the years since the end of the Second World War. So it’s true that these people may wonder about their safety, whatever they’ve seen.

We’re currently working in particular on visibility and the recurrent sightings of Starlink satellites in the vision of pilots who have difficulty deciding whether what they see is dangerous, their inability to assess the distance, the fact that it’s moving erratically for them, all of which poses a problem in terms of flight safety. We have a lot of testimonies from pilots, and we are authorized to work on testimonies from pilots on flights departing from or bound for France, which is what we are doing. We try to respond to pilots to reassure them when it comes to Starlink and try to sort out what it might be when it’s something else.

BF: Since 2017 there have been declarations by former US administration and defense officials on the subject. Does GEIPAN have a view on these statements, declaring that UAP also represent national defense vulnerabilities?

FC: I have no particular position on what is being done in the United States. GEIPAN is hosted by CNES, which has always been under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense, and the decision was made at the time (1977) for CNES, which is responsible for civil and military space issues, to manage these phenomena. I don’t think that’s the case in the United States, or it used to be, but it isn’t any more – there’s perhaps a tendency to change once more.

So the fact that this matter is being handled by military authorities who, by their very nature, are not supposed to communicate, may suggest that they want to avoid saying things and discourage some people from speaking up, in the face of this lack of communication. When you cultivate secrecy, it sometimes awakens fantasies.

BF: April 9, Japan’s defense minister said: “We believe that it is essential to take all possible measures to respond to incidents that affect Japan’s security, including those involving unidentified objects.” Is GEIPAN a resource that can be used by the French armed forces regarding any concerns they may have about UAP?

FC: GEIPAN comes under the “space security” theme. There are several themes that are maintained and developed as part of CNES missions. Some are concerned with the sciences of the universe and space research, others with telecommunications, Earth observation, hydrology, climate… and a huge number of other sectors.

CNES also covers ‘space security’. And GEIPAN is part of this. On the other hand, as far as I can remember, we’ve never had to request any kind of alarm for the arrival of a phenomenon that would endanger the public. Perhaps in Japan there’s no equivalent. GEIPAN is identified as a link in the ‘space security’ theme.

BC: There were a lot of cases of confusion in the 80s around American stealth bomber tests and UFO sightings. In the case of France, how would you deal with a case that is sent to GEIPAN where, after investigation, you realize that it was a French military prototype?

FC: Up until now, the Directorate General for Armaments has communicated quite openly with us. Without actually telling us what happened, but saying: “something happened there, we can reassure you, there’s nothing dangerous”.

We relayed information about the hypersonic glider tests, the missile tests… The army communicates quite openly, and our official collaboration with the air and space force through the CNOA, the National Air Operations Centre, is very positive. Even without telling us what really happens, that allows us to respond and reassure the population.

BF: Does GEIPAN also deal with reports from military personnel?

FC: Any member of the public can submit a report through the usual channels. As far as I know, there is no priority channel for military personnel. We deal with first-level reports made by individuals. In any case, I’ve never been confronted with one and to my recollection, no investigation has been brought to our level following a statement by a military authority.

BF: There were hearings this summer with a whistleblower – a former American intelligence officer – who stated that there were secret programmes in the United States, carrying out tests on recovered materials.

Has GEIPAN ever been involved in collecting debris from anything that might have been found and can it carry out material expertise, given that this is part of your personal expertise?

FC: Yes, I’ve done it in the past, on material that had been found at an observation scene and we didn’t demonstrate any extraordinary origin. We’re currently working on an expert report on material found during an observation reported to us by the SIGMA 2 association of 3AF, with which we’re trying to work with the CNES expert laboratory, which is developing a whole range of analysis and expert report techniques that enable us to go back quite a long way to the origin, both elementary and chemical, of what we can see. A priori, we haven’t found any signature that would lead us to think that it came from somewhere else.

BF: And are these analyses, even conventional ones, available to the public to examine?

FC: The expert report is signed by my counterpart in charge of the “laboratory and expertise” department, so it is distributed to the applicant, and then he is free to distribute them, it’s the applicant who gets the first look.

BF: So, last year, there was an independent audit ordered by NASA which concluded that more scientific research needed to be carried out into UFOs. If NASA were to develop a scientific research programme on UAP, could GEIPAN be asked to contribute to it, since it has already been asked to contribute to the audit group, and from what CNES perspective could this take place?

FC: There is no research activity on the UAP themselves, but there is a great deal of work being done to improve the data we receive from our partners, particularly radar data. We’re trying to work on the raw signals, before filtering, which are produced by Meteo France and which would give us more usable information than the weather data, for example.

Would we contribute? At present, GEIPAN has no research mission. It’s a study group. CNES of course maintains networks of space radio telescopes. Indirectly, we may help to detect electromagnetic radiation from the universe, but we don’t do any research as such.

BF: But on the other hand, if you were called by NASA to provide data from the French cases, would you object?

FC: Everything that is published is already free of copyright. To go further, I would say that knowing whether we are in a position to want to share anything in this area with NASA or other international bodies depends on the French space policy options chosen by the CEO of CNES.

Collaboration in space, whether bilateral or multilateral, is something that has been done at CNES since its inception. To my knowledge, there has never been any collaboration on the topic, so if it develops, why not, but it won’t depend on me.

Baptiste Friscourt is a certified visual arts instructor based in France. You can follow his work online via Sentinel News: