COMETA was a high-level French UFO study organisation from the late 1990s, composed of high-ranking officers and officials, some having held command posts in the armed forces and aerospace industry. The name "COMETA" in English stands for "Committee for in-depth studies." The study was carried out over several years by an independent group of mostly former "auditors" at the Institute of Advanced Studies for National Defence, or IHEDN, a high-level French military think-tank, and by various other experts.
The group was responsible for the 'COMETA Report' (1999) on UFOs and their possible implications for defence in France. The report concluded that about 5% of the UFO cases they studied were utterly inexplicable and the best hypothesis to explain them was the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH). The authors also accused the United States government of engaging in a massive cover-up of the evidence.
The 'COMETA Report' was not solicited by the French government, although before its public release, it was first sent to French President Jacques Chirac and to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Immediately afterward, a French weekly news and leisure magazine called VSD referred to it as an "official report", though technically this wasn't the case since COMETA was the work of a private, non-profit, ufological study group. Skeptic Claude Maugé wrote about this: "By letter dated 23 February General Bastien, of the Special Staff of the President of the Republic, wrote: 'To answer your question, this ‘report’ compiled by members of an association organised under the law of 1901 (ruling most non-commercial private associations in France) did not respond to any official request and does not have any special status'." .
The report drew largely on the research of GEPAN / SEPRA, a section of the French space agency CNES, unique in being the only official French government-sponsored organisation to investigate UFOs.. The birth of GEPAN / SEPRA in the mid-1970s was in large part due to the intense wave of high strangeness UFO sightings in France in 1954.
The COMETA Report was prefaced by General Bernard Norlain of the Air Force, former Director of IHEDN. The preamble was by André Lebeau, former President of the National Center for Space Studies (Centre National D’études Spatiales), or CNES. The authors of the report were an association of experts, many of whom were or had been auditors (defence and intelligence analysts) of IHEDN. The group was presided over by General Denis Letty of the Air Force, another former auditor of IHEDN.
Other members included:
Outside contributors included Jean-Jacques Velasco, head of SEPRA at CNES, François Louange, President of Fleximage, specializing in photo analysis, and General Joseph Domange, of the Air Force, general delegate of the Association of Auditors at IHEDN.
Although members of COMETA consisted mostly of ex-members of IHEDN, IHEDN made it clear that it had nothing to do with this report. As Claude Maugé wrote in his article: "According to Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre Bayle, head of the Communication Service of IHEDN, 'The Institute for Advanced Studies in National Defence wishes to make it clear that statements made by these individuals only engage them, and them alone, and are in no way a reflection of the thoughts of IHEDN, which has no special element of information on this topic.'" .
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