For conspiracy theorists, it sounded like a giant step closer to their "Eureka" moment.
Earlier, the British publication The Sun set the ticker hopping with a report that "real-life FBI X-Files have emerged sensationally claiming flying saucers piloted by aliens did crash on Earth." The Telegraph published a similar piece and the Internet did the rest. It wasn't long before their lead was followed by dozens of other publications around the world.
A call to the FBI may have helped, where the only news at the agency's Washington headquarters was that traffic to its Web site was surging. Rather than constituting new evidence of a cover-up, however, the so-called "Hottel memo"--which the agency never corroborated--has been publicly available for years. The memo is one of thousands of files on an FBI Web site, which essentially serves as a public reading room.
"[The archive] contains information about the most frequently asked for files," according to FBI spokesman Bill Carter, who said the top two subjects of public interest were UFOs and Elvis Presley. "They've switched back and forth for No. 1 a few times."
Still, the Hottel memo does make for fun reading. The report, filed by Washington field agent Guy Hottel on March 22, 1950, summarizes his investigation into a report of a flying saucer crashing near a U.S. military base close to Roswell in New Mexico on--or around--July 2, 1947.
"An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three 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 flyers and test pilots. According to Mr. (deleted) informant, the saucers were found in New Mexico due to the fact that the Government has a very high-powered radar set-up in that area and it is believed the radar interferes with the controlling mechanism of the saucers. No further evaluation was attempted by [Special Agent] (deleted) concerning the above.
The FBI has never offered a confirming opinion on that investigation--or any of the thousands of other UFO sightings over the years going back to the 1940s. The archive, which last week was updated, is slated to be periodically refreshed as more documents come available under the Freedom of Information Act.
Reports of UFO sightings made their way to the desk of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In an August 5, 1947, memo, Hoover acknowledged his office received a letter testifying to the presence of "flying discs."
One such incident was sent in from an American soldier serving in post-war Germany. The soldier reported sighting an object hovering about 5,000 feet in the air.
"I immediately stopped the jeep for a better look. The object rapidly came toward us, descending slowly. About a mile away it stopped it's (sic) horizontal motion but continued a slow oscillating descent, similar to a descending parachute. Then suddenly it dropped in a spiral motion."
Hoover ordered that FBI's laboratory should not follow up and that the materials be turned over to U.S. Army and Air Force intelligence arms.
As public interest in the subject of UFOs waxed during the post-war era, the FBI kept track of the reports but the leads failed to corroborate the claims. Among the more intriguing was an April 4, 1949, memo sent to Hoover detailing the explosion of a UFO near Logan, Utah. The urgent memo detailed how the event was reported separately by a policeman, an army sentry, and a highway patrolman.
The archive also contains letters sent to the bureau along with clippings from newspaper articles about unexplained phenomena through the decades. For instance, a number of cows were found dismembered and their blood drained from their carcasses in Oklahoma and Nebraska during the summer of 1974, prompting a series of articles in local papers about unexplained helicopters or other UFOs. After speaking with veterinarians, the FBI concluded that foxes were most likely responsible for feeding upon the dead animals "due to their sharp side teeth."
This story originally appeared on CBSNews.com.