- First congressional hearing on the topic since the 1960s
- Intelligence officials stress incidents’ risk to personnel
The Pentagon wants to remove any shame in reporting “unidentified aerial phenomena” because what the public knows as UFOs could represent national security threats such as enemy drones or dangerous debris, two senior intelligence officials said.
“Our goal is to eliminate this stigma by fully incorporating our operators and mission personnel into a standardized data-gathering process,” Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security, told US lawmakers Tuesday at the first congressional hearing into unidentified flying objects since the 1960s.
“The message is now clear: If you see something, you need to report it,” Scott Bray, the deputy director of naval intelligence, told the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and counterproliferation at a hearing that also delved questions about extraterrestrials and the stuff of science fiction.
Panel chair Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana, said those who report incidents should be treated “as witnesses, not as kooks.” Noting broad public interest in the topic, he said “the American people expect and deserve their leaders in government and intelligence to seriously evaluate and respond to any potential national security risks — especially those we do not fully understand.”
The military officials’ testimony marks an evolution of the government’s thinking about unidentified aerial phenomena — as the Pentagon prefers to call them — from previously keeping mum or downplaying the issue.
“Since the early 2000s, we have seen an increasing number of unauthorized and unidentified aircraft near military control training areas and ranges, and other designated airspace,” Bray said. “Reports of sightings are frequent and continuing” but fleeting, he said.
The Defense Department last year established an Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group after a greatly anticipated declassified report last June found the government couldn’t explain more than 140 “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” incidents. Congress has also directed the agency to create rapid-response teams made up of Pentagon and intelligence community experts that can respond to sightings and conduct field investigations.
The public hearing had its lighter moments, with one lawmaker openly ruminating about the existence of alien life and another asking if the US had tried to communicate with the unexplained objects.
Asked if he was a science fiction fan, Moultrie replied that he enjoyed the “challenge of what may be out there,” and said he had gone to some science fiction conventions. “I don’t necessarily dress up,” he added.
The subcommittee also held a classified closed-door session on the topic.
Representative Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican, said the hearing’s focus was “not about finding alien spacecraft, but about delivering dominant intelligence” to avoid an “intelligence surprise,” no matter what the source.
The risks posed by some of these unexplained objects or encounters are real, from the danger of a collision with US aircraft to the possibility that an adversary has deployed advanced technology to spy on US technology or tactics, Bray said. He said the number of reports has increased as the US military made a more concerted effort to analyze unexplained encounters, including a formalized post-flight process for US pilots who witness such incidents.
At one point, the panel played a 2021 video of an unexplained object zipping past the cockpit windows of a US military jet.
After someone failed repeatedly to freeze the video on a frame showing the fast-moving object, and after repeated quizzing about what it might be, Bray simply replied: “I do not have an explanation for what this specific object is.”
Most incidents are observed by US military personnel and also registered on technical sensors, but there still isn’t enough data to allow intelligence analysts to draw meaningful conclusions.
Bray — who along with Moultrie said he would prefer to answer some questions in the closed-door session — was quizzed about the task force’s conclusions, including whether officials possessed any objects that appeared other-worldly.
“When it comes to material that we have — we have no material, we have detected no emanations within the UAP task force that would suggest it’s anything non-terrestrial in origin,” Bray said. “But we’ll go wherever the data takes us.”
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