The intelligence community has finally released its report on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and, well, it did little to answer all the questions that have been raised over the past year. If anything, it has bolstered calls for increased research into UFOs and possible signs of extraterrestrial life.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report, which can be read here, said that the U.S. government has encountered 144 UFOs — or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), as the government refers to them — since 2004, with nearly all remaining a mystery.
President Trump originally commissioned the nine-page study as part of a provision in a coronavirus relief package last year following a push from lawmakers who cited interest in investigating a surge in UFO sightings by U.S. military aircraft.
In this piece, we’ll cover the most important bases to get an idea of where we stand, meaning we’ll try to calculate our likelihood of dying in a fiery attack by Martians.
Only one UFO sighting has been explained
The Office of Naval Intelligence’s UFO task force (yes, that is a real thing) said in the report that while it was able to identify one of the more than 140 objects with “high confidence,” the vast majority of reported encounters remain a mystery.
The task force said the one identified object was “a large, deflating balloon,” but listed several possible explanations for the other objects, including airborne clutter like birds and “recreational unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV),” as well as natural atmospheric phenomena like ice crystals and “thermal fluctuations that may register on some infrared and radar systems.”
The sky is complicated, folks.
Aliens have not been ruled out
As mentioned above, the report offers a range of possible explanations for the sightings. What it does not do is rule out the possibility for extraterrestrial life, a phenomenon that has captured the imagination of the public as long as there have been weird things in the air.
The report noted that in a “limited number of incidents, UAP reportedly appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics,” though it conceded that the “observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis.”
For those who don’t speak intel nerd, that’s a fancy way of saying that a few of the objects appear to move deliberately and in ways that current aircraft shouldn’t be able to pull off, but since Occam’s razor suggests the advanced alien aircraft hypothesis to be unlikely, we should explore the possibility that our minds are assigning intentionality to meaningless maneuvers. The human mind is indeed a funny thing that can convince us of just about anything we’re intent on seeing. Ghost hunters are a great example. Yes, I’m talking to you, <Insert generic housewife name here>. No one is spending their afterlife looking for creative ways to slightly move your tea kettle at 2 a.m.
The task force also identified some patterns in the UAP observations, including similarities in “shape, size, and, particularly, propulsion,” as well as the fact that some UAP sightings “tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds,” which it noted “may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.”
While it may be anticlimactic, one cannot simply ignore the fact that the majority of these reports have taken place in areas fertile to produce them.
Could it be China or Russia?
In short, yes. And not just them. The report also listed among possible explanations “developments and classified programs by U.S. entities,” in addition to possible technologies deployed by Russia, China or other countries.
Intelligence officials said that they grouped other UAP in a category labeled “other,” to mark objects that require “additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them.”
One possible explanation mentioned in the report was that the unidentified objects could be advanced technologies developed by adversaries like China or Russia.
Now, let’s put our common sense hat on for a moment. This is a report released by our own intelligence community. If we actually did have knowledge of what these objects were and where they came from, do you think we’d release it in an unclassified report?
“Hey guys, we looked into the UFOs. It’s just the new Top Secret technology we’re developing. Oh, except for those over there. Those are the next-gen drones being used by China that we’ve correctly identified and are now studying in order to reverse-engineer. Nothing to see here.”
Use your head, people. For all we know this entire report is a tool for disinformation/misdirection. If this is technology from either ourselves or a foreign adversary, the intelligence community isn’t going to tell you about it. And if they did, we are in deep trouble, as it would mean that our intelligence professionals are, well, not very intelligent.
However, we can look beyond this report and infer possibilities based on what we do know. For instance, we know that both China and Russia have invested substantially in hypersonic technology, which raises the possibility that their military technology has evolved far beyond the capabilities of the U.S. That would be a very ominous development and one I’m sure our intelligence community is exploring vigorously behind closed doors, which is where it belongs.
If this is not American technology, we can only hope that we’re making progress toward learning exactly what it is and from who it’s originating, because it is impressive. A handful of the reported UAP “demonstrate advanced technology,” including appearing “to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion.”
The report also said that the federal task force has some data that seemingly shows “UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of signature management,” with military aircraft systems processing radio frequency energy associated with UAP sightings in a small number of cases.
That bit of information doesn’t really illuminate what we know about these objects, as that very broad description doesn’t allow anyone–most importantly our adversaries–to know exactly what we know about what’s happening.
Theories abound regarding the nature of these unidentified objects, especially the handful that maneuver in inexplicable ways. One thing that makes this topic very difficult to explore is the nature of our intelligence gathering system itself. The central organizing principle of intelligence is compartmentalization, meaning those who work in intel are privy only to information necessary to complete one’s particular mission. The system works this way so as to limit what we call spillage, which is simply the unauthorized leak of classified info. If everyone had a bird’s eye view of the big picture, the chances of gravely damaging leaks would increase exponentially. To be clear, leaks do happen and always will so long as humans are at the helm, but our decentralized informational system at least provides a safeguard against our enemies knowing exactly what we’re doing in any realm of collection.
Thus, it is entirely possible that those who compiled the ODNI report are simply unaware that they’re attempting to analyze our own technology. Just as with some of the experiments originating from the top secret base in Roswell, NM, the government may have been forced to address sightings related to our research and development of highly classified technology. The difference is, the technology has become so advanced that a simple “weather balloon” explanation won’t suffice.
There is one major problem with the “our own technology” hypothesis, however. These unidentified objects are a demonstrable security threat. The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force reported 11 “documented instances in which pilots reported near misses with a UAP.” The inclusion of this information would serve no purpose in providing useful disinformation, as the pilots themselves are on record noting their experiences. Of course, this does not rule out the possibility that these pilots were nearly hit by our own technology, but it does imply that the best case scenario is incompetence on our end. Then again, if these objects are foreign surveillance tools, as is believed by some, it also implies incompetence on the part of our enemies, as their near misses of our pilots has brought attention and scrutiny to what would have to be some of their most sensitive spycraft.
Either way, someone is screwing up.
The good news is we have a reference point from which to infer the nature of this mystery. Analysts noted that the ability to detect and study future sightings will depend largely on the level of investment in continued research that would “allow for a more sophisticated analysis of UAP that is likely to deepen our understanding.”
This public call for an emphasis in funding research into the UAP will ultimately reveal what our government knows–or doesn’t know–about these objects. If these researchers are given a full greenlight to investigate, it’s likely that these truly are unknown vessels being operated by unknown entities. However, if this report signals the end of the inquiry into UAP and researchers are never given the resources they desire, there is a very good possibility that it’s because our government does not want them to learn the truth.
In this case, the latter scenario is highly preferable. If there is technology so advanced that it cannot be explained by the naked eye, I would much prefer it to be in our hands as opposed to the Russians, Chinese or any other foreign government. Otherwise, we are being monitored by someone with technology far superior to our own, which puts us in a precarious position to say the least.
Bottom line: Keep an eye on the path taken by our government in relation to this investigation. Their actions going forward will tell us a great deal about the origins of these flying objects, or at least what we know about them.
And in the unlikely event that these UFOs are neither foreign or domestic–that they truly are the work of extraterrestrials–pray that they don’t request to see our leader until 2024.
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