WASHINGTON — The blob, captured on distant, fuzzy video by Navy pilots, seems to be just above ocean waves at impossible speeds, with no apparent means of propulsion or lift. “Oh my god, man,” one aviator says to another as they laugh at the oddity. “What is this?”
is it a bird? a plane? Super Drone? something supernatural?
The US government is keeping a close watch on such unidentified flying objects. A report summarizing what the US knows about the “unknown aerial phenomenon” known as UFOs is expected to go public this month.
There will be no alien unmasking. Two officers briefed on the report say it found no supernatural links to the scenes reported and captured on video. According to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the report would not rule out a link to another country because they were not authorized to discuss it.
While broader findings have now been reported, the full report may still paint a broader picture than what the government knows. The anticipation surrounding the report shows how a topic normally confined to science fiction and a small, often dismissed group of researchers has entered the mainstream.
Concerned about national security threats from opponents, lawmakers ordered an investigation and a public account of the events, which the government has shied away from talking about for generations.
“There’s stuff flying in our airspace,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the senators pushing for the investigation, recently told Fox News. “We don’t know what it is. We need to find out.”
Congress late last year directed the Director of National Intelligence to provide a “detailed analysis of unidentified air incident data” from multiple agencies and reports in 180 days. That time is near. The intelligence office would not say when the full document would arrive last week.
The bill passed by Congress asks the Director of Intelligence for “any event or pattern that indicates a potential adversary could gain breakthrough aerospace capabilities that could put the strategic or conventional forces of the United States at risk.”
The main concern is whether enemy countries are presenting air technology in such an advanced and strange way that it confuses and threatens the world’s largest military power. But when lawmakers talk about it, they leave themselves in a slightly shaky room in case something else happens — whether it’s more prosaic than a military rival or, you know, more cosmic.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions right now,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California told NBC this week. “If other countries have capabilities that we don’t know about, we want to find out. If there’s some other explanation beyond that, we want to learn that as well.”
Luis Elisondo, the former head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, said he did not believe the scenes were from the technology of a foreign power because it would have been nearly impossible to keep that secret. Elisondo has accused the Defense Department of trying to defame him, saying there is more information the US has kept secret.
“We live in an incredible universe,” Elisondo said. “There are all kinds of hypotheses that suggest that the three-dimensional universe we live in is not that easy to explain.”
But Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer is skeptical.
The science historian, a longtime analyst of UFO theories and other phenomena, said he had seen too many blurry images of alleged alien encounters to be convinced by even more blurry footage of blobs from airplanes. This is a time when billions of people around the world have smartphones that take crisp pictures and satellites accurately render details on the ground.
“Show me the body, show me the spacecraft, or show me really high quality videos and photos,” he said in an interview. “And I’ll believe it.”
Mick West, a leading researcher of unexplained incidents and a debunker of conspiracy theories, said it was right for the government to investigate and report the potential national security implications of what was seen in the now unclassified video.
“Any time there’s some sort of unidentified object coming through military airspace, it’s a real issue that needs attention,” he told the AP.
“But the videos, even though they are showing unknown objects, they are not showing amazing unknown objects.”
Pilots and sky watchers have long reported sporadic sightings of UFOs in US airspace, seemingly at unusual speeds or trajectories. In most cases, those secrets end up under scrutiny.
In 1960, the CIA stated that 6,500 items had been reported to the US Air Force over the past 13 years. The CIA said the Air Force concluded that there was no evidence that they were “enemy or hostile” or related to “interplanetary space ships.”
UFO reports, of course, have continued since then. Some who study the subject argue that the investigation has been limited by the stigma of being associated with conspiracy theories or referring to little green men on Earth. They note that the government has a history of stonewalling and lying about the unexplained.
It took the government 50 years in hopes of completely debunking claims that foreign bodies had been recovered at a crash site in New Mexico in 1947. In 1997, the Air Force stated that the dummies used in the Roswell “body” parachute were tested, the more recent ancestor of today’s car-crash dummies.
Retired Air Force Colonel Richard Weaver, who wrote an official report on the Roswell rumours, tried to reassure the public that the government was not competent enough to cover up a true alien sight. “We have a hard time keeping a secret,” he said, “let alone putting together a good plot.”
A recent turning point came in December 2017, when The New York Times revealed a five-year Pentagon program to investigate UFOs. The Pentagon later released videos, which had previously been leaked, of military pilots encountering shadowy objects they could not identify.
In 2015 there was a video clip of aviators, called GoFast, tracking the blob over the ocean off the US coast. In another of that year, labeled the gimbal, an unexplained object is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “They have a whole fleet,” one naval aviator tells another, although only an obscure object is shown. “It’s spinning.”
In 2019, the Navy announced that it would create a formal process for its pilots to report unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs. Last August, the Defense Department created a task force dedicated to the matter. The mission was to “detect, analyze and catalog UAPs” that could endanger the US
In an era of increasingly sophisticated drone aircraft, which are now seen as a risk to sensitive domestic military sites such as nuclear missile bases, the focus on foreign adversaries has been greater than any visitor from another planet. Yet the formation of the task force stood as a rare acknowledgment from the government that UFOs posed a potential national security concern.
Recently, a story on CBS’s “60 Minutes” featured unclassified videos and raised questions about what intelligence the US government had.
Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and its former chairman, said it is important for investigators to follow up on their pilots’ reports and make the findings public. “Our soldiers and their radars and their eyesight are telling them, I’m going away from them,” Rubio said. “There are many highly trained, highly capable people.”
Yet things in the sky are often not as they seem. Schirmer gives an example of how events visible on other worlds can be exhausting for this Earth.
“Ninety to 95% of all UFO sightings,” he said, “weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, aircraft flying in formation, covert military aircraft, sun-reflecting birds, sun-reflecting aircraft, blimps.” , can be explained as helicopter. Planet Venus or Mars, meteors or meteorites Space junk, satellites, swamp gas … Ball lightning, ice crystals that reflect light from clouds, lights on the ground or reflected on the cockpit window Lights, temperature inversion, punch clouds.”
“For any of these things to be real, we need more than these grainy videos and blurry photos,” he said.
“We really need some hard evidence, extraordinary evidence, because if it were true it would be one of the most extraordinary claims ever.”
Associated Press video journalists Dan Huff and Nathan Elgren and AP national security writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.