Whatever or whoever they are, they're still out there. US intelligence is after them, but its upcoming report won't deliver any full or final truth about UFOs.
The tantalising prospect of top government intel finally weighing in — after decades of conspiracy theories, TV shows, movies and winking jokes by presidents — will instead yield a more mundane reality that's not likely to change many minds on any side of the issue.
Investigators have found no evidence the sightings are linked to aliens — but can't deny a link either. Two officials briefed on the report due to Congress later this month say the US government cannot give a definitive explanation of aerial phenomena spotted by military pilots.
The report also doesn't rule out that what pilots have seen may be new technologies developed by other countries. One of the officials said there is no indication the unexplained phenomena are from secret US programmes.
The officials were not authorised to discuss the information publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Findings of the report were first published by The New York Times.
The report examines multiple unexplained sightings from recent years that in some cases have been captured on video of pilots exclaiming about objects flying in front of them.
Congress in December required the Director of National Intelligence to summarise and report on the US government's knowledge of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs — better known to the public as unidentified flying objects or UFOs. The effort has included a Defense Department UAP task force established last year. The expected public release of an unclassified version of the report this month will amount to a status report, not the final word, according to one official.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Sue Gough, declined Friday to comment on news stories about the intelligence report. She said the Pentagon's UAP task force is “actively working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the report, and DNI will provide the findings to Congress.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked about the report, said of the question at first, “It's always a little wacky on Fridays.” But she added, “I will say that we take reports of incursions into our airspace by any aircraft — identified or unidentified — very seriously and investigate each one.”
The Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency have for decades looked into reports of aircraft or other objects in the sky flying at inexplicable speeds or trajectories.
The US government takes unidentified aerial phenomena seriously given the potential national security risk of an adversary flying novel technology over a military base or another sensitive site, or the prospect of a Russian or Chinese development exceeding current US capabilities. This also is seen by the US military as a security and safety issue, given that in many cases the pilots who reported seeing unexplained aerial phenomena were conducting combat training flights.
The report's lack of firm conclusions will likely disappoint people anticipating the report, given many Americans' long-standing fascination with UFOs and the prospect of aliens having reached humankind. A recent story on CBS' “60 Minutes" further bolstered interest in the government report.
Luis Elizondo, former head of the Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, said the one official's claim that there was no indicated link to secret US programs would be significant. But he called on the government to be fully transparent.
"I think that our tax dollars paid for information and data involving UFOs," Elizondo said. “And I think it is the US government's obligation to provide those results to the American people.”
But skeptics caution that the videos and reported sightings have plausible Earth-bound explanations. Mick West, an author, investigator and longtime skeptic of UFO sightings, said he supported the military looking into any possible incursion of US airspace, especially by an adversary.
“People are conflating this issue with the idea that these UFOs demonstrate amazing physics and possibly even aliens,” West said. “The idea that this is some kind of secret warp drive or it's defying physics as we know it, there really isn't any good evidence for that.”
The Pentagon last year announced a task force to investigate the issue, and the Navy in recent years created a protocol for its pilots to report any possible sightings. And lawmakers in recent years have pushed for more public disclosure.
“There's a stigma on Capitol Hill,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told “60 Minutes” in May. “I mean, some of my colleagues are very interested in this topic and some kind of, you know, giggle when you bring it up. But I don't think we can allow the stigma to keep us from having an answer to a very fundamental question.”
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