No longer confined to the fringe, UFO theories move into the mainstream

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Jun 12, 2021, 7:16:28 AMJun 12
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No longer confined to the fringe, UFO theories move into the mainstream

Issued on: 27/05/2021 - 19:28

This video grab image obtained April 28, 2020 courtesy of the US Department of Defence shows part of an unclassified video taken by Navy pilots that have circulated for years showing interactions with "unidentified aerial phenomena".
This video grab image obtained April 28, 2020 courtesy of the US Department of Defence shows part of an unclassified video taken by Navy pilots that have circulated for years showing interactions with "unidentified aerial phenomena". © Handout, AFP

5 min

The subject of UFOs in the US is getting serious treatment from mainstream media and heavyweight politicians. Next month Congress is set to review a report from the director of national intelligence about the government’s secret files on the subject.

UFOs are now serious business.

So serious, in fact, that they have been given a new name. No longer called UFOs, or Unidentified Flying Objects, a term often associated with people of questionable sanity, the mysterious objects that have been reported by the hundreds, are now the source of discussion in serious scientific circles and have been rebaptised with the more serious-sounding moniker Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs.

Last June, officials made public the existence of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, housed within the Office of Naval Intelligence. Six months later, the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act asked the director of national intelligence work and the secretary of defence to put together a report detailing everything the government knows about UAPs.

The report, which Congress is expected to review in June, will draw on classified military files and will address decades of sightings and videos, which date back to the 1940s. That such objects exist is increasingly becoming gospel; Officials from former president Barack Obama to Senator Marco Rubio to former senate majority leader Harry Reid are publicly saying that earth has been visited by flying objects that we don’t understand.

"What is true – and I'm actually being serious here – is that there's footage and records of objects in the skies that we don't know exactly what they are,” Obama told “The Late Late Show” on May 17. “We can’t explain how they move, their trajectory, they did not have an easily explainable pattern.”

Also that month, the CBS magazine show “60 Minutes” interviewed two Navy pilots from the USS Nimitz who were diverted in 2004 to investigate an peculiar radar signal. They described seeing an object shaped like a Tic Tac that was able to move straight up and down at inexplicable speeds.

In the same broadcast, Christopher Mellon, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defence for intelligence under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said the government had observed on radar objects capable of manouvres that could not be approximated. “There’s nothing that we can build that would be strong enough to endure that amount of force in acceleration,” he said.

In an interview with Fox News a month earlier, former intelligence director John Ratcliffe said there have been far more sightings than the public is aware of and described the phenomena like this: “We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

Encounters of which kind?

The government has slowly been opening up about UAP sightings for more than a year. In April 2020 the Pentagon released three short videos showing such objects, and earlier this year Reid said the footage “only scratches the surface of research and materials available".

Reid called for further investigation. “The US needs to take a serious scientific look at this and any potential national security implications,” he said. “The American people deserve to be informed.”

French officials went public with stories of similar sightings decades ago. In 1999 a group of a dozen retired French generals and other experts issued a report called “UFOs and Defence: For What Must we Prepare Ourselves?”

What officials and scientists aren’t saying is that these are aliens coming from another planet to visit us. They simply don’t know what these objects are, they say. The discussion is still largely couched in distinctly concrete terms and centers around the concern that these craft may represent a threat from enemies here on earth.

At least one official has been willing to go further, though. In December 2020, Haim Eshed, the former head of the space directorate of the Israeli Defence Ministry, told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that humans have been in contact with extraterrestrials and have signed a co-operation accord with them.

“There is an agreement between the US government and the aliens,” he told the newspaper. "They signed a contract with us to do experiments here."

Former president Donald Trump was in on the secret, he said, and had been “on the verge of revealing” it but was asked not to due to fears of “mass hysteria”.

Eshed’s assertion doesn’t seem to represent the consensus view in Israel. The chairman of the country’s Space Agency, Isaac Ben-Israel, told the Times of Israel that while the scientific community thinks the chances that there is life in outer space is “considerable, not small,” he doesn’t believe “there were any physical encounters between us and aliens".

NBC News followed up on Eshed’s statements about the agreement with aliens with the White House, Israeli officials and the Pentagon, but were unable to get a comment from any of them. A NASA spokesperson told NBC that the agency was searching for life in the universe, but had not yet found it.

Flying saucer watchers who are hoping for clear answers from the government are likely to be disappointed. While the report presented to Congress is expected to be detailed, the public will be given only the unclassified version, which is likely to be far less complete.

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