UFO

Congressional UFO Hearing Brings a Few Answers and More Questions

For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.”

Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144 UAP sightings that have been reported since 2004. The report pledged to take such sightings more seriously than in the past. “Since the release of that preliminary report, the UAP task force database has now grown to contain approximately 400 reports,” Bray said. “The stigma has been reduced.”

However, the hearing also made clear that the Department of Defense is still keeping mum about the detailed workings of its UAP detection and assessment process due to national security concerns. Bray and the hearing’s other witness — Ronald Moultrie, the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security — deferred a fair number of lawmakers’ questions to the closed session that followed the open hearing.

Among the questions that were carried over:

  • How much information is being shared by U.S. allies and rivals about unidentified aerial phenomena? Bray did acknowledge that information is being shared internationally and noted that China has its own UAP office, but he wouldn’t say more.
  • What kind of sensor capability does the U.S. have for detecting underwater UAP phenomena?
  • Have UAP observations led the U.S. to make changes in its sensor systems?

After 1969, when the U.S. Air Force closed the book on Project Blue Book, UFO sightings got short shrift from military officials for decades. “Pilots avoided reporting, or were laughed at when they did,” said U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, the Indiana Democrat who chairs the subcommittee.

But in recent years, UFOs have become less of an object of derision and more of a subject of national security concern. For instance, at today’s hearing, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said he wasn’t as concerned about a potential alien invasion as he was about the potential for adversaries like China and Russia to monitor U.S. military activities with aerial vehicles that were disguised as UFOs. (He’s not alone.)

In the wake of last year’s report, Congress mandated the reorganization of the Pentagon’s UAP-monitoring efforts under a new office called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, or AIMSOG.

Bray and Moultrie said AIMSOG has already established a good working relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration to extend UAP tracking efforts to non-military sightings — and will be working more closely with a wide range of federal agencies, including NASA.

Since last year, some of the previously unexplained UAP reports have been resolved, Bray said. He cited the example of a 2019 Navy sighting that involved green glowing triangles in the sky. After a more recent sighting under similar conditions, analysts figured out that the triangular shapes were most likely night-flying drones. The triangular shapes were the result of imaging the drones with a camera hooked up to night-vision glasses, Bray said.

AIMSOG is still puzzling over other cases, such as a widely reported 2004 sighting from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (involving an object known as the “Tic Tac UFO”). “We have data on that, and it simply remains unresolved,” Bray said.

Although no collisions with unidentified aerial objects have been reported, and no weapons have been fired at UAPs, Bray said there have been at least 11 near-misses.

Bray told lawmakers there’s no evidence that the as-yet-unidentified aerial phenomena have anything to do with aliens. “We have no material, we have detected no emanation within the UAP task force that would suggest it’s anything non-terrestrial in origin,” he said.

However, the task force hasn’t addressed all of the UFO mysteries that are out there. In an exchange with U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Bray said the UAP task force hasn’t looked into long-debated UFO tales such as the Malmstrom Air Force Base incident in 1967. (Gallagher asked him to look into it.)

Moultrie said AIMSOG can’t investigate every UAP report. “In terms of just tracking what may be in the media that says that something occurred at this time, at this place, there are probably a lot of leads that we’d have to follow up on,” he told Gallagher. “I don’t think we have the resource to do that right now.”

Nevertheless, Moultrie admitted that his interest in unidentified aerial phenomena goes beyond his professional responsibilities.

“I have followed science fiction,” he said. “I have gone to conventions. … We want to know what’s out there as much as you want to know what’s out there. We get the questions, not just from you — we get them from family members. We get them night and day, not just in committee hearings. So finding what’s out there is important. But first and foremost, it’s important for us to do that so we can ensure that our people, our personnel, our aviators and installations are safe.”

After the hearing, less official UFO investigators said they were disappointed by what they heard.

“I thought these hearings would be about holding their feet to the fire, but it was more a meeting about how AIMSOG will work,” Alejandro Rojas, who focuses on UFOs at OpenMinds.TV, said in a tweet. “No discussion about the lack of progress. Seems like the intention was to show something is being done, but raised more concerns, not less.”

Watch the subcommittee’s public hearing:

Lead image: Pentagon officials say they’ve figured out what caused a flashing night-vision triangle sighted by the U.S. Navy. Source: U.S. Navy.

Alan Boyle

Science writer Alan Boyle is the creator of Cosmic Log, a veteran of MSNBC.com and NBC News Digital, and the author of "The Case for Pluto." He's based in Seattle, but the cosmos is his home.

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