Top U.S. defense intelligence officials testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill about what the government knows — and what they can't explain — about "unidentified aerial phenomena," or UAPs, amid an ongoing investigation of dozens of unexplained sightings in the sky.
The hearing before the House Intelligence subcommittee is the first public inquiry on the topic of unidentified flying objects in 50 years. It comes almost a year after the release of a long-awaited government report on unexplained sighting observed by military and commercial airline pilots.
Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray testified that reports of UAPs are "frequent" and have been on the rise for more than a decade. He showed lawmakers previously classified video of a spherical object zooming past an F-18 fighter jet.
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In a single frame, there is an image of a balloon-like shape. The fleeting glimpse of footage illustrates the complex nature of trying to characterize such incidents.
“I do not have an explanation for what this specific object is," Bray said, noting that "finding a UAP is harder than you may think."
However, Bray also sought to dispel the notion that the unidentified objects might be "alien" and noted that the military has not uncovered anything "nonterrestrial in origin."
Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said the Pentagon was also trying to destigmatize the issue and encourage pilots and other military personnel to report anything unusual they see.
“We want to know what's out there as much as you want to know what's out there,” Moultrie told lawmakers, adding that he was a fan of science fiction himself. “We get the questions not just from you. We get it from family and we get them night and day.”
The Pentagon officials stressed the need for better data collection about what’s increasingly seen by Democrats and Republicans as a national security concern. The prospect of an adversary spying with unknown technology has alarmed lawmakers in both parties, sparking fears of undiscovered or secret Chinese or Russian technology.
Rep. André Carson, an Indiana Democrat who chaired the hearing, called on investigators to show they “are willing to follow the facts where they lead.”
Rep. Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican, noted that the investigations were not “about finding alien spacecraft but about delivering dominant intelligence."
“The inability to understand objects in our sensitive operating areas is tantamount to intelligence failure that we certainly want to avoid,” he said.
The Pentagon report released last year by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not find extraterrestrial links among the 144 cases of sightings of aircrafts or other devices flying at mysterious speeds or trajectories between 2004 and 2021. Investigators drew few other conclusions because of a lack of information.
In 18 cases in which witnesses saw “unusual” patterns of movement or flight characteristics, the report said more analysis was needed to determine if those sightings represented “breakthrough” technology.
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Pilots and sky-watchers have long reported sporadic sightings of UFOs in U.S. airspace, seemingly at unusual speeds or trajectories. In most cases, those mysteries evaporate under examination.
In 2019, the Pentagon unclassified videos that had been previously leaked of military pilots encountering shadowy objects they couldn’t identify.
In one of the videos, the blob, captured on distant, fuzzy video by Navy pilots off the coast of San Diego in 2015, seems to skitter just above the ocean waves at improbable speed, with no discernible means of propulsion or lift. “Oh my gosh, man,” one aviator is heard saying to another as they laugh at the oddity. “What ... is it?”
Another video from the same year shows an unexplained object being tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind.
“There’s a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It’s rotating.”
But the sightings are usually fleeting. Some appear for no more than an instant on camera — and then sometimes end up distorted by the camera lens. The U.S. government is believed to hold additional technical information on the sightings that it has not disclosed publicly.
In 2019, the Navy announced it would create a formal process for its pilots to report unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs. In August 2020, the Defense Department created a task force dedicated to the matter. The mission was to “detect, analyze and catalog UAPs” that could endanger the U.S.