What we learned from Congress’ first open UFO hearing in 50 years

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A House hearing Tuesday discussed everything from extraterrestrials to advanced technology potentially developed by other nations.

Unidentified aerial phenomena—commonly referred to as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs—pose a potentially serious national security threat to the United States and should no longer be stigmatized or treated as a joke, lawmakers said Tuesday.

"For too long, the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis. Pilots avoided reporting, or were laughed at, when they did. DOD officials relegated the issue to the back room, or swept it under the rug entirely, fearful of a skeptical national security community,” said Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., in his opening remarks.

Carson, chair of the House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation subcommittee, presided over the first open hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years.

“Today, we know better. UAPs are unexplained, it's true. But they are real,” he added. "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena are a potential national security threat. And they need to be treated that way."

The crux of the bipartisan hearing revolved around a 2021 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence regarding 144 incidents studied by the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. During the hearing, lawmakers witnessed select videos of UAPs from various times and places that—while under investigation—are currently unexplainable. Tuesday’s open session was likely only a partial view of the intelligence at hand; many lawmakers sought detailed answers in a closed session later Tuesday.

Still, there were interesting tidbits revealed in dialog between lawmakers and two government witnesses: Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, and Ronald Moultrie, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security.

Nobody is officially blaming aliens, at least not yet

Yet exchanges between Bray and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., raised some eyebrows. Schiff asked Bray about the report’s description of 18 UAP incidents that “appeared to exhibit advanced technology.”

“Some appeared to remain stationary without discernable means of propulsion—that’s pretty intriguing,” Schiff said. “Are we aware of any adversary that can move objects without discernible means of propulsion?”

Bray responded, stating the government is “not aware of any adversary that can move objects without a discernible means of propulsion.” However, he qualified his response by suggesting that, “in some cases, sensor artifacts may be hiding that.” If not developed by ETs, the response at least suggests intelligence gaps in what the U.S. government knows about locomotive technologies developed by other nations. 

“I can simply say there are a number of events we do not have an explanation for—we can’t explain them with the data that we have,” Bray said.

A few “near-misses” between U.S. aircraft and UAPs

In an exchange with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., Bray said there have been “11 near-misses”—but no collisions—between U.S. aircraft and UAPs. In the exchange, Bray said the U.S. government has not attempted communication with any UAPs, nor have any UAPs appeared to attempt communication with U.S. aircraft. Bray also said U.S. aircraft have not discharged armaments or fired weapons at UAPs.

However, when Krishnamoorthi asked whether the UAP Task Force has investigated potential wreckage “consistent with being non-terrestrial” in seas, Moultrie asked to discuss that question in closed session.

Lack of data is a big problem

“It’s a data issue we face,” Moultrie told Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn. The task force is taking some steps to improve its relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, which collects its own data about unexplained aerial encounters. Bray said “standardized reporting” will be key to better ascertaining the data collected from sources outside the Defense Department.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, quizzed the officials about whether other nations are reporting similar UAP encounters, and whether the U.S. is collecting and sharing data with them. Bray responded that China has its own directorate investigating UAPs and that, “clearly a number of countries have observations in their air space they cannot identify.”

“My caution would be, be careful who we share our data with and don’t necessarily trust the data we get from someone else,” Wenstrup said. 

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