A bipartisan group of lawmakers is doubling down on solving the decades-old UFO mystery. On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities will hold the second hearing on the phenomenon in over 50 years.
Congressional interest in UFOs (also known as “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” or UAP) surged following the 2017 publication of eyebrow-raising videos recorded by Navy fighter jets. Briefings by naval aviators who witnessed the mysterious objects maneuvering in extraordinary ways subsequently paved the way for groundbreaking UAP-related legislation.
As a result, the Department of Defense established the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO). Importantly, Congress granted the office sweeping authority to scientifically analyze UFOs “that exceed the known state of the art in science or technology.” To cut through several layers of bureaucracy, lawmakers mandated that AARO’s director report to top Pentagon and intelligence community leadership.
The UAP office’s director will be the sole witness at Wednesday’s hearing. As such, lawmakers will likely ask about administrative matters, to include ensuring that AARO has the necessary funding to execute its scientific mission.
For their part, Republican senators are likely to sharply criticize the Biden administration’s response to the Chinese surveillance balloon shot down off the U.S. East Coast in February.
But federal law requires AARO to analyze “unidentified anomalous phenomena.” Since U.S. intelligence analysts tracked the massive Chinese surveillance balloon from launch (and even watched as unusual weather blew it off of its intended course), it was neither “anomalous” nor “unidentified.” The balloon incident, therefore, is not a relevant topic of discussion for a hearing focused on AARO.
Moreover, Pentagon analysts monitored a small number of Trump-era incursions by suspected spy balloons in real time. But, since the objects were officially unidentified, the reports were not disseminated beyond a tight circle of intelligence officials, leaving senior policymakers in the dark. Congress established AARO specifically to address such information sharing gaps.
Senators participating in this week’s hearing should focus instead on military reports of unknown craft exhibiting extraordinary flight characteristics. They may consider asking questions such as:
1. Of the 500-plus UAP reports by service members in recent years, how many describe “remarkable” flight characteristics? Does AARO have high confidence that any UAP exhibited highly advanced technology?
A 2022 government assessment states that, of the 366 most recently reported UAP incidents, analysts “judged more than half as exhibiting unremarkable characteristics.” This implies that over 150 recent UAP reports involve objects that demonstrated “remarkable” characteristics not easily ascribable to balloons, drones or airborne “clutter.”
Similarly, a 2021 report states that some UAP “appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion.” Despite heavy redactions, declassified UAP reports show that fighter pilots are often left stunned by such encounters.
The publication of the videos (in tandem with compelling testimony from eyewitnesses) spurred historic congressional and public interest in UAP. One of the clips, which is associated with the best-known UAP incident, has been in the public domain since 2007.
3. Rigorous, verifiable public analyses of the Navy videos confirm fighter pilot accounts that the objects exhibited highly advanced technology. Is AARO aware of these open-source assessments?
In the face of government silence, citizen scientists conducted sophisticated analyses of the three Navy videos. In short, meticulous geometrical and three-dimensional models demonstrate that the objects exhibited the extraordinary flight dynamics described by eyewitnesses.
A “science plan” to analyze UAP that “exceed the known state of the art in science or technology” lies at the core of AARO’s mission. Ignoring repeatable, verifiable analyses confirming eyewitness accounts of extraordinary technology runs counter to the spirit of AARO’s mandate.
(In full disclosure, I am a co-author of a scientific paper on the “Gimbal” video, which will be presented at an upcoming American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference.)
4. Has AARO characterized the UAP observed, often via multiple sensors, by dozens of naval aviators off the U.S. East Coast in recent years? If not, what is AARO’s working hypothesis for these highly anomalous encounters?
Over the course of several years, at least 50-60 naval aviators training in tightly controlled airspace observed anomalous UAP via radar, infrared (heat) sensors and/or visually — on a daily basis. The objects, frequently tracked at significant distances from shore, remained motionless in hurricane-force winds or flew at several hundred miles per hour for extreme durations. Multiple reports describe the objects as dark gray cubes within translucent spheres.
5. In a striking development, AARO director Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick recently co-authored a scientific paper theorizing that extraterrestrial probes may be drawn to water on Earth’s surface. To what extent did recent UAP encounters – the most compelling of which occurred over water – inform this groundbreaking paper?
According to Dr. Kirkpatrick and Harvard astrophysicist Dr. Avi Loeb, “extraterrestrial technological probes could use… liquid water as their fuel” and “would necessarily be looking for water” as they traverse space.
6. Do you agree with former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe’s statement that UAP possess “technologies that [the United States does not] have and, frankly, that we are not capable of defending against”? Why or why not?
Ratcliffe is just one of many notable individuals – including former presidents, intelligence officials, the sitting NASA administrator, director of national intelligence and members of Congress – to make extraordinary statements about UAP in recent years.
7. Last week, Space Force Maj. Gen. John Olson stated that UAP encounters have “occurred globally.” Could you provide additional context?
8. How many of AARO’s 500-plus cases involve detections by multiple sensors, including satellite (or other space-based) systems?
Observations by a combination of instruments – such as radar, infrared (heat) and satellites – in conjunction with visual observations, eliminate sensor anomalies as possible explanations for most UAP reports.
Importantly, satellites have observed UAP. In one noteworthy incident, a U.S. surveillance satellite captured multiple images of a “Tic Tac”-shaped craft, which intelligence analysts immediately compared to the object in the most well-known UAP case.
9. How many UAP-related videos and images are in AARO’s possession?
Responses to Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that the U.S. government holds dozens (and likely far more) of UAP-related videos. Many were undoubtedly recorded by fighter jet-mounted targeting pods.
With hours of targeting pod footage publicly accessible, the “sources and methods” justification continuously cited for withholding such videos does not hold water. If AARO is interested in solving the UAP problem, more data must be released (see #3 above).
10. The U.S. government has a long history of triumphantly highlighting “resolved” UAP reports while ignoring, downplaying or force-fitting scientifically absurd explanations onto compelling UAP cases. Recent press reports suggest that this may be occurring again. What steps will AARO take to prevent this?
In 1953, Cold War fears led the U.S. government to adopt a semi-official policy of “debunking” all UAP reports, no matter how credible. Trust in government plummeted. Moreover, fantastical UFO conspiracy theories and a deep stigma around reporting anomalous objects – itself a national security threat – took root in American society. History should not repeat itself.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.