WASHINGTON — Top intelligence and military officials are expected to release a report as soon as Friday concerning unidentified flying objects in American airspace, sparking considerable attention from lawmakers and the public about its possible revelations.
Commissioned by Congress in the December coronavirus stimulus package, the report comes after years of unexplained footage of strange objects surpassing military aircraft. While the public has long been fascinated by the possibility of UFOs, recent years have seen that same curiosity rise among top officials and lawmakers.
"What is true, and I'm actually being serious here, is that there are – there's footage and records of objects in the skies, that we don't know exactly what they are," former President Barack Obama said last month upon news of the report's commission.
"We can't explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is," the former president stressed.
Originally scheduled to be released on June 1, the law directing intelligence agencies and the Pentagon to create the study was technically not binding and thus allows the agencies some leeway in submitting the findings.
The report is now expected as soon as Friday, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
UFOs are often synonymous with aliens in pop culture, but the Pentagon is taking a number of possibilities into consideration for what it calls "unexplained aerial phenomena."
UFOs may have mundane identities, like weather balloons or drones. But some sightings don't have accepted explanations.
The report has drawn renewed attention after a filmmaker last month shared a video depicting radar footage he claimed shows a swarm of unidentified flying objects near a Navy ship off the coast of San Diego almost two years ago.
While the release of the report reflects a growing consensus within government agencies, Capitol Hill and the public that UFOs are an area of serious public concern, it is unclear how much of the report will be made available due to national security concerns. What is known for certain is that the report's findings will be widely circulated and studied, fueling further speculation about objects appearing in American skies.
What is likely to be in the UFO report?
Incidents of UFOs have captured the public imagination for decades. The revelations in the upcoming report from federal agencies are likely to show there has been considerable interest in UFOs throughout government agencies as well.
In March, former President Donald Trump's director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe said that the intelligence community was aware of many incidents of “unidentified aerial phenomena” and that such events occurred “all over the world," he said during a Fox News interview.
“Some of those have been declassified," Ratcliffe said.
"And when we talk about sightings, 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 traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”
The report is likely to add further details to the findings of a 2017 New York Times report that revealed multiple Navy pilots had seen UFOs while in flight. The Pentagon later declassified video of the incidents, which showed high-speed objects with no clear propulsion outpacing the officers' jets.
The report is also likely to add further details to findings made by a Pentagon UFO tracking program, which was spearheaded by former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid in 2007.
The investigation will rule out the possibility that any of the incidents documented in military footage and reports were secret or high-tech U.S. military projects that troops shouldn't have seen, according to a June New York Times report.
The report does not link any of the surveyed incidents of UFOs to extraterrestrial activity, though it also does not rule out the possibility, according to the Times.
Many sections of the report are likely to be redacted for national security purposes, which could frustrate some lawmakers and many avid UFO watchers.
How the UFO report was created
Lawmakers included an order for the UFO report in the December omnibus spending and coronavirus relief package.
The law directs the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI and the Defense Department's newly created Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force to collect all available information on UFO sightings that do not have other explanations.
Explanations most often include potential weather incidents, routine natural events or otherwise identifiable cases, like weather balloons or misfires in sensor systems and cameras.
Officials have cautioned that analysts did not immediately speculate that aliens were responsible for the phenomena. Instead, Pentagon and intelligence officials are most concerned that such objects are next-generation technology from American competitors such as China and consequently pose a national security concern.
The law ordering the creation of the report itself insinuates this may be the case, with members of Congress noting “a potential adversary may have achieved breakthrough aerospace capabilities that could put United States strategic or conventional forces at risk.”
"You know, if these were tactical jets from another country that were hanging out up there, it would be a massive issue," former Navy pilot Lieutenant Ryan Graves said in a May interview with CBS's 60 Minutes.
"But because it looks slightly different, we’re not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day," he continued.
What will happen after the report's release?
Regardless of the contents of the UFO report, the issue is unlikely to disappear from the public conversation anytime soon. Ahead of the report's release, lawmakers have increasingly urged the public, as well as their colleagues, to take the issue more seriously going forward.
“I want us to take it seriously and have a process to take it seriously,” Sen. Marco Rubio. R-Fla., told 60 Minutes. “Maybe it has a very simple answer ... Maybe it doesn’t.”
Rubio, the ranking member and former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, continued that many of his Senate colleagues are “very interested in this topic and some kinda, you know, giggle when you bring it up." The senator, however, doesn't think the question is a laughing matter. "I don’t think we can allow the stigma to keep us from having an answer to a very fundamental question.”
The White House has also weighed in on the implications of the report while being careful to emphasize it will not interfere with the independent review process.
“Our team at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is, of course, actively working on that report. And we take reports of incursions into our airspace by any aircraft identified or unidentified very seriously and investigate each one,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a May 25 press briefing.
Some government officials have been skeptical of the upcoming report and a broader push within the military and intelligence communities to investigate UFOs, according to a New Yorker profile of the disputes within the Pentagon. Some see the issue as a potential recipe for bloated spending on unnecessary projects.
Concerns within government agencies, however, do not appear to be slowing down momentum on the issue, with lawmakers, former presidents and military officials all voicing increased interest in the topic.
"Until recently, many military pilots feared the possibility of retribution for reporting sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena. But I believed that an unofficial taboo regarding the frank discussion of encounters could harm our national security and stymie opportunities for technical advancement," Reid, the former Senate Democratic leader, wrote in a May New York Times op-ed.
"I believe that there is information uncovered by the government’s covert investigations into unidentified aerial phenomena that can be disclosed to the public without harming our national security," he wrote. "The American people deserve to know more — and hopefully they will soon."
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.
Ledyard King contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The congressional UFO report is expected this week. What's in it?