Suddenly, serious people start to take UFOs – unidentified objects in flight – seriously.
"There is footage and recordings of objects in the sky that – we don't know exactly what they are, we can't explain how they moved, their trajectory," former President Barack Obama told CBS's James Corden.
Many in Congress are curious too, and this month the panel will receive a report from a Pentagon task force detailing their research into unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), the preferred term for UFOs among professionals. The Pentagon Inspector General's Office is also evaluating the government's approach to UAPs for increased surveillance and response. The highest levels of government in America are very, very interested in what's in the sky.
When I was growing up, UFOs were the domain of late-night talk radio and the X-Files. They had roughly a similar level of legitimacy to theories that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job or that the CIA's John F. Kennedy killed.
That stigma seems to be fading a bit. In 1996, Gallup found that only 47 percent of Americans thought that people who report UFO sightings were seeing something real and not imagining it. In 2019, when Gallup surveyed again, a majority of 56 percent thought UFO watchers were seeing something real.
The truth, and I cannot stress this enough, is out there.
Interestingly, the percentage of Americans who say the government "knows more about UFOs than it tells us" decreased slightly from 1996-2019. This could reflect the fact that the government has confirmed the reality of some of the most popular UFO videos.
In a somewhat surprising development that helped fuel the current round of UFO fascination, the government confirmed the authenticity of two videos that featured in a 2017 New York Times story and a third that spanned several months was later leaked and each of which shows US Navy fighter jets pilots observing a strange object, the nature of which appears confusing to them.
We still don't know exactly what these videos represent, and at the risk of disappointing some readers, there is no evidence that they depict alien planes. But it's hard to overestimate how much these videos have changed the way the public, government, and mainstream press (especially the New York Times) think and speak about UFOs – to the point where people may have misconceptions about what exactly we know, given the evidence available.
Here's a closer look at what these videos actually represent (and what not), how they came to light, and whether the resurgence of interest in UFOs should lead us to reevaluate our knowledge of UFOs and off-earth life.
The three canonical UFO videos behind the current wave of interest
The resurgence of interest in UFOs – or UAPs, the preferred term in the Department of Defense – can generally be attributed to three specific videos recorded by the U.S. Navy. The first two were leaked in the New York Times and featured on the front page in December 17, 2017, to print Edition of the newspaper, while the third leaked a few months later.
The first of these incidents, and probably the most important, is the so-called USS Nimitz encounter, named after the supercarrier from which the jet pilot observed the UFO lifted.
In November 2004 about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, Cmdr. David Fravor and the pilot on his wing, Lt. Cmdr. Amy Dietrich said she saw a "white tic-tac-looking object" the size of an F / A-18 with no wings, markings, or plumes called Fravor, which, when approached, "turns abruptly and begins to mimic me." ". Finally, Fravor told 60 Minutes' Bill Whitaker it was just "gone".
The USS Princeton, a cruiser in the area that asked Fravor and Dietrich to investigate anomalous aerial phenomena, reached its destination "seconds later," Whitaker reports, "60 miles away." Another flight crew recorded a video of the object with their Infrared Predictive Camera (FLIR), which resulted in the video being referred to as "FLIR1 video":
An important note here: while Fravor and Dietrich believe that the object they saw and the one in the FLIR1 video are one and the same, it is difficult to be certain of that identification. And since we lack this certainty, we cannot be sure whether the object has flown about 60 miles in a matter of seconds, an achievement that explains much of why the object looked so strange and impressive.
The second video, called "GIMBAL", was captured by a fighter jet belonging to the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which passed the Florida coast in 2015. "That's a bloody drone, brother," says one pilot. “There's a whole fleet of them,” adds another.
The third video, "GOFAST", also recorded in 2015 and first published to the public a few months after the other videos in March 2018, shows laughing, audibly excited pilots observing a small white object that appears to be flying over water at extreme speed Tempo:
These three videos sparked the current wave of interest in UFOs / UAPs, but at least a few more followed. That year, Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Gough confirmed that two recently leaked videos were recorded by Navy pilots.
The first, taken in July 2019 over the destroyer USS Russell near San Diego, shows a "pyramid-like" object:
The other, captured by the USS Omaha battleship that same month and in the same geographic area, shows what appears to be in the infrared camera a spherical object. Both videos were brought to light by filmmaker and reporter Jeremy Corbell, an avid supporter of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (the theory that UFO sightings reflect contact with extraterrestrial civilizations) and an advocate for greater UFO disclosure:
How a group of UFO enthusiasts helped mainstream UFOs
The story of how Navy videos showing UFOs made the front page of The Times is a fascinating saga in its own right. The best single report I've ever seen is from Gideon Lewis-Kraus at the New Yorker, but here's a summary.
The story begins in 2007 at the instigation of Robert Bigelow, a Nevada businessman with a fortune in long-term hotels, an aerospace company, and a deep, ongoing interest in UFOs. That year, Bigelow worked with Senator Harry Reid – a campaign fund recipient – to raise $ 22 million in "black budget" money (that is, used by Congress outside of public committees) for the DOD to investigate UFO sightings .
The Bigelow-centered phase of the investigation was apparently quite conspiratorial, producing documents such as a report with a "photo of an alleged tracking device that alleged aliens implanted in an alleged abductee," as Lewis-Kraus saw the document describing it.
Step inside veteran DOD defense officer Luis Elizondo, who took over the effort in 2010 and has been renamed the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). AATIP examined videos and encounters such as the Nimitz incident, the GIMBAL video, and the GOFAST video, and convinced Elizondo that something bizarre and explorable was going on. But Elizondo was frustrated with the lack of support from the departments.
This is where Blink-182 comes in. Tom DeLonge, the lead singer and guitarist of classics like “First Date”, “All the Small Things” and of course “Aliens Exist”, has long been interested in the paranormal.
According to a detailed 2018 profile on Kelsey McKinney's Fader, DeLonge has "consistently claimed to believe" that "UFOs are real, aliens are real and visit us episodically, the US government has known about the lives of aliens for decades … and…" the US government has imprisoned a real living alien species somewhere ”- among other things.
To that end, DeLonge began putting together To The Stars Academy, which in his vision would become a premier source of UFO-related expertise and related media projects. In that capacity, he became a key convener of former government officials interested in UFOs – starting with Luis Elizondo, who left the DOD in 2017, and the man who would become his main partner in UFO evangelism, Christopher Mellon.
Mellon, a member of the prominent Pittsburgh Mellon family who served as assistant assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, had a long-standing interest in UFOs and began giving interviews around 2016 to seek increased disclosure argue.
"In order to approach UFOs rationally, we have to maintain the agnostic position regarding their nature or origin, because we just don't know the answers yet"
"Tom (DeLonge) called me out of the blue one day," recalls Mellon. “He saw an article that I had written. … He started this organization and wondered if I would like to get involved. ”DeLonge connected him to Elizondo and they both came to To The Stars as consultants.
Mellon had been outside of government for many years at this point but still had sources in the Pentagon which gave him and To The Stars access to the three videos above.
“Someone met me in the parking lot and passed them on (the videos). It had documentation that said it was cleared for publication. It wasn't classified, ”Mellon told Lewis-Kraus. As far as I know, the person at the Pentagon who leaked Mellon is still unknown.
The To The Stars team then hired a journalist interested in the subject, Leslie Kean.
The New York Times and Mainstreaming UFO Speculation
Kean, like Mellon a scion of a northeastern political dynasty (her uncle Thomas Kean served two terms as governor of New Jersey and chaired the 9/11 commission), had been interested in aliens and UFOs for years.
In 2010 she had published a book compiling firsthand UFO sightings from what she believed to be credible sources; John Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff and a huge UFO fan, wrote the preface.
"In order to approach UFOs rationally, we have to maintain the agnostic position about their nature or origin because we just don't know the answers yet," writes Kean in the introduction to the book.
This is a hint of Kean's broader approach: she is clearly into an understanding of arguments for extraterrestrial or paranormal explanations of mysterious phenomena, but focuses on cases that she considers believable and backed by empirical evidence that might be more convincing to people on the fence.
This doesn't just apply to aliens. Keans follow-up to her UFO book was Surviving Death, a decidedly non-agnostic argument (later adapted into a Netflix miniseries) for the reality of an afterlife, reincarnation and telepathy.
"Humans have extraordinary mental abilities that science cannot explain," writes Kean in the introduction to the book, abilities that "may be controversial" but "have been documented for many years by legitimate scientists," known as "psi" or extra-sensory perception (ESP.). ).
On the contrary, Kean's efforts to make parapsychological claims like this one are not widely accepted in psychology. When a Cornell scientist claimed to have conducted laboratory experiments that showed that psi was real, the main reaction in the field was that because psi was obviously fake, the finding meant that prevailing methods in psychology were utterly broken .
In any case, Kean continued maintain a steady interest in UFOs and serve with Mellon on the board of directors of the nonprofit UFODATA, which supports scientific, agnostic investigations into UFOs. Per Lewis-Kraus, Mellon and To The Stars offered her the UFO videos and accompanying documentation on condition that Kean publish the story in the New York Times. Kean told me she wasn't sure the offer was so explicitly conditional, but the goal is always to get a story in the Times.
Kean worked with Ralph Blumenthal, a 45-year veteran of the newspaper who retired in 2009. Blumenthal was then working on a now published biography of John Mack, a Harvard Medical School professor who believed he were the alleged extraterrestrial abductees who spoke the truth, despite the lack of physical evidence to support their claims and the possibility that they were The experiences described were just sleep paralysis.
"I think … that Mack was on to something," Blumenthal told an interviewer. He added, “I have looked through (Mack’s) research very carefully, and I have to say that the so-called skeptics who are very quick to expose much of this field from the simplest UFO sightings to alien encounters have not Research that people have done in this field. "
Blumenthal, of course, was intrigued by Kean's offerings, and they set out to present a scientific story to the editor of the New York Times. Blumenthal told me, and documented in a Times Insider column for the paper, that he brought the story straight to Dean Baquet, the Times' top editor.
"I want to clearly distinguish the material in my book, which is about human-reported encounters with aliens, and UFOs," Blumenthal clarified. "It's a lot easier to get the Times people interested in a story about UFOs than it is about encounters with aliens."
He had testimonies and videos of Navy pilots on UFOs to add credibility to the story. “Maybe (alien encounters) eventually become part of the dialogue,” Kean told me, “but at this point it doesn't become part of the mainstream dialogue. We're just not there yet. "
Blumenthal and Kean's efforts culminated in two articles that went online on December 16, 2017 for the next day's print edition: the front page, the A1 story, the existence of AATIP, and the content of the FLIR1 and GIMBAL videos Revealed, and one story deeper into the paper, Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight, also in an F / A-18 while meeting Nimitz, on what they saw.
The latter was preceded by the following disclaimer:
The following describes a 2004 incident that was identified by proponents of UFO research as the type of event worthy of further investigation and which was investigated by a Pentagon program that investigated UFOs. Experts warn that there are often earthly explanations for such incidents and that ignorance of the explanation does not mean that the event has an interstellar origin.
It took years, but finally, in September 2019, the Pentagon confirmed that the two videos in The Times and GOFAST, published a few months later by To The Stars, were authentic. She officially published it herself on April 27, 2020.
Beyond the initial disclosure of the Navy videos, the Times’s coverage has ventured into slightly more speculative territory.
This December 2017 story repeatedly alleged that a Bigelow facility was being "rebuilt" to "accommodate metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractor said were". were recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena, ”says Blumenthal that government researchers at MSNBC had difficulty identifying them. This claim was immediately dismissed by chemists, who found the idea that the Pentagon would harbor unclassifiable mystery alloys implausible.
In a July 2020 story, Kean and Blumenthal handed over a claim by astrophysicist and contractor Eric W. Davis that "he only gave a secret briefing to a Department of Defense agency in March about retrievals of 'extraterrestrial vehicles not made on this earth.' gave. & # 39; "
Davis is something of a permanent figure in stories of unconventional Pentagon investigations. In 2004, he received $ 7.5 million from the Air Force to study "psychic teleportation," or the ability to move between places using the power of his mind. The U.S. military has long paid for extensive investigations into suspected paranormal activity (see Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats for a longer story).
By passing Davis & # 39; Claims, without verifying, the Times' July 2020 story effectively indicated that extraterrestrial civilizations reached Earth in "otherworldly vehicles" recovered by the Pentagon, a truly extraordinary claim that needs extraordinary evidence. The story goes, "No crash artifacts have been publicly produced for independent verification" and confirms that astrophysicists claim that "Even the lack of a plausible terrestrial explanation does not make an alien most likely."
I asked Blumenthal about the decision to take the news from Davis & # 39; Passing on briefings without further verification of his claims – after all, the Times spent years investigating whether Donald Trump cheated on his taxes – materials here on earth would be subject to a similar scrutiny.
Blumenthal defended the inclusion by stating that the play “was briefly said that we have verified the information, that material has been found. We just said that a briefing slide was shown to congressional staff relating to these materials. It was worded very carefully because we didn't want to anticipate the information we had. … But we thought it would be quite a step forward to get that in the paper. "
Kean told me she had confirmed with numerous sources that such vehicles were discussed in high-level briefings from Davis. She also went a bit further to vouch for the content of Davis' claim. "I absolutely think Eric Davis is a respectable, credible person," she told me, and later added, "The fact that a government agency has been informing Congressmen on this issue and has been informing many other high-level people for many years is" very great suggestive that there is something to it. "
The predominant explanations of the videos
Nobody knows for sure what the Navy videos represent or whether they represent the same thing at all. But explanations generally fall into one of four categories:
Natural or non-military phenomena (such as a pelican or civil airplane, or a camera bug)
US Government Secret Aviation Technology
Secret aviation technology from another country's military, most likely Russia or China
The main exponent of the first hypothesis is Mick West, a British video game programmer best known for his work on the Tony Hawk skateboard series and now dedicated to his website Metabunk and the broader project of debunking conspiracy theories, including "chemtrails" and alien explanations of UFOs.
West had set out his theory of the three videos in many places, but the following video is the most helpful summary in my opinion:
The FLIR1 video is "completely consistent with being an airplane that is very far away," says West. "Radar is great if you know where to look, but if you look in Sector A and it's in Sector Q," you're going to miss it – which he thinks happened in the Nimitz case.
West believes the GIMBAL video is most likely the dazzling of a jet engine; he says he reproduced these types of images with his own infrared cameras. Its apparent rotation, he says, is due to a limitation in the camera's ability to move and track the object. GOFAST, he thinks, is a lost weather balloon (or maybe a pelican) that – because it's halfway between the jet watching it and the water – seems (misleadingly) to fly as fast as the plane itself, when it really stands still.
So that's number one, the naturalistic explanation. Elizondo, Mellon, Fravor, and other UFO disclosure advocates and ex-pilots not only deny this argument, but are actively angry about it.
"I don't know why people take (Mick West) seriously at all," Mellon told me. “He doesn't know anything about these sensors, he deliberately excludes 90 percent of the relevant information and slanders our military personnel in the process. “Oh, Dave Fravor doesn't know what he's seeing. Oh, these guys don't know how to use those infrared systems. ”Who the hell does he think he is? These guys are the real deal. He's a desk jockey sitting in front of a monitor. "
For his part, West told me, “I am not ignoring the pilots. I try to get in touch with them to solve such problems. I respect their skills and experience, but recognize (as you have said yourself) that they are human and not perfect. "
Elizondo is sometimes more benevolent towards the skeptics and even gives West an hour-long interview on his YouTube channel. In general, he argued that West was only watching videos and not all of the information available to researchers at the Pentagon. Regarding Nimitz / FLIR1, he said to West: “Based on my experience with the AATIP program, there is certainly additional information that is very, very convincing. People will say, “Well what's going on Lue, why don't you tell us? We want to know. "Well, I can't" – it's still a secret. But, advised Elizondo, this corroborative information could soon leak out.
As a layman, I am somehow at a loss what to make of these disputes. West's explanations seem plausible, but I haven't taken a physics class since 2007, I've never flown a fighter jet, and have no experience with infrared cameras.
It also seems perfectly plausible that Elizondo and Mellon are right, and there is private government data to prove the skeptical explanations are wrong – but it is impossible to evaluate this without access to such data.
In any case, "it's a weather balloon" seems more plausible to me than "they're aliens," at least until we see the contradicting evidence that Elizondo is alluding to.
The other two non-alien explanations – that they are secret US military planes or secret foreign military planes – are even more difficult to pin down. The DOD is not in the habit of talking about secret air tests, especially those it would hide (in this scenario) from Navy fighter pilots operating in the same airspace. The Russian and Chinese military are really not used to divulging trade secrets.
Mellon has said he is confident the vehicles are not ours as he has a high enough security clearance to have heard of them in this case.
May be! But I can imagine there were a lot of people with high security clears who, say, didn't know that the CIA was secretly dosing people with LSD in the 1950s and 1960s to see if it could be used to force confessions. The US government is a huge, sprawling behemoth that does a number of strange things at all times, so Mellon's position, although plausible, does not appear to me to be dispositive. However, the Times' Cooper and Julian Barnes have reported that the UAP Task Force report will conclude that the UAPs in the videos were not US military aircraft, which would greatly support Mellon's claim.
What about the Russian and Chinese military? It's a common theory among pilots. Pilot Lt. Ryan Graves told 60 Minutes ‘Bill Whitaker that" the highest likelihood is that it is a threat surveillance program, "perhaps from Russia or China.
The best argument for this possibility I've seen comes from Tyler Rogoway of the War Zone, a publication that focuses on defense issues. As Rogoway notes, there are a number of precedents for this type of aerial surveillance: the US has been intensely involved in this activity with the Soviet Union and has been testing surveillance aircraft in places like Roswell, New Mexico, and Area 51. carried out, Nevada, generated many previous UFO reports.
Area 51 is a highly classified United States Air Force facility located near Rachel, Nevada.
Bernard Friel / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The opposing drone declaration would also help explain why pilots and ships in particular see so many of these objects: Why don't the Russian or Chinese military want to find out more about the US military in this way? At the same time, Rogoway admits that there are some incidents that are difficult to explain in this context.
But a key point he makes is that in the video evidence, including the three blockbuster UFO videos described above, there is very little that suggests vehicles with capabilities unknown to mankind, writing: " Beyond the so-called 'tic-tac' video, which was simply video that looked like a blurry little tic-tac, I have not seen anything in any government UAP videos that allegedly show inexplicable abilities or skills that actually represent it. But on the contrary."
In other words, they likely didn't come from an advanced alien civilization – which is probably the most common misconception I've come across when talking to friends and family about the resurgence of UFO talk. Just so we get it clear, these videos don't mean the Pentagon or the government will admit that the alien hypothesis is true.
For her part, Kean was open to the alien hypothesis, but also open to the foreign military aircraft hypothesis, and told me, "I think Tyler Rogoway is doing a great job … it's an open question."
So what's true? Personally, I am agnostic of all evidence. I am certainly not convinced that these are extraterrestrial planes, but the evidence for skeptical explanations such as weather balloons or civil planes or foreign drones is also incomplete.
What is certain is that something strange is happening – and that we have only just begun to understand what it is.
Clarification, 6 p.m .: This article has been updated to clarify our recap in a New York Times article on December 16, 2017. In this story, claims were passed on by Luis Elizondo and others that materials had been recovered from UAP and that a Bigelow facility was being converted to accommodate them, but the Times story did not claim that the Bigelow facility actually did those materials camped.