UFO sighting stigma gone as US urges pilots to speak up

Part of an unclassified video obtained on April 26, 2020, taken by Navy pilots that have circulated for years showing interactions with "unidentified aerial phenomena". PHOTO: AFP PHOTO /US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE/HANDOUT

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States government wants to take reports of unidentified flying objects more seriously based on unexplained sightings reported by military pilots over the years, according to a new intelligence report that made no mention of theories that aliens may be visiting.

The director of National Intelligence said in the findings released on Friday (June 25) that pilots will be encouraged to report "unexplained aerial phenomena" - the government's preferred term for UFO sightings - in an effort to collect additional data. That is a change from the government's previous stance, which often involved ignoring or downplaying the phenomena.

But the nine-page report cites "the limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)" which "hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions". The word "alien" does not appear in the document.

The report calls for an effort to "standardise the reporting, consolidate the data and deepen the analysis" of UAP occurrences, saying reported events probably fall into a swath of categories. That includes airborne clutter, like birds and balloons, natural atmospheric phenomena and even "foreign adversary systems".

In a move that will surely be noted by believers in alien life and conspiracy theorists, there is a final "other" category for events that the report describes as a "catch-all" for unexplained events.

Saying that data limitations are the biggest hurdle, the report adds that "we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyse and characterise some" of the phenomena. That includes ensuring that pilots and other members of the military, intelligence and scientific communities face less "stigma" for reporting such events.

"Although the effects of these stigmas have lessened as senior members of the scientific, policy, military and intelligence communities engage on the topic seriously in public, reputational risk may keep many observers silent, complicating scientific pursuit of the topic," according to the report.

The study also acknowledges that some objects may represent national security risks.

"UAP pose a hazard to safety of flight and could pose a broader danger if some instances represent sophisticated collection against US military activities by a foreign government or demonstrate a breakthrough aerospace technology by a potential adversary," according to the report.

The DNI report follows the Pentagon's formal release earlier this year of videos - long circulated in the public domain - showing American military pilots tracking unidentified flying objects that rotated or quickly switched directions in mid-air.

Speculation about the objects has ranged from technical glitches in military software to evidence of high-tech and secret Russian or Chinese weaponry - or evidence that humans are not alone in the universe.

The public fascination with UFOs dates back decades, to the earliest reports of "flying saucers" and events such as wreckage recovered in 1947 near Roswell, New Mexico. But the intelligence report does not touch on those.

With the stated aim of standardising reporting under a new mechanism for military aviators, it focuses solely on 144 reported observations of aerial objects by military or government pilots from 2004 to 2021, with the majority coming in the last two years from government sources.

The report's release followed a closed-door briefing on its contents last week to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and navy officials.

Lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee Democrat Michael Quigley of Illinois, said the report is most notable for a shift in attitude by intelligence and military officials from decades of publicly dismissing reports of UAP spotted in the sky to seeking and uncovering more knowledge about them.

Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he has been receiving briefings on UAP for about three years.

"Today's rather inconclusive report only marks the beginning of efforts to understand and illuminate what is causing these risks to aviation in many areas around the country and the world," Mr Warner said in a statement after the report was released.

"For years, the men and women we trust to defend our country reported encounters with unidentified aircraft that had superior capabilities, and for years, their concerns were often ignored and ridiculed," Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

"This report is an important first step in cataloguing these incidents, but it is just a first step."

In 2020, Mr Rubio put language in the annual intelligence agency authorisation Bill mandating the report.

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