A senior Defense Department intelligence official said on Tuesday the Pentagon is committed to determining the origins of what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” in the first public congressional hearing concerning what are commonly known as UFOs in more than 50 years.
Two top U.S. defense intelligence officials appeared before a U.S. House of Representatives intelligence subcommittee 11 months after a report documenting more than 140 cases of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, that U.S. military pilots have reported observing since 2004.
“We know that our service members have encountered unidentified aerial phenomena, and because UAP pose potential flight safety and general security risks, we are committed to a focused effort to determine their origins,” Ronald Moultrie, who oversees the new group as U.S. defense undersecretary for intelligence and security, told the hearing.
The other official to testify was Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence.
The more popular term UFO, for unidentified flying object, has long been widely associated with the notion of alien spacecraft, which received no mention in last June’s UAP presentation. The focus, instead, was on possible implications for U.S. national security and aviation safety.
The report did, however, include some UAPs previously revealed in Pentagon-released video footage of enigmatic airborne objects exhibiting speed and maneuverability exceeding known aviation technology and lacking any visible means of propulsion or flight-control surfaces.
That report was nine-page “preliminary assessment” compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a Navy-led task force the Pentagon formed in 2020.
Subcommittee chairman Andre Carson in opening remarks said it was important for the Pentagon to remove the stigma surrounding unidentified aerial object sightings, which he said has long discouraged military pilots from reporting them so they could be analyzed.
“UAPs are unexplained, it’s true. But they are real,” Carson said.
Defense and intelligence analysts who prepared the assessment offered no findings about the origins of any of the 144 sightings included in it, except for one attributed to a large deflating balloon.
The Navy task force behind the paper was replaced in November by a new Defense Department agency named the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.
Moultrie and Bray were scheduled to testify behind closed doors following the public hearing.
While reaching no conclusions, last year’s report said the UAP sightings probably lack a single explanation.
Further data and analysis were needed to determine whether they represent some exotic aerial system developed by a secret U.S. government or commercial entity, or by a foreign power such as China or Russia, according to the report.
Defense and intelligence analysts have likewise yet to rule out an extraterrestrial origin for any UAP case, senior U.S. officials told reporters ahead of the report’s release last year, though the paper itself avoided any explicit reference to such possibilities.
Still, the report marked a turning point for the U.S. government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of unidentified flying objects and “flying saucers” dating back to the 1940s.
The session will mark the first open congressional hearing on the subject since the U.S. Air Force terminated an inconclusive UFO program code-named Project Blue Book in 1969.
During its 17 years in existence, Blue Book compiled a list of 12,618 total UFO sightings, 701 of which involved objects that officially remained “unidentified.” But the Air Force later said it found no indication of a national security threat or evidence of extraterrestrial vehicles.
In 1966, nearly a decade before he became president, then-U.S. Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan, who was House Republican leader at the time, organized a hearing in response to scores of witness accounts of strange glowing lights and large football shapes at low altitude around Dexter, Michigan, which an Air Force official had famously explained away as “swamp gas.”
(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel)