What to make of the intelligence community’s unclassified report on UFOs

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This summer’s blockbuster read was a congressionally mandated government report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence titled Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.

It had a little something for the UFO believer and nonbeliever alike — a minimal something, but something nonetheless.

The U.S. government has spent decades scoffing at UFO reports, often dismissing them as hoaxes, spoofs, or optical illusions.

The Pentagon even renamed UFOs as UAPs, “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” to indicate the uncertainly about whether what people were seeing were actually “objects” that were “flying” or simply something that looked like a flying object.

The nine-page declassified report to Congress examined 144 documented reports since 2004, mostly from U.S. military pilots, and concluded that at least 80 of the sightings, including three recorded on cockpit videos by Navy pilots “probably do represent physical objects,” noting that they “registered across multiple sensors,” including radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers, and visual observation.

And in 18 cases, the objects also appeared to “exhibit unusual flight characteristics” with the ability to “maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion.”

In other words, they’re real, but real what?

Aside from that singular, albeit significant finding, the report reached no definitive conclusions and included numerous caveats that undercut the certainty of its judgments.

For instance, it noted the targeting sensors on fighter aircraft “are not generally suited for identifying UAP” and that the appearance of objects moving in ways that defy known technology “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception.”

And while the review found no evidence flying objects were attributable to secret programs by either the U.S. or its adversaries, it didn’t rule out that Russia or China could be working on some “breakthrough or disruptive technology.”

In fact, the report didn’t rule out any plausible explanation, including birds, balloons, recreational drones, plastic bags, or natural atmospheric phenomena such as ice crystals, moisture, and thermal fluctuations.

And it solved only a single case, tracing the sighting to a deflating balloon.

The report also makes no mention of the most popular and widely held belief among UFO enthusiasts that some UFOs could be alien spacecraft.

“If and when individual UAP incidents are resolved, they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall ‘other’ bin,” the report concludes.

It's that “catchall ‘other’ bin” that has UFOlogists intrigued.

For while there is no evidence whatsoever that the unexplained aerial objects are extraterrestrial, in the absence of disproving evidence, one could argue, however unlikely, anything is possible.

Or, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes put it, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

The truth may be out there, but the truth is that nobody knows what it is.

Meanwhile, the intelligence report is helping to change the culture of ridicule for “out there” theories, with senior members of the scientific, policy, military, and intelligence communities beginning to take the topic more seriously.

“We don’t know what these things are. We have no evidence to suggest that they are from outer space, but at the same time, we have no evidence to suggest that they’re not,” said Luis Elizondo, the former director of the Pentagon’s once-secret Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, in a recent online discussion.

“We are quite convinced that we’re dealing with a technology that is multigenerational, several generations ahead of what we consider next-generation technology … something that could be anywhere between 50 to 1,000 years ahead of us.”

It’s this area of exploration that has captured the interest of the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, which said it intends to focus future analysis on the small number of cases in which UAPs “appeared to display unusual flight characteristics.”

As for what the Tic Tac-shaped objects might be, Elizondo said he has a pretty open mind.

“There’s a lot of options out there. This could be something that is extrahyperdimensional. Now, I don’t mean extradimensional in a woo-woo sense. I mean extradimensional in a quantum physics sense,” Elizondo said, expanding on theories about alternate universes.

“If we already know that 99% of the universe we cannot perceive or interact with, then there may be other options here,” he suggested. “This may not necessarily be something from outer space. In fact, this could be something as natural to our very own planet as us; we’re just now at a point we’re beginning to technologically be able to interact and collect data.”

While it’s true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it is not evidence of presence, either.

“If anything is possible, then nothing is disprovable. And if it ain’t disprovable, it’s arguably at the very outer limits of what science can deal with,” said Joel Achenbach, science writer for the Washington Post and author of the 1999 book Captured by Aliens.

“The alien explanation for UFOs requires a massive infrastructure of presumptions, not least of which is that the aliens, whatever their motivation, have found a way to get here,” Achenbach wrote in a recent essay in the Washington Post magazine.

“The nearest star is about 25 trillion miles away, and although this sounds like hyperbole, it is, in fact, the correct number. So, to do space travel, you really need warp drive. And there is no such thing as warp drive.”

“We're still living in a sort of atmosphere of ambiguity,” said Greg Eghigian, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University who is writing a book on the history of UFO sightings and claims of alien contact.

“This is also the nature of this phenomenon, right?” Eghigian said at an online event sponsored by the Washington Post.

“Is it an ‘it’? Is it a ‘they’? Is it some ‘thing’? It's always been and, I think will be, shrouded in deep ideas and notions of mystery.”

Still, any claim that UFOs are interstellar visitors from across the galaxy will have to meet what’s known as the "Sagan standard," named for the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who famously said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Jamie McIntyre is the Washington Examiner’s senior writer on defense and national security. His morning newsletter, “Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense,” is free and available by email subscription at dailyondefense.com.

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Original Author: Jamie McIntyre

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