A little under two decades ago — but probably much longer, if we are being realistic — the Department of Defense launched a classified program devoted to studying reports of unidentified flying objects (UFO). The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Program survived on an astoundingly meager $22 million a year. After five years, the operation shuttered.

And if you believed that, there is a tract of land in Area 51 we would like to sell you.

This week, the tin-foil-hat crowd had some vindication, when it was reported that the Advanced Aerospace Threat Program was, in fact, never closed, and today operates under the aegis of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

More strikingly, the renamed program, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, will be reporting some of its findings to the public in about half a year. And while we should not expect any great revelations, the move toward great transparency on the subject means, over time, these conversations will become normalized and more frequent.

But what’s most interesting about all this, however, is that the Department of Defense is, in a way, courting the public’s attention. They agreed to releasing a 2004 encounter between a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and an unidentified flying object (you can view the video at Military.com of all places) off the coast of San Diego, and have apparently cleared the involved pilots to talk about the incident. One of the pilots, Commander David Fravor, sat with Joe Rogan for nearly two hours discussing the details.

High-visibility boosters, like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have also been stoking excitement by publicly stating that some of the physical findings recovered by the task force were otherworldly. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who also happens to be chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, struck a more somber cord, when earlier this month he told CBS, “Frankly, if it’s something outside this planet that might actually be better than the fact that we’ve seen some sort of technological leap from the Chinese or Russians.”

Whatever is going on, the few minute or so long videos (captured by aircraft video) that have been released to the public are incredible. They show aircraft — shaped in the form of large “Tic Tacs” — operating with instantaneous acceleration and stopping, movement at incredible (and impossible for known technology) rates of speed, and all without “signatures” like the vapors emitted from earthly fighter planes. It defies comprehension.

The editorial board of The Washington Times is not given over to histrionics over little green men and their Cadillacs. But we do care seriously about threats to American national security. And that’s, really, what the new Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force is all about. Whether the menace emanates from Beijing or the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, it’s important we understand what we are facing and what their intention is.

The public, in this case, is crucial to helping the government understand what’s going on. It used to be that anyone with any “sighting” was laughed into the looney bin. And undoubtedly, most UFO reports and certainly stories of abduction, are inventions or fever dreams. But we must, and the sooner the better, come to grips with the fact that earthly technology has advanced to the point where the public now does witness what 50 years ago would have seemed out-of-this-world. China and Russia actively use cutting-edge technology to prod our defenses (often military installations) and even attack us. Shifting the public mindset to one of “if you see something, say something” will only aid in our effort to repel our adversaries.

The truth, as the old Mulder and Scully saw has it, is out there. It’s up to all good Americans to suss it out.

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