Nick Pope spent the early 1990s investigating UFOs for the British ministry of defence. Sequestered in a rarely visited government office – the “metaphorical basement” – he well remembers how his field of work was regarded.
“I would walk down the corridor and people would whistle the theme music to either Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the Twilight Zone,” Pope told the Guardian.
Towards the end of his spell at the MoD, a new science fiction show featuring a pair of FBI alien hunters was also growing in popularity. “I do recall the X-Files theme tune being whistled, too,” he said.
In the nearly two decades since then, attitudes towards UFOs have slowly been changing, especially in America where the subject matter has gone from the margins to the mainstream, with even former president Barack Obama opining on their potential existence.
Rebranded by governments and enthusiasts as “UAPs”, or unidentified aerial phenomena, 2021 has seen arguably the first ever serious discussion of unknown flying things. In June the Pentagon is set to release a highly anticipated report on what it knows about UAPs, and the excitement about that disclosure has been fueled by a slew of witnesses coming forward to share their experiences with the 60 Minutes news show in May.
Obama was among many public figures to add his thoughts on UAPs and the Pentagon report this month.
“There’s footage and records of objects in the skies, that we don’t know exactly what they are, we can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory,” Obama said in an interview with CBS. “They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is.”
The sincerity of the discussion around UAPs – “I want us to take it seriously and have a process to take it seriously,” the Republican senator Marco Rubio told 60 Minutes – is a far cry from the jeers Pope once faced.
So what has changed in America?
“In the last three years it has been elevated above just hearsay and segued into hard evidence,” said Pope, who is now based in Arizona, said. “Not just the testimony from military pilots who’ve been involved in encounters with these things, but radar data and the infra-red camera videos that everyone’s seen.”
In recent years a series of government videos showing UAPs, have been released, including footage from a navy F-18 fighter jet which showed an oblong object flying through the sky near San Diego in 2004.
This April photos and videos taken by navy personnel were leaked online, showing triangular-shaped objects buzzing around in the sky, and in May leaked military footage showed an oval flying object near a navy ship in San Diego – an apparent UAP hotspot.
Members of the navy saw UAPs so frequently that the encounters became commonplace, Ryan Graves, a retired navy pilot, told 60 Minutes.
“Every day,” Graves said. “Every day for at least a couple years.”
For Ted Roe, who runs the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena, a non-profit where pilots or others can report their experiences with UAPs, this was merely confirmation of what he already knew.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Roe said. “Somewhere in the world every day this is happening – it manifests steadily, daily. And from my private conversations with current and former military fliers I feel that the reports that I get – as far as pilot reports – are clearly the tip of the iceberg.”
But for all the apparent easing of taboo around UAPs, Roe says there is still a stigma.
“Nobody is willing to risk their careers or reputation on this subject, even now,” Roe said. “Pilots won’t contact us until they retire. I’d say it’s almost 50-50, the cases I get, that are more recent, versus those that happened years ago and they didn’t want to talk about because they would lose their flight status, and because they were worried about their careers.”
The government – all governments – have previously been reluctant to even acknowledge that they monitor UAPs.
In 2007 the US defense department launched an “Advanced aerospace threat identification program” to investigate UFOs. The effort was so secretive that the public was only made aware of it 10 years later, after a New York Times investigation.
As leaked or officially published footage has spread, however, demands for transparency from the public and politicians has grown, prompting the CIA to release thousands of documents on UAPs in January 2021.
Rubio, the vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, has been a particularly loud voice, and he was part of a group of elected officials who succeeded in thrusting the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 into the $2.3tn coronavirus relief spending bill signed into law by Donald Trump in December.
That act ordered government agencies to provide a declassified “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence”, and “a detailed description of an interagency process” for reporting UFOs. The report must be handed over by 25 June.
“Men and women we have entrusted with the defense of our country are reporting encounters with unidentified aircraft with superior capabilities,” Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times in mid-May.
“We cannot allow the stigma of UFOs to keep us from seriously investigating this. The forthcoming report is one step in that process, but it will not be the last.”
The flurry of recent videos and the imminent release of the report has ignited an excitement around unidentified flying things not seen for years. Pope warned, however, that after years of furtiveness from intelligence agencies, people should not expect the government to release everything it knows about these mysterious objects in the sky.
“The report must be unclassified, but it could have a classified annex, so there’s a strong possibility that any earth-shattering facts will be in that classified annex, rather than the unclassified report,” Pope said.
He added: “So people should be excited, but not too excited. They should be pragmatic, and a little expectation management might be useful.”
This content was originally published here.