Pretty cool, right?
Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

On Tuesday, for the first time in more than 50 years, Congress held a public hearing regarding the newly hot topic of UFOs — or UAPs, as the military refers to them.

At the House hearing, which was followed by a classified version for lawmakers only, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray said that UAP sightings are “frequent and continuing” and had climbed to more than 400 total, way up from the 144 cited in a congressional report last year (though he added that many of the new reports, from people emboldened by the reduced stigma around the subject, were likely accounts of older incidents).

Bray surely disappointed some by noting that a Pentagon UAP task force hadn’t found anything that would suggest any of the reported objects were “non-terrestrial in origin.” But he didn’t offer easy explanations for all the incidents that have been observed either. The Pentagon has been able to account for many of the incidents, he said, specifically those involving known man-made crafts. But “there are a small handful [of events] in which there are flight characteristics or signature management that we can’t explain with the data we have available.” These include a famous 2004 video from the USS Nimitz. Bray also said that U.S. aircraft had recorded 11 “near-misses” with unexplained objects.

Bray walked lawmakers through multiple videos featuring hovering triangle-shaped objects, emphasizing to lawmakers that short-running, grainy footage — the norm for such recordings — made them difficult to assess. He said that investigators were able to determine that the triangle-shaped UAPs were likely drones.

But another recent video he showed to the group, featuring a “spherical object,” remained unexplained, he said.

Both Bray and top Pentagon intelligence official Ronald Moultrie, who also testified, emphasized that the government had to be cagey in disseminating information about the sightings, since they don’t want to reveal too much about their methods to adversaries.

Democratic Congressman André Carson opened the 90-minute hearing by labeling UAPs a “potential national security threat,” which need to be treated that way.” He said that the phenomenon had too often been dismissed as a joke.

One theory has been that China, Russia, or some other country is in possession of aerial technology so advanced it can appear otherworldly. But officials said on Tuesday that this was unlikely. (The Russian military’s mediocre performance in Ukraine makes it more difficult to imagine that they’re generations ahead of the U.S. in any military category.)

The surge in UFO interest can be traced back to roughly 2017, when the New York Times reported on the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. For years, the Times revealed, the small Pentagon operation, championed by the late Nevada senator Harry Reid, had been investigating unexplained flying phenomena witnessed by members of the military. In the next few years, more UAP accounts emerged. Pilots described seeing objects that looked like Tic Tacs that hovered in the air for many hours and could reach hypersonic speeds, then stop on a dime. The Pentagon released declassified videos showing service members’ run-ins with UAPs. A cottage industry of believers and skeptics blossomed. And Congress mandated a Pentagon report on the matter, which was released last year. It found that only one of 144 incidents had been adequately explained (by the presence of a hot-air balloon) and that the rest remained mysteries.

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