Wed. Sep 20th, 2023
Congress is getting serious about UFOs. Just don’t call them that
Congress is getting serious about UFOs. Just don’t call them that

If the truth is out there, Congress would like to know.

The House and Senate are taking significant steps to increase the federal government’s ability to monitor and identify UFOs and to force the military to release more information to the general public.

Three former military officers who claim they’ve had encounters with unidentified flying objects will testify to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. In the Senate, lawmakers have added a bipartisan amendment to a must-pass defense bill that would compel the military to gather and declassify UFO-related information.

The parallel efforts are part of a growing bipartisan push to investigate the phenomenon. True believers and skeptics agree that they want to know what these objects are — and whether they pose a national security risk.

Congress held its first public UFO-related hearing in decades last year, hosting Pentagon officials. But Wednesday’s hearing will feature the first public, unclassified testimony from servicemembers whose interest is in exposing what they believe they witnessed.

“I just want some transparency. I think everybody should be asking for that,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), the driving force behind the hearing, told The Times last week. “If there aren’t any UFOs, then why’s the federal government spending so much time and effort to stop any kind of hearings, and why don’t they release these files that they have? Every file I’ve seen is so redacted it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese.”

This isn’t the opening scene of “Independence Day.” But like in sci-fi movies where former foes band together to fight the aliens, an unusually wide coalition, from progressive Democrats to far-right Republicans, is teaming up to force the Pentagon to release more information to Congress.

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), the ranking Democrat on the oversight subcommittee that is hosting the hearing, said he was working with members of both parties to “ensure that we have a serious and responsible hearing” that focuses on national security.

“There’s a lot of information we don’t know, and so I think that it’s really important that we have this hearing publicly,” he said.

When Burchett was asked with whom he was working the most closely on the hearing as he walked onto the House floor last week, he waved over Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), a fellow Oversight Committee member.

“This is not a partisan issue. That’s why I asked Jared. He’s incredibly intelligent, he has a legal mind, and I trust him. He’s my guy,” Burchett said, putting a hand on Moskowitz’s shoulder.

“I think it’s really simple for us. If the government knows things about these UAPs, what do they know and why aren’t they telling us?” Moskowitz said.

As Moskowitz’s remarks indicate, the phenomenon has gone through a recent rebranding: UFO has been replaced by UAP. Scientists and government officials are using the new acronym in an attempt to get away from the stigma and assumptions of little green men that persist when people think of UFOs. Until recently, UAP stood for “unidentified aerial phenomena,” but last year’s National Defense Authorization Act tweaked the term to stand for “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” a broader catch-all category.

The Pentagon and other national security agencies are investigating a rise in reports of UAPs, which they stress are unidentified — they could be Chinese spy aircraft, drones, technology glitches or extraterrestrial crafts, and cover such diverse items as odd videos and this year’s Chinese spy balloon. But not everyone has bought into the renaming.

“I prefer to call them UFOs,” Burchett said at a press conference.

Senators have shown similar bipartisan eagerness to look into UAPs: Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) have teamed up with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to add an amendment to this year’s must-pass National Defense Authorization Act to force the Pentagon to release more information.

That amendment would require federal agencies to give UAP-related documents to a new review board that would review whether to declassify them — and make it compulsory for federal agencies to turn over the information to the board within 300 days of receiving it. The program will be modeled on the 1992 law that aimed to declassify information surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“That’s a huge breakthrough,” Gillibrand said. “There’ll be more transparency, more accountability and more public disclosure.”

Like the Kennedy program, the UAP investigation has support from lawmakers who are suspicious about a government cover-up and skeptics who think that more information will help dispel conspiracy theories. The U in UAP is unexplained, after all, and many of those in Congress backing these efforts simply want explanations.

Last year’s defense funding bill established a new body, the All Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, to monitor, track and investigate mysterious objects in the air, water and space. The office is now investigating more than 800 reports of UAPs that date back decades. Of the 300 reports the office has so far reviewed, it was unable to identify or explain 171 of them. Gillibrand said that she had ensured that the office would get full funding in this year’s defense bill as well.

Ryan Graves is one of the three witnesses scheduled to testify at the House Oversight Committee’s Wednesday hearing.

Graves, a former Navy pilot, said that after his squadron updated its planes’ dated radar technology in 2014, he and numerous pilots with whom he served near Virginia Beach, Va., began to get regular readings of flying objects that didn’t behave like anything they’d seen before. Those objects began showing up on other systems’ readings. Then the pilots began to see them. Not long afterward, pilots “started having near midair collisions with these objects,” he said.

According to Graves, those objects displayed “a wide plethora of behaviors that are really unexplainable,” such as remaining completely stationary at high altitudes in hurricane-force winds while the fighter planes he and his crew flew had to fight the gusts just to stay in the general area. Those objects would then accelerate and move at supersonic speeds while performing instantaneous changes in direction. Some of the encounters were captured on video.

Graves is the first to admit that what he saw could be anything, including advanced spying instruments from a rival country. But whatever they are, he thinks it’s important to study and identify UAPs.

“I think people have a right to know that this is something that their pilots, both military and commercial, are seeing on a regular basis,” he said. “We don’t know what they are. We’re not trying to draw conclusions when we bring that attention to the general public but we have to acknowledge that uncertainty and unknown objects operating in our sovereign airspace is a massive national security issue.”

Retired Navy pilot David Fravor, also set to testify Wednesday, has said he encountered UAPs while flying out of the USS Nimitz off the coast of San Diego.

But the most striking testimony the committee will hear Wednesday is likely to come from David Grusch, a former Air Force officer and intelligence official who last month said the programs he worked on recovered “intact and partially intact vehicles” that testing showed was designed by “non-human intelligence.”

The Pentagon has pushed back against Grusch’s claims, telling multiple news outlets that it has “not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently.”

Some members of Congress rolled their eyes at Grusch’s claims.

“If we had found a UFO I think the Department of Defense would tell us, because they’d probably want to request more money,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) quipped during his weekly press conference last week. “So I’d love to see whatever facts and information we have. I’m very supportive of letting the American people see what we have.”

Burchett, who has led the charge for the House Oversight hearing, can sound like a conspiracy enthusiast — he’s pushed conspiracy theories about financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death and created an annual “Bigfoot Day” as Knox County mayor — and he’s worked the most closely with firebrand Florida GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna on the issue. The three claim they were stonewalled when they visited Eglin Air Force Base in Florida earlier this year seeking information about UAPs, leading to a verbal altercation with the base’s commanding officer.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want this to come to light,” Burchett declared Thursday at a press conference previewing the hearing. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, daggum it, whatever the truth may be. We’re done with the cover-up.”

Other members on both sides of the aisle made clear that they want the hearing to avoid conspiratorial tones and focus on exposing facts.

“He has a perspective on this, which is fine,” Garcia said of Burchett. “My job as the ranking member on the Democratic side is to ensure that we have a hearing that is responsible, that is serious, and that centers national security, and I will make sure working with my subcommittee chair that that’s the type of hearing that we hold.”

Some members of Congress are more than a little skeptical about UFOs — and their colleagues’ enthusiasm for investigating them.

“I don’t believe in them. I’ve never seen one. If I did, I’d have shot it down,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a former Air Force pilot and retired brigadier general, with a laugh.

But while the issue can generate snickers from some in Congress, serious lawmakers in both parties think it’s crucial for national security to figure out what these phenomena are — and where they’re coming from.

So does Gillibrand think that these UAPs could be extraterrestrial? “I have no idea,” she said. “And having no idea is not an acceptable answer for the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. They have to know what is knowable.”


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