Although the task force studied UFO sightings that occurred between 2004 and 2021, most happened over the past two years.
The long-awaited and highly anticipated report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the validity of so-called unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, has finally been released. Not surprisingly, the report did not validate the existence of aliens or alien spacecraft but instead offered a host of other possible suggestions for the 144 incidents studied by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.
Although the task force studied UFO sightings that occurred between 2004 and 2021, most happened over the past two years. The uptick in UFO sightings was not attributed to increased activity, but instead because of the fact that the Navy only established an official reporting mechanism for UFO sighting in 2019, with the Air Force following suit in November 2020. Most sightings that were not made through official channels were discounted by the task force. Those that were studied included both interviews with military pilots and sensor or camera data from military aircraft.
With all that said, it’s interesting that of the 144 incidents studied, only one was officially identified by ODNI in the report. That one was attributed to a large, deflating balloon. The others remain officially unexplained, although the report suggests everything from ice crystals, bird flights, problems with sensors and commercial drone flying as possible explanations.
Those who had hoped that the report might validate their belief in alien activity are surely disappointed by the Preliminary Assessment on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, but it was probably to be expected. If you look back at the newly unclassified archives of other government UFO studies, notably the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, they point to many of the same explanations as the ODNI report. Some of the wording from the Project Blue Book logs almost seems like it was lifted for use in the modern report.
Project Blue Book had a much bigger sample size to work with. From 1947 to 1969, Air Force personnel working out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were sent around the country to investigate 12,618 reported UFO sightings. Given the technology levels at the time, it’s no surprise that most of these reports were made by people who personally witnessed strange phenomena. The government was able to positively identify terrestrial causes for all but 701 incidents over the 22-year history of the program.
Project Blue Book was shuttered in 1969 after concluding that “no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of a threat to our national security” and “there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as unidentified are extraterrestrial vehicles.”
And that is where the modern ODNI report breaks away from the older Project Blue Book’s findings. Critics of Project Blue Book have maintained that its real mission was to investigate and cover up UFO sightings, and there have been several movies and television shows that have explored that theme. The ODNI report instead declares that UFOs could pose a danger to national security regardless of the origin of the unknown craft, especially if they are being controlled by a foreign government. Specifically, the report states that UFOs “pose a hazard to safety of flight and could pose a broader danger if some instances represent sophisticated collection against U.S. military activities by a foreign government or demonstrate a breakthrough aerospace technology by a potential adversary.”
The report recommends that the government continue to study UFOs, and attempt to capture more data about them using advanced military sensors and modern equipment. The task force stated that the 144 incident sample size studied was too tiny to try and draw any valid conclusions, and the sensor and video data available was either not optimally recorded or suffered from other problems like cameras being out of focus.
Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson came to the same conclusion in a recent interview. He logically states that just because the ODNI report could not definitely conclude the origins of most of the reports that they studied, that fact alone does not mean that they are alien in origin. However, he adds that it does not disprove alien existence either. We just need more data, and better quality data, to make those kinds of conclusions.
The next step is to see if Congress will continue to fund the task force or future UFO studies now that the initial report has been filed. The task force was created in response to a provision in Senate Report 116-233 which accompanied the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. Its goal was to report on the difficulties of collecting UFO data and also to further define the potential threat that they pose. Having accomplished both of those tasks, and especially after declaring UFOs a potential threat to national security, it will be hard to simply ignore them moving forward.
That could mean more reporting on UFOs, less of a stigma for people who come forward after witnessing them and better data so that we can see something other than a blurry spot moving around in the distance. Whether or not aliens are at the heart of these sightings is yet to be discovered, but this is a mystery that has remained unsolved for far too long. Perhaps a more concentrated and open effort will finally shed some real light on the origins of UFOs and other unexplained flying phenomena.
John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys