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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Mellon

Congress Should Support the Gillibrand Amendment:

Although the UAP Task Force was a good beginning, it is clearly not up to the job of undertaking a serious effort to assess the UAP issue and determine whether it entails revolutionary technology or poses a grave threat. The task force has done all that could be expected given its resource limitations and negligible authorities, but it is struggling to move forward and the services and agencies can ignore them without consequence. For example, I recently spoke with a Defense Department official who was aware of some new UAP incidents. When I asked if the Task Force was notified, he laughed and said: “I doubt it.” In fact, he indicated that he thinks (as do others) that there is probably quite a bit of UAP info that the Task Force is not getting-- to say nothing of implementing far-reaching changes. Obviously, when the info doesn’t reach the UAP Task Force, it isn’t likely to get to Congress either. The Gillibrand Amendment helps to address this problem by clarifying and expanding the definition of UAP and covering the scenarios where the Task Force is denied access due to classification.

Although accurate and timely Congressional notification of UAP activity is essential, it is also grossly inadequate if we want to determine UAP origin, capability or intent. Yet, aside from the Gillibrand Amendment, current legislative language seems almost exclusively focused on the issue of Congressional reporting. Imagine if our assessment of Chinese and Russian hypersonic programs was limited to reporting chance encounters with these platforms? I think we can all agree that would hardly suffice. The Gillibrand Amendment’s mandate for a collection and analysis plan is therefore essential if we are going to make serious headway in FY 2022. The amendment also properly requires a science plan to evaluate observed propulsion capabilities that may in some cases surpass anything presently available to the U.S. armed forces. This is also necessary to help us better understand the phenomenon. Scientific investigation will also be necessary should we later need to adopt this technology ourselves. Building bridges to the civilian scientific community, as the amendment proposes to do with an Advisory Panel, is another way to foster collaboration and leverage available scientific talent and expertise.

Another critical feature of the Gillibrand Amendment is the language explicitly approving the use of funds authorized and appropriated for space defense and/or intelligence purposes for UAP collection and analysis. Unfortunately, even though there is a pressing requirement to determine who is violating U.S. military airspace, some organizations charged with aerospace defense and intelligence missions are presently afraid to act for fear that a member of a Congress or a committee alleges misuse of funds if the words “UAP” do not explicitly appear in the Congressional language providing their funding. This provision would therefore eliminate a serious impediment for those eager to engage as well as an excuse for those resisting change.

Crucially, the amendment also recognizes the need to engage “line organizations” (organizations that actually execute programs) as opposed to trying to dump all responsibility to oversight and policy organizations. The amendment also attacks the traditional USG stovepipe problem as never before; not only helping get DoD and the IC on the same page, but also recognizing the need to collaborate with organizations like the FAA and NASA that have overlapping responsibilities. Thinking outside the narrow box of traditional jurisdictions is valuable and all too rare. Reading the Gillibrand Amendment, one might even infer that the author expects all U.S. government organizations to act as though they are playing on the same team! The amendment has other notable benefits as well, including clarifying the definition of UAP to ensure underwater and trans-medium craft are within the UAP mission purview.

Speaking of coordination, if there are conflicts between the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) language they are not apparent to me. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) should be in the loop regardless of their position in the final UAP structure, so the SSCI language on that topic is not a problem. Rumor has it that both committees now also support both classified and unclassified annual UAP reports. A hearty congratulations to the members and staff of both committees for doing more than paying lip service to the antique idea of transparency in government and an informed electorate.

Notably, although the Gillibrand Amendment insists on the development of a collection and analysis program as well as a science plan, it nevertheless provides the SECDEF and DNI the opportunity to determine the final UAP organizational construct. However, if the Administration does not make good use of that opportunity, Congress should not hesitate to take additional steps going forward. I had the privilege of working on the Goldwater-Nichols Act many years ago, as well as the Cohen-Nunn bill that established the U.S. Special Operations Command. I recall the process fondly because members of both sides worked through months of hearings and mark-ups and even a weekend offsite in a totally bipartisan manner. It was also inspiring to see the members investing so much time and effort notwithstanding an almost total lack of press or constituent interest. What I found most surprising as a naïve young staffer was the nearly unanimous and implacable opposition of every element of DoD to any change to the status quo regardless of the merits. It was all about defending turf. One member of the Joint Chiefs even went so far as to question the patriotism of the members of the Armed Services Committee for proposing reforms. Thankfully, members of Congress had the fortitude to insist on badly needed change and DoD and the nation are far better and safer for it.

It is public knowledge that I worked patiently for months with Lue Elizondo, the OSD official responsible for the UAP issue in 2017, to try to get this issue taken seriously within the department. It was only when that failed that Mr. Elizondo and I chose to stick our necks out by taking the UAP videos and the UAP issue to the press and to Congress. I hope the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees will again assert themselves, recognizing that although DoD and the IC are replete with smart and patriotic people, it is generally difficult if not impossible for that rigid and colossal structure to reorganize itself from within.

Indeed, Congress had to carefully monitor the implementation of the Goldwater-Nichols Act and the SOCOM bill and even enact additional directive legislation the following year to ensure effective implementation. That is precisely where we are at today with regard to the UAP issue. Absent continued firm direction from Congress progress on this challenging issue will be slow or non-existent. With the bipartisan collaboration we’re witnessing today in the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, there is increasing room for optimism that we will finally unwind the UAP enigma.

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