Suggestions for Congress on the UAP Issue:
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Had the U.S. intelligence system been working properly, Congress would have been aware that unidentified aircraft were habitually penetrating sensitive U.S. airspace decades ago. Certainly, at a minimum, they would have been informed no later than 2015 when encounters off the East Coast of the United States were occurring on a near-daily basis.
Unfortunately, Congress only learned of the issue in December 2017, after a couple of determined former USG officials were able to release compelling DoD UAP videos to the New York Times and then introduce some intrepid Navy combat pilots to the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees. Those briefings led to a Senate Intelligence Committee request for an official assessment of the UAP issue by the Intelligence Community.
The resulting assessment was punctually delivered to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on June 25th, 2021. It confirmed what Lue Elizondo and I had been shouting from the rooftops for several years: Namely that there really are a variety of mysterious, highly advanced unidentified aircraft operating in restricted military airspace. Although the unclassified report didn’t expressly say so, those privy to the classified version of the report confirms that some of these vehicles demonstrate capabilities beyond our understanding. As Senator Mitt Romney stated after reviewing the classified information: “I don’t believe they are coming from foreign adversaries, if they were, why, that, would suggest they have a technology which is in a whole different sphere from than anything that we understand.”
To date, DoD and the IC have both been relying on a small group known as the UAP Task Force (UAPTF) for gathering and assessing UAP information. The Task Force seems to spend most of its time soliciting and cataloging UAP reports and briefing interested policymakers. There is no sophisticated technical analysis unless on occasion another organization offers it. It seems doubtful the Task Force has the skills needed to prepare a systematic UAP collection plan or the heft necessary to persuade senior officials to allocate collection times for busy satellites and other heavily tasked “national technical means.” Following its UAP report, the Task Force might have been able to develop a plan for a more capable and enduring UAP investigative organization, but that task was assigned to the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Specifically, USDI has been directed to establish UAP collection and analysis procedures and the organizational and funding requirements needed for an enduring organization to succeed the UAPTF.
Admittedly, applying the term “Task Force” to the recent UAP effort has always been generous if not fanciful. At the outset, the Task Force merely consisted of a Senior Executive Service (SES) official working part-time with an assistant. They had no funding, even for travel. As time passed, the SES was replaced by a lower-ranking GS-15, reportedly for administrative reasons, but the appearance to some was a further downgrading of the UAP effort. Thanks to the Navy, the Task Force did in time acquire some additional personnel, but it has never been more than a handful of people lacking the time or resources needed to do much beyond catalog UAP incidents, answer Congressional inquiries, and provide briefings.
We won’t know for some time how fully the services and agencies complied with the UAPTF’s requests for information. Undoubtedly, some information was not shared due to bureaucratic oversights or lethargy or inadequate security clearances held by UAPTF members or the nearly ubiquitous resistance security personnel have to sharing information they control. It would be very helpful for the Task Force or its successor to have a complete list of the organizations that contributed and a POC for each. Congress should consider using directive language to ensure that, going forward, the Task Force or its successor will have a list of relevant programs and organizations and a POC for each. Similarly, for reasons that are not clear, the USAF is denying airmen the right to contact the Task Force directly to report sightings. Banning this practice is also worth considering, especially given that we know from surveys that the vast majority of UAP incidents have gone unreported due to the stigma surrounding the issue. USAF pilots who fear retribution from their chain of command should be able to speak with the Task Force if they want to. The Air Force’s long history of squelching and distorting UAP information is such that any efforts on its part to impede the flow of information on the UAP subject should not be tolerated. Similarly, there are reports that Air Force OSI agents are trying to squelch UAP conversations on highly classified communications networks among cleared personnel. Firing or demoting those responsible would be more effective than issuing a memo banning the practice.
In that regard, surveys demonstrate that fewer than 1 in 10 civilians report their sightings. The ratio in the military may be even worse; so the number of actual military incidents since 2004 is certainly far higher than the 144 reported, quite likely in excess of 1000 incidents. NORAD alone typically has hundreds of unidentified tracks every year, and few if any of those were included in the UAP report, so the actual number of cases has to be much higher than 144. Lue Elizondo and I have had the same experience interviewing military personnel – rarely did the witnesses report their encounters due to fear of the potential impact on their reputations and careers.
In light of the stigma surrounding the issue, and USAF intransigence in particular, one of the first items on the agenda for both the Task Force and the oversight committees should be to determine how thorough and comprehensive the Task Force was in collecting UAP data from the DoD and IC services and agencies. Even if there are only a handful of missing cases, those cases could be game-changing depending on what activity was detected and how thoroughly the events were documented. For example, it would not take many examples of objects entering Earth’s orbit from space, then descending and maneuvering in our atmosphere, to persuade policymakers this phenomenon is something we need to pay much closer attention to.
How thorough were the services in gathering data for the Task Force? Did anyone touch base with the Global Infrasonic Detection System, which can detect meteors and rockets, to see if or how often they track UAP? What about AWACs units or the Space Fence or the mobile X-band radar etc.? Certainly, the USAF was consulted by the Task Force, but what effort did the USAF make to contact the myriad organizations within their domain that might have pertinent information? A careful accounting of the organizations and systems that had useful data will also help identify which systems are most useful for obtaining UAP information.
In addition to ensuring a full accounting, it is also important to understand what procedures the services and agencies used to identify pertinent UAP information held by their myriad various components. Different organizations will have taken different approaches and assessing the results can help the Task Force, or its successor, identify the most efficient and effective procedures for UAP reporting.
Another important housekeeping task is to determine the degree to which UAP information was withheld due to classification. The message from the Congressional staff and Task Force should be, “If our clearances are inadequate, so be it, but at a minimum the Chairman and Ranking member of each oversight committee needs to know how many sources and UAP reports were withheld due to classification.” Similarly, the Task Force Director should at least be made aware if some UAP information was withheld due to classification. Otherwise, when briefing officials at the highest levels he will not be able to advise them that other relevant information exists or where to find it.
In sum, to date, about all we can say for certain is that one or more groups interested in U.S. military capabilities are using advanced technology (in some cases so advanced we don’t understand it) to operate with impunity in restricted U.S. airspace. Our government seems to have no idea who is doing this or why, which is hardly surprising given the fact that to date no effort has been made by our government to find answers to these questions. Also, as the Task Force noted, given the range of behaviors, capabilities, sizes, and shapes observed, there is most likely more than one actor involved. In sum, the stakes are high, the picture is muddled, and there is a lot of work to do.
Strangely, the stunning news that U.S. airspace is not secure is not provoking the public or our government the way Sputnik did 60 years ago. In 1957, when Americans suddenly discovered the Soviet Union had achieved the ability to put satellites in orbit, there was a loud public outcry, even though there was little if anything those early satellites could do to harm us. By contrast, the speeds, ranges, durations, and altitudes we are observing UAP achieve today is far more concerning. There do not seem to be any limits to where these things can go, what they can observe, or what ordnance they might deliver. Although we have not encountered hostility, the questions remain: “Why such persistent interest in U.S. military capabilities? Who is operating these craft and what is their intent? Are they collecting information to facilitate a plan or are they merely satisfying a benign curiosity?” We urgently need answers.
Yet, in Congress, the only committee that has been minding the store, willing to put national security ahead of politics and a dangerously outdated stigma, is the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Thankfully they and their staffs are well-positioned to make a huge difference if they choose to do so.
In my view, the present situation is reminiscent of both Pearl Harbor and September 11th. At Pearl Harbor, radar data showing large numbers of inbound aircraft was not reported up the chain of command, much as the innumerable East Coast sightings did not reach senior officials even after they began occurring on a near-daily basis in 2015.
It was also determined, after the fact, that if CIA and FBI had shared information effectively, the massive tragedy of September 11th might have been averted. Today, however, it is not just two organizations failing to report or share information. Each of the services and most of the intelligence agencies have had pertinent information that was not shared or reported or even easy to find. NORAD itself was not informed of the innumerable Navy sightings occurring off the East Coast of the U.S. beginning in 2015.
It seems hard to believe, but in the 21st century, having spent billions upon billions of dollars on computer and communications technologies to facilitate information sharing, the Deputy Secretary of Defense has to form a special team to conduct months of research simply to find out what information has been collected about UAP. Even so, it seems likely that the answers obtained were neither comprehensive nor complete.
Blessedly, unlike September 11th or Pearl Harbor, no calamity has struck, but the magnitude of the failure is nevertheless breathtaking. Roughly a trillion dollars have been spent in recent decades to develop the world’s most elaborate and extensive intelligence system, yet it utterly failed to detect or report recurring incidents of unidentified aircraft violating military airspace, for months and years, even when they were operating relatively short distances from strategic military facilities and the nation’s capital. It is rare that a failure of this magnitude comes to light without some corresponding tragedy. We should take full advantage of the present situation to see if we cannot at long last develop a system can overcome recurring problems with subjective biases, rigid mindsets, and lack of information-sharing. The ongoing DoD Inspector General investigation is a good place to start, but what can Congress do in this budget cycle to begin patching the chinks in our armor that have recently been identified?
Thankfully, America does not need to spend great sums to make serious headway, or perhaps even to solve the mystery of the origin of these strange vehicles. A simple example may help demonstrate why the primary missing ingredient is not funding but leadership. Take the Nimitz Incident:
When the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) had its famous encounter with the “Tic Tac” in 2004, it was operating about 30 miles off the coast of San Diego. Peering almost directly at the CSG was a U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar at Beale Air Force Base (AFB). In principle, it is much like the incredible SPY-1 phased-array radar aboard the USS Princeton that was able to track the Tic Tac while other fleet radars failed to detect it. However, the Beale radar and its counterparts on the BMEWS network are far larger and more powerful. Indeed, by some accounts, the most powerful electromagnetic signals emitted from our planet are the radar signals emitted by the Beale radar and its BMEWS siblings.
At the time of the Nimitz encounter, and to this day, BMEWS radars are optimized to detect incoming ICBM or cruise missiles or strategic bombers and ignore almost everything else. This is done purposely to minimize clutter and facilitate detection and analysis of these targets, namely to avoid false alarms. Consequently, since the Tic Tac did not fit the profile of a known strategic target, its maneuvers were almost certainly recorded but probably did not trigger an alert or gain the attention of Beale AFB radar personnel. It was not an ICBM or cruise missile or satellite after all, and that is about all that concerns the BMEWs radars. This self-inflicted UAP blindness may also explain why the massive BMEWS radar system at Cape Cod was not detecting and reporting the UAPs routinely operating off the East Coast of the U.S. beginning in 2015. If BMEWS was reporting unidentified aircraft in that region there should have been far more than 143 total UAP incidents detected from 2004 to 2020. Notably, to date, all of the leaked incidents have been from encounters involving ships and aircraft, none reported have been associated with strategic radars or collection systems like BMEWS.
The good news is that without building any new facilities or spending large sums of money, it should be possible for the contractor operating the data systems at the BMEWS sites to simply divert a copy of the same data stream to a different computer processor where different filters can be applied. Or, perhaps on a slightly delayed basis, the data stream sent for storage could be searched in near real-time using specific algorithms suitable for identifying UAP. There should be no reason this cannot be done without risk to the integrity or security of the BMEWs system. If either of these relatively simple and straightforward approaches were implemented by competitive bid at the five main BMEWS sites, the U.S. would quickly gain massive UAP coverage from relatively low altitudes to orbital space above the Atlantic, Pacific and the Arctic. Of course, it is also possible these radars have been tracking such objects and the USAF has not been sharing the data. If so, there is an even better and quicker solution that involves holding someone accountable to convey an unequivocal message about the need for information sharing and the need to heed the DoD leadership.
If my assumptions regarding BMEWS are correct, massive coverage can be achieved, to include some of the most active areas for UAP reporting, relatively quickly and inexpensively. Drones are a rising threat, so, again, applying different search and display criteria to a different stream of the same raw data might help to close a serious gap in defensive coverage for the U.S. Recall that guerrillas operating from Yemen were able to penetrate Saudi airspace, some of the most densely protected in the world, with drones that cut Saudi hydrocarbon refining capacity by 50%. Notably, some of the leaked photos and videos from 2019 incidents involving strange “drones” hovering over the USS Russell and the USS Oklahoma involved incidents off the coast of California that again Beale likely could have seen with different filters. If so, we might have already been able to determine where the small aircraft following these warships were coming from.
There may already be options for additional tasking on the current BMEWS data handling contract. If not, then this might be accomplished by establishing the requirements and putting a contract out for bid. To DoD outsiders this might sound like a relatively straightforward task, but those familiar with the paperwork madness of DoD contracting recognize this is far more difficult than preparing and offering a contract in the private sector. So, being DoD, some variant of this approach is not going to happen overnight if ever, but with an effective advocate this should be doable absent some compelling technical issue I am missing. Establishing the cost and who will pay for it could take months given the complexity and glacial pace of DoD contracting. It might prove to be little more than a rounding error for the Air Force, but requirements have to be established, a competitive bidding process seems likely, and all the milestones and reviews these processes entail.
The onerous contracting process cannot even begin until a decision is made to proceed. Someone has to see the need and validate the requirement and have estimates of the cost and the necessary funding. The UAPTF, as presently constructed, does not appear to have the technical savvy or the resources to even validate much less manage or pay for work of this kind. Therein lies another opportunity for Congress to help advance national security: Ensure that the UAP mission is given to an organization with serious technical acumen and contracting capabilities and authorities and a senior advocate who can represent the mission in internal DoD and IC deliberations. There are a range of candidate organizations that could execute the mission well, some already reporting both to DoD and the IC and not under the control of the USAF where their progress is not likely to see the light of day. In that regard, it was extremely telling that in the very carefully worded unclassified report to Congress there was a very deliberate jab at the USAF which seems far more than any other service to have disdain for direction coming from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I’ve heard that the memo from the Deputy Secretary of Defense establishing the UAPTF and mandating cooperation with it was largely ignored by the USAF which appears to still possess pertinent information on this topic it has not shared. As the unclassified report delivered to Congress candidly states: "The UAPTF is currently working to acquire additional reporting, including from the U.S. Air Force (USAF)…”
Examples of responsive organizations that might be suitable include the Space Force, the nimble Space Security and Defense Program (which reports to high levels of both DoD and the IC and has outstanding technical and contract execution capabilities), or the Defense Intelligence Agency, which likewise is dual-hatted and is led by a 3-star flag officer. NORAD would seem to make sense but again its willingness to share information with other organizations is questionable. Still, they have money and contracting authority and the heft needed to make changes to the status quo if they were willing to aggressively pursue the issue. Regardless, the first and most important step for Congress to take is to either identify a permanent home for the mission or require DoD and the IC to do so and to explain their resulting rationale with the oversight committees.
Framing the name and mission of the new organization also warrants some fresh thinking. The issue is not purely one of airborne objects; it also involves unidentified underwater vehicles and unidentified vehicles in orbit or beyond. I therefore suggest framing the issue broadly to give the troops a place to send all manner of strange and unexpected phenomena that don’t readily fit in an existing job jar. Perhaps something like “The Office of Strategic Anomaly Resolution” that could become an analytic starting point for other anomalies. Requesting an NIE on the UAP issue would also help keep the issue in focus and clarify what questions need to be answered and how serious the potential threat may be.
Regardless of the name or mission statement, however, some budgetary assistance and flexibility will be crucial. Toward that end, the oversight committees should expressly state spending for UAP collection and analysis is a legitimate use of resources appropriated by Congress for intelligence and space defense missions. The goal would be to relieve any fears among DoD or IC program managers about using funds appropriated for space defense or intelligence for purposes on related tasks involving UAP detection or analysis. This is urgently needed because there are already opportunities with existing contracts and programs to support UAP and Space Defense or other requirements, but there is hesitation due to fears that in today’s “Gotcha” mindset, a Congressional oversight committee might claim any R&D funding used primarily for detection of unknowns might be viewed as inconsistent with the purposes for which the funds had been appropriated. Simple authorization and/or appropriation language could remove such fears and thereby accelerate UAP research activities.
An example of an unmet need is a program for exotic propulsion R&D. Although NASA conducts some advanced propulsion research, there is presently no effort to identify or emulate the observed propulsion of UAP vehicles despite what we are seeing in our skies. We need to be like the Japanese in the 1850s, who, upon seeing Commodore Perry’s black fleet in Tokyo harbor immediately set out to understand this new technology. They succeeded so brilliantly that by 1905 the Imperial Japanese Navy was able to destroy the Russian fleet in the Battle of the Tsushima Straits. On a related note, a federal lab structure for space is something that should be considered to help coordinate and optimize all the shards of space R&D spread out across the federal government. Since we have proof that some radically new source of small but intensely powerful propulsion is feasible we certainly ought to be seeking to understand and emulate it.
A smaller opportunity worth funding is an AI capability to reliably assess the authenticity of civilian UAP photos and videos. In a smartphone-equipped world, scores of UAP videos and photos are being taken weekly across the planet, but they have no value for science or national security because their authenticity is presently too difficult to establish. This is unfortunate because with a small investment billions of smartphones worldwide could suddenly become UAP collectors. A quick look at the online Mutual UFO Network database demonstrates that in the U.S. alone, potentially useful videos and photos are being submitted on a daily basis. This is one of a number of smaller but potentially very significant opportunities that the successor to the UAPTF needs some modest funding and flexibility to pursue.
As always, the competition for resources and authority in the Executive branch is fierce. Transferring the UAP mission to an existing, high-level organization with deep technical expertise and flexible contracting authority will save time and money and serve the cause better than trying to create a new, special UAP organization. Saddling someone at the 4-star level is also necessary to defend the new outfit against the bureaucratic antibodies that will inevitably seek to reject it.
Unfortunately, the continuing stigma around the UAP issue is still hindering greater involvement by many talented people. This leads me to a final recommendation. Although the USG and its many aerospace contractors already have ample numbers of cleared scientists, establishing a national panel of independent civilian scientists to study the UAP issue would still be very valuable. It would first and foremost help to independently establish the credibility of the issue for an understandably skeptical public and a skeptical scientific community. A small group of scientists with the right skills, physicists and engineers and perhaps a couple of social scientists, could also make substantial contributions in terms of questions to ask, leads to pursue, and identifying contributions the academic community might be able to make. Perhaps even assessing the potential impacts on society if the evidence leads to revolutionary conclusions. For their work to be meaningful the panel needs access to all but possibly the most sensitive classified data. There are precedents for this, for example, establishing a panel of environmental scientists cleared to evaluate IC systems to determine if they might be able to make unique contributions to our understanding of climate change. Given the fact that almost all credible UAP technical data is in the hands of the USG, the justification for providing some scientific access to classified UAP information is actually much stronger in this instance. Dr. Avi Loeb of Harvard has told me that he supports this recommendation. The involvement of renowned mainstream scientists could be useful both for understanding what is occurring and helping the press, public and academia grasp the significance. Once again, the costs are small and the potential benefits are great.
I hope the examples above help to illustrate the fact that if Congress remains engaged we can make major progress in understanding this phenomenon and possibly even replicating some of the amazing capabilities we are observing -- without major new expenditures. Ignorance is never an ally and the sooner we determine the true nature of this phenomenon the better. Who knows, it might even lead to major scientific advances that could benefit America and perhaps all of mankind.