Why You Can’t Always Believe What The Pentagon Says About UFOs
The unclassified version of the long-anticipated Pentagon report on UFOs is due to be released soon — by the end of this month at latest. Congress demanded the report in response to leaked videos of contacts between U.S. military aircraft and what appear to be unusual air vehicles, which the Pentagon terms “Unexplained Aerial Phenomena.”
Lawmakers received the classified version of the report earlier in June. Those that have seen it say it remains ambiguous on whether the objects are the product of alien technology, saying there is no evidence for this theory but that it cannot be ruled out. If not extra-terrestrial, the apparent vehicles may originate from Russia or China, which would raise a whole new set of concerns.
Unfortunately, the military have a long record of being less than truthful when it comes to unidentified flying objects — can we expect anything different this time?
For example, the forerunners of the U-2 high-altitude spy plane, developed for the CIA by the Air Force, caused similar confusion when they flew from Groom Lake (the celebrated Area 51) in the mid-1950s. These aircraft had a silver finish, and at 60,000 feet – far above other aircraft of the time – the U-2 looked like a bright metallic blob and was repeatedly reported as a flying saucer. A similar situation arose with the SR-71 Blackbird, which, at Mach 3, was far too fast and too high to be any known aircraft and was assumed to be Something Else. Some 50% of U.S.UFO reports at the time might have been caused by sightings of these two aircraft.
MORE FOR YOU
“Remember reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ’50s? That was us,” the CIA tweeted in 2014.
The Air Force also went overboard trying to explain away anomalous events. In 1952 a series of sightings and radar tracks of unidentified objects over Washington DC, caused near-panic in the media with headlines blaring “Saucers Swarm Over DC”. The Air Force held a press conference, glibly asserting that temperature inversions had confused radar and there was nothing to see here. This failed to convince many, and looked like a whitewash. Natural phenomena, misidentification and miscommunication may have been the real cause, but in the absence of proper investigation and explanation, many started to suspect the military were covering up what they knew about UFOs.
Sometimes though, military deception went the other way, deliberately promoting belief in aliens.
In 1947, a rancher in Roswell, New Mexico found some strange debris, the remains of a cluster of metallic balloons. These were part of a secret project to monitor Russian nuclear tests from high altitude. The rancher informed the authorities, and the military duly collected the debris. Rather than admitting it was a secret project, the commander of the local air base announced to the media that they had recovered the remains of a flying saucer. Instead of distracting the media away from the story, this only brought more attention. The ‘crash site’ at Roswell has become part of UFO mythology with later reports adding alien bodies (or even live aliens) to story.
This type of amplification adds layers of mystery and confusion to what might be a quite mundane event. In Mirage Men, Pilkington notes how military intelligence went on to use this technique deliberately, repeatedly ‘leaked’ fake data to UFO enthusiasts to add to the smokescreen around classified aircraft.
“It’s always worth looking at the sources for leaks, and who is amplifying and distributing them,” Pilkington told Forbes. “There are certain ‘journalists’ and ‘news’ outlets in the UFO world who will dramatically amplify any piece of footage that comes their way, however tenuous or likely it is to have been faked. UFOs are as much about commercial entertainment as they are military secrecy.“
There may be other sorts of cover-up going on too, which may lead to the ‘strange vehicle’ theory getting tacit or overt support.
Skeptics suggest that the latest videos can be explained by misinterpretation of camera and sensor data. One prominent analyst is Mick West who runs the website, Metabunk.org showing how light, motion and camera artefacts can be deceptive. He gives a detailed analysis of the three recent U.S. Navy videos showing how the odd-looking craft could be produced by glare, focusing glitches, and other effects. The UAPs may be normal aircraft, no exotic technology required.
“The real explanations, while fun to investigate, are probably pretty boring,” West concludes.
The military might be reluctant to admit that pilots, radar operators and others have been getting excited, leaking UFO reports and videos, based on misunderstandings though.
“It can be PR exercise in covering up for ordinary errors of misidentification and misperception made by personnel,” says Pilkington. “Quite likely part of what’s happening with the recent batch of reports and leaked footage.”
The confusion caused by these objects might even be be deliberate. Pilkington says that the military may test new spoofing or decoy techniques on unsuspecting pilots. And given that the U.S. Navy is working on a laser system to make glowing balls of plasma dance across the sky to decoy missiles, that looks like a real possibility.
However, Nick Pope – who previously ran the British government’s UFO project – notes that the U.S. military may have genuine concerns about some sightings.
“We don’t have full insight into the military’s current attitude toward UFOs, but the U.S. Navy issuing classified guidance to pilots in 2019 suggests a degree of concern,” Pope told Forbes.
The guidelines suggest the Navy felt a need for more coherent information-gathering on UFOs, with the implication that they are a possible national security issue. While UFOs have always been teasing rather than menacing, that does not mean they do not pose a danger.
“The lack of hostile action doesn’t mean there’s no potential threat,” says Pope. “Threat is defined as capability times intent, so because capability seems impressive, but intent remains unknown, threat can’t be quantified.“
That unquantified threat might be a convenient way of leveraging spending for a whole range of projects that might not otherwise get support.
When asked about the Air Force’s investigation of UFOs in 2020, then-President Trump replied: “I will tell you this: We have now created a military the likes of which we have never had before” and went on to apparently threaten possible extra-terrestrials with military power.
While fighting off interplanetary invasion might seem wildly optimistic – think dugout canoes and spears versus nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and multiply the disparity by a thousand – someone in the Pentagon might see value in promoting the idea of defense spending as a hedge against a possible alien threat.
They certainly have plenty of sources of information to into the report. While UFO investigators may not have made much progress in recent years, military intelligence-gathering certainly has.
“The media and the public may not know more about UFOs than they did decades ago, but the U.S. government does, because of technological advances,” says Pope. “Satellite imagery, air defense radar coverage, space-tracking radar, MASINT [signals intelligence] as a whole – there’s just so much more data available now than previously.”
The question for us is how selective the Pentagon will be with what it shares; and the unclassified story for public consumption might be rather different to the classified one.
Whether they say there are aliens or are not, whether they come up with a mundane explanation or a possible foreign threat, in the past whatever has been released by the Pentagon has not necessarily been in the interests of telling the whole truth. Historically, it has always been about serving quite different interests, which may or may not be ultimately wrapped in with national security.
The truth is out there, and we are all hoping for full disclosure, although most would be disappointed if the conclusion is “we don’t know anything.” The problem is that whatever they say, including claiming ignorance, just remember that you can’t believe everything you read.