For the first time in more than 50 years, Congress held an open hearing on unidentified flying objects.
Last year, a military task force released a hotly anticipated report on what the government calls unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP. After that report, Congress ordered the Defense Department to start formally studying the issue and report back to lawmakers and the public.
Tuesday, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie and Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray testified for more than 90 minutes before House lawmakers, and later went into closed session to discuss information they won’t yet make public.
“We know that our service members have encountered unidentified aerial phenomena, and because UAPs pose potential flight safety and general security risks, we are committed to a focused effort to determine their origins,” Moultrie said.
The military officials told Congress the UAP group now has a database of about 400 reports. They said some of those encounters can be explained, but that in most cases they don’t yet have answers. And they stressed the work they’ve done to destigmatize the reporting of unexplained phenomena.
“The direct result of those efforts has been increased reporting with increased opportunities to focus a number of sensors on any objects,” Bray said. “The message is now clear: if you see something, you need to report it. And the message has been received.”
Bray said some of the reports in the UAP group’s database have videos and other documentation. There are narrative reports of incidents, many from years past, which he said aren’t as useful.
Most of the reports come from military personnel, though Bray and Moultrie told lawmakers the UAP group is also coordinating with federal agencies like NASA, the FAA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked whether the group was taking in open-source information and reports from civilians.
“The UAP task force has worked very hard to make sure the data set that we’re working with is a data set that we have very good control over,” Bray said. “We have some partnerships with FAA, so we get some of that reporting in. But if it comes to just open-source reports or someone says that they saw something, that generally does not make it into our database.”
Mark Rodeghier, scientific director of the Chicago-based Center for UFO Studies, said while he understands the focus on reports from military personnel in the UAP group’s infancy, eventually it’ll have to broaden its data collection.
“UFOs and their appearances are not restricted to just to the military,” Rodeghier said. “In the long run, you have to collect data from multiple sources, which would mean civilians of all types, whether it’s airline pilots, scientists collecting data, or organizations like ours.”
Another Illinois lawmaker, Rep. Darin LaHood, asked about reports from what he termed “amateur interest groups” that are unsubstantiated or manufactured – and whether there are any legal deterrents.
“I don’t have that answer,” Moultrie said. “I welcome the dialogue with Congress to talk about that with the members who help legislate those laws and say, what should be the legal ramifications that we could use to potentially hold individuals accountable, whether it be citizens or information that might be injected into our media by other forces or other countries.”
Rodeghier described LaHood’s concern about hoaxes as “off base” and “incoherent.” He’s more concerned about seeing instrumentation dedicated to studying UAPs, and a clearer method for deciding when an object can’t be determined as coming from earth, and what happens next – which he said will require scientific expertise, not just military prowess.
Sam Maranto, state director for the Mutual UFO Network, said he was happy to hear the witnesses commit to following the information they get wherever it leads.
“It seems as though time after time, for 70-some odd years, they have only been divulging information and pursuing the low-hanging fruit ... than to spend time working on those things and pursuing further investigations into the truly anomalous things, the real phenomena that has been plaguing us now for ages,” Maranto said.
Maranto also applauded the UAP group’s commitment to a data-driven approach, but said he’d like to see clearer guidelines about what information is classified and why.
The UAP group is supposed to issue annual reports to Congress, and researchers who work on this issue expect more hearings in the future.