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Pro- and anti-UFO factions in government? It wouldn’t be the first time

The image from video provided by the Department of Defense labelled Gimbal, from 2015, an unexplained object is seen at center as it is tracked as it soars high along the clouds, traveling against the wind. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one naval aviator tells another, though only one indistinct object is shown. “It’s rotating.” The U.S. government has been taking a hard look at unidentified flying objects, under orders from Congress, and a report summarizing what officials know is expected to come out in June 2021. (Department of Defense via AP)

Shortly before the release of the second government report on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in as many years, dueling narratives emerged in the media. A New York Times article poured cold water on theories of alien visitation and the extraordinary technology alluded to in a 2021 report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” (UAP).

Citing government officials, the Times pointedly downplayed recent military UAP incidents as foreign drones, balloons or “airborne trash.”

A Daily Mail article, in contrast, struck a remarkably different tone.

Among several eyebrow-raising quotes, one source sharply criticized their Office of the Director of National Intelligence colleagues, stating, “They don’t want to talk about [UAP], because they really, really don’t know what the hell they are.” The Daily Mail’s sources disclosed several key details about the report prior to its release, including that the U.S. government cannot explain “more than 150” UFO encounters reported over the past year.

In short, competing factions appear to be vying for control of the UAP narrative. If this is indeed the case, history is repeating itself.

From 1951 to 1953, Capt. Edward Ruppelt served as the first director of Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s two decade-long UAP investigation. Ruppelt, widely regarded as an effective and objective investigator-manager, was genuinely perplexed by the UFO phenomenon. 

As recounted in his 1956 book, Ruppelt frequently found himself caught between two bitterly divided factions. “All through intelligence circles,” Ruppelt wrote, “people had chosen sides” on UFOs.

According to Ruppelt, a 1948 Air Force intelligence assessment came to the remarkable conclusion that UAP were “interplanetary.” The report worked “its way up into the higher echelons of the Air Force” but was “kicked back” by Air Force chief of staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg for lack of hard proof.

Facing intense pressure to resolve the UAP conundrum, Ruppelt wrote, “The people on the UFO project [then] tried a new hypothesis: UFO’s don’t exist.”

Intelligence analysts rapidly learned that “a quick, snappy ‘It was a balloon,’” satisfied their superiors. Easy answers to perplexing, high-quality UAP reports “got recognition [and] feathers were stuck in caps from [Air Force intelligence headquarters] up to the Pentagon.”

As a result, Ruppelt writes, many analysts “jumped on” the anti-UFO “band wagon.”

At the same time, a stubborn “pro-saucer” faction remained convinced “that the UFO’s were interplanetary spaceships. Others weren’t quite as bold and just believed that a good deal more should be known about the UFO’s.”

According to Ruppelt, those in the “pro-saucer” camp “weren’t a bunch of nuts or crackpots… They ranged down through the ranks from generals and top-grade civilians. On the outside their views were backed up by civilian scientists.”

Beyond heated disagreements, the two competing UFO factions sought to influence the media. Ruppelt describes a twopart 1949 article on UAP that “had considerable effect on public opinion. [It] was the Air Force officially reporting on UFO’s for the first time.”

Just like the recent New York Times piece, the 1949 article “casually admitted that a few UFO sightings couldn’t be explained.”

But, as Ruppelt wrote, “the reader didn’t have much chance to think about this fact because 99 per cent of the story was devoted to the anti-saucer side of the problem. It was the typical negative approach.” Of note, the “article started out by psychologically conditioning the reader [against UAP]. By the time the reader gets to the meat of the article he feels like a rich, full-blown jerk for ever even thinking about UFO’s.”

Critically, Ruppelt “was continually being told to ‘tell [the media] about the sighting reports we’ve solved – don’t mention the unknowns.’”

With noteworthy parallels, the recent New York Times piece focuses almost exclusively on “resolved” UAP cases. Importantly, it also offers explanations for two well-known UFO videos recorded by a U.S. Navy fighter jet in 2015.

Citing “Pentagon calculations,” the Times article states that the object in one video (“GoFast”) is moving at only about 30 miles per hour. But if these calculations are identical to those long promoted by UFO “debunkers,” the Pentagon has some explaining to do.

No fewer than four aviators, including a fighter pilot airborne during the “GoFast” encounter, agree that a key figure in the calculation is “likely not very good data.” If that number is miscalculated or otherwise significantly off the mark, the explanation for the “GoFast” UFO video put forth in the Times article is invalidated.

In another video, known as “Gimbal,” an object appears to spin or rotate as it skims over clouds. According to the New York Times’s sources, the object’s apparent rotation is an artifact of the camera.

But this is a remarkable feat of misdirection. The rotation is a red herring.

The “Gimbal” encounter is fascinating because, as noted aerospace engineer Steve Justice explains, the object travels at high altitude with no discernible wings (or means of propulsion).

Importantly, the Navy aircrew that recorded the video maintained a “stable” radar lock on the object. In this regard, knowing the distance between the object and the jet that recorded the video allows UAP sleuths (and engineers like Justice) to establish the UFO’s perplexing lack of wings or obvious means of propulsion.

But that’s not all. Earlier this year, I spoke with a senior engineer intimately familiar with the optical system that recorded the “Gimbal” video. He explicitly disagreed that the rotation observed in the video is an artifact of the camera system. An active-duty F/A-18 weapon systems officer, who uses the system on a near-daily basis, disagreed as well.

Perhaps most importantly, four meticulous geometrical reconstructions of the “Gimbal” encounter show that the object’s rotation matches its flight path. This is a particularly significant blow to the theory put forth in the New York Times piece.

If the government stands by these “quick, snappy” explanations for the “Gimbal” and “GoFast” videos, it must show its work.

Most glaringly, the Times article offers no explanation for the best-known UFO incident in recent years. In 2004, four naval aviators observed a “Tic Tac”-shaped object exhibit extraordinary flight characteristics off the coast of southern California.

When accounting for the position of the sun that day, a video of the object captured by a follow-on flight quite clearly shows a capsule-shaped object with no wings, control surfaces or discernible means of propulsion.

Ultimately, history cannot be allowed to repeat itself. The analysts now facing intense pressure for answers must not return to the decades-long practice of force-fitting simplistic, unscientific explanations onto highly credible UFO reports.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.

Tags UAPs UFO UFO Report UFOs unidentified aerial phenomena

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