In dramatic shift, national intelligence director does not rule out 'extraterrestrial' origins for UFOs

For seven decades, government officials systematically dismissed, ignored and belittled any mention of UFOs. Indeed, despite mind-boggling intelligence assessments, Cold War-era national security fears led the U.S. government to apply scientifically absurd explanations to highly credible UFO encounters.

In short, the prospect of a sitting high-level national security official openly discussing otherworldly origins for UFOs was long unthinkable — until last week.

Asked about a recent report in which the government admitted that it could not explain 143 out of 144 military encounters with mysterious flying objects – including several which appeared to demonstrate extraordinary technology – director of national intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesOvernight Defense & National Security — Russian military moves cause for concern New Pentagon group to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE said, “There’s always the question of ‘is there something else that we simply do not understand, that might come extraterrestrially?’”

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Haines’s comment is the latest sign that a seismic shift in the government’s official stance on UFOs is underway.

Just a few weeks before Haines’s groundbreaking statement, NASA administrator Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA spacewalk delayed due to debris threat This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Two trajectories to Mars by the 2030s MORE made waves by speculating publicly that UFOs might have otherworldly origins. Indeed, after meeting with the naval aviators who encountered objects that appeared to move in ways that defied physics and aerodynamics, Nelson is convinced that the pilots saw something truly extraordinary.

Moreover, after reading a classified government report on the military’s recent UFO encounters, Nelson – an Army veteran, former senator and ex-astronaut – said, “The hair stood up on the back of my neck.” Clearly, something has NASA’s chief spooked.

Like Nelson, former Presidents Obama and Clinton both speculated openly about the likelihood of alien life when asked about UFOs in June. Obama went on to state that “There’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are. We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern.”

Obama was likely referring to mysterious flying craft that, according to the government, appear to “remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion.”

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Queried about these seemingly physics-defying movements, former CIA director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead In dramatic shift, national intelligence director does not rule out 'extraterrestrial' origins for UFOs Durham's latest indictment: More lines drawn to Clinton's campaign MORE made a jaw-dropping statement, suggesting that “a different form of life” might be behind the phenomena. Similarly, another former CIA director (and long-time UFO skeptic), James Woolsey, signaled a new openness to otherworldly explanations for UFOs.

John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeThis Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead DOJ charges two Iranians with interference in 2020 election In dramatic shift, national intelligence director does not rule out 'extraterrestrial' origins for UFOs MORE, Haines’s predecessor as director of national intelligence, injected eyebrow-raising context to the military’s recent UFO encounters.

According to Ratcliffe, U.S. intelligence analysts have “high confidence” that foreign adversaries – such as China or Russia – are not behind the most extraordinary UFO sightings. In a stark summation of the government’s assessment of the phenomenon, Ratcliffe stated that some UFOs exhibit “technologies that we don’t have and, frankly, that we are not capable of defending against.”

After reading the classified version of the government’s recent UFO report, Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyUS expected to announce diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics soon: report GOP anger with Fauci rises No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline MORE (R-Utah) echoed Ratcliffe’s comments, ruling out highly advanced Chinese or Russian aircraft as likely explanations for the mysterious objects. In an interview about the military’s UFO encounters, Romney referred to “technology which is in a whole different sphere than anything we understand.”

But sightings of unknown craft exhibiting highly advanced technology are not a recent phenomenon. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, the first director of the CIA, said that objects “operating under intelligent control” displayed extraordinary technology in the decades after World War II.

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Mirroring recent government assessments, Hillenkoetter stated that neither the United States nor any other nation could have developed such advanced aircraft.

Indeed, declassified documents from the late 1940s and early 1950s show that intelligence analysts systematically ruled out ultra-secret U.S. technology and foreign competitors as plausible explanations for the most compelling UFO encounters.

Despite these jaw-dropping assessments, a series of bizarre – and still unexplained – 1952 UFO sightings in the skies above Washington, D.C. alarmed America’s defense planners. As UFO reports and public queries about the incidents overwhelmed the military’s communications channels, national security officials grew concerned that the Soviet Union could exploit public interest in UFOs to cause mass panic and gain an advantage in a surprise attack.

As a result, the Air Force’s 20-year project to catalogue UFO sightings quickly devolved into an exercise in “debunking” and discrediting even the most credible encounters.

As renowned atmospheric physicist James McDonald made clear, the Air Force began applying “meteorologically, chemically and optically absurd” explanations to UFO sightings. McDonald’s assessment was corroborated by astronomer J. Allen Hynek, who served for two decades as the Air Force UFO project’s civilian scientific consultant.

In a stark – and refreshing – break from the government’s record of foisting bizarre, unscientific explanations onto highly credible UFO cases, Haines stated last week that “we don’t understand everything we’re seeing.”

Thankfully, the glaring deficiencies in UFO reporting and analysis identified by Haines may soon be addressed.

If historic legislation proposed by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE (D-N.Y.) is adopted by Congress, the government will be forced to conduct the comprehensive, objective and science-based assessment that the UFO phenomenon has long demanded.

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.