Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible

Defense Department

Groundbreaking journalism has shattered the UFO taboo. But from what is publicly known about a series of unexplained military encounters with objects that appear to defy the laws of physics, tantalizing reporting by The New York Times, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, The New Yorker and 60 Minutes might only scratch the surface of an extraordinary story.

Indeed, by eliminating unlikely explanations for these mysterious phenomena, two mind-boggling explanations are increasingly plausible. Either theory – a remarkable technological leap by a foreign government or “non-human technology” at work – would have profound global implications.  

To be sure, a community of skeptics and debunkers makes convincing arguments that some recent incidents breathlessly promoted by UFO enthusiasts have prosaic explanations. But after years of study by government analysts with access to an array of sensitive data, several other encounters cannot be easily chalked up to mundane factors.

Former President Obama recently drove this point home, confirming that “there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.” According to Obama, these unidentified craft move in ways that defy any “easily explainable pattern.”

John Ratcliffe, Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence, drilled down even further, saying that the objects “engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for.” Teasing a forthcoming government report on the military’s encounters, Ratcliffe stated that “there are a lot more sightings than have been made public.”

John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director (and, importantly, a fierce Ratcliffe critic), went even further, openly speculating that the objects might “constitute a different form of life.”

Make no mistake: Former high-ranking intelligence officials do not make such extraordinary statements without some analytic backing. That Brennan and Ratcliffe reside on entirely opposite ends of the political spectrum is all the more remarkable.

Obama, for his part, is not prone to making wild or unsubstantiated statements. To that end, these officials offer some valuable insights into how the U.S. government assesses these baffling incidents.

Obama, Ratcliffe and Brennan’s statements strongly suggest that intelligence analysts – drawing upon specialized technical expertise and a broad array of supporting sensor data – have concluded that these incidents cannot be explained by mundane, everyday factors.

Brennan’s remarkable speculation about “different form[s] of life,” in particular, is a fairly robust indicator that experts have all but ruled out balloons, birds, distant airliners or technical glitches as explanations for these phenomena. Indeed, former CIA directors do not typically theorize publicly about extraterrestrials — and certainly not without some analytic underpinning that rules out prosaic explanations.

Other commenters insist that these objects are highly classified U.S. aircraft. But if these were ultra-secret military experiments, an ex-president and former top intelligence officials would not have spoken so candidly about the objects’ apparent technical capabilities. Moreover, Brennan’s speculation about “different form[s] of life” makes for a particularly odd way of publicly deflecting from experimental U.S. aircraft when a standard “no comment” would have sufficed.

But by far the best debunkers of the “super-secret-U.S.-aircraft” theory are the very naval aviators who encountered the objects.

Similarly, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose positions atop the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence afford them access to high-level intelligence briefings, would not have voiced strong national security concerns if the objects were secret U.S. aircraft or if more mundane factors could explain these phenomena.

Another conspiracy theory holds that the flurry of reporting on these encounters is part of a sophisticated psychological influence operation targeting the American public. One version of this narrative holds that rogue elements of the government are nefariously hyping UFO sightings to “agitate for bigger defense budgets.” But as recent commentary has made clear, there are far more effective ways to fill the Pentagon’s coffers.

Moreover, the Department of Defense has long resisted taking unidentified aerial phenomena seriously, opting instead to ignore, deflect and discredit. Indeed, the recent surge of interest in these incidents was not artificially triggered by shadowy Pentagon officials. On the contrary, it is rooted in a bipartisan congressional effort led by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and amplified by Leslie Kean, an author who has written critically about the government’s record on such incidents.

With former high-level officials of all political stripes – from Barack Obama to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) – making extraordinary statements about these encounters, the odds that the UFO story is an insidious public influence campaign drop to zero. Indeed, amid the extreme political divisions plaguing the United States, Donald Trump’s fiercest critics and his most ardent loyalists are almost certainly not colluding to deceive the American public.

Ultimately, the methodical elimination of various explanations for these phenomena – from mundane factors, ultra-secret U.S. aircraft or a plot to boost defense spending – leaves two possibilities, both of which have startling implications: Either a foreign nation has developed remarkable technical capabilities or U.S. military personnel observed “non-human technology” in American airspace.

To be sure, any revelation that Russia, China or another foreign power has developed technology capable of defying the laws of physics and aerodynamics (while managing to keep it secret since at least 2004) would amount to the most significant national security development since the dawn of the nuclear age.

At the same time, there is no conclusive evidence that these encounters involve objects of extraterrestrial origin. But the mere fact that the U.S. government, with its nearly unlimited investigatory capabilities, is reportedly considering “alien” technology as an explanation for these phenomena is a jaw-dropping development.

In much the same vein, the pilot with the single most credible account of an encounter with a UFO – backed up by several of his fellow naval aviators and an array of sensor data – believes that the object he chased was “not from this world.”

Similarly, Luis Elizondo, who led the Pentagon effort to assess these extraordinary incidents, speculates that “we may not be alone.”

Given the monumental implications of these increasingly plausible explanations, Congress must heed Elizondo’s call to include academia and the broader scientific community in a “fair-minded, purposeful, deliberate scientific approach” to investigating these incidents. The stakes are simply too great to ignore them.

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 Barack Obama Defense Department Donald Trump Extraterrestrial hypothesis Harry Reid John Brennan John Ratcliffe Marco Rubio Mark Warner Newt Gingrich Tucker Carlson UFO conspiracy theories UFOs Unidentified flying objects

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