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The world's most passionate UFO skeptic versus the government
Mick West is a man on a mission. Amid surging interest in UFOs, West is determined - perhaps more than anyone else on earth - to prove that alien craft are not zipping around our skies. A retired video game programmer who now spends his time diving into mind-numbing technical details of UFO sightings, Mick believes that all the hype is nothing more than a "flap."
West's skepticism aside, the U.S. government is convinced that unidentified objects are moving through the air and water in ways that "we don't have the technology for." Taken to its logical conclusion, this revelation will ultimately result in one of three outcomes. Any way you slice it, this may be the most significant national security story in at least a generation.
If skeptics like West are correct, the government is guilty of an enormous failure of analysis. Indeed, mistaking mundane factors (such as balloons, drones, equipment malfunctions or optical illusions) for highly advanced craft would make for a shocking analytic misfire by the intelligence community.
Alternatively, if West's analyses are wrong and the government is interpreting the data correctly, a foreign adversary may have developed extraordinary technology that can easily outperform America's most advanced aircraft. This would imply an intelligence collection failure orders of magnitude worse than 9/11.
The third possibility - that the U.S. government possesses evidence of "non-human technology" - is simply mind-boggling.
Based on what is publicly known about these phenomena, skeptics like West believe that merely speculating about otherworldly explanations - as two former presidents and high-level intelligence officials recently have - is unwarranted. Unsurprisingly, Mick is also dismissive of explosive reports that the U.S. government is actively considering an extraterrestrial hypothesis for the most puzzling phenomena.
I am not qualified to comment on Mick's punctilious technical analyses or his seemingly endless (and frequently entertaining) exchanges with military pilots and physicists. But his defiant skepticism amid a series of remarkable developments caught my attention. Indeed, taken as a whole, the latest revelations should turn most West-style skeptics into UFO agnostics.
In my message to Mick, I noted that it is highly unlikely that former presidents - who still receive the intelligence community's most robust analyses - would muse so openly about aliens simply on a whim. Surely, they asked what the government makes of these phenomena before speculating about otherworldly life.
In his response, which Mick gave me permission to share for this column, West dismisses Obama, Clinton and Brennan's comments as "low information cryptic statements from non-experts." More importantly, Mick suspects that such extraordinary theorizing is based on flawed analysis.
Mick argues that a highly anticipated government report on UFOs had "no real funding" and "will probably rely on work previously done" by a small Pentagon unit with a "pro-alien bias." At best, Mick believes, the government is "competently collating" a series of odd encounters without conducting any robust analytic work.
Playing devil's advocate, I suggest that congressional requirements for the forthcoming report all but demand input from a broad range of experts. Moreover, with the government now forced to come clean on UFOs, surging public (let alone presidential) interest begs for a robust assessment. To that end, the director of national intelligence must have assigned analysts, program directors, scientists and experts from across government and the private sector to complete the report.
Mick does not bite. He sticks to his guns, believing that the report is based on "gullible" "second-hand" analysis and conclusions "that [have] not gone into much depth." According to Mick, the final product will amount to little more than "a bunch of accounts of unusual encounters that are difficult to explain." If West is correct, the director of national intelligence largely ignored a congressional requirement that the report include a "detailed analysis" of these phenomena.
While unclassified sections of the report will likely remain excruciatingly thin on details, Mick and UFO agnostics are at stark odds on the all-important question of how seriously the government is taking these encounters.
In much the same vein, Mick is dismissive of jaw-dropping comments by neuroscientist and author Sam Harris. On three occasions, Harris - not prone to making wild or unsubstantiated statements - implied that the U.S. government has concluded that "we're in the presence of alien technology." According to Harris, officials are fretting over how to convey this extraordinary revelation to the public. Mick is unmoved.
Ultimately, West holds a semi-religious belief that the government's UFO analysis is fatally flawed. Statements by high-level officials to the contrary, he remains unconvinced that the government possesses data showing objects accelerating, changing direction and submerging in extraordinary ways.
This puts Mick in an odd position. As he noted just last year, convincing conspiracy theorists "that the government can be right about things" is often an arduous task. In a fascinating twist, West now believes that the government is catastrophically wrong on a high-profile topic.
Stay tuned. Regardless of how Mick's disagreement with government analysts plays out, this is just the beginning of a remarkable story.
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.