Set to make history on UFOs, Congress revives the '1 percent' doctrine

Congress is days away from enacting historic legislation on UFOs. As first detailed by researcher Douglas Dean Johnson, a must-pass defense bill will force the U.S. government to mount a sweeping effort to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena.

Among a litany of groundbreaking requirements, Congress is set to mandate the establishment of rapid UFO response teams, initiate a scientific study of objects that “exceed the known state of the art in science or technology” and require investigations of health-related effects associated with UFO encounters. Perhaps most importantly, following seven decades of Cold War-induced secrecy, denial and obfuscation, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act will mandate unprecedented government transparency on UFOs.

Robust bipartisan support for the bill’s expansive provisions amounts to a stark rebuke of years of official ineptitude and inaction on UFOs. Moreover, congressional assertiveness is reviving the “one percent” doctrine, which holds that if there is even a slight chance that a particular threat is real, the government must act as if it is a certainty.

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Formulated by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the “one percent” doctrine initially resulted in catastrophe. The 2003 Iraq War, premised upon the disingenuous notion that Iraq’s secular dictator might collaborate with jihadists to attack the United States, led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, cost trillions in taxpayer dollars and sparked the rise of the Islamic State.

But now that former presidents, high-level government officials, intelligence analysts and fighter pilots have stated that unknown objects are demonstrating seemingly extraordinary capabilities while flying in sensitive airspace, Congress is right to adopt a nuanced version of the “one percent” doctrine. Former director of national intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeWe need scientific analysis of satellite data on UAP Set to make history on UFOs, Congress revives the '1 percent' doctrine This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE’s recent statement that some UFOs exhibit “technologies that we don’t have and, frankly, that we are not capable of defending against” underscores congressional alarm.

But the legislative crusade to force the government to take the UFO phenomenon seriously is destined to clash with deeply ingrained bureaucratic and ideological resistance. Luis Elizondo, the former head of an informal Pentagon-led effort to investigate U.S. military encounters with UFOs, highlighted this dynamic by pointing me to recent comments from a top national security official.

Despite acknowledging the UFO phenomenon, the civilian head of the Air Force is resisting involvement because, in his telling, UFOs do not present an overt threat.

Elizondo likened this approach to sitting idly by while an unknown “submarine pops out of the Potomac [River], right in front Washington, D.C. [But] because you don’t know who it belongs to, it’s not a threat?” Expressing exasperation, Elizondo continued, “You’re acknowledging the reality of these things, but you’re saying it’s not a priority? That is absurd.”

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Beyond national security concerns, the physics-defying capabilities reported by military personnel and recorded by multiple sensor platforms demand urgent scientific attention. As renowned astronomer J. Allen Hynek stated in congressional testimony over a half-century ago, even “if the sole purpose of such a study [of UFOs] is to satisfy human curiosity, to probe the unknown and to provide intellectual adventure, then it is in line with what science has always stood for.”

To that end, a 2004 UFO encounter makes the case for exactly the robust investigations Congress is set to mandate.

Over the course of several days that November, radar operators aboard a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser sailing southwest of California observed unidentified objects descending instantaneously from above 80,000 feet – twice as high as conventional aircraft fly – to a hover around 20,000 feet. The objects then ascended rapidly again to extreme altitudes.

After radar operators on the ship confirmed one such contact with an airborne command and control aircraft, two F/A-18 fighter jets were sent to investigate. As the jets approached the designated coordinates, all four aviators aboard the fighters observed an object that appeared to demonstrate extraordinary capabilities.

The unknown craft – which had no discernible engines, rotors, wings or other control surfaces – mirrored the maneuvers of the lead fighter jet before accelerating instantaneously out of sight. Seconds later, the UFO reappeared on radar scopes 60 miles away, implying unimaginably fast velocities. Most perplexingly, the object appeared at a pre-determined rendezvous point known only to the pilots and radar operators.

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Intelligence analyses of the encounter ruled out highly advanced Chinese or Russian aircraft as plausible explanations. For their part, the aviators who observed the object believe that it was “not from this world.”

Nearly two decades later, the extreme capabilities exhibited by the mysterious object remain well out of the realm of the most advanced technologies.  

The incident undoubtedly influenced the sweeping UFO-related legislation that will soon be signed into law. And why shouldn’t it? If there is even a slight chance that the extraordinary technology observed by four naval aviators (and corroborated by two independent radar systems) is a real phenomenon, then future UFO encounters demand exactly the type of in-depth investigations that the government will soon be required to conduct.

But the 2004 encounter is not an isolated incident. In recent years, military personnel briefed members of Congress and spoke publicly of unidentified objects operating with apparent impunity in sensitive airspace. And in June, a landmark government report stated that some UFOs appear to “remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, [all] without discernible means of propulsion.”

Moreover, reports from multiple highly credible observers of mysterious, “intelligently controlled” craft exhibiting highly advanced technologies date back to the 1940s. With noteworthy parallels to recent intelligence assessments, declassified government analyses from 1947 to 1952 suggested extraordinary explanations for the most compelling UFO encounters.

But in early 1953, Cold War national security fears spurred a semi-official government policy of denying, belittling and “debunking” UFO reports, no matter how credible. In short, the UFO phenomenon never received a fair shake from the government or the scientific community — until now.

Unlike the catastrophic consequences of the Bush administration’s “one percent” doctrine, Congress’s bold approach to UFOs amounts to a comparatively minuscule, low-risk investment that may finally unravel an enduring mystery.

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.