The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released its Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena report. The report analyzes 144 reports of UAPs, what the government calls UFOs, being sighted by military personnel between 2004 and 2021. Eighty of the reports referred to objects that were tracked by multiple sensors. Twenty-one of the reports describe 18 incidents in which the objects displayed unusual flight characteristics.
“Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.”
These incidents have caught the attention of many UFO enthusiasts who wonder if they describe alien spacecraft propelled by an advanced technology. Nevertheless, the report makes no conclusions. Among the possibilities include airborne clutter such as balloons, other aircraft, or birds, atmospheric phenomena, United States government experimental aircraft, foreign government experimental aircraft (i.e. Russian or Chinese) or “other” (i.e. aliens.) The report suggests that further study is needed to identify what military pilots are seeing. It suggests that not one explanation exists for all of the UAPs or UFOs.
As the nine-page report stands, it seems to be a rather thin gruel. Some portions were left out, resulting in accusations of a coverup. On the other hand, accusations of government coverups of the real origins of UFOs have cropped up for decades. The accusations have been part of popular culture, such as in the long-running TV series “The X-Files.”
Leaving aside the pop-culture-fueled suspicions of a secret government conspiracy, the report suggests that the examination of these UFOs (or UAPs, being the preferred, approved label) is an ongoing process. While American intelligence organizations are reluctant to draw any definitive conclusions, they seem to be particularly interested in the small number of incidents in which the objects demonstrated weird behavior that seemed to violate the laws of physics.
Let us propose, as a hypothesis, that some kind of alien intelligence is responsible for some of these sightings. What kind of conclusions can we draw?
First, the aliens don’t seem to be particularly interested in making direct contact with Earth humans. No indications exist that spacecraft are about to land on the White House lawn (or at the United Nations, depending on which science fiction story one favors) or send a signal from afar (as in the film “Contact” based on the Carl Sagan novel.) On the other hand, they also seem to be uninterested in keeping their existence a secret.
That last point is a key. A civilization that is capable of crossing the interstellar gulf would likely also have the technology to conceal its spacecraft from prying eyes. “Star Trek,” after all, posited a cloaking device as well as a warp drive. Indeed, contemporary aerospace stealth technology has become quite advanced.
Does the fact that the aliens (if these are aliens) don’t mind that we see them suggest that they want us to at least suspect they exist? For what purpose? To keep us on our toes?
Presuming that the hypothetical aliens are not hostile and, the speculations of the late Dr. Stephen Hawking aside, we have no reason to suspect they are, what is their ultimate purpose? Are they even going to establish first contact?
Most science fiction scenarios imagine the aliens landing on the Washington Mall (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”) or at the UN (“Childhood’s End”) and announcing themselves. However, would an advanced civilization view the president of the United States or the UN general-secretary as the person most worthy of establishing first contact?
The hypothetical aliens may not view a political leader as the most significant person on our planet. Instead, they may want to establish first contact with a technological visionary, someone who has demonstrated the ability to imagine a future better than the present and is working diligently to achieve that goal. He harbors no petty, political ambitions nor any of the outrageous, Twitter-fueled passions that have blighted civilization.
The hypothetical aliens will not appear in the skies over Washington or New York (or Beijing, thank God.) Instead, perhaps first contact will occur at the hitherto obscure hamlet of Boca Chica, Texas, where the future is being born. We can only hope that Elon Musk is ready if and when they do come. The task of speaking for the human species will be a heavy one indeed.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and the Washington Post, among other venues.