The U.S. government has encountered more than 140 of what it calls unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), more commonly known as UFOs, according to an unclassified intelligence report released Friday.
Of the 144 such encounters since 2004, just one was identified with high confidence while the others remain a mystery, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a report sent to Congress.
The report offered several possible explanations for the sightings, including airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, top secret U.S. government programs and foreign adversary systems. But it also left open the door to “other” explanations.
“There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the available reporting,” the report said.
“Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them,” it added.
The report offered a rare public accounting of what the government knows and what it doesn’t in an area that has long captured the public imagination, particularly for those seeking signs of extraterrestrial life.
But while UFOs and aliens are sometimes synonymous to the public, the one sighting the U.S. intelligence community was to identify had a much more pedestrian explanation: “a large, deflating balloon,” according to the report.
The nine-page unclassified assessment came at the direction of lawmakers who inserted the requirement for the report into last year’s intelligence authorization bill amid an uptick in UFO sightings by U.S. military aviators.
“For years, the men and women we trust to defend our country reported encounters with unidentified aircraft that had superior capabilities, and for years their concerns were often ignored and ridiculed,” Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (R-Fla.), who championed the reporting requirement, said in a statement Friday.
“This report is an important first step in cataloging these incidents, but it is just a first step,” he added. “The Defense Department and Intelligence Community have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.) similarly said in his own statement that Friday’s “rather inconclusive report only marks the beginning of efforts to understand and illuminate what is causing these risks to aviation in many areas around the country and the world.”
Public interest in and acceptance of the existence of UFOs has peaked in recent months as anticipation for the ODNI report built up. Interviews where military pilots described seeing objects in the sky that they said defied explanation, as well as leaked video, stoked imagination further.
Friday’s report said that of the 144 cases, 18 involved observers reporting “unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics.”
“Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion,” the report said.
The unusual flight characteristics “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis,” the report added.
Most of the sighting happened over U.S. military training and testing grounds, but the report said that is likely “collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.”
Still, the report said the phenomena represent a flight safety issue and possible national security concern, particularly if they are “sophisticated collection against U.S. military activities by a foreign government or demonstrate a breakthrough aerospace technology by a potential adversary.”
In a separate statement on the report, the Pentagon said it “takes reports of incursions – by any aerial object, identified or unidentified – very seriously, and investigates each one.”
Following the report, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks directed the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security to develop a plan to formalize the work currently being done by a Pentagon task force formed last year, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
“This plan will be developed in coordination with various DOD components, including the military departments and the combatant commands, and with ODNI and other interagency partners,” Kirby said in a statement. “The plan will establish procedures for synchronizing collection, reporting and analysis of UAP; provide recommendations for securing military test and training ranges; and identify requirements for the establishment and operation of a new follow-on DOD activity to lead the effort, including its alignment, resources, staffing, authorities, and a timeline for implementation.”