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UFO report lends respectability to strange sightings

After months of anticipation, U.S. intelligence experts have released a report citing 18 incidents since 2004 in which unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, to use the Pentagon’s term — appeared to demonstrate breakthrough technologies.

The nine-page, unclassified version of the report doesn’t describe the incidents in detail, and doesn’t attribute them to aliens. But it suggests they’re not linked to existing U.S. military technologies.

The point of the report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to a congressional mandate, is to assess the potential threat posed by the anomalous aerial phenomena reported by U.S. military fliers over the years, whether you call them UFOs or UAPs.

Intelligence experts said they didn’t have enough data to get a firm fix on the nature of 143 out of 144 UAP reports that were filed between 2004 and this March. The one case they said they could resolve “with high confidence” was attributed to a large, deflating balloon.

Their conclusion was that UAP sightings should get more attention.

“UAP pose a hazard to safety of flight and could pose a broader danger if some instances represent sophisticated collection against U.S. military activities by a foreign government or demonstrate a breakthrough aerospace technology by a potential adversary,” the report said. The experts said they “currently lack data” to indicate any of the anomalous incidents actually pose such threats.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who spearheaded the push to get the report, hailed its release and agreed with its conclusions.

“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,” he said in a statement. “This report is an important first step in cataloging these incidents, but it is just a first step.”

Rubio said the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community “have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern. “

The Pentagon has been involved in UFO studies for decades, going back to the aftermath of the 1947 Roswell UFO incident.

For decades, such incidents were traditionally written off as misinterpretations of run-of-the-mill atmospheric or astronomical phenomena, or occasionally as stray sightings of aerial operations for military purposes. But UFO reports have been taken more seriously in recent years, thanks to the work of a hush-hush Pentagon task force that came to light in 2017.

Revelations about the task force, and about a series of anomalous videos captured by Navy jets, prompted Rubio and other lawmakers to seek an official report from the intelligence office.

The report said most of the reported anomalies probably do represent actual physical objects rather than mere glitches, given that 80 of the 144 anomalies cited in the report showed up on multiple sensors.

“There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the reporting,” the report said. The basic types could be broken down into “airborne clutter” such as birds, drones or debris; natural atmospheric phenomena; developmental programs conducted by the U.S. government or commercial industries; foreign adversary systems; and a catch-all bin for “other” phenomena.

The report highlights 18 incidents, described in 21 reports, where observers reported unusual 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 discernable means of propulsion,” the report said. “In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.”

Those cases will be the subject of further analysis, the report said.

According to the report, the Pentagon task force will take steps to expand its database of unidentified aerial phenomena, including anomalies reported to civilian authorities. To deal with a bigger database, the task force plans to take advantage of data analytics, including artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning, to identify and classify UAP reports more efficiently.

The report said the task force “has indicated that additional funding for research and development could further the future study of the topics laid out in this report.”

In advance of the report’s release, U.S. government officials were cagey about discussing whether any UAP reports could be traced to alien technology. “We have no clear indications that there is any non-terrestrial explanation for them — but we will go wherever the data takes us,” one unnamed official told NBC News.

Now that the public version of the report has been released, Michael W. Hall, director and founder of a Seattle-based UFO study group known as UFO i Team, said the outcome fell short of his expectations.

“They’re limiting their study set,” Hall said. “All of the other testimony from civilians is thrown out the window, and of course the aviators aren’t going to say much.”

He didn’t expect today’s report to attribute any of the UAPs to aliens, but he did expect it to take a “baby step” by acknowledging that alien explanations couldn’t be ruled out.

“This is not even the baby step,” Hall said. “This is just the baby lifting its head up.”

Update for 6:30 p.m. PT: In response to the report’s release, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks issued a memo calling on Pentagon officials to “develop a plan to formalize the mission” currently performed by the UAP task force:

This report was first published on Universe Today with the headline “Long-Awaited UFO Report Opens the Door Wider to Sharing Strange Aerial Sightings,” and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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