If the truth is out there, Congress would like to know.
The House and Senate are taking significant steps to increase the federal government’s ability to monitor and identify UFOs and to compel the military to release more information to the general public.
Three former military officers who claim to have had encounters with unidentified flying objects will testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. In the Senate, lawmakers added a bipartisan amendment to a essential defense bill that would force the military to collect and declassify UFO-related information.
The parallel efforts are part of a growing bipartisan push to investigate the phenomenon. True believers and skeptics agree that they want to know what these objects are and whether they pose a national security risk.
Congress held its first UFO-related public hearing in decades last year, housing Pentagon officials. But Wednesday’s hearing will feature the first unclassified public testimony from service members interested in exposing what they believe they witnessed.
“I just want a little bit of transparency. I think everyone should ask for that,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), the driving force behind the hearing, told The Times. last week. “If there is no UFO, then why does the federal government spend so much time and effort to stop any kind of hearing and why doesn’t it release these files that it has? Every file I’ve seen is so redacted it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese.”
This is not the opening scene of “Independence Day”. But just like in sci-fi movies where ancient enemies unite to fight aliens, an unusually broad coalition, from progressive Democrats to far-right Republicans, comes together to force the Pentagon to turn over more information to Congress.
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), the ranking Democrat on the oversight subcommittee organizing the hearing, said he was working with members of both parties to “ensure that we have a serious and accountable hearing” that focuses on national security.
“There is a lot of information that we don’t know, so I think it’s very important that we have this public hearing,” he said.
When When Burchett was asked who he was working most closely with at the hearing last week, he greeted Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), a member of the Oversight Committee.
“This is not a partisan issue. That’s why I asked Jared. He’s incredibly smart, legal minded and I trust him. He’s my guy,” Burchett said, putting a hand on Moskowitz’s shoulder.
“I think it’s really simple for us. If the government knows things about these UAPs, what do they know and why don’t they tell us? Moskowitz said.
As Moskowitz’s comments indicate, the phenomenon has undergone a recent name change: UFO has been replaced by UAP. Scientists and government officials are using the new acronym in an attempt to get away from the stigma and little green man assumptions that persist when people think of UFOs. Until recently, UAP stood for “unidentified aerial phenomena,” but last year’s National Defense Authorization Act modified the term to represent “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” a broader general category.
The Pentagon and other national security agencies are investigating a surge in UAP reports, which emphasize that they are unidentified: they could be Chinese spy planes, drones, technological glitches or alien spacecraft, and cover items as diverse as bizarre videos and this year’s Chinese spy balloon. But not everyone has bought into the name change.
“I prefer to call them UFOs,” Burchett said at a news conference.
Senators have shown similar bipartisan enthusiasm for investigating UAPs: Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.), and Sen. Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) have partnered with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Rounds (RS.D.) to add an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that must pass to force to the Pentagon to release more information.
That amendment would require federal agencies to turn over UAP-related documents to a new review board that would review whether to declassify them, and would force federal agencies to turn over the information to the board within 300 days of receiving it. The program will be based on the 1992 law that sought to declassify information related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“That’s a big breakthrough,” Gillibrand said. “There will be more transparency, more accountability, and more public disclosure.”
Like the Kennedy program, the UAP investigation has the support of lawmakers who suspect a government cover-up and skeptics who think more information will help dispel conspiracy theories. The U in UAP is unexplained, after all, and many of those who back these efforts in Congress simply want explanations.
Last year’s defense funding bill established a new body, the All Domains Anomaly Resolution Office, to monitor, track and investigate mysterious objects in the air, water and space. The office is now investigating more than 800 UAP reports dating back decades. Of the 300 reports the bureau has reviewed so far, it was unable to identify or explain 171 of them. Gillibrand said that he had ensured that the office was also fully funded in this year’s defense bill.
Ryan Graves is one of three witnesses scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing.
Graves, a former Navy pilot, said that after his squadron upgraded its planes’ dated radar technology in 2014, he and numerous pilots he served with near Virginia Beach, Va., began getting regular readings of flying objects that behaved like nothing they’d ever seen before. Those objects began to appear in the readings of other systems. Then the pilots began to see them. Not long after, pilots “started having near-air collisions with these objects,” he said.
According to Graves, those objects displayed “a wide plethora of behaviors that are really inexplicable,” such as staying completely stationary at high altitudes in hurricane-force winds while the fighter jets he and his crew flew had to fight through the gusts just to stay in the general area. Those objects would accelerate and move at supersonic speeds while making instantaneous changes of direction. Some of the encounters were captured on video.
Graves is the first to admit that what he saw could be anything, including advanced spy instruments from a rival country. But whatever they are, he thinks it’s important to study and identify UAPs.
“I think people have a right to know that this is something their pilots, both military and commercial, see on a regular basis,” he said. “We don’t know what they are. We are not trying to jump to conclusions when we bring that attention to the general public, but we must recognize that uncertainty and unknown objects operating in our sovereign airspace is a massive national security issue.”
Retired Navy pilot David Fravor, also set to testify Wednesday, has said he encountered UAP while flying from the USS Nimitz off the coast of San Diego.
But the most startling testimony the committee will hear Wednesday is likely to come from David Grusch, a former Air Force officer and intelligence officer who last month he said the programs he worked on “intact and partially intact vehicles” recovered that tests showed were designed by “non-human intelligence.”
The Pentagon has rejected Grusch’s claims, saying multiple news points of sale that it “has not uncovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that programs related to the possession or reverse engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or currently exist.”
Some members of Congress rolled their eyes at Grusch’s claims.
“If we had found a UFO, I think the Department of Defense would tell us, because they would probably want to ask for more money,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) quipped during his weekly news conference last week. “So I would love to see the facts and information that we have. I’m very supportive of the American people seeing what we have.”
Burchett, who has led the charge for the House Oversight hearing, may sound like a conspiracy enthusiast: It’s pushed conspiracy theories about the death of financier Jeffrey Epstein and created a “Bigfoot Day” as mayor of Knox County, and has worked more closely with fiery Florida Republican representatives Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna on the issue. The three claim they were obstructed when they visited Eglin Air Force Base in Florida earlier this year seeking information on UAP, sparking a verbal altercation with the base’s commanding officer.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want this to get out,” Burchett said Thursday at a pre-hearing news conference. “Let’s get to the bottom of this, damn it, whatever the truth. We are done with the cover-up.
Other members on both sides of the aisle made it clear that they want the audience to avoid conspiratorial tones and focus on laying out the facts.
“He has a perspective on this, which is nice,” Garcia said of Burchett. “My job as the ranking member on the Democratic side is to ensure that we have a hearing that is accountable, serious, and focused on national security, and I will make sure to work with my subcommittee chair to make that the kind of hearing that we have.”
Some members of Congress are more than a little skeptical about UFOs and their colleagues’ enthusiasm for investigating them.
“I don’t believe in them. I have never seen one. If he had, he would have shot it down,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a former Air Force pilot and retired brigadier general, said with a laugh.
But while the issue may draw ridicule from some in Congress, serious lawmakers in both parties believe it is crucial to national security to find out what these phenomena are and where they come from.
So does Gillibrand think these UAPs could be aliens? “I have no idea,” she said. “And having no idea is not an acceptable response to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. They have to know what is knowable.