On May 17, Congress held its first public hearings on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs—i.e., UFOs) in about 50 years. The House Intelligence Committee’s Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation (C3) Subcommittee asked questions of Ronald Moultrie, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, and Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence. The open hearing lasted for about an hour and a half, with C3 chaired by Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.). After a recess, the committee took Moultrie and Bray into a classified session.
The Department of Defense’s tracking of UAPs has undergone a number of changes in the last 15 years. After the work of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), building on earlier work by the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev., 1987–2017), “Congress rewrote the charter for [the Department of Defense UAP-tracking] organization, which is now called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, or AOIMSG for short,” noted the Space.com write-up on the C3 hearing. All of this has a history, and the work has moved from the purview of the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. Navy. As the National Archives puts it: “The United States Air Force retired to the custody of the National Archives its records on Project BLUE BOOK relating to the investigations of unidentified flying objects. Project BLUE BOOK has been declassified and the records are available for examination in our research room. The project closed in 1969 and we have no information on sightings after that date.” Whether the Air Force has no further information after 1969 or not, it is clear that other agencies have received new information—and now some of that, under the auspices of the Navy and AOIMSG, is out in the open.
UAPs present an enormous challenge to researchers. As information professionals and librarians, it’s our business to think about evidence and information provenance. The subject of UFOs has always been difficult to approach because it represents murky events that are most often witnessed incidentally and without professional rigor (though clearly not always, which is why C3 held the hearing). Most sightings happen in less than laboratory conditions by people across various professions and trades, not all of whom have high levels of skill in the techniques of careful observation. If I look up and see a pulsing blue light in the wee hours, I would have to call it “unidentified” because I don’t know nearly enough about meteorology, astronomy, or anything else to properly identify it. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have seen a pulsing blue light. Anecdotes lack rigorous analysis, but they are still experiences of something.
Claims about the nature of any particular object or phenomenon (whether it’s a weather balloon, a hypersonic missile, or a higher-dimensional intelligence unfolding backward through spacetime into our ecosystem in order to warn us of the dangers of nuclear weapons) have to stand up to open scrutiny. Experiments, in our way of learning more about the universe, have to be falsifiable and repeatable—but observations of phenomena are not subject to these rigors. Something seems to happen, and if we’re very lucky, we have a photographic record, radar hits, or other sensor data to use in our interpretation. Pre-judging a phenomenon with claims that it is an extraterrestrial tourist barge or that it is merely a plume of swamp gas does a disservice to the enterprise of science. To do science well and evaluate the evidence clearly, we must resist the temptation to too-hastily label our experiences and observations; we must hold a space for the unknown in order to learn more. Now, finally, the U.S. government openly accepts this view. It now recognizes that it must say, at least for some of these UAP observations, that we really don’t know what they are. They do not appear to be government aircraft, they do not appear to be the technological applications of either allies or adversaries, and they’re not errant balloons.
They remain unidentified.
Information, Official Positions, and Sources
As interest in UFOs and UAPs grows again, and as military sightings of these phenomena are on the rise (as Bray stated in the C3 hearing), your clients and patrons may be looking for answers. Here are some links to resources that appear to be good starting points for what we think we know about unidentified aerial phenomena:
Video of the open C3 Subcommittee Hearing on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
The record of the event at Congress.gov
Establishment of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, Aug. 14, 2020
Press release from the Navy on the establishment of the task force
Here is NASA’s statement on UAPs:
NASA does not actively search for UAPs. However, through our Earth-observing satellites, NASA collects extensive data about Earth’s atmosphere, often in collaboration with the other space agencies of the world. While these data are not specifically collected to identify UAPs or alien technosignatures, they are publicly available and anyone may use them to search the atmosphere.
While NASA doesn’t actively search for UAPs, if we learn of UAPs, it would open up the door to new science questions to explore.
The June 2021 “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence notes, “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. We would group such objects in this category pending scientific advances that allowed us to better understand them. The [UAP Task Force] intends to focus additional analysis on the small number of cases where a UAP appeared to display unusual flight characteristics or signature management.”
The Federal Aviation Administration suggests, “Persons wanting to report UFO/unexplained phenomena activity should contact a UFO/unexplained phenomena reporting data collection center, such as the National UFO Reporting Center, etc.”
The National UFO Reporting Center’s online database says that the organization “makes no claims as to the validity of the information in any of [the database’s] reports. Obvious hoaxes have been omitted, however most reports have been posted exactly as received in the author’s own words.”
EBSCOhost’s Military & Government Collection has a subject heading for UFOs.
Google domain searches can also help. Try variations on UAPs, UFOs, unidentified, etc., as in the following two searches: google.com/search?q=uap+site%3A.mil and google.com/search?q=uap+site%3A.gov.
And as we keep asking new and better questions about these phenomena, let’s not forget this from Arthur C. Clarke: “When you finally understand the universe, it will not only be stranger than you imagine, it will be stranger than you can imagine.” We may not yet even be able to ask the most important questions about UFOs or UAPs, as we are so thoroughly situated in a materialist and mechanical worldview. So, let’s keep our Jacques Vallee goggles at hand too as we listen critically and with sympathy to witness’ voices—and follow this mystery to wherever it leads.