Unidentified Flying Objects: In 2020 the DoD released videos showing “unidentified” flying objects, or “aerial phenomena.” Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Unidentified Flying Objects
Suffice it to say that there was a lot going on in 2020. Kobe passed away. The world was forced to reckon with a global pandemic. Racial injustice protests and riots erupted across the country, and it was an election year. These topics dominated international headlines, relegating other notable events to the back pages of major newspapers.
In the midst of the mayhem, one “immediate release” that went largely unnoticed was from the Department of Defense on April 27, 2020. On that day, the DoD “authorized the release of three unclassified Navy videos, one taken in November 2004 and the other two in January 2015,” during which pilots captured “unidentified” flying objects, or “aerial phenomena.” Then in August, the Defense Department established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force to investigate and “gain insight” into the “nature and origins” of unidentified flying objects. Here’s what both sides are saying about the government’s growing interest in UFOs.
Plus, a bonus question: do you know which movie the clip above is from? Reply to this email if you know the answer.
On The Left
outline how UFO discussions are perhaps no longer considered taboo. This may be a good thing, especially if national security threats are involved. Others think the media elite and government are being played by a group of conspiracy theorists.
No Longer Taboo: In a New Yorker article that requires over an hour and a half of your time (which you can listen to here), Gideon Lewis-Kraus discusses “How the Pentagon Started Taking UFOs Seriously.” He says, “The idea that aliens had frequented our planet had been circulating among ufologists since the postwar years,” but it wasn’t until 2017 when Leslie Kean “together with two New York Times journalists” published a “front-page story in the Times [that] revealed that the Pentagon had been running a surreptitious UFO program for ten years.” Lewis-Kraus notes that “Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host, has often mentioned the article, praising Kean’s work as having precipitated a cultural shift.” Soon after, “High-level officials publicly conceded their bewilderment about UAP without shame or apology,” Lewis-Kraus writes, pointing to Senator Marco Rubio and former CIA Director John Brennan. Ultimately, “The government may or may not care about the resolution of the UFO enigma,” Lewis-Kraus says. “But, in throwing up its hands and granting that there are things it simply cannot figure out, it has relaxed its grip on the taboo. For many, this has been a comfort.”
Media & Government Being Used: In The New Republic, Jason Colavito points to the New Yorker article mentioned above, saying, “For UFO believers, this was the moment they had been waiting for. UFOs were everywhere, and they were suddenly respectable,” thanks to Lewis-Kraus’ story. In Colavito’s opinion, however, “The media elite and Congress are being played by a small, loosely connected group of people with bizarre ideas about science.” After outlining the key players and “well-funded UFO obsessives [who] are using their Capitol Hill connections to launder some outré,” Colavito ends with a warning. He says, “We know the consequences of embracing bad science and replacing facts with conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. Stalin’s embrace of Lysenkoism ravaged Soviet science for decades. The Trump administration’s science denial and conspiracy theories devastated American health and American democracy.” At the end of the day, he says “We shouldn’t let enthusiasts of space ghosts have the run of Washington to steer money and policy in the direction they want.”
Don’t Jeopardize Public Trust: Finally, Bloomberg’s Editorial Board believes Congress “should get to the bottom of things.” For example, multiple investigations “suggest that UAPs are interacting with US ships with alarming frequency. Such incidents are potential national-security threats.” Currently, they say “There’s also no standardized way to report or analyze” UFOs, and “Pilots seem reluctant to discuss them for fear of being stigmatized.” This is why a “formal, bureaucratic, extraordinarily dull — is precisely what’s needed. It should lend sobriety and legitimacy to any findings, while ensuring that various parts of the government are sharing information.” The editors conclude by saying: “With trust in the US government once again at a low ebb, misleading the public with regard to UAPs would be a serious mistake.”
On The Right
Right-leaning outlets and commentators focus on the potential national security threat the US faces as a result of these UFOs. Some think there are more pressing issues to address while others simply want to know what the heck is going on.
National Security Threat: Writing for The New York Post, Michael Kaplan and Steven Greenstreet highlight comments from Luis “Lue” Elizondo, an ex-Pentagon official who claims to have run the program investigating “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAP. “Painting a nightmare scenario of the United States being vulnerable to a human enemy with the highest of high-tech capabilities,” Elizondo says, “That would be an intelligence failure that eclipses just about anything else this country has ever faced.” In fact, Elizondo has said an upcoming blockbuster report about ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ “could reveal a failure by US intelligence agencies on par with 9/11.” Ultimately, it’s a matter of safety. “We knew that foreign adversaries in other countries are interested in this topic. So there comes a real problem from a national security perspective,” Elizondo says.
Wouldn’t You Like to Know? In the National Review, Jazz Shaw says “The possibility [of UFOs] should not be so quickly dismissed.” He begins by mentioning some caveats, noting that so far there’s “no evidence [that] suggests the existence of any type of extraterrestrial intelligence here on our planet.” However, “Anyone definitively making the claim that the unknown craft are almost certainly not some sort of technosignature of a nonhuman intelligence is offering an equally faulty approach.” Zooming out, Shaw says, “At least 90 percent [of the strange things being seen in our skies] can be explained by mundane phenomena, but a significant number can’t. And that’s where the real mystery lies, with answers potentially awaiting us that could trigger a dramatic shift in humanity’s view of our universe and even ourselves. Or, if nothing else, we’ll find out that the Russians have massively leapfrogged us in technology. Either way, wouldn’t you like to know?”
Look Down, Not Up: Not everyone on the right supports the embrace of UFO theories. For example, in The American Conservative, Matthew Walther asks: “Does anyone really think that if a Chinese or (I daresay) Russian fighter jet or drone managed to enter American airspace without detection we would admit it publicly?” Moreover, Walther doubts that “extraterrestrial beings have anything to do with the apparent outwitting of American military personnel, which is that it is too convenient, not just for politicians but for the rest of us.” Walther wonders, “[Why] are we still looking to the skies for answers?” Currently, “There are millions of Americans who are homeless or addicted to drugs or both, people who are mentally ill, the elderly, the homebound, [and] the handicapped.” Ultimately, he says, “We romanticize the possibility of visitors from above to distract us from our failures to love our neighbors here below.”
Flag This: Unidentified Flying Objects
According to Gallup, “One-third of Americans think some UFOs that people have spotted have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies. A 60% majority, however, believe all such sightings can be explained by human activity or natural phenomena, while an additional 7% are unsure.” Guess what? “This is one topic on which Republicans and Democrats agree,” Gallup notes. “30% of the former and 32% of the latter describe UFOs as alien spacecraft from other planets. Belief is a bit higher among political independents, at 38%.”
With respect to next steps, US intelligence agencies are expected to deliver a report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” to Congress in June, NBC News reports. This is the result “of a provision in the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and appropriations bill that President Donald Trump signed last year. The stipulation called for a ‘detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence’ from the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, and the FBI.”
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