Among the reports delivered to Congress last June, one was extraordinary: An assessment by the Director of National Intelligence on unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, better known as UFOs. The assessment could not identify a staggering 143 of the 144 UAP sightings it examined.
Unsatisfied, the Senate is set to debate legislation in the annual defense authorization act to require comprehensive reports on UAPs. That legislation is not alone. Each chamber’s version of the annual intelligence bill orders, in addition to reports, all UAP information inside the intelligence community handed over “immediately” to the Defense Department’s temporary UAP task force. The defense act, which passed the House, goes further still, establishing a permanent Pentagon office to supersede the task force.
So would a groundbreaking amendment to that bill introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Enjoying strong bipartisan support, it promises a whole-of-government approach by creating an Anomaly Surveillance, Tracking and Resolution Office to investigate UAPs, standardize and centralize government data collection, and, ultimately, answer to Congress. The new office also would consult with the scientific community and foreign allies to understand the technology behind UAPs and whether they pose a threat.
Taken together, the various UAP provisions in must-pass legislation show that Congress is determined to extend its authority over this matter. In fact, Senators Dick Durbin, Mark Warner, Marco Rubio, and Martin Heinrich have urged more transparency on UAPs. Senator Mitt Romney described “technology which is in a whole different sphere than anything we understand.” Representative Ruben Gallego, who heads a House defense subcommittee, has criticized the government for its “total lack of focus” on the issue. Meanwhile, Representative André Carson, chair of a House Intelligence panel, is planning a “series of hearings” on UAPs.
That elected officials would act openly on a topic long stigmatized is unprecedented. Yet a 2017 exposé documenting a secret Pentagon UAP program helped topple old paradigms. Since then, NASA and prominent scientists at Harvard’s Galileo Project have announced that they will study UAPs. The Defense Department has launched internal evaluations and ordered data collected on mysterious craft seen violating restricted airspace. At a recent discussion on space policy, Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, wondered whether UAPs are “something else that we simply do not understand, which might come extraterrestrially.” Major media cover UAPs while public attention grows.
Still, other avenues of congressional government remain untrodden. Collecting all UAP data within the entire bureaucracy, not just the defense and intelligence communities is a good start. But Congress should include private defense contractors, too. One, Dr. Eric Davis, described briefing Pentagon officials on retrievals of “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.” Dr. Davis stated that he similarly informed congressional staff about “retrievals of unexplained objects.” Whatever the truth of these draw-dropping claims, formal mechanisms must ensure that all information of that sort – governmental or private-sector – reaches the Hill.
Both the defense bill and the Gillibrand amendment form a new Pentagon office to spearhead UAP efforts. That alone is momentous. But neither measure, at least publicly, authorizes any specific spending for it. The office should receive long-term, congressionally mandated funds to execute its mission free of bureaucratic budgetary squabbles.
Relatedly, neither measure designates the seniority of the office’s leader nor the priority its work should be given. These omissions perversely could divert authority and scrutiny from senior officials at established commands to a tenuous new post lost amidst a labyrinthine bureaucracy. People, motivation, and appropriations – not organizational boxes – solve problems. UAPs demand the highest attention, not delegation into obscurity.
Fortunately, Congress has additional routes. But its watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, sits idle. While the defense bill and Gillibrand amendment direct outreach on UAPs with U.S. partners overseas, Congress should amplify international cooperation by dispatching monitors, as the Senate’s bipartisan Arms Control Observer Group has since 1985. Legislators also should caucus to coordinate efforts. The Senate can dangle its consent over nominees to focus their attention where the Senate leads. If Congress cannot compel, it may watch and withhold until its wishes are met.
Lastly, televised hearings can force matters to a head. Even so, Congress first must gather its evidence with care – the purpose behind the required reports. The recent “bipartisan oversight hearing” on UAPs, evidently convened in secret by Representative Adam Schiff, chair of House Intelligence, shows that preparations are underway. Public testimony must come from trained military observers – backed by hard evidence from scientific and surveillance instruments. Any panel also should call former Senator Harry Reid, who created the UAP task force, Christopher Mellon, the ex-Pentagon official who publicized compelling Navy footage of UAPs, and Luis Elizondo, the former director of the task force.
Bipartisan agreement that UAPs merit action is gaining speed. United, Congress has plenary power to ensure that the government remains accountable to the American people.
- Dillon Guthrie is an attorney who focuses on financial technology, banking, and national security matters. Previously, Dillon served as a counsel at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, an advisor on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and a legislative aide to then-Senator John Kerry. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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