U.S. intelligence agencies are expected to deliver a report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” to Congress next month, sparking renewed interest and speculation into how the government has handled sightings of mysterious flying objects — and if there’s any worldly explanation for them.
The unclassified report, compiled by the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense, aims to make public what the Pentagon knows about unidentified flying objects and data analyzed from such encounters.
While UFOs have been part of American mythology for decades, this report is different. Legitimate debates over UFO sightings have gained traction in recent years after several leaked photos and videos from the U.S. Navy appeared to show mysterious flying objects in American airspace.
Last year, the Pentagon declassified three such videos captured by Navy pilots, intensifying speculation over the incidents, which have been confirmed by pilots who have observed them and even presidents who have been briefed on them.
Here’s how UFO sightings jumped from the realm of science fiction to the halls of Congress.
What do we know so far?
In August, the Department of Defense established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force to investigate and “gain insight” into the “nature and origins” of unidentified flying objects. Earlier that year, the Department of Defense declassified three videos taken by Navy pilots — one from 2004 and two from 2015 — that showed mysterious objects flying at high speeds across the sky.
“The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified,’” Pentagon officials said in a statement at the time.
The three videos had leaked years earlier, but Pentagon officials said they declassified the footage to “clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos.”
A separate leaked Navy video, captured in July 2019, showed a sphere-shaped unidentified object flying over water near San Diego. The footage, obtained by a documentary filmmaker and shared with NBC News, appeared to show the mysterious object flying for a few minutes before disappearing into the water.
And on Sunday, two former Navy pilots were interviewed by “60 Minutes” on CBS News about a UFO sighting over the Pacific Ocean in 2004. Cmdr. Dave Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich spotted the unidentified object during a training exercise but were unable to classify it. Fravor described it as a “little white Tic-Tac-looking object,” adding that it lacked conventional exhaust plumes and had no wings or visible markings.
It also moved erratically, the pilots said.
In an interview with NBC News that aired in February, Fravor described the 2004 encounter, calling the object “the strangest, most obscure thing I’ve ever seen flying.”
“As soon as we looked down, we see the whitewater, and then we see this little white Tic Tac,” Fravor told NBC’s “The Overview.” “It’s pointing north-south and it’s just going forward, back, left, right,” he said, adding that it was bouncing around “like a ping-pong ball.”
Fravor said he approached the mysterious object to take a closer look, and it began mirroring his movements. When the pilot got to within a half-mile of the UFO, it suddenly vanished, he said. In 2019, the Navy put together new guidelines for pilots to report “unidentified aircraft,” in a bid to formalize a process to investigate these types of mysterious sightings. The updated guidance came as a response to “a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” Navy officials told Politico in a statement at the time.
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