Washington (CNN) — Members of the House Intelligence Committee will receive a classified briefing Wednesday morning on one of the most controversial topics circulating in Washington today: UFOs.
The briefing, which was confirmed to CNN by two sources familiar with the commission’s plans, comes just weeks before the US intelligence community is scheduled to deliver an unclassified report on the matter to Congress. According to a commission source, Wednesday’s briefing will be conducted by the Navy and the FBI.
The fact that Congress is receiving reports and the intelligence community is producing reports on what the Pentagon has labeled UAP (for “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon”) is in itself extraordinary. After years of infighting in Washington, including bureaucratic battles within the Pentagon and pressure from certain members of Congress, the US government finally appears to be taking seriously what has long been considered a fringe issue.
Even as sightings of unexplained objects jumped to the hundreds, Pentagon officials struggled with how much time and resources to spend investigating them. Interviews with half a dozen officials, as well as documents reviewed by CNN, show a US military and intelligence community struggling over how to remove the problem from the world of science fiction and consider its real implications for the National security.
Even now, multiple sources told CNN, the government almost certainly would not have produced the report without public pressure from key lawmakers, as both Republicans and Democrats have taken an interest in the matter.
While former senior defense officials with knowledge of the most recent iteration of the department’s investigations say the Pentagon took it seriously, some pilots and former officials tasked with investigating the matter say that senior Pentagon leaders either downplayed or ignored the threat.
“Everyone who has paid enough attention to it understands that they should take it seriously,” said former Under Secretary of Defense David Norquist, who established a task force in 2020 to investigate UAPs. “But once you go beyond that circle, you get people who don’t want to be assumed to believe in conspiracy theories.”
For the more serious people within the Pentagon studying the strange incidents, the former officials said, the investigation is not about testing whether aliens are visiting Earth and buzzing around Navy pilots. Rather, it’s about trying to understand what’s behind these inexplicable encounters in US airspace. In particular, some officials worry that they may be some kind of next-generation technology implemented by China or Russia.
“And [estos objetos] had the Russian flag on their side, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, “Norquist said. “Each of these would be reported; everyone would be aware.
The report, due to be presented to Congress at the end of June, is not likely to settle the debate, nor is it expected to provide the kind of juicy details UFOologists were hoping for, such as confirming that the strange sightings by U.S. Navy pilots were. alien spaceships.
An administration official noted that many of the incidents in the Pentagon’s encounter database likely turn out to have multiple causes – a strange weather anomaly combined with a sighting of a weather balloon on the horizon, for example. But some could eventually become adversaries operating in US airspace, that person said.
For that reason alone, officials are likely to be reluctant to offer too much detail of what they have seen in the next report: If any of these incidents is Russia or China or another state, the US will not want to show what it knows. for counterintelligence reasons.
Proof that the US government has come into contact with extraterrestrial life – what UFOologists call “the Revelation” – will have to wait another day.
Increasing pressure on the Pentagon
The United States government has sporadically examined the phenomenon for decades. An iteration began in 2007 when the Department of Defense began conducting an investigation known as the “Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.” The program was officially closed in 2012, although a former head of the division claims his work continued part-time at least until 2017.
That same year, the Pentagon confirmed the legitimacy of a Navy video of a 2004 encounter it took off the coast of San Diego, generating considerable national attention. In the video, two pilots of Navy F-18 fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz pursue a white oval object the size of a commercial airplane.
The release of several additional videos in 2018 and 2020, along with constant advocacy by a small group of former defense officials and several lawmakers who received numerous reports on the issue, notably former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, contributed to “ years of accumulation around the UFO issue, “said a congressional aide.
Luis Elizondo, former head of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, resigned in 2017 out of frustration that high-level defense leaders weren’t taking the issue seriously enough. He argues that skeptical Pentagon leaders ignored the threat, misled the public and damaged his career, according to documents reviewed by CNN, including a complaint Elizondo filed with the Department of Defense inspector general.
Separately, internal Department of Defense emails, reviewed by CNN, suggest that as recently as last summer, Pentagon officials resisted any attempt to inform the public about UAPs and even issued a guide instructing the UAPs. press officials to “not comment” when approached with questions related to the issue.
The concern, according to a July 2020 email, was that “the nuances of all this are such that any deviation from the statements made by the Department of Defense results in multiple additional news and requests for the Freedom of Information Act in various levels ».
Erasing the stigma
In August 2020, Norquist publicly announced the formation of a task force to study the matter. The goal, he said, was in part to remove the stigma from pilots talking about strange things they saw. Officials wanted to “start educating our pilots and get them to the point where they understand that this is credible enough [que] we really need you to report it and you shouldn’t be afraid that the department will be upset because you say this. “
At the time, the former official said, the small working group working on the issue understood that the data surrounding these encounters, including radar and other technical information that could not theoretically be supplanted or attributed to a pilot’s misperception, pointed to a real event.
“In a way, he had to get the ritual joke out of the way,” Norquist said. “But everyone who dealt with it, when they saw the information understood, is credible enough [y] we have to find out why.
Erasing the stigma surrounding a serious discussion about UFOs was also the goal of lawmakers in 2020 when they passed legislation that requires the Pentagon and the intelligence community to provide more information on these UFO encounters – details that, until recently. , they had largely remained secret.
“Everyone recognizes that when you start talking about this, it’s too easy for it to get weird,” Norquist said. “And yet, if there had never been a discussion in America about UFOs, we would want to be in on this.”
A complaint from the inspector general
Restoring some credibility in UFO discussions will be a challenge even after the report is presented to Congress. Elizondo believes his career was derailed due to his enthusiasm for the show focused on dealing with such encounters.
Others think it’s because officials like Elizondo leaned too far toward the tantalizing possibility that the objects were otherworldly, tainting the effort with sci-fi undertones.
“It doesn’t surprise me that someone can work on this program and come up with that as a possibility and then be frustrated that others are not pursuing this with the same vigor as other programs that the defense department works on,” Norquist said.
In the full version of his inspector general complaint, which was reviewed by CNN, Elizondo says that senior officials dismissed his work on UFOs and accuses some of actively trying to discredit and undermine him within the Pentagon and with members of the media.
In his complaint, Elizondo recounts a particularly heated exchange in October 2017, shortly after submitting his resignation letter, during which a senior Defense Department official threatened to “tell people he’s crazy,” noting that it could affect your security clearance.
The following month, Elizondo claims that he was told the high-level official would “be behind him,” at which point he said he decided to hire legal counsel.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism