Those who want to know if the truth is out there have a new champion in Congress. And he has an urgent message for the Pentagon: it’s time to take UFOs seriously.
Arizona Democrat and Iraq War veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego this week pushed through legislation in the House requiring a permanent office under the secretary of Defense to oversee “the timely and consistent reporting” of what the military calls “unidentified aerial phenomena.” And it must share what it learns with Congress at least once a year.
“There’s been a total lack of focus across the national security apparatus to actually get at what’s happening here,” Gallego, who chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations, said in his first extensive interview on the bill. “I think there has been kind of a partial pastime of curiosity seekers that are within the Department of Defense but there has not been any professional initiative across the defense enterprise… so that we can actually make some deliberate and knowledgeable decisions.”
The provision, which was adopted Thursday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, requires the new office to be established within 180 days.
One of its main tasks will be “to synchronize and standardize the collection, reporting, and analysis of incidents regarding unidentified aerial phenomena across the Department of Defense,” according to the legislation.
The provision, which must now be adopted by the Senate, also says the military must try to determine whether UAPs have links to foreign adversaries, including “non-state actors,” and whether they might pose a threat.
There has been a growing number of reports in recent years from Navy pilots and other military personnel of highly advanced craft of unknown origin violating protected airspace, some of them maneuvering in ways that seem to defy known aerodynamics.
The revelations sparked a series of classified briefings to members of Congress. A public report that was required in last year’s intelligence bill concluded in a “preliminary assessment” in June that the military and intelligence agencies do not have enough information to make any firm conclusions about more than 100 such reported UAP sightings, including some that “appear to demonstrate advanced technology.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks at the time directed the military branches and other organizations to recommend “process improvements” to gather and analyze such data and to “develop a plan to formalize the mission.”
But it’s not clear that all military leaders got the message. Last month Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said he is not convinced UAPs are a serious enough issue to demand his attention.
“I don’t consider it an imminent threat to the United States or the human race, these phenomena occurring,” he said in response to a question from POLITICO. “I would have to see evidence that it was something worthy of the attention of the United States Air Force as a threat.”
“Our job is to protect the United States against threats,” Kendall added. “I have a lot of known threats out there that we’re working very hard to protect the United States against. I’d like to focus on those.” However, he did say that “if we’re asked to take that on, we will.”
But Gallego insists that attitude must change.
His amendment to the defense policy bill requires the new Pentagon office, which would replace a temporary UAP task force established last year, “to synchronize and standardize the collection, reporting, and analysis of incidents regarding unidentified aerial phenomena across the Department of Defense.”
That means information gleaned from a variety of intelligence gathering tools, to include satellites, electronic eavesdropping, and human spies, the legislation stipulates.
“I decided to actually put action to words,” Gallego said. “We had a briefing on this phenomenon. One of the things that came out of that briefing, without breaking too many walls here, was that there just needed to be better data collection. There needs to be standardized data collection across the services.”
The Pentagon did not respond to a request to comment on Gallego’s amendment, or the status of efforts to gather more data on UAPs.
Not everyone is convinced Gallego’s effort will make significant inroads, especially if the new office is not given adequate resources and access to all relevant and in some cases highly secret intelligence programs that might contain pertinent information.
One former senior U.S. intelligence official who has lobbied for more attention to be paid to UAPs said the real challenge will be getting spy agencies and the military to share what they have. An office to collect and analyze the data can only be successful if the person who runs it has the authority to force cooperation.
“It is encouraging to see serious interest expressed,” said Christopher Mellon, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence who also served on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, he said a Pentagon staffer “is in no position to lead a multi-agency effort to identify the most useful signatures for tracking UAPs or develop or implement a collection plan. That above all is what is lacking.”
He said “a good alternative would be for Congress to direct the secretary of defense to identify an official at the 4- star level who is accountable for the UAP issue” and can “implement an effective program for collection and analysis.”
“That is the only way we’ll be able to determine the origin and capabilities of these vehicles,” he added.
Gallego insists, however, that another objective of creating a permanent intelligence-gathering effort is to ensure that military personnel feel comfortable coming forward if they experience something they can’t explain.
“We needed to continue to break down the stigma of reporting these phenomena,” Gallego said. “There are a lot of people who are afraid of reporting this because they’re afraid … it’s going to cost their careers. People think they’re crazy.”
Only by reducing the stigma, he said, will more useful data be available. “We’re not going to be able to get to the bottom of this unless we collect information, get enough information to figure out exactly what’s going on [and] the pilots and other people who have seen it actually feel comfortable talking about it.”
That also means simply ruling out some of the more fantastical theories: “So if you happen to capture one of these huge weather balloons and think it was an unidentified object, it’s important we figure out … why it caused a reaction to a radar,” Gallego said.
The congressman said he is not personally too worried about the potential political fallout of being associated with an issue that has long been on the fringe.
“Look, I’m from Arizona, I even lived in New Mexico a little bit. Very far away from Roswell, but still,” Gallego quipped, referring to one of the most legendary locations of a purported alien crash in UFO lore. “Part of my job is to diminish the stigma of talking about this, especially for military personnel to talk about. If it means I have to take it on the chin a little, so be it.”
Then there is the other stigma, of sorts: the abiding belief among much of the public that the government is covering up what it knows about UFOs.
“There is a lot of disinformation, a lot of misinformation out there and we just need to be professional about this and really get to the core of what’s happening,” Gallego said.
He acknowledged that he thinks the government does have more information that it’s not sharing. But he says he also doesn’t think it’s hiding the full story.
“I don’t think we have enough information to be honest, for us to know whether we should be worried or not,” he said. “That’s why I’m structurally trying to put this together, so we can actually collect data and treat this like a scientific and military objective rather than … some kooky conspiracy theorists.”
The next step he’s considering is to hold public hearings. “I’ve definitely thought about hearings,” he said.
But first there needs to be more data collected and shared.
“A hearing without a real understanding of what’s happening, without real data, is not going to do any good for anybody,” Gallego said. “Maybe for the Twitter world, so they can talk about it. But that’s not our job. Our job is not to be entertainers. Our job is to create solutions where there is a problem. And we don’t know even if we have a problem until we actually collect data.”
“It’s OK for us to say we don’t know what’s happening so let’s figure it out,” he added. “That’s not a bad thing in government. The only way to really do this is if you want to actually figure it out is to try to actually figure it out.”