The U.S. military has no terrestrial explanation for the dozens of unidentified flying objects that it’s documented in recent decades — but that doesn’t mean the UFOs are proof of alien visitors, according to a long-awaited intelligence report provided to U.S. Congress on Friday.
The unclassified, nine-page report acknowledges 144 encounters with what the government calls Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) since 2004. It only manages to explain one of those sightings as a deflated weather balloon, and it does not provide any new videos or photos of the other mysterious encounters.
Intelligence officials say that most of the sightings were likely physical objects and not tricks of the light. They say none of those objects were secret American projects, and they found no evidence that the UFOs might be advanced hypersonic technology from Russia or China.
They also found no evidence to suggest that the objects were spacecraft from another world, nor did they claim to have evidence of captured alien bodies or technology. The report itself does not include the word “alien” anywhere in its text.
“Of the 144 reports we are dealing with here, we have no clear indications that there is any non-terrestrial explanation for them — but we will go wherever the data takes us,” a senior U.S. official told CNN.
In other words, officials can’t say that these strange UFOs are — or are not — aliens. They simply remain unidentified.
The report says that 80 of the sightings showed up on multiple sensor devices, and that 11 cases involved “near-miss” collisions with American personnel.
Some of the objects “appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics,” the report says, echoing public comments made by pilots who claim to have seen UFOs firsthand. The report also acknowledges that these strange movements “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing or observer misperception.”
It goes on to say that there is likely not one single explanation for the 143 mystery sightings.
Investigators compared many of the sightings to possible causes such as birds, weather balloons, military tests, foreign technology or natural occurring phenomena. They did not have enough data to fully categorize everything they found, and the 143 remaining sightings were simply listed as “other.”
The report acknowledges that there may be some bias in the data, as most of the documented sightings were made by pilots who were using advanced sensors in U.S. testing and training areas. It also cites “unit expectations and guidance to report anomalies” as potential issues with the data.
The report adds to the mystery surrounding these UAPs, acknowledging their existence while offering no evidence to point to their origins.
Several senior government officials spoiled the gist of the report earlier this month, when they shared details of an advance briefing with the New York Times. Those early reports underestimated the number of UFO sightings in recent years.
The report itself is unclassified, but it includes an appendix that remains classified.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who had pushed for the report, hailed its release on Friday.
“For years, the men and women we trust to defend our country reported encounters with unidentified aircraft that had superior capabilities, and for years their concerns were often ignored and ridiculed,” he said.
“This report is an important first step in cataloging these incidents, but it is just a first step. The Defense Department and Intelligence Community have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern.”
The report concludes that UAPs “clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security.” It also points out that a standard reporting process for such sightings has been established, dating back to March of 2019.
The report to Congress comes at a moment of renewed UFO interest in popular culture and within the U.S. government, which dates back to a bombshell New York Times story from late 2017. That story revealed that the U.S. government had been investigating UFOs in secret for years. It also revealed three never-before-seen UFO videos shot by members of the U.S. navy, which showed strange objects moving at high speed on military sensors.
The Pentagon has shifted its stance toward UFOs in the years since that report emerged. Officials are now encouraging pilots to report UFO sightings within restricted airspace, amid concerns that the objects might pose a risk to military personnel. The Department of Defense (DoD) also launched a dedicated UAP Task Force last year to specifically investigate these unexplained sightings.
Additionally, the Pentagon has confirmed the authenticity of several UFO videos leaked by military personnel in recent years, including a handful that emerged earlier this year.
Several of the latest leaks have been from an incident involving the USS Omaha off the coast of San Diego in July of 2019, when several UAPs were spotted over a span of a few days. One video shows multiple glowing triangle-shaped objects buzzing over the warship, while another sensor video shows a round object moving at high speed before plunging into the ocean.
Three former U.S. navy pilots recently spoke to CBS about their own UFO encounters for a special episode of 60 Minutes. Two of the pilots described seeing a jetliner-sized “Tic Tac” hovering over a patch of whitewater on the Pacific Ocean in 2004, during a days-long incident involving the USS Nimitz battle group.
Another pilot told CBS that he and his squad mates saw UFOs nearly every day while stationed at Virginia Beach on the East Coast from 2014-2015.
The Pentagon has previously confirmed the authenticity of a “Tic Tac” video recorded during that same 2004 Nimitz incident, as well as photos and video of UAPs taken near Virginia Beach in recent years.
John Ratcliffe, the former director of national intelligence under Donald Trump, said in March that there are “a lot more sightings” of UFOs than the public is aware of.
“We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain,” Ratcliffe told Fox News. “Movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for or are travelling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”
Former U.S. president Barack Obama acknowledged the UFO mystery in an appearance on the Late Late Show with James Corden last month.
“What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t exactly know what they are,” he told Corden.
“We can’t explain how they move, their trajectory,” Obama said. “They did not have an easily explainable pattern.”
He later told the New York Times that proof of aliens would likely trigger sweeping reactions around the world.
“New religions would pop up, and who knows what kind of arguments we’d get into,” he said.
The report to Congress was mandated as part of a sweeping COVID-19 relief bill early this year.
Officials seemingly waited until the last possible moment to drop the report, releasing it Friday just before 5 p.m. Eastern Time.