For the first time in more than half a century, the U.S. held a public hearing about UFOs on Tuesday morning. The hearing came almost a year after a report found that U.S. military pilots had encountered over 144 UFOs since 2004.
The U.S. intelligence report was only able to identify one of the “unexplained aerial phenomena” (UAP) — which is the military’s updated term for UFOs — as a large deflating balloon. As for the other 143 incidents, the report said that they would require further study. Most of the UAPs were likely physical objects though, according to the report.
The public hearing began at 9 a.m. ET, before moving behind closed doors.
In the first hour, Navy officials confirmed that over 400 UAPs have been reported.
The House Intelligence Committee’s Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation subcommittee convened the hearing, which is being chaired by André Carson, a Democratic representative for Indiana.
Ronald Moultrie, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, and Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence were slated to testify. After the public hearing is over, the subcommittee will hold a closed-door briefing and hear further testimony.
Carson warned in his opening remarks that “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena are a potential national security threat, and they need to be treated that way.”
“For too long, the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis,” he continued. “Pilots avoided reporting, or were laughed at when they did. DOD officials relegated the issue to the back room, or swept it under the rug entirely, fearful of a skeptical national security community.
“Today, we know better. UAPs are unexplained, it’s true, but they are real. They need to be investigated. And any threats they pose need to be mitigated,” he said.
According to a U.S. official, defence staff are expected to show footage of military encounters with UAPs to show how investigators work to identify the origin of these incidents.
Documentary filmmaker and UFO enthusiast Jeremy Corbell told ABC News that the fact this hearing is even happening is thanks to rising public interest in UFOs in recent years.
In 2019, a viral Facebook event called Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us, attracted more than two million responses and widespread media coverage. Some 150 people actually showed up at the entrance of Area 51 on Sept. 20, ostensibly in search of evidence of extraterrestrial life within the Air Force base.
“And I am encouraged by the public desire to know and find out the truth of what UFOs represent to humankind,” Corbell told ABC News. “It’s the biggest story of our time. And finally, we’re beginning to have the conversation without ridicule and stigma that has so injured the search for scientific truth on this topic.”
But for lawmakers and military personnel, the threat of UAPs isn’t worrying because they might be aliens, but rather that a foreign power like Russia or China has developed some kind of superior technology that the U.S. is unaware of.
Analysts have yet to completely rule out the possibility that alien life is behind these strange sightings, but last year’s report avoided all explicit references to extraterrestrials.
Still, the hearing marks a turning point for the U.S. government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of unidentified flying objects and “flying saucers” dating back to the 1940s.
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The session will mark the first open congressional hearing on the subject since the U.S. Air Force terminated an inconclusive UFO program code-named Project Blue Book in 1969.
During its 17 years in existence, Blue Book compiled a list of 12,618 total UFO sightings, 701 of which involved objects that officially remained “unidentified.” But the Air Force later said it found no indication of a national security threat or evidence of extraterrestrial vehicles.
In 1966, nearly a decade before he became president, then-U.S. Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan, who was House Republican leader at the time, organized a hearing in response to scores of witness accounts of strange glowing lights and large football shapes at low altitude around Dexter, Mich., which an Air Force official had famously explained away as “swamp gas.”
— With files from Reuters