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Unidentified flying objects have once again become the subject of public speculation. While relegated to sci-fi paperback shelves for the last several decades, a growing number of journalists, scientists, and even members of Congress are beginning to wonder: Does the U.S. military have information about UFOs that it hasn't shared with the public?
A recent article in The New Yorker and a piece by 60 minutes has thrown fire on this speculation. Even if you are appropriately skeptical, the information so far revealed has been tantalizing. It is absolutely clear, for example, that the government has video evidence of UFOs that it hasn't yet been able to explain, at least publicly. Some objects in these videos remain unsolved. Still, we have some information. This year the CIA unexpectedly publicly released what it says are all of its findings on UFO sightings.
Investigations continue. In 2007, the Pentagon began the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a partially classified program tasked with investigating unexplained aerial phenomenon (UAPs). According to former officials, U.S. intelligence services and the military are still identifying and investigating UAPs. Nor has Congress been silent. The 2020 COVID relief bill contained the unexpected requirement that U.S. Intelligence Agencies release their findings of UAPs within 180 days of enactment. According to John Radcliffe, former Director of National Intelligence, while the findings could not be declassified before he left the position, he appeared on Fox News to say that “there are instances where we don't have good explanations for some of the things we've seen." This includes an object traveling faster than the sound barrier without an accompanying sonic boom.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is due to hear a report from the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense within a month.
Another example of this phenomenon is a 2019 video of three UFOs. The Pentagon has confirmed that this is one instance of a UAP that is still unexplained. A Navy pilot took the video, which is one of several photographic and video evidence being examined by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.
So, if UAPs are real and unexplained, what can we, the public, know about them? The Pentagon and U.S. military have spent decades denying that UAPs are real. It appears that is not true. Of course, just because an aerial object cannot be identified and behaves unexpectedly does not mean it is extraterrestrial. But, hypothetically, if the U.S. government had information about actual extraterrestrial intelligence, would it be legally obligated to share this information with its citizens?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows any member of the public to obtain documents maintained by a federal agency, provided the record does not contain any specific information on individuals and does not fall into one of nine exemptions. A typical request under the FOIA is for copies of a specific report, although it is possible to get a compilation on a particular matter.
As you can imagine, FOIA requests frequently follow UAP sightings. However, FOIA requests can be denied if they involve information classified to protect national security. Classified information falls into one of the nine exemptions under FOIA.
The U.S. Government has three levels of classification: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. These classifications are related to national security. Every government employee who accesses a Top Secret document must have Top Secret clearance. In 2009, President Obama issued Executive order 13256, which created a uniform system for classifying government information. Under this EO, only the President, Vice President, or an agency head can classify government information as Top Secret. However, those restrictions loosen for lower classifications.
Harry Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader, told the New Yorker that he once tried to investigate possible remnants of a UAP held by Lockheed Martin. Reid said that “I tried to get, as I recall, a classified approval by the Pentagon to have me go look at the stuff. They would not approve that ... I don't know what all the numbers were, what kind of classification it was, but they would not give that to me."
Even if the Senate Intelligence Committee report has revealing information on UAPs, it is possible that the information could remain classified. For now, we're left wondering: Is this swamp gas, a leap in technology for Russia or China, or something even more crazy?