A once fringe topic is becoming mainstream in the US with a newly released report seeking to examine unidentified arial phenomena. How did we get here?
UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and the potential that there is something beyond us on earth is having a serious moment in the US. This discussion was sparked by a highly anticipated and newly declassified report from the US government. The report, released on 25th June 2021, examines unidentified arial phenomena. How did this report come to be and why is the US government pursuing an investigation into the topic?
The report is significant due to the history of UFO sighings in the US and the country’s historical reaction to and huge interest in them. The topic of UFOs and the possible existence of another life-form or aliens has gripped public attention in the country since the 1947 Roswell incident. In this incident, a US Army Air Forces balloon crashed at a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. People who witnessed this claimed that they had seen a flying saucer and dismissed the explanations that the US government provided for the incident. It is no wonder that the possible existence of other-worldly creatures captures our attention, as it raises fundamental questions about who we are and would radically expand what we know to be possible in the world.
For years, sightings of what were unexplainable objects in the sky were in the public psyche. For instance, in 1966 Michigan residents claimed to see lights and strange aircraft in the sky. This sighting of aircraft and lights moving at high speeds was said to create ‘UFO mania.’ The sightings triggered investigations by civil defence groups and the US Air Force, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the seemingly unexplainable sightings were merely swamp gas. This explanation did not please everyone who saw the objects, and many continued to believe that the possibility of a UFO sighting had to be investigated.
In 2007, albeit in secret, US Senator Harry Reid created the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which was dedicated to studying UFO encounters with military personnel. From 2007 to at least 2012, the Pentagon spent millions in tracking military personnel who had seen the objects and reported UFO sightings. The existence of this programme was made public by the New York Times in 2017. The newspaper ran a front-page article on the programme and claimed that it had not, as suggested, concluded in 2012.
“With the help of Elizondo, videos were released showing unexplainable encounters in 2004, 2014 and 2015. The US government did not immediately respond to the publication of these videos and took many years to confirm the existence of the AATIP. In 2017, the government claimed that it had been shut down in 2012.”
This revelation sparked other news outlets to report on the programme. Luis Elizondo, the former AATIP programme director served as a source for these newspapers. Elizondo left his role in the AATIP in mid-2017 because he did not believe that the programme was getting enough resources or attention. With the help of Elizondo, videos were released showing unexplainable encounters in 2004, 2014 and 2015. The US government did not immediately respond to the publication of these videos and took many years to confirm the existence of the AATIP. In 2017, the government claimed that it had been shut down in 2012.
The operational aspects of AATIP were rolled into the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force. The existence of this task force was made public in August 2020. This was followed up in December 2020 with the stipulation in the Covid-19 Relief Bill which stated that the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other intelligence agencies must conduct a 180-day review and report on “anomalous arial vehicles.”
The report signals a moment in time where UFOs are beginning to be taken seriously. Of course, one explanation for the as of yet unexplained flying objects, is that it could be the US’s own classified technology or even a foreign adversary’s technology. It is, however, questionable whether a foreign adversary would possess such great technology and not want to use it consistently and out in the open, showing their technological advantage to other countries.
As many options exist for our current understanding of unexplained flying objects, a process of elimination must be engaged in. This process leaves question marks hanging. In the declassified report, the US has stated that there is no explanation for 144 out of the 145 reported sightings which were examined. The one case that they did identify was a “large, deflating balloon.” The report does not rule out the possibility of the objects being extra-terrestrial, and therefore is not revolutionary.
The consequences of a report stating that an unidentified sighting was indeed a UFO could have significant impact on the current world order. Other-worldly creatures may break down the divide between humans, and it has been argued that the realisation of another species would further weld us humans together as a species. Therefore, it has been argued that the hesitancy to take UFOs seriously, and the reason for its taboo social status is that the discovery of other-worldly creatures would undermine the idea of what sovereignty is.
This report has not provided a conclusive examination of the topic but it has created a space for more open discussion and debate on UFOs and their potential emergence into the mainstream. In order to increase attention given to the issue, the taskforce has stated that additional funding would be beneficial in encouraging further study in the area. This has moved UFOs from a fringe topic towards becoming more mainstream and fostering further discussion not only by conspiracy theorists but also at the highest levels of government in the US.
Featured photo by Michael Herren
This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Alex