The upcoming Pentagon UFO report isn't the place to look for the truth

Commentary: To figure out if aliens, top-secret tech or something else is to blame, we need more data. A lot more.

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Eric Mack
8 min read

This still shows the unidentified object tracked by a Navy pilot in 2015 in the "Gimbal" video.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The truth is out there, but it's almost certainly not going to be in the upcoming US Pentagon report to Congress on American military encounters with unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP. They're the phenomenon previously referred to as UFOs. The landmark report is expected by Friday, June 25. 

In case you've missed the latest chapter of the decades-long flying saucers space opera, some 21st century footage and eyewitness accounts from US Navy pilots support stories of objects making seemingly physics-defying maneuvers in the air (and into the ocean, in at least one case). The Navy has confirmed the veracity of the footage, much media attention has been dedicated to the topic and now a mandatory report to Congress from intelligence agencies on "advanced aerial threats" is due by June 25. 

Early indications suggest the report will confirm that UAP are real, but that there's no reason to blame aliens or any other extraterrestrial influences for the weird things pilots and other military types are seeing.

For about three-quarters of a century now, since at least 1947 and the infamous Roswell crash, there has been significant suspicion that the government is withholding secret intelligence about UFOs. (The incident actually involved a government coverup of a program to detect Soviet atomic tests, not aliens.)

So is the long-awaited revelation of all the government knows finally at hand? Maybe. Probably not. But even if yes, it's bound to be a letdown.

The truth is in the data

If UAP truly are mysterious and unidentified (there's at least one reason to doubt this key adjective truly applies; more on that later) in the eyes of the military, I would argue that the intelligence establishment is the wrong institution to solve the mystery.

While agencies like the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency, especially when taken together with the rest of the intelligence establishment, are often perceived as all-seeing, all-hearing and all-knowing, they are also necessarily opaque, secretive and obviously protective of all the intelligence they gather.

And when it comes to solving what is essentially a scientific mystery like unidentified aerial phenomena, open collaboration based on transparency and the free flow of data and observations is what we really need.

I was thinking about this last week while reporting on the discovery of the most energetic gamma ray burst ever observed. GRBs are thought to be among the most powerful explosions in the universe, brought on by the collapse of a star. What's relevant here to the UAP discussion is the response to the initial detection of this super GRB. After it was detected by NASA satellites, an automatic notification went out to a network of observatories, and some were able to almost immediately begin gathering their own data.

The result of this open, instantaneous collaborative process was heaps of data that scientists were able to analyze, potentially leading to a new understanding of GRBs.

The "gimbal" footage of a UAP

US Department of Defense

But when it comes to UAP, we have only grainy footage from radar and other cockpit instruments and maybe some other corroborating accounts from within the US Navy. This data has leaked out in dribs and drabs over years, long after the incidents took place. It's like trying to solve a murder that isn't even reported until years later, when the crime scene and the trail of clues have gone ice cold.

"It's impossible to say without access to the raw data and the people who claimed to see these things," Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist and humanity's unofficial archivist of all space launches, told me via email. "My position is that unidentified is not the same as unidentifiable, there's just not enough useful info to make an analysis."

McDowell says the lack of data makes him skeptical the now widely covered videos show any technology at all, alien or otherwise, "as opposed to birds, insects with the distance wildly mis-estimated, the planet Venus with the distance wildly wrong in the other direction, or sensor malfunctions for those not seen directly by a pilot's eyes."

There are, however, plenty who see something of interest in the videos without having to squint too hard, including a number of former intelligence heads, Sen. Harry Reid and former President Barack Obama, who have said the mystery is legit.

"We can't explain how they move, their trajectory," Obama said on the Late Late Show with James Corden. "They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so I think that people still take seriously, trying to investigate [UAP] and figure out what that is."

Abraham Loeb, a controversial astronomer and author, has made waves in his quest to convince the world that the weird object called Oumuamua that cruised by Earth in 2017 was actually an alien spacecraft. He's made no such pronouncement about UAP, but he says it's notable these military sightings were detected by multiple instruments, including radar and infrared and optical cameras.

"It is possible, and likely, that most of the past reports on UFOs from the general public can be explained by human-made or natural phenomena or as illusions, but we need to pay special attention to the small number of reports where the evidence is strong and undisputable."

But Loeb agrees with McDowell that the key is to collect more evidence. Much more evidence.

"It would be prudent to progress forward with our finest instruments, rather than examine past reports," Loeb says. "Instead of declassifying documents that reflect decades-old technologies used by witnesses with no scientific expertise, it would be far better to deploy state-of-the-art recording devices, such as cameras installed on wide-field telescopes or audio sensors, at the sites where the reports came from, and search for unusual signals."

Loeb would like to see some sort of scientific initiative that attempts to reproduce old reports of UFOs and UAPs in order to unravel their mysteries. He also says he'd be happy to lead such an inquiry and report back to Congress.

"This could take the form of a federally designated committee or a privately funded expedition. Its most important purpose would be to inject scientific rigor and credibility into the discussion."

Mystery or manipulation?

All of this presumes that UAPs truly are a mystery to the US military, and here again we have to consider the secrecy that's ingrained within military and intelligence institutions. The Roswell incident has been attributed to a secret military reconnaissance project, and a number of UFO sightings can be traced to B-2 stealth bombers and other military aircraft that were once classified.

In 2016 the US Navy and an inventor named Salvatore Cezar Pais applied for a patent for a "craft using an inertial mass reduction device," which the US Patent and Trademark Office categorized as an "unconventional spacecraft propulsion system."

The patent, which was granted in 2018, describes a means of generating electromagnetic fields that basically manipulate gravity in localized ways to create a vacuum around a spacecraft, reducing the effects of not only the craft's own mass, but also eliminating water and air resistance.

"As a result, extreme craft speeds can be achieved," the patent application reads. It also at one point mentions that "these systems would be strategically placed on an intergalactic craft."

Patent illustration for a seemingly impossible spacecraft

An illustration from one of the patents for a seemingly impossible spacecraft. The patent is assigned to the US Navy.


The patent, along with a few others granted to Pais and the Navy, basically describe the technologies that could enable the sorts of insane, physics-defying maneuvers that have been reported as UAP and will be included in the report to Congress later this month.

However, early indications are that the Navy, or some other secret military technology development program, is not about to take credit for being the actual source of any UAP in the report.

And it's important to note that filing patents for some far-out propulsion concepts doesn't necessarily mean that such technologies have actually been built or tested, or would even work as described.

But thanks to some document digging by the website The Drive in 2019, we know that the Navy had to convince the USPTO to grant the patent for Pais' futuristic craft after it was initially rejected on the grounds that it was either impossible or would require the energy of an entire star to work.

The Navy responded with a letter from Naval Aviation Enterprise Chief Technology Officer James Sheehy, explaining that, in fact, Pais was already testing some of the concepts involved. Sheehy then ends the note with some rather bold proclamations and revelations:

"I would assert this will become a reality. China is already investing significantly in this area and I would prefer we hold the patent as opposed to paying forever more to use this revolutionary technology."

That's a lot to digest. To recap, Navy pilots and others in the military have reported UAP with incredible maneuverability over at least the past two decades. Footage of these encounters became public around the same time the Navy was applying for patents for craft capable of incredible maneuverability. The Navy has confirmed the veracity of UAP, but is expected to reveal in the forthcoming report that there's little reason to believe either alien or secret military technology is the cause of UAP.


One last interesting tidbit. The Drive notes that the Navy could have kept Pais' patents secret, but opted not to check the box to do so. It's enough to make you wonder whether the Navy wants someone or something -- like the government of China, perhaps -- to think that it might have such otherworldly capabilities. Are UAP just part of some geopolitical military mind games?

The US Naval Air Systems Command didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

It seems unlikely that the Navy and intelligence agencies or the scientific community will be providing any definitive answers on the origins of UAP in the coming weeks. But the search for the truth continues. 

A new nonprofit dubbed UAPx is taking a scientific approach, using technology like satellites and artificial intelligence to monitor the area off the California coast where UAP have been sighted in the past.

And recently NASA administrator Bill Nelson told CNN that the agency is also beginning to investigate what's behind UAP.

"The bottom line is, we want to know," Nelson said.

Knowing may not be the same as believing, but I think Fox Mulder would still be happy to hear those words come from the head of NASA.

We'll see if we know more sometime between now and June 25. Stay tuned, and don't take your eyes off the skies for too long.

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