Congress Held the First Public UFO Hearings in Half a Century. Here's What You Should Know.
“This hearing breaks the ice. It's a major event,” Bassett told PI in an interview this week. “It doesn't seem like it probably to a lot of people … but I know how big it is.”
-Steve Bassett, head of Paradigm Research Group & UFO transparency advocate
This week, for the first time in half a century, Congress held a public hearing on the UFO/UAP phenomenon that has been gaining attention since the New York Times published its groundbreaking piece, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program — back in 2017.
It’s difficult to believe it’s been five years since the rainy Sunday I read that story in stunned disbelief while waiting in the car for my wife to come out of the store. Five years since I first heard the name of Lue Elizondo, the former Army counterintelligence officer and later head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which was dedicated to data collection on these anomalous events, often captured during encounters with the US military. It was a program that obtained much of its funding via the intervention of the late Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who talked openly about his interest in the topic before he passed away last year at the age of 82.
Like most of the public, I only found out about Elizondo because he was in the process of coming out of the shadows. He had announced that he was resigning his position — with a Pentagon loath to admit it even existed — to become a whistleblower pushing for greater governmental transparency on UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, as UFOlogists call them these days). It was this exact sort of transparency that the American public was supposed to (and did not) get during this week’s hearing. But the reason for Elizondo’s insistence was real: UAP events were happening repeatedly, and involved incursions in US airspace, utilizing technology the military was powerless to impede or even assess. This represents a clear, ongoing national security threat, and it has not been taken seriously because of stigma and secrecy. From the 2017 Times piece:
Mr. Elizondo, in his resignation letter of Oct. 4, said there was a need for more serious attention to “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities.” He expressed his frustration with the limitations placed on the program, telling Mr. Mattis that “there remains a vital need to ascertain capability and intent of these phenomena for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation.”
Mr. Elizondo has now joined Mr. Puthoff and another former Defense Department official, Christopher K. Mellon, who was a deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, in a new commercial venture called To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. They are speaking publicly about their efforts as their venture aims to raise money for research into U.F.O.s.
In the interview, Mr. Elizondo said he and his government colleagues had determined that the phenomena they had studied did not seem to originate from any country. “That fact is not something any government or institution should classify in order to keep secret from the people,” he said.
For his part, Mr. Reid said he did not know where the objects had come from. “If anyone says they have the answers now, they’re fooling themselves,” he said. “We do not know.”
Elizondo, Mellon, and Reid arguably get the lion’s share of the credit for pushing the envelope from inside the labyrinth of red tape that binds those within the US intelligence apparatus. Classified intel, non-disclosure agreements, and a shadowy conspiracy to keep certain information from the public dating back to the 1940s makes every attempt these men have made to bring much needed daylight to the issue like a dance through a minefield. Corrupt, incompetent, and meddling bureaucrats with the authority to obfuscate only complicate the matter.
There is a great deal more to say about this issue than can be encapsulated in a single essay, or perhaps even a series of them. I’m currently in the middle of reading several books on the topic, and the number of podcasts and interviews being done on the subject is rapidly proliferating. There’s simply too much smoke for there to be no fire.
So in the interest of brevity, let’s cut through some of the noise. As is the case with any subject of such a mysterious nature, the category of “things we don’t know about UAPs” is certainly larger than “things we do know.” And “things we do know that are a matter of public record” is a smaller subset of “things that remain classified.” (One of the most irritating features of the hearing this week was the number of times subjects were deferred to the subsequent closed session that was only intended for members of Congress, not the public.)
For those interested in knowing the full details of the hearing, a transcript has been made available by The Debrief, which you can read right here.
The three biggest takeaways from this hearing, according to Elizondo himself, were as follows:
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This was the first hearing in over 50 years where senior members of our government testified before Congress on the UFO/UAP issue. “So there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.”
Whereas senior members of the Air Force testified half a century ago regarding Project Blue Book (a previous government UFO program that arose in the wake of the 1947 Roswell Incident and the so-called “Summer of the Saucers” in 1952), for this hearing, we saw seniormost members of the Department of Defense/National Security Apparatus testifying, which raises the level of the issue above previous hearings.
Most importantly, what those who testified this week said about UAPs is that they’re real, they represent a national security issue, and they don’t know what they are or how to explain them.
Elizondo spent a good portion of his appearance on the Need to Know podcast with journalists Ross Coulthart and Bryce Zabel explaining why what the officials who testified didn’t say and didn’t seem to know was important as well, but for the sake of space, I won’t detail that here. (Elizondo’s appearance begins at 19:15 in the video below. Click this link if you want to go straight there, or check out the embedded video below for the entire episode.)
The Debrief added four points of interest of its own concerning the hearings, three of which seem significant enough to spend a little bit more time on here. First I’ll list them exactly as described, then dive in for a deeper look at points 1,3, and 4:
There is a database where sightings of UAP are being stored
AOIMSG (the new program the kinda/sorta replaced AATIP) will soon get a new, less ridiculous name.
The USS Nimitz Incident is Still Unexplained
The Infamous “Wilson Memo” Went On The Record
Let’s start with the database. It seems obvious that something like this would exist, but it also seems obvious that the government wouldn’t pretend it has no record of UAP events for the 45 years between when Project Blue Book ended and the UAP task force began less than two years ago. Nevertheless, if this database is actually being treated as a comprehensive repository for these events, it’s kind of a big deal. Until now, it just hasn’t been clear that the government was doing any kind of unified data collection on these incidents at all.
The Nimitz Incident
The 2004 Nimitz incident remains, for me, the single most compelling datapoint in the the constellation of UAP incidents, due to the highly competent nature of the witnesses and the sensor/video documentation that was obtained that day. If you’re not familiar with it, the following will get you up to speed:
Also see this article in New York magazine’s Intelligencer, which features a first-time interview with Chad Underwood, the F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who recorded the “Tic Tac” video taken on the day of the Nimitz incident. (On an immediately subsequent flight, Underwood recorded the same phenomenon Cmdr. Fravor encountered but did not capture during engagement.) If you’ve never seen the “Tic Tac” video, here is a copy with commentary from one of the pilots involved that day:
As important as the Nimitz event was, the public keeps being fed the same handful of declassified videos, giving the impression that this is all the evidence we have. On the contrary, Elizondo claimed in his Need to Know podcast appearance that these incidents are occuring and being recorded on a consistent basis. “It’s happening every week!” he exclaimed. Elizondo also said that instead of the low-resolution, non-dispositive videos they put on display in the public hearing, the government should
[S]how the real videos! Show the videos that we know are there, because I’ve seen them. Show the videos that, you know, are being reported almost on a weekly basis, report those. If I had the opportunity right now, if you said, ‘Lue, you have no more non-disclosure agreement to worry about, you can speak your mind,’ people would be blown away. And so, this is my, part of my kind of…frustration. It actually makes me sad that the DoD [Dept. of Defense] is painting themselves into this corner, because it makes them look incompetent. At the end of the day, the truth is coming out whether an undersecretary wants it or not. They…you know, look, undersecretaries, no offense, but you guys come and go. The citizenship doesn’t. Citizens and concerned people don’t.
The Wilson Memo
“The Wilson documents,” explained Ross Coulthart on the same podcast referenced above, “record an alleged conversation between Dr. Eric Davis [a research physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Austin, Texas] and Admiral Tom Wilson, the then recently retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, where Tom Wilson describes attempts that he purportedly made to discover a secret program inside the US Defense Department which was hiding special access programs — code word programs — that were concealing an alleged craft retrieval back-engineering program.” This explanation was confirmed by Elizondo.
The Wilson Memo exists on the internet. It’s full of jargon, summary, and acronyms, and thus a bit hard to follow. But it’s considered by many to be a significant piece of the puzzle, because it alleges that there is a “crashed UFO program” and that technology retrieved from such crashes is in the possession of a major defense contractor. Wilson tried to find out more about what was going on with the program, and said that he was angry because he found obfuscation at every turn, and felt that there was an implication the program operated “without official oversight or any justification.” He was unable to gain access despite his clearance because he was not on the approved list, and had no idea how to make that happen. He was able to determine that it was a “reverse engineering program” relating to “something recovered years ago” and that the idea that it was from a foreign adversary was “not possible.” Some direct quotes from the memo:
They had (program manager talking) a craft - an intact craft they believed could fly (space? air? water? dimensions?)
Was it from overseas or not?
Said NO! Could not be - not possible!!
Why, I asked - where did it come from?
Program manager said they didn’t know where it was from [they had some ideas on this] - it was technology that was not of this Earth - not made by man - not by human hands
Said were trying to understand and exploit technology; their program was going on for years and years with very slow progress
Admiral Wilson’s attempts to get information on this program or programs is alleged to have transpired in 1997, but much of it reminds me of the testimony of Bob Lazar, who claims to have worked in just such a reverse-engineering project back in the 1980s. Wilson has denied the contents of the memo, but that should come as no surprise. Within the memo itself, Wilson is cited as saying that he has been burned before by others who broke confidentiality, and that it’s a risk for him to speak to Davis. He says he’s only doing so because a trusted colleague vouched for Davis, and his background checks out. He is then alleged to have said:
If you blow my trust, I’ll deny meeting you, deny everything said, won’t meet with any more people (without clearances) to talk about this topic — too risky because of security violation just by mentioning it — very tightly held info — absurdly closely held subject matter — never seen anything like this program in black programs community
In a topic shrouded in deceit and disinformation, it’s difficult to ever be truly certain what went on. Nevertheless, the Wilson memo being entered into the public record this week without objection is historic, since it’s exactly the kind of document the Pentagon would rather pretend doesn’t exist at all.
We have entered an era where the UFO/UAP phenomenon is no longer a question of “is it happening?” and is now a question of “what is it?” There are members of our government who are becoming increasingly concerned (without any stated belief that the phenomenon represents an extraterrestrial threat) that some unknown but advanced technology is operating within our airspace with impunity, and we do not understand its origins, intent, or capabilities. If the testimony of a number of former military personnel assigned to US Nuclear bases during the Cold War is true, this is not a new phenomenon. These UAPs have been alleged (by men with solid service records and a lot to lose) to be able to interfere with hardened nuclear guidance systems.
This is not at all trivial.
Robert Salas, an 81-year-old retired Minuteman commander at one of America’s secret nuclear silos in the 60s, says that the Pentagon is lying about not knowing about the interference from unknown craft in 1967, because in addition to speaking publicly about it for years, he officially reported it to Defense Department officials in 2021. Testimony from Salas and other retired nuclear base personnel concerning UAP interference in nuclear missile base operations, including remote compromise of missile guidance systems, was also offered publicly at the National Press Club in 2013, the videos of which were uploaded to YouTube last year:
The pressure is mounting to drop the stigma around such incidents and take them as seriously as such potential threats warrant. Momentum is building, and denial and disinformation will no longer suffice. Elected officials with oversight capabilities are beginning to show their impatience:
Since Lue Elizondo resigned from leading up the Pentagon’s UFO/UAP investigatory body in 2017, he has arguably been the single most dynamic driving force behind the current push for transparency. Listening to him speak, it’s clear that he has the intelligence, experience, and inside knowledge to do so. Surprisingly, at a time where he is finally seeing some of his efforts reach fruition, he has decided to step back from the public eye, in part because of social media drama and toxicity, but more importantly because he doesn’t want to become the focus of the UAP story. He talked about this on the Calling All Beings Podcast on May 18 — his last public appearance for the foreseeable future. I’m happy to hear, however, that he’ll continue to work this issue from behind the scenes. His expertise will be welcome, no doubt, in the event of future hearings, which he believes will almost certainly take place. The best-case scenario would be for him to be released from the shackles of his NDA and allowed to speak freely. How likely that is is hard to say.
As a boy, I used to seek out books on UFOs and the government programs that may have concealed them. For many years, there was little of substance to feed that interest, and I’d more or less left it behind. But suddenly, we’ve arrived at a very fascinating time for those with an interest in this phenomenon In addition to official governmental disclosure, testimony from highly credible scientists who have studied the phenomenon — like Stanford’s Garry Nolan — are game changers in the discussion. And it’s a hopeful sign that after this week’s hearings, more scientists have indicated they want to play a part in solving the mystery.
I’m cautiously hopeful that the path to greater public disclosure and understanding of what’s really going on won’t end here.
I find this fascinating, as someone who grew up on Air Force bases across the midwest and whose dad was a Minuteman in the 70's. Thank you for covering this and for you analysis.
I used to live near the BAE factory at Warton in Lancashire, North west England. I had Tornado fighter bombers roaring above my house on test flights. That was 1986 and they now make the amazing Typhoon fighter for various NATO air forces. But even the Typhoon will soon be obsolete.
And, if you believe my deceased engineer/pilot friend, BAE have been looking at airspike technology to give our enemies (and maybe our current allies) a real run for their money in any future conflict. I don't understand how this works, but it allegedly produces hypersonic speeds and bizarre electromagnetic effects. Which might account for some of the UAP sightings if US manufacturers are pushing that technological envelope.