For the first time in more than five decades, a hearing discussing unidentified aerial phenomena – more commonly referred to as unidentified flying objects (UFOs) – is going to be available to the public as a House subcommittee will hear testimonies from top security officials from within the Pentagon.
The panel, discussing content matter typically reserved for closed door meetings with high-ranking military officials, will bring some of that information to the fore as members from the House Intelligence Committee’s subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation hear from two top defence intelligence officials on 17 May at 10am.
The hearings, first reported by The New York Times, will focus on following up a greatly anticipated declassified report released last June, which found that more than 140 UFO sightings recorded since 2004 could not be explained.
In that report, published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), it was largely inconclusive about the source of the unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), many of which were documented by the US’s own naval aviators and other members of the military.
“We currently lack data to indicate any UAP are part of a foreign collection program or indicative of a major technological advancement by a potential adversary,” the report stated, but added that they could say they “do represent physical objects.”
Here’s what to expect from the House panel on UAPs.
Who will be there?
The panel will be led by Representative André Carson, who’s the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing next week’s hearing.
Ahead of next week’s hearing, the Indiana Democrat emphasised in a statement how the American people “deserve their leaders in government” to evaluate these potential security threats “seriously”.
“Since coming to Congress, I've been focused on the issue of unidentified aerial phenomena as both a national security threat and an interest of great importance to the American public. And I'm pleased to chair the first open Intelligence Committee hearing on these events,” said Rep Carson. “It will give the American people an opportunity to learn what there is to know about incidents. And I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on this critical matter.”
Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was similarly enthusiastic about having the opportunity to bring this subject, historically shrouded in mystery, to the public next week.
“The purpose of this hearing is to give the public an opportunity to hear directly from subject matter experts and leaders in the Intelligence Community on one of the greatest mysteries of our time, and to break the cycle of excessive secrecy and speculation with truth and transparency,” added the California Democrat in the statement. “I’m grateful to Congressman Carson for his continued leadership, and push for transparency, on this important issue.”
Two of the experts expected to provide testimony during the public hearing will come from Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald S. Moultrie and Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott W. Bray.
Mr Moultrie, who oversees the new Pentagon office, the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG), created to replace the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force last November in the wake of the shocking declassified June report, will provide testimony on the new office, which will be the focus of the public hearing.
When is it?
The hearing will be held on Tuesday, 17 May at 10am EST and will be the first public hearing discussing the topic of UAPs since 1970, when the Air Force closed Project Blue Book, a public investigation spearheaded by then House Republican minority leader Gerald Ford who presented the accounts of dozens of people who claimed to have seen UFOs. At the time, these claims were largely dismissed by the military as “swamp gas”, which the former US president said was “flippant”.
What’s on the docket?
When Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks ushered in the AOIMSG last November as the successor to the Pentagon’s previous UAP surveillance office, it was done so with the outset goal of addressing the challenges associated with “assessing UAP occurring on or near DOD training ranges” and other locations that were highlighted in the June 2021 declassified report.
The group’s work, which is described as to “detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in Special Use Airspace and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security”, will be the focus of conversation during the hearings. Mr Moultrie, who leads this office, will likely be asked for updates on this effort since the late summer report prompted his office’s creation.
The public hearing comes amid a recent push from inside DC where lawmakers are keen to see action on this issue, with an emphasis on bringing those findings outside of closed-door meetings.
Last December, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spearheaded a bipartisan measure to add an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that tasked the Pentagon and intelligence officials to study UAPs in a more rigorous manner and make those findings public.
Lawmakers, however, have recently grown frustrated with the progress being made within that group, the Pentagon’s Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office, with New York Sen Gillibrand’s aides telling Politico recently that the Democrat believes the “DoD needs to take this issue much more seriously and get in motion”.
Members of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, who have begun receiving more vigorous reports from intelligence officials in recent weeks, were reportedly let down from these recent briefings, as some lawmakers were hoping to see more standardising of analysis and collection of UAP reports.
An aide for Marco Rubio, who also sits on the intelligence panel, told Politico in the same report that the Florida senator was similarly frustrated by the Pentagon not following Congress’ direction aggressively enough, with the aide noting that he believed “they are not moving fast enough”.
What else you should know:
Following the public hearing, there will be a closed-door meeting for lawmakers who sit on the subcommittees to hear a classified hearing on the Pentagon program, known as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.
This issue is also a rarified moment where lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree on a topic without many notable detractors.
Mr Carson, perhaps jokingly, also noted to the Times that this hearing, the first of its kind in more than half a century, could also be considered historic on the grounds of building such uncommon bipartisan support.
“I’ve gotten some chuckles but it’s something I’m passionate about and I think I can take the heat” he said. ‘This may be the very thing that brings Democrats and Republicans together, at least for an hour or two.”
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