The U.S. House Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation (C3) Subcommittee held an open hearing on Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, or UAP, which addressed the work of the recently created UAP Task Force. It was the first public hearing regarding the U.S. government’s investigations into unexplained phenomena since the 2017 New York Times article which revealed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a military program that investigated reports of UFOs, and the June, 2021, release of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s preliminary report from the UAP Task Force.

“More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Government ended Project Blue Book, an effort to catalog and understand sightings of objects in the air that could not otherwise be explained. For more than 20 years, that project treated unidentified anomalies in our airspace as a national security threat to be monitored and investigated,” said Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), chairman of the C3 Subcommittee. “In 2017 we learned for the first time that the Department of Defense had quietly restarted a similar organization tracking what we now call ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon’ or UAPs. Last year, Congress rewrote the charter for that organization, now called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, or AIMSOG for short. Today we will bring that organization out of the shadows. This hearing and oversight work has a simple idea at its core. Unidentified aerial phenomenon are a potential national security threat, and they need to be treated that way. Too long, the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis. Pilots avoided reporting or were laughed at when they did. DoD officials relegated the issue to the back room or swept it under the rug entirely, fearful of a skeptical national security community. Today, we know better. UAPs are unexplained, it’s true, but they are real. They need to be investigated, and many threats they pose need to be mitigated.”

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), the ranking member of the C3 Subcommittee, emphasized that the government’s interest in UAPs should be rooted in terrestrial national security concerns. “Aside from all the hype and speculation, there are important underlying issues posed by UAPs,” he said. “Despite the serious nature of this topic I have to say I’m more interested in our understanding of Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons development or understanding why this administration was so slow to share actionable intelligence with the Ukrainians. However, as much as this topic may help us better understand unknown activities of Russia or China, I am onboard. The intelligence community has a serious duty to our taxpayers to prevent potential adversaries such as China or Russia from surprising us with unforeseen new technologies. As overseers of the intelligence community, this committee has an obligation to understand what you are doing to determine whether any UAPs are new technologies or not, and if they are, where are they coming from.”

The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security, Ronald Moultrie, and Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Scott W. Bray, fielded questions from committee members during the hour and a half hearing. “What are UAP? Put simply, UAP are airborne objects that, when encountered, cannot be immediately identified,” said Moultrie. “However, it is the Department’s contention that by combining appropriately structured, collected data with rigorous scientific analysis, any object that we encounter can likely be isolated, characterized, identified, and, if necessary, mitigated. We know that our service members have encountered unidentified aerial phenomenon, and because UAPs pose potential flight safety and general security risks, we are committed to a focused effort to determine their origins. … We also understand there is a cultural stigma around UAP. Our goal is to eliminate the stigma by fully incorporating our operators and mission personnel into a standardized data gathering process. We believe that making UAP reporting a mission imperative will be instrumental to the effort’s success.”

Bray explained that the impetus for the UAP Task Force was rooted in continued, unexplained sightings by military aviators. “Since the early 2000s, we have seen an increasing number of unauthorized and/or unidentified objects in military controlled training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace,” he said. “Reports of sightings are frequent, and continuing. We attribute this increase in reporting to a number of factors, including our work to destigmatize reporting, an increase in the number of new systems such as quadcopters and unmanned aerial systems that are in our airspace, identification of what we can classify as ‘clutter’ — mylar balloons and other types of air trash — and improvements in the capabilities of our various sensors to detect things in our airspace. Almost two years ago, in August of 2020, Deputy Secretary of Defense [David] Norquist directed the establishment of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force within the Department of the Navy. The UAP Task Force was built on the foundation of the Navy’s initial efforts to respond to the reports from our aviators on unidentified objects observed in our training ranges. The basic issues, then and now, are twofold. First, incursions in our training ranges by unidentified objects represent serious hazards to safety of flight. In every aspect of naval aviation, safety of our aircrews is paramount. Second, intrusions by unknown aircraft or objects pose potential threats to the security of our operations. Our aviators train as they would fight, so any instructions may compromise the security of our operations by revealing our capabilities, our tactics, techniques or procedures are of great concern to the Department of the Navy and Defense.”

Bray also provided video evidence of the kinds of sightings the UAP Task Force investigates. “What you see here is an aircraft that is operating in a U.S. Navy training range, that has observed a spherical object in that area, and as they fly by it they take a video,” said Bray of one of two videos he shared during the hearing. “You see a — it looks reflective in this video, somewhat reflective, and it quickly passes by the cockpit of the aircraft. … I do not have an explanation for what this object is.”

An unexplained spherical object recorded by a military pilot.

The Task Force’s collection of reports, some 400 sightings according to Bray, aren’t all unexplained. “If and when UAP incidents are resolved, they likely fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: Airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomenon, U.S. Government or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, or an ‘other’ bin that allows for a holding bin of difficult cases, and for the possibility of surprise and potential scientific discovery,” he said. 

Bray provided an example of an explainable UAP sighting, of a video initially published by paranormal researcher Jeremy Corbell, which showed blinking, triangular UAPs near a Navy vessel. “We’re now reasonably confident that these triangles correlate to unmanned aerial systems in the area,” he explained. “The triangular appearance is the result of light passing through the night vision goggles and then being recorded by an SLR camera.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) questioned Moultrie and Bray about the 1967 Malmstrom Air Force Base incident, in which a UAP sighting at the base coincided with a loss of control over nuclear missiles. Researcher and author Bob Hastings obtained records of the incident via Freedom of Information Act requests, and has documented similar cases during the 60s at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in 1965 and Minot Air Force Base in 1966. Hastings has reported that a 2010 incident at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in which the base temporarily lost the ability to communicate with 50 of its Minuteman III missiles, was UAP-related.

“It’s also been reported that there have been UAP observed and interacting with and flying over sensitive military facilities — and not just ranges — some facilities housing our strategic nuclear forces,” said Gallagher. “One such incident allegedly occurred at Malmstrom Air Force Base in which 10 of our nuclear ICBMs were rendered inoperable. At the same time, a glowing red orb was observed overhead. I’m not commenting on the accuracy of this, I’m simply asking you whether you’re aware of it and if you have any comment on the accuracy of that report.”

Bray replied, “That data is not within the holdings of the UAP Task Force.”

Gallagher went on to ask about the controversial “Admiral Wilson Memo,” the authenticity of which has been a topic of spirited debate within the civilian UFO community. “Are you aware of a document that appeared around 2019 sometimes called the ‘Admiral Wilson Memo’ or ‘E.W. Notes Memo?’” he asked. “This is a document in which — again I’m not commenting on the veracity, I’m hoping you could help me with that — in which a former head of DIA claims to have had a conversation with a Dr. Eric [Davis] and claims to have been made aware of certain contractors or DoD programs that he tried to get fuller access to and was denied access to. You’re not aware of that?”

Bray and Moultrie denied any knowledge of those documents.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), asked about the possibility of recovered UAP materials, as have been rumored to have been salvaged from the 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico. “Have we come across any wreckage of any kind of object that has now been examined by you?” he asked.

“The UAP Task Force doesn’t have any wreckage that isn’t explainable, that isn’t consistent with being of terrestrial origin,” replied Bray.

Krishnamoorthi went on to ask about undersea UAPs, a phenomenon that has not received the same amount of scrutiny as the airborne variety. “Do we have any sensors underwater to detect submerged UAPs?” he asked. “Anything that is in the ocean or in the seas?”

Moultrie did not confirm or deny that the government is tracking undersea UAPs. “That would be more appropriate addressed in closed session, sir,” he said.

Crawford asked Bray for examples of unexplained UAP encounters, and Bray pointed to the 2004 “Tic-Tac” incident, recorded by F/A-18 pilots from the USS Nimitz. “The example that I would say is still unresolved that I think everyone understands quite well is the 2004 incident from Nimitz,” said Bray. “We have data on that and it simply remains unresolved. Does not mean it resolves to being something that is easily explainable or — obviously it resolved to being something that is difficult to explain, but I can’t point to something that was definitively not man-made, but I can point to a number of examples which remain unresolved.”

The “Tic-Tac” encountered by pilots from the USS Nimitz.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of House Intelligence Committee, emphasized the need for transparency in how the government reports on UAPs. “Holding a portion of our discussion today in open session is critical to the cause of transparency and openness which was Congress’s intent in authorizing and funding this new task force,” he said. “The larger effort that is being undertaken to study and characterize UAP reports is an important step towards understanding these phenomena, what we know and don’t know, and I look forward to hearing both the open session and the closed setting about how DOD and the IC are undertaking that task. UAP reports have been around for decades, and yet we haven’t had an orderly way for them to be reported without stigma and to be investigated. That needs to change. UAP reports need to be understood as a national security matter, and that message needs to go out across DOD, the IC and the whole of the U.S. Government. When we spot something we don’t understand or can’t identify in our airspace, it’s the job of those we entrust with our national security to investigate and to report back. That is why it’s important we hold this open hearing for the public to hear directly from the Department of Defense on the steps it’s taking to track, analyze, and transparently communicate the work that is being done on this issue.”

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was tight-lipped on the issue when asked about the House UAP hearing following his remarks to the El Paso County Democratic Party. “I can’t talk about what I know about that, because I learned it on the Intelligence Committee,” he said. “I’m going to be Colorado’s candidate honoring the requirements of the intelligence committee.”