For many years, unidentified flying objects or UFOs were reckoned fantasy and a figment of human imagination. But not anymore. Recently, a spate of ‘sightings’ has turned the spotlight back on UFOs and getting seriously curious are the likes of the Pentagon and NASA.
Just when we thought Covid-19 had to be the last straw to break the world’s back during the first half of this year, another threat has materialized. This one, ironically, is not of this world and, curiously, has more implications on the US, the world’s largest economy.
The threat we are referring to is none other than UFOs.
Though widely connoted with aliens and extraterritorial life, the term UFO merely refers to ‘unidentified flying objects’ and could, in actuality, refer to something as dull as a cloud or a bird or a plane or a drone. UFOs, or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) according to what the United States Department of Defense prefers to call them, recently dominated international news headlines.
It all began when the US Department of Defense or the Pentagon recently released three declassified videos of ‘unexplained aerial phenomena.’ The US media went berserk. To understand why we need to take a deeper look into US history.
The US and UFOs
The US has had a well-documented, long and endearing obsession with UFOs. According to a ‘Studies in Intelligence’ report released by the Center for the Study of Intelligence, a group within the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in 1997, about 95 per cent of Americans have heard or read something about UFOs and 57 per cent believe they are real. The report also pointed out that it was during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union that the first wave of UFO sightings came about.
The first-ever report of a flying saucer in the US was made by Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot and businessman, on June 24, 1947. While searching for a downed plane, he allegedly saw nine disk-shaped objects travelling at an estimated speed of over 1,000mph. This was followed by a sea of additional sightings by US military and civilian pilots and air traffic controllers all over the country.
The US Air Force initially worried if the objects seen in the sky were secret Soviet weapons and created a team, named the Project Blue Book, in 1952 to investigate alleged sightings. An investigation by the Project Blue Book revealed that most of the reported sightings could be easily explained and weren’t extraordinary. Some were a hoax, while others were misinterpretations of known objects.
Nevertheless, the US Air Force continued its assessment of reported sightings to ensure that none of the objects spotted are security concerns. According to a report, over 12,000 UFOs were spotted between 1947 and 1969, at the height of the Cold War, when high levels of anxiety were anticipated in civilians and officials.
In 2019, the National UFO Reporting Center, which tracks sightings in the US and Canada, reported 5,971 sightings in 2019 — a jump from 3,395 in 2018. Secrecy from the US government has further helped fuel conspiracy theories. Since the Cold War, UFOs have become a part of popular culture. They have become a popular subject of books, comics, films and cartoons. This interest is further fueled by the media which gets into a frenzy each time a sighting comes to light.
Enter the Pentagon
The Pentagon’s interest in UFOs is not new. In 2007, it purportedly started a secret multi-million dollar programme to investigate them. The programme, which was known only to a handful of official, was closed in 2012. According to an article in the New York Times, the document details ‘strange speeding aircraft’ and ‘hovering objects’. However, the document makes no reference to aliens or exterritorial phenomenon.
The recently declassified videos were not remarkable or surprising per se because they weren’t new. The videos had already done the rounds on social media in 2007 and 2017. What made these videos unique is that they were the first to be publicly accepted as ‘real’ by the Pentagon.
One of the videos, shot in 2004, shows a round object hovering above the Pacific Ocean. The film was shot by two navy fighter pilots. Two other videos were filmed in 2015 and both show objects moving through the air. Two of the videos were first published by the New York Times, while one leaked by an organisation co-founded by former Blink-182 singer Tom DeLonge.
The Pentagon said in a press statement that it had authorized the release of these videos “to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos. The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified’.”
This new development had excited believers of extraterritorial life. DeLonge recently extended his gratitude to shareholders of his organisation, To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was co-founded in 2017 in order to study UFOs and other paranormal phenomena. “I want to thank every shareholder at To The Stars for believing in us. Next, we plan on pursuing the technology, finding more answers and telling the stories,” he said.
However, sceptics have pointed out that the objects seen in the grainy videos may have very down-to-earth explanations and while UFOs may be real, they do not suggest the existence of aliens. Furthermore, the New York Times also pointed out one possible, but far less appealing, reason for the new development. It stated that after spending trillions of dollars on faulty F-35 and the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon faces a ‘flat’ budget for 2021, and recent video releases may just be a ‘flashy’ way to demand more funds.
The US Department of Defence and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will soon deliver an unclassified report on UFOs to Congress this month. According to the New York Times, the report will compile what UPA data collected by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, and the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.
As per initial reports, the document is stated to point out that none of the UPAs observed is alien spacecraft, but the sightings continue to be ‘unexplained’. This, almost certainly, will still provide some hope to the believers out there.