The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to require U.S. intelligence agencies and the Defense Department to compile a detailed public analysis of all data collected on “unidentified aerial phenomenon,” including intrusions recorded by Navy pilots in recent years.
The provision contained in the annual intelligence authorization bill, which still needs to be adopted by the full Senate, sets up an unusually public debate on Capitol Hill about how extensively the government has been tracking high performance aircraft of unknown origin, or UFOs.
“The Committee remains concerned that there is no unified, comprehensive process within the federal government for collecting and analyzing intelligence on unidentified aerial phenomena, despite the potential threat,” the committee states in its report on the bill, which sets policy for the intelligence community.
“The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders,” it adds.
The unclassified analysis, which can include a classified annex, is to be completed by the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense within 180 days of passage.
Senators on the panel were first briefed a year ago about reports from naval aviators and other personnel about a series of incidents in recent years involving unidentified aircraft stalking Navy aircraft carriers off the the West and East coasts, including a trio of videos that were recently made public.
The congressional briefings were sparked by revelations in late 2017 that the Pentagon had been investigating the sightings and interviewing pilots for a number of years and had recently issued new guidelines to sailors on how to report such incidents.
Now the Senate panel, chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is directing the executive branch to centralize all relevant information about such intrusions collected from a wide range of sources, including the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI, satellites or other technical means, and human spies.
It also wants a recounting of how agencies share such information and who is responsible for the task; whether the aircraft in question could indicate a major technological breakthrough by a foreign adversary; and “recommendations regarding increased collection of data, enhanced research and development, and additional funding and other resources.”
Rubio’s office declined a request to comment.
The move is seen as a major victory for advocates of more government research into UFOs and greater public transparency.
“It further legitimizes the issue,” said Christopher Mellon, a former top Pentagon intelligence official and Senate staffer who has pressed for more research on the topic. “That in itself is extremely important. People can talk about it without fear of embarrassment.”
He said the potential implications cannot be overstated. “Assuming the report is properly prepared and delivered, there is no telling what the impacts could be,” Mellon said. “That could range from revealing an unknown threat or military vulnerability to there have been probes visiting our planet, or anything in between.”
It remains unclear how the legislation will be received by the full Senate, which has yet to take up the intelligence bill, or where the House will come down on the issue. There could also be resistance within the Trump administration, particularly regarding the requirement that the information be made public.
But what is clear is that UFOs are now on the agenda. “If they don’t respond to something like this, what do we have an intelligence community for?” Mellon asked. “We are talking dozens of incidents in restricted military airspace over years.”