The combined COVID-19 relief and federal spending bill passed late last year includes an unusual request: U.S. intelligence agencies have 180 days to tell Congress what they know about unidentified aerial phenomena, or UFOs.
Agencies also have to explain how they collect data and analyze encounters with UFOs, and if the objects pose a threat to national security. Seth Shostak, an astronomer at SETI Institute, says government programs investigating UFOs date back to the early to mid-1950s.
“It's strangely placed, of course, in a law that really doesn't have much to do with any of this,” he says, “but it's certainly not unprecedented.”
In April of 2020, the Pentagon declassified three videos taken by Navy pilots that show unidentified objects flying at high speeds near their planes.
Polls show one-third of Americans believe alien UFOs have visited Earth. Shostak points out that the videos didn’t come as a surprise to people who want to believe.
The videos could show an alien UFO sussing out Earth, he says, but an internal reflection in the aircraft’s infrared cameras could also explain the strange sight.
All three videos were captured by F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, he says. Many people theorize that the videos are a result of problems with the aircraft cameras.
“These videos actually weren't secret videos,” he says. “And you do see some strange things in them. But that doesn't mean they're alien craft.”
The aim of the upcoming report from intelligence agencies is to standardize reporting on UFOs and try to identify the objects, he says. Other similar initiatives, such as a Defense Department program from 2007 to 2012 called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, share the same goals, he says.
Besides, he questions, why would highly advanced extraterrestrials take such a passive interest in the U.S. military?
"The government's interest in this is not that they're worried that, you know, little green guys have come for a house call,” he says. “I think that they're more concerned that there is some sort of military technology being deployed by potential enemies.”
This segment aired on January 12, 2021.