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It was a close encounter of the congressional kind.
The House Intelligence Committee went where no committee had gone before Tuesday – or at least, not in the past 55 years. The panel conducted a hearing on UFOs.
Er. Sorry. UAPs.
This is apparently part of the vernacular now. UAPs are “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” UFOs? Well, that’s so “Project Blue Book.” You may as well wipe the Eisenhower administration-era dust off “UFO” before using that acronym.
UFOs used to be a big deal on Capitol Hill.
Aliens paralyzed Washington, D.C., with death rays in the 1956 pulp classic “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” Pictures and video from the film still pop up online from this campy flick. It features the classic, frisbee-like discs hovering over the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill. One saucer lodges itself into the Capitol Dome.
Sorry, Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons. Maybe you can’t stream “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” back on Rigel VII. But “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” crashed their spacecraft into the Capitol four decades before you entered the Earth’s atmosphere on “The Treehouse of Horror.”
The 1950s and 1960s were a hotbox of UFO activity. The Air Force ran “Project Blue Book” from 1952 to 1969 out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The program studied nearly 13,000 UFO reports. Most of the data from Project Blue Book determined that some of the “flying objects” were top secret reconnaissance planes or weather systems. Project Blue Book determined that UFOs never threatened the U.S., nor was there any evidence that UFOs were extraterrestrial.
In 1966, future President and then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, R-Mich., called for a special congressional inquiry into UFOs after a spate of sightings in southern Michigan. Ford wrote to the chairs of the House Armed Services and Science Committees urging an investigation.
Northwestern University astrophysicist J. Allen Hynek described the sightings in southern Michigan as “swamp gas.” Ford called Hynek “flippant.” The congressman then declared that his office “received a number of telegrams and letters from individuals anxious to see a congressional investigation of UFO’s.”
The House Science Committee took up the issue in 1968. The aforementioned Dr. Hynek – whom Ford castigated – appeared as one of the witnesses.
Hynek told lawmakers that science is based on calculations, laws and principles.
“The UFO phenomenon does not fit into that world. It seems to flaunt itself before our present-day science,” testified Hynek. “The subject has engendered an inordinate emotional reaction in certain quarters.”
Hynek suggested that some reports of UFO’s “defy explanation in conventional scientific terms.” He added that some anecdotal stories about UFO’s were, well, out of this world.
“We cannot expect the world of science to take seriously the fare offered at airport newsstands and paperback shelves,” claimed Hynek.
The Air Force terminated Project Blue Book in 1969. And Congress didn’t officially broach the subject again until this week. As far as most lawmakers were concerned, UFOs were from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.
Hyneck’s unofficial role with the Air Force was that of UFO “debunker.” To read some of his earlier statements about UFO’s, one could conclude that Hynek wouldn’t even spare a dime for ET to phone home. But over time, Hynek began questioning some of Project Blue Book’s conclusions.
Congress didn’t take much interest in UFOs for a while. But the First International UFO Congress sure did. Hynek developed the “close encounter” scale of interactions humans may have with UFOs. He also appeared in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and served as a consultant to the movie.
In fact, movies like “Close Encounters,” “Star Wars” and “Independence Day” and TV shows like “Star Trek,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “The X Files” helped foster the “UFO/life on other planets” narrative in the national psyche. The 1970s show “In Search Of” (hosted by Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek” fame) bolstered suspicions people harbored about UFO’s, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and other mysterious phenomena.
This is why jokes abounded around the Capitol about if the UAPs in question were X-wing Fighters, TIE Fighters or even Klingon Birds-of-Prey.
Perhaps that’s the problem with spotting these UAPs. They have cloaking devices! No wonder we can’t figure this stuff out.
Under Secretary of Defense Ronald Moultrie was one of the witnesses at this week’s Intelligence Committee hearing. In a lighthearted moment, Moultrie described himself as “a science fiction fan” and conceded he had even attended “conventions.”
“I’ll say it on the record. But there’s nothing wrong with that. [I] don’t necessarily dress up,” testified Moultrie.
Lawmakers like direct, not elusive answers from witnesses. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., suggested that perhaps Moultrie’s quip was a little cryptic.
“You said you don’t necessarily dress up,” said Crawford, drawing laughter. “That wasn’t a real strong statement.”
But whether Moultrie dresses as Bib Fortuna or the Mandalorian at Awesome Con makes no difference. Moultrie’s knowledge of the Force hasn’t given him clairvoyance enough to explain some of the UAP puzzles.
“We have our questions. We want to know what’s out there. As much as you want to know what’s out there, we get the questions not just from you. We get it from family members. And we get them night and day. Not just in the committee hearing,” said Moultrie.
Moultrie and his colleague, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray, played two declassified videos at the hearing. One showed a series of green, floating triangles. It was a scene which looked eerily like a fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers hovering above Exegol in “The Rise of Skywalker.” Turns out, those weren’t floating triangles at all (or, Imperial Star Destroyers). They were commercial drones which appeared green and triangular thanks to the military’s recording equipment and night vision goggles. But it took the military years to determine the triangles were drones and not something else.
See, the “little green men” may not even be green at all. Little? Yes. Men? Yes. Green? Probably just the night vision goggles.
The committee viewed another declassified video showing a round object that sped away at an absurd rate of speed.
“This is this one of the phenomena that we can’t explain?” asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
“I do not have an explanation for what this specific object is,” replied Bray.
That UAP remains, well, a UAP. It may also be only the second vessel to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
Various polls (mostly unreliable) have materialized over the years claiming a certain percentage of the population either believes or has observed a UFO. A Gallup poll from last year says 41% of all Americans think UFO’s are alien spacecraft. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., led Tuesday’s hearing. So I asked him, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?”
“Well, the strangest thing I’ve probably seen has been stuff that has taken place in the last couple of years in the House chambers,” said Carson with a chortle.
“The truth is out there” was the refrain for years on “The X Files.”
Tuesday’s hearing didn’t quite get all the way to the “truth” to satisfy everyone. But it did get UFOs and UAPs back on the agenda on Capitol Hill.