America promises to open up the X-files

Storm in a teacup: UFOs were nicknamed “flying saucers” after a sighting of nine in 1947. © iStockPhoto

Should the USA’s secret UFO unit go public? The Pentagon has said that it will publish some of its findings for the first time – but some believe that this would be a dangerous mistake.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaims the US pilot as he and a colleague stare at their cockpit monitors, zeroing in on a cluster of mysterious objects. “There’s a whole fleet of them!” It is not just the numbers that astonish the pair. “They’re going against the wind – the wind’s 120 knots to the west!” “Look at that thing, dude!”

This dramatic dialogue comes from one of three short videos released a few weeks ago by the Pentagon. Dating from 2015, it took place as two F-118 fighter jets patrolled the US’s Atlantic coast.

From the grainy, black and white video footage, it is hard to tell exactly what the two pilots saw. But for those who believe in unidentified flying objects, the excitement of the pilots is proof enough that they had an extraordinary encounter. Now, it looks as if evidence of others may soon be released by the US’s Office of Naval Intelligence.

The Pentagon has admitted that it had a secret department investigating UFOs, but claimed that it had been disbanded in 2012. However, a recently published Senate committee report on intelligence budgets reveals that the department has simply been renamed.

Now called the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, its mission is “to standardise collection and reporting” on UFOs – and, the Senate committee says, some of its findings will be made public within 180 days of its budget being approved.

“It no longer has to hide in the shadows,” declares Luiz Elizondo, who headed the task force for 10 years under its previous name, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programme. “It will have a new transparency.”

Elizondo is convinced that some of the UFOs have crashed on Earth, and that bits of the craft have been found and examined by the US authorities. Astrophysicist Eric W Davis, who worked for his department, agrees that material has been retrieved from “vehicles not made on this Earth”.

However, on the grounds that much of the department’s work is classified as secret, neither man has been able to produce hard evidence. And the head of the Senate committee, Marco Rubio, is mainly concerned that the UFOs may not be from outer space at all.

Some of them, he says, have been seen over American bases and seem able to do things that US aircraft cannot. His worry is that an enemy power, such as Russia or China, may have made “a technological leap” which enables its planes to carry out extraordinary spy manoeuvres without being identified.

Equally, he says, there could be a “boring”, straightforward explanation for these sightings – “But we need to find out.”

Should the US’s secret UFO unit go public?

Crafty tactics

Some say yes. If there is convincing evidence that Earth has been visited by craft from other planets, then it concerns everybody and the public has the right to be told about it – particularly if there is a threat involved. If governments are secretive, then all kinds of crazy theories will continue to proliferate, obstructing the advancement of science.

Others argue that there is no point in the US sharing information until it understands exactly what it is dealing with, and has a plan to counter it. If the UFOs come from outer space, the revelation could cause widespread panic. And if they belong to a hostile country, it would be of great help to the enemy to know how much the US has managed to work out.

You Decide

  1. If aliens did land in a UFO, who would be the best person to send to talk to them?
  2. What is the longest time a government should be allowed to keep something secret?

Activities

  1. Imagine a UFO appearing beside you when you are alone somewhere. A small creature looking rather like Yoda comes out of the craft. It speaks to you in perfect English. “Hello, Earthling. Tell me your life story, please.” Write down what you would say in response.
  2. Imagine that the American pilots were able to make radio contact with the UFOs they spotted. Write a one-act radio play about their conversation.

Some People Say...

“If you’re not comfortable with the unknown, then it’s difficult to be a scientist […]. I want to have answers to find.”

Brian Cox, English physicist and TV presenter

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most agree that the term UFO was invented by the US Air Force (USAF) in 1953. Its definition was “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object”. Between 1947 and 1969, the USAF looked into over 12,000 reports of UFOs. Most proved to be stars, clouds, or ordinary aircraft, but 701 sightings remain unexplained.
What do we not know?
How much the US authorities know and are keeping secret. John F Kennedy once gave a steward on Air Force One this cryptic message: “I’d like to tell the public about the alien situation, but my hands are tied."” Last month, President Trump told his son Donald Trump Jr that he knew “very interesting” things about Roswell, a city in New Mexico, which has been the focus of much speculation about the existence of UFOs.

Word Watch

Cockpit
Originally, the term for a pit in which cockerels were placed to fight each other, it has come to mean a confined space for controlling a sailing boat, racing car, or aircraft.
Knots
120 knots is 138 mph. The speed of sailing boats used to be measured by throwing overboard a log, attached to a rope with knots at regular intervals. The sailors would then count the number of knots that went through their hands in a given amount of time.
Pentagon
The headquarters of the US Defence Department, so-called because it has five sides. In 1967, peace protestors attempted unsuccessfully to levitate it in the hope of ending the Vietnam War.
Senate committee
A sub-organisation of the US Senate, these committees review bills, conduct oversight, issue reports, and hold hearings on topics of interest.
Budgets
The amounts of money allocated to projects. The word comes from the French “bougette”, meaning a small bag or wallet.
Marco Rubio
A senator from Florida, whose parents were Cuban immigrants. He ran for president as a Republican in 2016, but dropped out after losing the Florida primary to Donald Trump.
Manoeuvres
Movements. It is also a military term for battle practice.
Proliferate
Increase in number. In botany, it refers to developing buds or shoots; in biology, to cellular division.

Subjects

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