Coming soon – the truth about flying saucers

Not so alien: Some US officials fear that UFOs are actually Russian or Chinese.

Are UFOs a sign of growing alien interest? The former head of American intelligence has said that sightings are far more common than we thought, and promised dramatic revelations to come.

For UFO enthusiasts, John Ratcliffe’s statement was the answer to their prayers. The one-time director of US national intelligence had just been asked about a forthcoming report from the defence department and intelligence agencies. “Frankly,” he told an interviewer on Fox News, “there are a lot more sightings than have been made public.” The report would include ones from all over the world.

“When we talk about sightings,” he explained, “we are talking about objects that have been seen by navy or air force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for; or travelling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

Ratcliffe emphasised that the government takes reports of UFOs – also known as UAPswith a pinch of salt. Its general inclination is to ascribe them to weather disturbances or secret technology developed by another country.

“We always look for a plausible application. Sometimes we wonder whether our adversaries have technologies that are a little bit farther down the road than we thought or that we realised. But there are instances where we don’t have good explanations.”

The report stems from the release of three videos by the defence department last April. Showing UFOs spotted by pilots on training flights, they prompted demands from Congress for a more serious approach to the subject.

In August, the defence department created a taskforce to “detect, analyse and catalogue UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to US national security”. When Congress passed a government funding act in December, it included a clause obliging the national intelligence agency and the defence department to issue a report within six months.

According to John Ratcliffe, there are “multiple sensors” around the world collecting information on the subject. In January, the CIA released thousands of documents which, it said, contained all its records about UFOs. They included an eyewitness account of one near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and a report on mysterious explosions in a Russian town.

But there have been complaints that the CIA is being less open than it claims. The founder of Black Vault, a website devoted to declassified government documents, notes that the agency issued its records in an outdated format which makes them very difficult to go through.

There are doubts, too, about the reliability of Ratcliffe’s statement. His appointment as director of national intelligence by Donald Trump was highly controversial, since he had little experience of the sector.

His only qualification appeared to be unquestioning loyalty to the president. And indeed Trump’s first attempt to appoint him failed, when it emerged that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his experience as a prosecutor in terrorism and immigration cases.

Are UFOs a sign of growing alien interest?

Saucer resources

Some say, yes. Ratcliffe’s statement confirms what many people have long suspected – that there is no shortage of convincing evidence for UFOs’ existence, and governments have been deliberately keeping the public in the dark. The fact that they are now finally admitting the truth shows that alien activity has become too frequent to cover up any longer.

Others argue that the existence of aliens and UFOs is wishful thinking on the part of sci-fi enthusiasts. Most of the “sightings” in the report will have perfectly simple explanations. The astronaut Tim Peake tells of spotting “three lights moving in formation” from the International Space Station. He took them for alien craft; they turned out to be drops of urine leaking from a Russian probe.

You Decide

  1. Is the American government taking UFOs too seriously?
  2. Should governments be obliged to share everything they know on any subject with the public?


  1. The idea of an alien landing on Earth and saying “Take me to your leader” is a favourite with cartoonists. Draw a cartoon making it relevant to life in 2021.
  2. Imagine that you are head of the US intelligence service and have been shown definite proof that alien craft are visiting Earth. Write a letter to the president advising him what to do with the information.

Some People Say...

“Not until the empirical resources are exhausted need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.”

Edwin Hubble (1889 – 1953), American astronomer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that public interest in UFOs fluctuates dramatically. Before the 20th Century, reports of strange objects in the sky were very rare. They became common in the 1940s, when people hoped aliens might help humans build a better world. By the 1970s, with trust in governments eroded by events like the Watergate scandal, UFOs were being linked to dark conspiracies. In this century the number of sightings peaked in 2014; by 2018 they had dropped by 45%.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether the report to Congress will be as revealing as Ratcliffe suggests. The government funding act stipulates that the report should be unclassified, meaning that anyone should be able to read it. Crucially, though, its compilers are allowed to add a classified appendix – so the most sensitive and interesting information could be held back.

Word Watch

Fox News
An American cable TV channel widely considered to have a right-wing bias. It was closely associated with the Trump regime.
Short for Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon. UFO is short for Unidentified Flying Object.
With a pinch of salt
With scepticism. The phrase may originally have referred to a Roman antidote to poison.
Reasonable or deserving approval. Like “applause”, it comes from a Latin verb meaning to praise.
Government funding act
The main part of the act provides $900bn of funding to stimulate an economic recovery after the pandemic.
Made public after initially being kept secret. It is not to be confused with “déclassé”, which means reduced in status.
Trump said that he wanted Ratcliffe to “rein in” intelligence agencies which he claimed had “run amok”.

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