I Am Excited About—and Feel Vindicated By—All the Talk of UFOs

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Over the last few years, amid the daily avalanche of scandal, corruption, and intrigue, one could be forgiven for tuning it all out in favor of something else. Anything else. One storyline I’ve found intriguing and exciting: the US government and UFOs.

Before the 2016 election, I wrote a series of pieces about how Hillary Clinton and her key staff were saying interesting things about UFOs. Most laughed. The issue was treated as a joke on late-night television. But time has shown that clearly there was something afoot.

In December 2017, the New York Times published a groundbreaking story: “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” which included Department of Defense videos of aerial objects the government could not explain. While credible UFO reports go back decades, the Times story increased the latitude for discussion of the issue under mainstream mastheads. Since then, the Times has published a series of additional pieces, as have a host of other respected publications.

In April 2019, the US Navy announced it was updating its procedures for pilots who wish to report encounters with UFOs to destigmatize the issue and collect better data. By September, the US Navy confirmed to John Greenewald Jr., the founder of a repository of publicly available government documents called the Black Vault, that the videos published by the Times were officially “unidentified aerial phenomena,” a the term used for “unauthorized/unidentified aircraft/objects that have been observed entering/operating in the airspace of various military-controlled training ranges.” In February 2020, Popular Mechanics published a deeply reported piece concluding that “unidentified flying objects are neither myth nor figment of overactive imagination,” elaborating that documentary evidence and people who would know both suggest “UFOs are real.”

In June, the Senate Intelligence Committee tasked the director of national intelligence with submitting a public report, with a classified annex, outlining the government’s work on “unexplained aerial phenomena.” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chair of the committee, confirmed that he had been given a classified briefing on UAP. “The military and others are taking this issue seriously,” Warner said, “which, I think in previous generations may not have been the case.” A month later, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, characterized it as a national security issue. “We have things flying over our military bases and places where we’re conducting military exercises and we don’t know what it is, and it isn’t ours,” Rubio said, adding that “frankly, if it’s something from outside this planet, that might actually be better” than the possibility novel aerial technology is being used by a foreign power.

Excuse me? What? As someone who has closely followed this issue for years, the fact that two powerful senators are saying these sorts of things in public, with total earnestness, is huge.

Greenewald, who has used the Freedom of Information Act to pry documents on UFOs from government vaults, agrees there is some reason for optimism about further disclosures, but offered a note of caution.

“The last two years have been fascinating in UAP world,” he told me. The Navy’s revelations provided renewed hope of transparency, and its acknowledgement that the objects on those famous videos were, in fact, UAPs, “was huge,” he said. “I never expected that.”

But Greenewald says a string of recently denied FOIA requests he filed indicates “that that door has shut,” and he warns that indications the government is taking UFOs as a serious potential threat could ultimately mean it will refuse to honestly disclose what it knows.

“Whether or not we’re talking about a foreign adversary that has technology that we haven’t mastered yet, whether it’s one branch that’s being tested on by another branch of the military—which I think is a big possibility—or, what everybody wants, which is extra terrestrials, regardless, all of the above would be a national security risk,” he told me.

Greenewald is probably right: The government is not likely to tell us all it knows about these objects that can seemingly toy with the most advanced and sophisticated military equipment on the planet. But at least it’s now okay to talk about them in public. And if the Trump era has taught us anything, it’s the value of appreciating wins where you can find them. —AJ Vicens

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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