The mystery of UFOs seen in American skies is likely to continue following the release of the US government’s highly anticipated UFO report.
The report released on Friday afternoon made clear that while American intelligence officials do not believe aliens are behind the UFOs – or what scientists prefer to call unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) – that were observed by navy pilots, they cannot explain what the flying objects are.
The report confirms that the observed phenomena are not part of any US military operations.
The Pentagon studied over 140 incidents reported by navy pilots of UAP seen over the last two decades for the report. Many were seen from the summer of 2014 into the spring of 2015.
While the report said that some incidents could be the result of technological errors in sensors or observers, it noted that most of the UAP reported “probably do represent physical objects” since they were registered across multiple sensors.
The only UAP intelligence officials were able to identify “with high confidence” turned out to be “a large, deflating balloon”.
“The others remain unexplained,” the report reads.
The release of the report caps a six-month wait, since a group of elected officials succeeded in including the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 in a $2.3tn coronavirus relief bill signed by Donald Trump last December.
The act ordered government agencies to provide a declassified “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence” and “a detailed description of an interagency process” for reporting UAP.
In August, the Pentagon resurrected a UAP investigations arm, calling it the UAP Task Force and directing it to “detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to US national security”. The taskforce and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence authored the report.
The report notes that only since 2019 has the government had a standardized reporting system for UAPs, so “limited data and inconsistency in reporting” were challenges in investigations.
“The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP,” the report reads.
The discussion of UFOs – at government level or outside it – has been stigmatized for decades. While some have used the UAP materials as fodder for theories on alien life, officials have pointed to the possible threat of the UAPs being from an adversary using technology unknown to the US.
“In this country we’ve had incidents where these UAPs have interfered and actually brought offline our nuclear capabilities,” Luis Elizondo, former director of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, the earlier iteration of the Pentagon’s UAP taskforce, told the Washington Post. Elizondo resigned in 2017, out of frustration that UAP were not being taken seriously enough by defense leaders.
“We also have data suggesting that in other countries these things have interfered with their nuclear technology and actually turned them on, put them online.”
While the US government was ordered to publish the unclassified report, experts said that a classified annex, which the public will not see, contains some of the juiciest details.
In recent years, the release of government videos showing unexplained flying things have provided firmer evidence that something, alien or not, is out there.
Footage from two sightings in 2015 and a third in 2004 taken during training flights went viral online after they were leaked. The Pentagon ultimately confirmed the authenticity of the footage and released them for the public in 2020.
One of the videos shows an object resembling a flying, spinning top soaring through the air. “Look at that thing!” one of the pilots can be heard saying in amazement.
This April, more photos and videos taken by US navy personnel were leaked online, showing triangular-shaped objects buzzing around in the sky. In May, leaked military footage showed an oval flying object near a US navy ship off San Diego, an apparent hotspot for UAP.
Members of the US navy have seen UAP frequently. Ryan Graves, a retired pilot, told 60 Minutes pilots saw UAP in restricted airspace south-east of Virginia Beach “every day” in 2014.
“Every day for at least a couple years,” Graves said.
In a statement released on Friday after the report’s release, the Republican senator Marco Rubio, who has been a staunch advocate for investigation into UAPs, celebrated the report but emphasized that it is “just a first step”.
“For years, the men and women we trust to defend our country reported encounters with unidentified aircraft that has superior capabilities, and for years their concerns were often ignored and ridiculed,” Rubio said. “The Defense Department and intelligence community have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern.”