Is there evidence of extraterrestrial life? Congress tries to figure it out

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs held a hearing Wednesday, July 26, 2023, exploring reported sightings of unidentified anomalous phenomena. Witnesses being sworn in from left to right: retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Fravor, former Department of Defense National Reconnaissance Officer Representative of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Task Force David Grusch and Ryan Graves, executive director of Americans for Safe Aerospace. Ashley Murray/States Newsroom

WASHINGTON — During an otherworldly hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers and witnesses launched accusations that the Pentagon is stonewalling Congress and the public from information about unidentified anomalous phenomena, more often referred to as UFOs.

That includes a 2014 encounter when a “dark gray or black cube inside a clear sphere” traveled within 50 feet of two U.S. fighter jets off the coast of Virginia, according to witness testimony.

The enigma brought together both Democratic and Republican lawmakers on a GOP-led U.S. House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee in imploring high-ranking military and intelligence officials to clear the air on potential malevolent activity, clandestine military weapons development, or even the existence of extraterrestrial life.

“The lack of transparency regarding UAPs has fueled wild speculation and debate for decades eroding public trust in the very institutions that are meant to serve and protect them, as is evidenced by the large amount of people we have here,” said Wisconsin GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman, chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs.

“We must demand transparency from the Department of Defense, our intelligence community and our defense industry on the UAP work,” Grothman said in his opening statement.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovered a high-altitude surveillance balloon on Feb. 5, 2023 off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. U.S. fighter aircraft operating under U.S. Northern Command authority engaged and destroyed a high-altitude surveillance balloon over U.S. territorial waters at the order of U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tyler Thompson/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The discovery in February of a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana days after it entered U.S. airspace above Alaska heightened anxiety and attention about UAPs, traditionally referred to as unidentified flying objects. The balloon traversed the contiguous U.S. and was shot down by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina. China’s government denied the craft’s spying capabilities.

Lawmakers on the oversight panel displayed wide-ranging skepticism, raising conjecture and questions about possible involvement from defense contractors, cover-ups of crash sites and debris, and harassment and intimidation of both military and commercial pilots who report sightings.

“Pilots have reported encounters for years. Because of the stigma around reporting these incidents, we still don’t have a complete picture of actually what’s going on, particularly as our witnesses will testify on the civilian side,” subcommittee ranking member Robert Garcia of California said.

But Pentagon officials say they take the public interest in UAPs “seriously.”

“The Department is fully committed to openness and accountability to the American people, which it must balance with its obligation to protect sensitive information, sources, and methods. DoD also committed to timely and thorough reporting to Congress,” Sue Gough, Defense Department spokesperson, said in a written response to States Newsroom.

Unexplained encounters

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Fravor recounted for the panel his high-profile story, now declassified, of when he and other F-18 Super Hornet jet pilots in 2004 witnessed a white object in the shape of a “Tic Tac” mint or “propane tank” hovering over choppy whitewater off the Southern California coast on a clear, calm day.

As he and fellow pilots flew within a half mile of the object, “it rapidly accelerated and disappeared right in front of our aircraft. Our wingman, roughly 8,000 feet above us, also lost (sight of it). We immediately turned to investigate the whitewater only to find that it was also gone,” Fravor testified.

The crew soon got word from air controllers that the object had traveled 60 miles in less than a minute.

Crews watching the radar had detected objects in prior weeks descending “rapidly” from 80,000 feet to 20,000 feet and then hovering for hours before going straight back up, Fravor told the panel.

The object “was far superior in performance to my brand new F/A-18F and did not operate with any of the known aerodynamic principles that we expect for objects that fly in our atmosphere,” Fravor said in his testimony.

Beyond a debrief, Fravor said no further investigation of the incident occurred.

Ryan Graves, former U.S. Navy F-18 pilot and current executive director of Americans for Safe Aerospace, told the panel that UAP sightings became an “open secret” among aircrew stationed near Virginia Beach, Virginia.

After an upgrade to their radar system, service members began detecting tracks with infrared sensors, which they initially dismissed as software glitches until the pilots physically corroborated the objects, Graves testified.

A “pivotal incident” occurred in 2014 during an air combat training mission 10 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, Graves said. That’s when pilots in Graves’ squadron saw a clear sphere with a gray cube inside hovering “motionless against the wind” at the GPS location and altitude where the training was to begin.

“The jets, only 100 feet apart, were forced to take evasive action. They terminated the mission immediately and returned to base. Our squadron submitted a safety report, but there was no official acknowledgement of the incident and no further mechanism to report the sightings,” Graves testified.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to begin submitting annual reports about UAPs to Congress. The initial report was published in January.

NASA announced in June 2022 that the agency would begin studying UAPs from “a scientific perspective,” focusing on identifying current data and how best to collect data in the future.

The 2022 defense policy bill also triggered the Pentagon to establish the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) in coordination with the ODNI to investigate UAP near military installations.

Gough says the Pentagon “welcomes the opportunity to speak with any former or current government employee or contractor who believes they have information relevant to the historical review.”

“These individuals are still obligated to protect classified information and may not disclose classified information to the media, the public, or anyone who does not have proper access to such information, including the appropriate clearance level and need-to-know. These lifelong obligations extend to a public congressional hearing,” Gough said.

“There is no impediment to AARO receiving all UAP-related information, past or present, regardless of level or origin of classification.  By law, AARO may receive all UAP-related information, at all levels of classification, regardless of whether the original classification authority for such information is within DoD or the Intelligence Community,” Gough continued.

Defense Department officials also maintain there is no evidence to support many theories discussed during the hearing.

In response to claims made during the hearing that secret defense contracts could be related to UAP investigations, or that service members have been injured while examining crash sites, Gough said the Pentagon “has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any (government) programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently.”

House members flock to hearing

The high-profile hearing attracted the participation of several House members who do not officially sit on the subcommittee.

Members waived onto the panel for the headline-grabbing event included GOP Reps. Tim Burchett and Andy Ogles of Tennessee, Anna Paulina Luna and Matt Gaetz of Florida, Eric Burlison of Missouri, and Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Republican 2024 presidential race candidate Vivek Ramaswamy released a statement Wednesday urging the panel to ask whether the government has evidence of extraterrestrial life, find and reveal the names of officials with first-hand knowledge of UAP crash sites, and probe whether private corporations are involved in UAP programs.

“This is an issue of government transparency. We can’t trust a government that does not trust its people,” said Burchett. “We’re not bringing little green men or flying saucers into the hearing. … We’re here to uncover the facts.”

Burchett told Fox News Live on Sunday that he is “100%” certain the federal government is covering up information about unidentified objects.

Democrat Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida asked David Grusch, a former Department of Defense task force member, about the existence of satellite imagery of UAP.

“I personally reviewed both what we call overhead collection and from other strategic and tactical platforms that I could not even explain prosaically. I have a degree in physics by the way,” testified Grusch, a former National Reconnaissance Office representative on the Defense Department’s Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Task Force.

“I’m aware that you guys have not seen these reports unfortunately, and I don’t know why,” he continued.

Lawmakers said they will continue to push the administration to improve transparency and reduce stigma for both military and commercial pilots who report sightings.

“It shouldn’t take the potential for nonhuman origin to bring us together,” Moskowitz said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The Director of National Intelligence referred all inquiries to the Defense Department.

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