The questions Congress should — but didn’t — ask about UFOs

The willingness of House Intelligence Committee members to consider unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) — what we once called UFOs — in a public forum demonstrates how far the stigma surrounding the topic has receded and the degree to which UAP are now considered a legitimate national security issue. 

Among other things the House UAP hearing offered a promising opportunity to:

  • Determine if the government’s new UAP classification guide strikes a proper balance between public transparency and national security;
  • Assess the progress being made in establishing the new, congressionally mandated Department of Defense-Director of National Intelligence (DOD-DNI) organization to investigate UAPs;
  • Determine whether America’s massive space surveillance apparatus is detecting anomalies in space comparable to those being detected in the atmosphere and in the ocean;
  • Determine whether progress has been made in overcoming Air Force resistance to sharing information with the UAP task force and its successor, a problem acknowledged in the unclassified UAP report provided to Congress last June.
  • Validate or eliminate a number of prolific, sensational rumors involving UAP and the U.S. government.

Regrettably, members of the House subcommittee failed to make headway on any of these important issues. Even when administration witnesses offered tantalizing leads, there was little effort by committee members to seize the opportunity to shed fresh light on the vexing UAP mystery. 

For example, we learned that drones were responsible for a much-publicized video of what appeared to be small triangular objects surveilling a U.S. Navy warship at sea. But were these Russian or Chinese drones? Do they represent an advance in technology, given their range, loiter time and distance from land? Were these drones weaponized like many of the drones in use today in Ukraine? Unfortunately, committee members made no effort to learn the identity and capability of the drones or the intentions of those operating them.

Similarly, we learned that leaders of the Pentagon’s new UAP office are in dialogue with the U.S. Space Command and Space Force. However, no committee member thought to ask about the views of the Space Command or whether our massive space surveillance system has identified UAPs in space.

On several occasions, administration witnesses indicated the new UAP organization had no information regarding prominent, long-standing allegations pertaining to UAP and the U.S. government. For example, when asked about claims by Air Force veterans alleging UAP interference with U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles, the witnesses simply indicated there was no pertinent information in the possession of the new UAP office. Committee members might easily have asked the witnesses to seek an answer from the Air Force and report back, but they failed to do so. Surely the Air Force can provide answers to such straightforward questions if only someone would ask.

This and other acknowledged gaps in the knowledge base of the UAP task force raise a crucial question: Are U.S. intelligence agencies and military departments fully and properly sharing UAP information with DOD’s new UAP office? After all, one of Congress’s foremost objectives regarding UAPs has been to ensure there is a location where all UAP information comes together for purposes of analysis and oversight.

Solving the UAP information-sharing issue, sometimes referred to as the “stove-piping” problem, has from the outset been a top priority for Congress. The issue is particularly acute with regard to alleged foot-dragging on information sharing by the Air Force. In fact, last year’s unclassified report to Congress acknowledged the problem, stating that the UAP task force “is currently working to acquire additional reporting, including from the U.S. Air Force.

Has that task force succeeded in acquiring all pertinent information from the Air Force? Is the new UAP organization satisfied with the Air Force’s information-sharing? Again, unfortunately, no committee member thought to ask.

The most interesting new information from the hearing was the dramatic increase in the number of recorded Defense Department UAP reports, from 144 last June to 400 today. Unfortunately, no effort was made to clarify the significance of this sudden, dramatic increase. Does it reflect a dramatic surge in new incidents? Or was it primarily the result of old reports coming to light now that DOD personnel feel more comfortable discussing UAP incidents? How many of the reports involved multiple sensor systems, and how many involved objects demonstrating radical capabilities (as opposed to drone-like behavior)? Were these incidents concentrated in specific regions at home or abroad? Did any of the new reports involve objects in space or underwater? 

Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the significance of this dramatic increase in UAP incidents in the next unclassified UAP report to Congress or the next congressional hearing.

To be sure, the UAP issue is nowhere near the top of a long list of concerns confronting members of Congress or their constituents. Moreover, members frequently and understandably are overwhelmed by office duties, including the daily firehose of social media and email correspondence; the need to help solve all manner of sticky problems that constituents are having with the federal government; the need to stay abreast of issues ranging from agriculture to Ukraine, as well as the tiresome, never-ending chore of soliciting millions of dollars in campaign donations to maintain a grip on their seats in Congress. 

I recommend that, in the future, committees hoping to have a productive hearing on the UAP issue begin with testimony from an outside panel of experts. This approach provides a chance to better understand and frame UAP issues before engaging administration officials.

Although it proved disappointing, the recent congressional UAP hearing was an historic event, an important breakthrough after more than 50 years of neglect. Hopefully, there will be more UAP hearings soon. Congress should continue to carefully consider the next steps our government needs to take to reveal the elusive nature of the phenomenon and its implications for science and national security.

Although government oversight of the UAP issue remains messy and often unsatisfying, the U.S. government is now seriously engaged and seeking answers. This represents enormous progress since 2017, when fellow UAP researcher Lue Elizondo and I reached out to the New York Times and Congress to alert the nation to the reality of the UAP phenomenon. At this point, with Congress and the executive branch seeking answers, I’m confident that progress toward greater openness and understanding of the phenomenon will continue.

Christopher Mellon served 20 years in the federal government. He’s a registered independent who served presidents and senators of both parties. He served as deputy assistant Defense secretary for intelligence, 1999-2002, and for security and information operations, 1998-99. From 2002 to 2004 he was minority staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He was a consultant and contributor to the HISTORY Channel’s nonfiction series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.”