Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Last month, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report about “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” — in plain English, unidentified flying objects or UFOs.
The US military on February 4 shot down a Chinese spy balloon (which Beijing said was a weather balloon), followed by the downing of two unidentified flying objects on Friday and Saturday in US and Canadian airspace, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC were likely also balloons.
Then on Sunday, the US military shot down a fourth flying object, this time over Lake Huron in Michigan.
In the wake of those actions, the report by America’s intelligence community is worth examining since it may shed some light on what is happening here.
January’s UFO report had a striking finding: The number of UFO sightings significantly increased between March 2021 and August 2022, during which time 247 new sightings were reported, mostly by US Navy and Air Force pilots and personnel. That’s almost double the 144 UFO sightings reported in the 17-year period between 2004 to 2021.
The report suggested that the increase may be because there is less “stigma” associated with reporting UFO sightings, now that the Pentagon is actively pushing service personnel to report any “anomalies” seen in the sky.
Indeed, in July, the Pentagon established a new entity, the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, to investigate credible sightings of UFOs by the US military and intelligence community.
This is part of a relatively new push by Congress and the Pentagon to make sense of more than 500 credible UFO sightings over the past couple of decades.
The report by the US intelligence community found that a large number of those sightings, 163, were balloons or “balloon-like entities,” while 26 were unmanned aircraft systems, i.e., drones. An unspecified number of sightings were “attributable to sensor irregularities or variances, such as operator or equipment error.”
There were 171 unidentified object sightings, however, for which no explanation was found, and some of those objects “demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities.”
The report also noted that UFO sightings “continue to occur in restricted or sensitive airspace, highlighting possible concerns for safety of flight.” It added that the sightings could point to “adversary collection activity,” suggesting that UFOs found around sensitive US military installations could be a foreign power spying on them.
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There is undoubtedly much more to learn about those 171 UFO sightings, which still have no good explanations. Are they the work of a foreign power probing US air defenses? Are they relatively innocuous, such as errant balloons?
Congress should convene hearings to get to the bottom of this. The public has a right to understand why objects are flying around in American airspace that the Pentagon and the US intelligence community can’t identify.