US intelligence community releases unclassified report on UFOs

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 7:38 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021
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6:05 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

The report concludes "unidentified aerial phenomena" could "pose a challenge to US national security"

From CNN's Katie Bo Williams, Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb

The intelligence community's release of the unclassified document marks one of the first times the US government has publicly acknowledged that these strange aerial sightings by Navy pilots and others are worthy of legitimate scrutiny.

"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 nine-page preliminary report says, using the Pentagon's terminology for UFOs.

But despite that challenge, the report does conclude that these objects "clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to US national security.

"Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology," it says.

Read more about the report here.

5:48 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

For some, the UFO report raises more questions than answers

From CNN's Katie Bo Williams, Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb

Congressional sources who have seen the classified version of the report have already expressed disappointment there's not more of an explanation to the episodes, saying that the report raises more questions than it answers.

Previous interviews with a half-dozen officials as well as documents reviewed by CNN depict a US military and intelligence community that's struggled over how to remove the issue from the realm of science fiction and consider its actual national security implications.

Even now, multiple sources told CNN, the government almost certainly wouldn't have moved to produce the report without public pressure from key lawmakers, as both Republicans and Democrats have taken an interest in the matter.

While former senior defense officials with knowledge of the most recent iteration of the department's investigations say the Pentagon took it seriously, some pilots and former officials tasked with investigating the matter say senior Pentagon leaders downplayed or ignored the threat.

Erasing the stigma surrounding a serious discussion of UFOs was also the goal for lawmakers in 2020 when they passed legislation requiring the Pentagon and intelligence community to provide more information about these UFO encounters, details that have, until recently, largely remained shrouded in secrecy.

Requiring production of the upcoming UFO report was also one way lawmakers have signaled that they intend to use their oversight authority to ensure coordination among the agencies involved, sources told CNN last month.

"One of the functions of a course like this is that it forces actual coordination within the agencies and makes clear that Congress is actually serious about its oversight function and that there's going to be increased scrutiny along the way," a congressional aide said at the time. "Some of it is a product of getting the agencies to take the issue more seriously and trying to help get rid of the stigma surrounding it."

6:40 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Investigators stymied by "unusual flight characteristics"

From CNN's Katie Bo Williams, Zachary Cohen and Jeremy Herb

The nine-page report by the US community makes clear that more work must be done to identify these objects as "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."

Investigators were particularly stymied by a limited number of incidents where UFOs reportedly appeared to exhibit "unusual flight characteristics," according to the report, which notes these observations "could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis."

"Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings," it says.

But despite that challenge, the report does conclude that these objects "clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to US national security.

"Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology," it says.

Worryingly for national security professionals, the report also found that the sightings were "clustered" around US training and testing grounds. But investigators downplayed those concerns, assessing that "this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations and guidance to report anomalies."

Still, the Pentagon said in a statement after the report's release that it plans to formalize the study of UFOs.

A memo from Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks instructed the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security to create a formal mission for the work currently done by the UAP Task Force.

Hicks framed it as a question of national security, saying, "It is critical that the United States maintain operations security and safety at DoD ranges," noting that many of the observations have been near military areas.

Hicks called for reports of UAP observations to be ready within two weeks of an occurrence or observation.

5:32 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Pentagon plans to formalize UFO study after release of report

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The Pentagon plans to formalize the study of UFOs following the release of the report from the Director of National Intelligence on the subject, called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).

In a memo from Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks, she instructed the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security to create a formal mission for the work currently done by the UAP Task Force.

Hicks framed it as a question of national security, saying, "It is critical that the United States maintain operations security and safety at DoD ranges," noting that many of the observations have been near military areas.

Hicks called for reports of UAP observations to be ready within two weeks of an occurrence or observation.

"Incursions into our training ranges and designated airspace pose safety of flight and operations security concerns, and may pose national security challenges. DOD takes reports of incursions – by any aerial object, identified or unidentified – very seriously, and investigates each one," said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby in a statement Friday afternoon.

The Pentagon stressed the need to better observe and collect data about UAPs to better understand their nature.

5:45 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

What is a UFO?

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

In short, a UFO is a flying object that looks or moves unlike any aircraft used by the US or any foreign country.

By their very nature, UFOs are shrouded in mystery and there are still a lot more questions than answers about these unexplained incidents.

There have been numerous UFO sightings in recent years but the military has only recently verified a handful of those reported encounters.

In April, the Pentagon confirmed the authenticity of photos and video taken by Navy personnel in 2019 that appeared to show triangle-shaped objects blinking and moving through the clouds.

Another set of photos from Navy personnel showed three objects apparently flying in the sky, shaped like a sphere, an acorn and a metallic blimp.

In April 2020, the Pentagon released three short videos from infrared cameras that appeared to show flying objects moving quickly. Two of the videos contain service members reacting in awe at how quickly the objects are moving. One voice speculates that it could be a drone.

The Navy previously acknowledged the veracity of the videos in September of 2019 but officially released them months later, "in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos," Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough said at the time.

"After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems," said Gough in a statement, "and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena."

In 2017, one of the pilots who saw one of the unidentified objects in 2004 told CNN that it moved in ways he couldn't explain.

"As I got close to it ... it rapidly accelerated to the south, and disappeared in less than two seconds," said retired US Navy pilot David Fravor. "This was extremely abrupt, like a ping-pong ball, bouncing off a wall. It would hit and go the other way."

5:30 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Here's what prompted the US intelligence's UFO report

From CNN's Harmeet Kaur

When former President Trump signed the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law in December, so began the 180-day countdown for US intelligence agencies to tell Congress what they know about UFOs.

No, really.

The director of National Intelligence and the secretary of defense were requested to provide the congressional intelligence and armed services committees with an unclassified report about "unidentified aerial phenomena."

It's a stipulation that was tucked into the "committee comment" section of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which was contained in the massive spending bill.

That report needed to contain detailed analyses of UFO data and intelligence collected by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and the FBI, according to the Senate intelligence committee's directive.

It also should describe in detail "an interagency process for ensuring timely data collection and centralized analysis of all unidentified aerial phenomena reporting for the Federal Government" and designate an official responsible for that process.

Finally, the report should identify any potential national security threats posed by UFOs and assess whether any of the nation's adversaries could be behind such activity, the committee said.

The submitted report should be unclassified, the committee said, though it can contain a classified annex.

6:23 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

Congress has long been interested in UFOs

From CNN's Harmeet Kaur

The Pentagon released three short videos in April of 2020 showing "unidentified aerial phenomena" — clips that the US Navy had previously confirmed were real.

The videos, one from 2004 and the other two from 2015, show what appear to be unidentified flying objects rapidly moving while recorded by infrared cameras. Two of the videos contain service members reacting in awe at how quickly the objects are moving. One voice speculates that it could be a drone.

It's still unclear what the objects are, and there's no consensus on their origin. Some believe they may be drones potentially operated by earthly adversaries seeking to gather intelligence, rather than the extraterrestrials we normally equate with UFOs.

In August 2020, the Pentagon announced that it was forming a task force to investigate.

Members of Congress and Pentagon officials have long been concerned about the appearance of the unidentified aircraft that have flown over US military bases. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted last June to have the Pentagon and intelligence community provide a public analysis of the encounters.

But it's not the first time the Pentagon has looked into aerial encounters with unknown objects. The Pentagon previously studied recordings of such incidents as part of a since-shuttered classified program launched at the behest of former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

That program was launched in 2007 and ended in 2012, according to the Pentagon, because they assessed that there were higher priorities that needed funding.

The former head of the program Luis Elizondo told CNN in 2017 that he personally believes "there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone."

6:22 p.m. ET, June 25, 2021

White House on UFO report earlier this month: "We take reports of incursions into our airspace... very seriously"

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month that the US takes reports of any an all incursions of US airspace “very seriously” and investigates each one.

“I will say that we take reports of incursions into our airspace by any aircraft, identified or on identify, very seriously and investigate each one. Safety and security of our personnel, of our operations are a paramount concern,” Psaki said at a June 4 White House press briefing before the US intelligence released their report on UFO’s.

Psaki would not say whether or not President Biden has been briefed on the upcoming report.