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Monday, August 21, 2023

Opening Our X Files

Sure, let's open the files


Of course, I’m willing to believe in the occasional visits from Unidentified Flying Objects. At the risk of replaying a Twilight Zone episode, I’m only disappointed that the visitors sophisticated enough to have superior technology aren’t making more formal contact.

I’m just not willing to believe that the U.S. Congress, which is kicking up a renewed fuss about whether the government is squashing reports about UFO sightings, is ready to do anything about acknowledging ET.

For once, we can say with confidence, we had an issue arise before the Republican-led House Oversight Committee this week that drew equal skepticism and dismay from both sides of the political aisle. 

Perhaps we should thank the apparently pending alien invasion for briefly halting endless, nonsensical culture war skirmishes over every public issue in sight.

At least they could provide a common target.

Admittedly, when I heard about a hearing to air grievances about hiding our X Files, I had expected Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to attack the hearings for even mentioning that there may be lifeforms whose presence might make Americans feel bad, or Donald Trump to announce – without evidence again – those aliens had taken over prosecutor bodies in the Justice Department.

Then Joe Biden could say that he has separated himself from any personal influence over alien visits, and Homeland Security could insist that we have adequate defenses against alien invasion – unless the conservative majority of the Supreme Court says that non-humans are not addressed in the Constitution, leaving it to each state to respond separately.

But there it was, a formal House committee hearing in which a former national intelligence official told elected representatives that the U.S. government is sheltering alien spacecraft, that sightings are more numerous than believed, and that we’ve been sitting on the information. 

Just why the secrecy was not addressed, and The New York Times, which has written more seriously about UFOs than most, said the hearing exhibited “the extraordinary standards of contemporary political theater.”

They Have Visited

OK, the hearing allowed lawmakers to denounce in turn decades of undue secrecy about the various intercepts and studies of unexplained phenomena that irregularly are ruled upon investigation often to be weather artifacts or errant aircraft, particularly from perceived human enemy countries. And we could revisit all our movie-spawned curiosity about Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, and Martian visitors.

Retired Maj. David Grush, a former U.S. intelligence official who has worked with the government’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force to investigate reports of strange flying objects let everyone know that the government’s been keeping secrets.  Under questioning, he said there have been lots of contacts with UFOs, crashes, and that non-human biological remains have been studied.

It was just the kind of testimony that buttresses decades of speculation among the UFO-wary of secret bases to hold physical remains of Space Visitors.

He also said that the Pentagon’s efforts are aimed at reverse engineering the technology of any UFOs we happen across.

Of course, he hadn’t seen any of this himself, but he had heard from people who had. And he was, well, shy of much detail or specific evidence – never a problem for this version of the House Oversight Committee which is used to denouncing things for which it has no evidence. He also said he couldn’t get into any specific incidents in public, likely because the reports have been stamped classified.

Two other Navy pilots also testified about encounters with fast-moving UFOs. They said they reported the sightings to the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which analyzes the incidents for explanations.

But the main thrust here was that this information has been withheld from Congress and the rest of us. Little seems to move Congress more than believing that information it is due has been withheld.

Naturally, that leads to the next question, Congress: What do you want to do about it.

I’m still confused about why all this wants to be kept secret. Is any of it true? Don’t other world governments have the same information? Is it secret because we fear an interstellar military?  Is there something here that would unduly alarm us, or have we just become so used to classifying everything from briefing agendas to state dinner menus that we can’t break the habit to find out that there is life beyond Earth?

As far as we can tell, secrecy itself seems the current target.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has legislation with Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Rounds, R-S. Dak., to create a commission with authority to declassify government documents about extraterrestrial matters. It is a proposed amendment to the national defense bill.  

The backers say they are as interested in rejecting conspiracy theories that surround UFO discussions as clearing the air about hiding startling discoveries. House Republicans included a similar directive in its version of the bill.

OK, maybe that forces the Pentagon to cough up more records of sightings more often.

Then what?

This Congress – like those before it — can’t even agree on moving intelligently towards renewable energy sources over reliance on fossil fuels that seem to be ruining the planet. This is the House Republican caucus that is promising to cancel investments in space that it insisted on a couple of years ago.

This is a Congress that can’t address national immigration or health care or the need to invest even in building computer chips.

Is this the body that is going to devise whether we offer a welcome mat or a clenched fist to those capable of interstellar travel?

I’m all in favor of lifting the secrecy here and I love that the Pentagon and Congress want to be serious about questions about non-human life, but one must wonder what the goal is.

Terry H. Schwadron retired as a senior editor at The New York Times, Deputy Managing Editor at The Los Angeles Times and leadership jobs at The Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin. He was part of a Pulitzer Gold Medal team in Los Angeles, and his team part of several Pulitzers in New York. As an editor, Terry created new approaches in newsrooms, built technological tools and digital media. He pursued efforts to recruit and train minority journalists and in scholarship programs. A resident of Harlem, he volunteers in community storytelling, arts in education programs, tutoring and is an active freelance trombone player.