2023: The year UFOs descended on Washington, DC (but not like you’d expect) (Image Credit: Space.com)
For those who follow news related to anomalous flying objects, 2023 will be remembered as the year UFOs came to Washington, D.C.
Not in the way we’d all like, though. No, there were no Tic-Tac-shaped UFOs landing on the White House lawn or big black triangles hovering silently in the air above it. Instead, there were new bureaucratic offices and government websites created, pieces of dense legislation deliberated over, and hearings. Lots of hearings.
Throughout the pockets of social media that are most vocal about UFOs, many thought that this year would finally bring about disclosure, the revelation of UFO-related truth in which the U.S. government would finally fess up and reveal what it has allegedly been covering up about unidentified, physics-defying craft and their possible occupants for at least seven decades.
But disclosure didn’t happen. While many sensational claims were made that would, if true, indeed bring about ontological shock and a rethinking of our place in the universe, in the end none of these was substantiated with little more than hearsay. As is tradition.
Government reports and Chinese balloons
The big UFO year began on Jan. 12, when the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its long-awaited “2022 Annual Report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” The report, produced by the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) that was established in July 2022, included over 500 reports of unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP, a new term that describes unidentified objects or phenomena in the air, under water, in space or that appear to travel between them.
The much-anticipated report analyzed the reports, finding only 171 that remained “uncharacterized,” or unidentified. “Some of these uncharacterized UAP appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis,” the report stated. Ultimately, while the report was unable to reach any broad conclusions about UFOs/UAP, it found that many of these sightings “continue to represent a hazard to flight safety and pose a possible adversary collection threat,” meaning they could possibly be related to foreign spy activities.
Just a few weeks later, on Feb. 1, UFOs took center stage in both Washington D.C. and the news cycle when a large white orb was spotted floating over Montana. The object turned out to be a massive high-altitude balloon operated by China. The appearance of such a brazen intelligence-gathering aircraft caused an international stir, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs eventually issued an apology.
The balloon was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 5 and recovered by the U.S. military. In the weeks that followed, several other UFOs were shot down over the northern United States and Canada, some of which were never recovered and remain unidentified to this day — at least publicly.
Soon after, The New York Times reported that similar balloons had intruded in American airspace between 2017 and 2021 and that military and governmental leaders were unaware of them in some cases because they were initially mischaracterized as UAP. “Balloons account for many of the unexplained incidents the Navy and other military services have tracked in recent years. The previous incidents, like other unexplained events, were handed over to a Pentagon task force charged with investigating UFOs and other aerial phenomena,” the Times wrote in its report. “As the Pentagon and intelligence agencies stepped up efforts over the past two years to find explanations for many of those incidents, officials reclassified some events as Chinese spy balloons.”
The furor over the Chinese spy events continued through the early spring, leading up to the first public testimony of the director of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office on April 19, 2023. During that testimony, Sean Kirkpatrick, AARO’s first director, told members of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services at a hearing in Washington, D.C. that, despite the rather sensational claims in mainstream and social media concerning possible alien visitation of Earth, his office found “no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology or objects that defy the known laws of physics.”
Instead, most UAP cases “demonstrate mundane characteristics of balloons, [uncrewed] aerial systems, clutter, natural phenomena or other readily explainable sources,” Kirkpatrick told the armed services committee.
The next month, NASA held the first public meeting of its independent UAP study group at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. NASA commissioned the group in 2022 to help examine data related to unidentified anomalous phenomena and make recommendations on how the agency might better contribute to the topic.
During the meeting held on May 31, group members laid out a roadmap for how U.S. government agencies can “use the tools of science to evaluate and categorize the nature of UAPs going forward,” said Nicki Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
While many different potential approaches for accomplishing this were described and discussed, ultimately the group, like AARO before it, reached the conclusion that UAP will remain mysterious without better data. “To make the claim that we’ve seen something that is evidence of non-human intelligence, it would require extraordinary evidence,” said astrophysicist David Spergel, chair of the study group and former member of the NASA Advisory Council. “And we have not seen that. I think that’s important to make clear. ”
Still, the public and governmental interest in UFOs by this point had reached such a height that two U.S. Senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), introduced a bill known as the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) Disclosure Act of 2023, or the Schumer-Rounds amendment, which called for the public release of U.S. government records related to UFOs and/or UAP.
“For decades, many Americans have been fascinated by objects mysterious and unexplained, and it’s long past time they get some answers,” Schumer said in a statement accompanying the bill. “The American public has a right to learn about technologies of unknown origins, non-human intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena. We are not only working to declassify what the government has previously learned about these phenomena but to create a pipeline for future research to be made public.”
Allegations get wilder
Undoubtedly, the most out-of-this world UFO event of 2023 came two months after NASA’s UAP study group meeting when, on July 26, three former U.S. military personnel testified to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on National Security at the Border and Foreign Affairs. Two of the witnesses, Ryan Graves and David Fravor, are former U.S. Navy aviators who had previously reported highly publicized encounters with unknown objects in military training airspace that have become touchstones for the UFO community in terms of credible sightings from reputable, trained witnesses.
But it was the third witness at the July hearing that caused the biggest stir. That witness, David Grusch, a decorated U.S. military combat veteran and former Pentagon intelligence officer, told the subcommittee that the U.S. government has operated a “multi-decade UAP crash retrieval and reverse-engineering program,” along with a disinformation campaign to keep the public in the dark.
Grusch would go on to state to the subcommittee that “biologics came with some of these recoveries” and that these “biologics” were “non-human,” according to individuals with direct knowledge of these crash recovery programs that he had spoken with during his time in the intelligence community.
A month later, on Aug. 31, the Pentagon’s AARO office quietly unveiled an official government website through which U.S. government personnel can report UFO/UAP sightings “in the vicinity of national security areas” such as military bases or other U.S. government sites.
NASA’s UAP study team would then go on to release a written report on Sept. 14 that reached similar conclusions to AARO director Kirkpatrick’s testimony in April. “The top takeaway from the study is that there is a lot more to learn,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a teleconference held after the agency released the report. “The NASA independent study team did not find any evidence that UAP have an extraterrestrial origin, but we don’t know what these UAP are.”
The year in UFOs would ultimately end not with a bang, but with a whimper, when in December the U.S. Congress approved legislation containing a portion of the Schumer-Rounds language that ordered that some government records related to UAP must be released.
However, many UFO disclosure proponents felt that the final version of the Schumer-Rounds amendment was far weaker than what was originally proposed.
“The most important components of the Schumer-Rounds language were dropped — an independent Senate-confirmed review board with subpoena power, professional staff to search out records, and other serious resources,” Douglas Dean Johnson, an independent researcher who writes on various aspects relating to UAP, told Space.com. “What is being enacted instead is a modest mechanism that is far less likely to result in the location, extraction and disclosure of important UAP-related records that may be tightly held or even long forgotten.”
All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.
For those who have followed the UFO topic for a significant amount of time, none of these developments should feel new. The U.S. government has commissioned and/or conducted several UFO studies in the past, many of which reached similar conclusions as those reported by federal studies and agencies in 2023.
So, yes, while UFOs came to Washington in 2023, ultimately they left the same way they came: Shrouded in mystery, tainted by sensationalism, and wrapped in the jingoistic and sometimes paranoid language of national security. The U.S. government, at least outwardly, appears no closer to solving the UFO enigma or revealing what it may know about these phenomena to the American public.
Yet, anyway. Many of those behind the current disclosure movement assure us that despite the legislative setbacks, the fight for the truth — if it’s out there — is just beginning.
Here’s hoping we see that big black triangle over the White House in 2024.