Congress Asks: Are We Alone?
UFOs have caught lawmakers' attention.
On July 26, three witnesses delivered eyebrow-raising testimony to Congress centered on Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) or, as the government calls them these days, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).
Two Navy pilots described their encounters with high-velocity objects that defied all prosaic explanations, and, most explosively, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer named David Grusch testified that federal intelligence personnel are concealing evidence of UAPs from the public—and have been for decades. He alleged that our government is in possession of alien spacecraft, has recovered the bodies of alien pilots, and even that people have been harmed by alien spacecraft or by government officials trying to cover the program up.
For nearly three hours, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives asked thoughtful, often technical questions about UAPs and “crash-retrieval programs.” A week before the hearing, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), together with five other senators, proposed legislation aimed at “declassifying what the government has previously learned about…technologies of unknown origins, non-human intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena.”
But at the same time that lawmakers of both parties seem disposed to consider the claims of “crash-retrieval programs,” the established news media has been giving the story as wide a berth as possible. The New York Times buried its story on the hearing on page A18 of the print edition, calling it “political theater.” The Washington Post claimed—not entirely plausibly—that Americans weren’t very interested in the story.
It’s hard to overstate the strangeness of this moment. By most standards, this is as newsworthy a story as there is: either there has been contact with extraterrestrials or senior members of the intelligence community have essentially gone rogue and are publicly making breathtaking-yet-false allegations against their own government. In either case, this story has Congress’ attention. One would think that journalists would take an interest as well, for exploring the machinations of government if nothing else. But, whether for fear of inflaming conspiracies or being labeled themselves as kooks, the mainstream media has been dismissive or silent, seemingly wishing this whole story away.
Without attempting to wade into deciding whether we’re alone in the universe or not—and, as a disclaimer, there are very many good reasons to doubt Grusch’s outlandish claims of recovered craft—I’d like to lay out the basics of the story. When elected officials are taking the story seriously, it’s worth at least understanding why.
In 2017, The New York Times ran a front-page story publicly revealing the ongoing existence of a fairly small Pentagon program called the Advance Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) tasked with studying reports—primarily brought by military personnel—of inexplicable aerial phenomena. Together with the story, The Times posted several videos (which the Pentagon later confirmed and supplemented with additional videos) of high-velocity objects performing maneuvers that, as The Times wrote, “seemed to defy the laws of physics.”
That round of revelations profoundly shifted the public discourse on UAPs. Suddenly, the topic was no longer entirely relegated to the fringe, and a startling number of prominent government figures from Harry Reid to John Podesta to Marco Rubio to Barack Obama openly expressed their curiosity. “We don’t know what it is and it isn’t ours,” Rubio said of the UAPs in U.S. airspace. “What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are,” said Obama.
Public disclosure of AATIP resulted in the creation of subsequent programs, including the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF). One of its members was Grusch, who, starting in 2019, served as a liaison from the National Reconnaissance Office. A decorated combat officer whom a colleague described as “beyond reproach,” Grusch had nothing but sterling reviews on his record: no insubordination, no misconduct, no signs that he was someone who may be acting out of anything other than a desire to share what he believes to be true.
But, starting in 2022, Grusch sought out whistleblower protections, providing information to Congress and alleging that he was stymied in his mandated work on UAPs. Specifically, and shockingly, Grusch claimed that highly secretive efforts to study these phenomena already existed, nested within government programs without adequate reporting. These “publicly unknown [programs]... to identify UAP crashes/landings and retrieve the material for exploitation/reverse engineering” have been active for decades, Grusch wrote in a statement. And, Grusch contended, members of those programs were “purposely and intentionally thwart[ing] legitimate Congressional oversight.”
Grusch’s claims were first introduced to the public when journalists Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal—co-authors of The New York Times’ piece on AATIP—published a story featuring him in a news website called The Debrief. Grusch elaborated on his claims further in an interview for NewsNation, some of which he repeated at the House Oversight Committee hearing.
While Grusch has said that he has seen “some interesting photos” and “read some very interesting reports,” the bulk of his purported evidence is taken from interviews that he conducted with “over 40 witnesses over four years” while he was at UAPTF—with people whom he knew within the intelligence community who claimed to have “direct knowledge” of the programs.
Much of the back-and-forth on the story has centered on Grusch and his credibility, but there have been clear indications that Grusch is far from the only high-ranking governmental figure espousing similar claims. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that people claiming “first-hand knowledge” have “come forward to [the Senate Intelligence] Committee” and testified in closed-door hearings. The story in The Debrief quoted a pair of U.S. intelligence officials who corroborated Grusch’s claims. One, retired Colonel Karl Nell, said Grusch was “fundamentally correct” in his assertions. Leslie Kean, a co-author of The Debrief story, told The New York Times that “many others off the record” had spoken to her of their knowledge of long-running retrieval programs.
The congressional hearings themselves were at times a bit frustrating, with Grusch claiming that classification prevented him from sharing what he knows in a public setting but that he could provide far more to Congress in a secure hearing room. However, he did claim that he knew the “exact locations” of UAPs in government possession, and that the “crash-retrieval programs” worked through the “misappropriation of funds,” routed in particular through private contractors.
Somewhat overshadowed by Grusch’s explosive claims of “crash-retrieval” was the testimony from two pilots, David Fravor and Ryan Graves, but they also delivered startling reports, stating that encounters with UAPs are so common among Navy pilots that they have been worked into pre-mission briefings.
There is of course much room for skepticism in all of this. The science writer and famed debunker Mick West noted drily that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and that Grusch had fallen well short of that threshold. There was no first-hand evidence or smoking-gun proof for “crash-retrieval programs,” and as the investigative journalist Garrett Graff, who is currently writing a book on government UFO programs, said, “The deeper you get into covering UFOs the more all of this almost feels like an intergalactic game of telephone.”
Meanwhile, Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (a successor to UAPTF), wrote online, “I cannot let [the] hearing pass without sharing how insulting it was to the officers of the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community…. [the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office] has yet to find any credible evidence to support the allegations of any reverse engineering program for non-human technology.”
Congress has found itself in a very equivocal position. Part of what is interesting about Grusch’s contentions is not that the government is wholesale keeping the “truth” about UFOs and aliens from the public, but that members of the intelligence community—“career senior executive officials,” as Grusch put it—have been purportedly keeping that information from Congress. That has led to the unfamiliar sight of congressional figures as politically far apart as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) doggedly attempting to understand how the “unsanctioned” programs could have been kept from Congress for so long. One freshman Democrat told The Washington Post that the hearing was “the most bipartisan discussion” he’d seen in seven months on Capitol Hill.
Whatever the truth of this story may be, I think Grusch is likely to get us a little closer to it. Congress has promised to take his claims seriously, and they seem sincere in that promise. Either Grusch has put a lot of interested parties hot on the trail of an intergalactic cover-up, or those parties should soon discover compelling evidence that the man at the center of this whole thing is lying. In any event, the case of Grusch certainly has my attention—and he should have yours, too.
Isaac Saul is the founder of Tangle, a newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from the right and left on the news of the day.
A version of this piece was originally published by Tangle on July 28.
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