The first public congressional hearing into UFO sightings in the US in over 50 years is being held on Tuesday.
The highly-anticipated testimony from two top military officials tasked with probing the sightings will be closely watched after decades of secrecy.
The Pentagon brass are expected to say that it has been a struggle to unearth witness accounts from government workers concerned about job security.
Is the hearing open to the public?
The hearing is being held in the House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee.
The two officials testifying are Ronald Moultrie – the Pentagon’s top intelligence official – and Scott Bray, the deputy director of naval intelligence.
The officials will describe US efforts to investigate Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) – the government’s term for UFOs – in a public hearing.
“The American people expect and deserve their leaders in government and intelligence to seriously evaluate and respond to any potential national security risks — especially those we do not fully understand,” Representative André Carson said in a statement.
Following the public hearing, the committee will close its doors for a private classified session with lawmakers.
Ahead of the hearing, scientists and experts have written draft questions that they hope lawmakers will ask the witnesses.
Christopher Mellon, a former top Pentagon intelligence official and critic of the government’s handling of UAP evidence, said that the most important question to ask is whether any have been observed outside Earth’s atmosphere.
“If members can confirm UAP in space, they’ll make history and help to eliminate an entire category of potential explanations having to do with atmospheric phenomenon, Chinese lanterns, civilian drones, etc,” he wrote on his blog.
Ronald Moultrie, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, oversees the UFO inquiry office
How did we get here?
Public fascination with flying saucers, glowing lights and otherworldly aircrafts has been ongoing for generations.
The last public hearings into the issue began in 1966, when Republican congressman – and future president – Gerald Ford convened a pair of hearings to discuss a UFO sightings following one in Michigan that was observed by over 40 people, including a dozen policemen.
The Air Force officials attributed the incident to “swamp gas”, leading Ford to deride their description as “flippant” .
In 1969, an Air Force investigation into UFOs called Project Blue Book closed after determining that no flying object had ever been confirmed or deemed a threat to US national security.
Blast forward to 2017, when US media reported on the Pentagon’s secretive efforts to probe testimony from pilots and other US military members who had reported seeing strange objects in the sky.
The reports included footage of the UFOs, and descriptions of how they seemed to fly in unexpected ways, including hovering in place during high winds and changing elevation rapidly.
Pilots described seeing them on an almost “daily basis” outside military bases, and one whistleblower described how UAPs had interfered with US nuclear weapons facilities, even forcing some offline.
In 2020, a Covid relief bill signed by Donald Trump included a provision requiring US intelligence agencies to deliver an unclassified report on UAPs within 180 days.
In June 2021, the US Director of National Intelligence released a report saying it had no explanation for dozens of unidentified flying objects related to 144 incidents dating back to 2004. Only one could be easily explained as a deflating balloon, while the others were labelled “largely inconclusive”.
“Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects,” the report stated, adding that 80 of them were detected on multiple advanced military sensors and radar systems.
The June 2021 report failed to reach any conclusive answers in regards to what the objects are, or how they function. It called for expanded investigation and better data collection, given the stigma government workers may have against their describing unexplained encounters.
Last December, Democrats succeeded in including a stronger disclosure requirement in the annual National Defense Authorization Act signed by Joe Biden.
The law requires the military to establish a permanent office on UAP research – now called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.