Welcome to this week’s holiday edition of The Intelligence Brief… as everyone is heating up their leftover turkey this week, we’ll be analyzing recent developments that include 1) how China appears to be outpacing the US and Russia with its hypersonic weapons, 2) the DoD’s recent Thanksgiving surprise, which involved the establishment of an all-new UAP investigative group, 3) why many of us have lots of questions about the DoD’s future UAP investigations, and 4) why some are saying the DoD’s move is more concerning than anything else.
As always, don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for video news that includes this week’s Debrief Weekly News Roundup from Cristina Gomez, as well as interviews from Chrissy Newton and much more. Finally, be sure to check out all of the recent stories from The Debrief over the last week, which we’ve featured at the end of this newsletter.
With that out of the way, it’s time to dive into why the Pentagon is (still) worried about China, and more importantly, to assess the current information we have about the newly established Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, and what it means going forward.
New Details Emerge About Potentially Threatening Foreign Aerial Advancements
Demonstrating capabilities that no other military power in the world currently possesses, the Pentagon says it was caught off guard by the test of a Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle in July, which reportedly fired a missile over the South China Sea while traveling at remarkable speeds.
Financial Times, who broke the initial story about the test, reported last weekend that scientists at DARPA have no idea how China was able to reach such technological advancements, which it said “are significantly more advanced than either the Kremlin or the Pentagon.”
Following initial reports about the July incident, China claimed that the test had not involved a hypersonic weapon, but instead had merely been a test of a reusable spacecraft. However, Pentagon officials remained dubious of the country’s claims, airing concerns about the rate at which China appears to be outpacing other world powers.
Many questions remain about both the hypersonic glide vehicle, and the missile it dispatched during the test flight. Some conclude that it might have been a demonstration of offensive capabilities, while others think it more likely that the missile represented defense capabilities capable of taking down any projectiles or other threats directed toward the primary vehicle.
In light of such remaining questions over China’s current hypersonic advancements, perhaps it is no surprise that just two days later, the Pentagon announced the establishment of an all-new group that will be the successor to the Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, which up until now had performed the mission of investigating unknown aerial objects on behalf of the U.S. military.
The “Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group”: Try Saying That Three Times Fast
“Today, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, in close collaboration with the Director of National Intelligence, directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security to establish within the Office of the USD(I&S) the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG) as the successor to the U.S. Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force,” read an official release that appeared at the website of the Department of Defense.
As The Debrief reported shortly after the announcement, the DoD statement conveys that the newly established AOIMSG “will synchronize efforts across the Department and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.”
A few things are immediately apparent about the DoD’s new UAP investigative component. For starters, you know you’ve picked a bad name when even the abbreviation for your new investigative group (in this case, the AOIMSG) is both unpronounceable, and equally unmemorable. However, if you think that’s bad, just have a look at the committee that, according to the release, is “to be comprised of DoD and Intelligence Community membership, and to offer a venue for U.S. government interagency representation” for the AOIMSG, which the DoD has given the succinct title of “Airborne Object Identification and Management Executive Council,” or AOIMEXEC.
All that to say that the “Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group” may be one of the best instances of word salad we have seen in recent memory. Sure, the part about “Airborne Object Identification” makes sense, as does the notion of providing “Management” for that. However, by the time we reach the portion about “Synchronization,” things are beginning to make less sense; and why call it a “Group”, rather than an “Agency”, “Department”, or perhaps even “Program” or “Project”? Maybe it’s just me… but referring to the DoD’s new UAP investigative element as a mere “Group” helps make an already forgettable name sound even less impactful.
Of course, I point all of this out because there’s a reasonable possibility that this was precisely what the DoD was aiming for. Rather than a catchy name that clings like Velcro to people’s minds and possesses an air of authority, maybe the DoD was going for something intentionally forgettable—even on the verge of being unpronounceable—and which seemingly understates the significance of what it is actually tasked with doing: detecting and attempting to identify unknown aerial objects encountered by our military. Funny how, in truth, this task may represent one of the greatest national security challenges—and even potential threats—that our military has faced in recent memory.
Questions, More Questions, and Problems FOR UAP STUDIES
Among the key differences between the proposed program (which Gillibrand referred to as the “Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office) and the DoD’s AOIMSG is that the latter greatly limits the scope of the UAP investigations proposed in the Gillibrand Amendment. Because of this, the AOIMSG has the outward appearance of being an attempt at circumventing the proposed Gillibrand Amendment, and thereby instituting a new office of UAP investigations by appointment, rather than having one passed into law by Congress.
Of key significance here is the fact that the new AOIMSG will only focus on UAP observations in Special Use Airspace. This would limit the scope of its operations to Military Operating Areas (MOA), Restricted Areas, Warning Areas, and Prohibited Areas, as well as other locations primarily used for military flight operations.
Granted, it could be that there were logical reasons behind the choice in limiting the scope of the AOIMSG’s operations, which may have to do with information previously outlined in the ODNI report from June. At that time, the UAP Task Force stated that the 144 instances of UAP examined in its Preliminary Assessment had been collected from U.S. government sources, and further, that “Most reports described UAP as objects that interrupted pre-planned training or other military activity.” Hence, rather than intentionally limiting the scope of the AOIMSG and its operations, the decision to monitor only Special Use Airspace could instead have been with the intent of narrowing the focus of the AOIMSG’s operation to the areas where most military encounters with UAP are already occurring.
However, other questions arise with the DoD’s sudden “surprise” establishment of the AOIMSG. Since the new Office replaces the existing UAP Task Force, any requirements for reporting to Congress on UAP that were previously enacted regarding the latter agency (as outlined within the FY 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act) may not be carried over to the responsibilities of the DoD’s new group. Right now, there simply hasn’t been enough information provided about the AOIMSG and how it will operate to know whether it will provide reports to Congress (or whether public versions of these will be issued) as the UAP Task Force had done.
Then again, further reports by the existing UAP Task Force have remained tardy now for weeks. After the initial report delivered to the ODNI in June, there have been no additional reports, at least as far as the public is aware (it had initially been stated that a follow-up report would be issued after a 90-day period, the deadline for which had been September 25). So the problem of additional, ongoing reporting to Congress and the public already exists. Will this be managed any better under the AOIMSG?
Lastly, it is also interesting to point out that the original Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report that described its support of the UAP Task Force appeared in writing on June 17, 2020, weeks before the “official” establishment of the UAPTF. Similarly, the proposed amendment filed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand preceded the DoD’s establishment of its newest UAP investigative group. However, this is where the similarity between 2020 and 2021 ends, as some have already expressed their frustrations about the DoD seemingly attempting to circumvent attempts by Congress to bring comprehensive UAP investigations into law.
A Step Forward For UAP Research, or a Cause for Concern?
“Please, please, please contact your representatives and let them know this is unacceptable and not in the best interest of the American people,” wrote Luis Elizondo, who led the Pentagon’s AATIP program, in a Tweet on Wednesday. “The USDI is the one single office that has continuously lied about this topic and persecuted whistleblowers.”
Following the DoD announcement, I reached out to Elizondo for a statement on Wednesday, who offered sharp criticism of the Pentagon’s new effort.
“On the surface, this may appear to be a good thing for UAP transparency,” Elizondo said, adding, “but let’s not forget that the Office of the USD(I) is the same office that has been managing this effort thus far, and is also the same office that has spent the last four years obfuscating data and impugning those involved in this effort.”
The bottom line is, while questions remain about the AOIMSG and how its operations will take shape in the days ahead, its sudden establishment by the Pentagon is far from ordinary. Based on what has been outlined so far by the DoD, the operations of the AOIMSG may impede the kinds of broad-reaching UAP investigations many have hoped to see instituted by the U.S. government, and which the Gillibrand Amendment had already proposed.
“In no way should Congress view this move by the Pentagon as being helpful towards the Gillibrand initiative,” Elizondo added, noting that the Pentagon’s new UAP effort “may ultimately hinder the sharing of UAP information with the American people and our closest allies.”
Which is unfortunate, since instead of a clear sign of progress, the current UAP developments in Washington are beginning to look a lot like one step forward, and two steps back.
In early November, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted an amendment for consideration in the F.Y. 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDDA, H.R. 4350), detailing expansive requirements for the U.S. military and Intelligence Community in addressing “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAP), commonly known as UFOs.
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