UFO Taboo

The Decades-Long UFO Taboo the Biden Administration Will Have to Face

When Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th, he will be embarking on an undoubtedly stressful tenure as commander in chief. A raging global pandemic; escalating tensions with Iran; aggressive moves by China; increased Russian hacking; and, lest we not forget, that whole insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th. 

The soon-to-be president may not realize it yet, but there’s another challenge looming on the horizon involving a subject long relegated to society’s fringe. Viewed through the lens of history, however, it could end up defining Joe Biden’s presidential legacy. 

We’re speaking here of unidentified flying objects. Or in currently favored parlance, unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP).  

Right now, with so many more pressing and gravely serious issues going on, this suggestion may seem unhinged. Bear with us for a moment and let us explain. 

Will the Biden Administration Confront the UFO Taboo?
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer the USS Roosevelt. Since 2017, the DoD has acknowledged that military service members have had encounters with strange, “unidentified aerial phenomena” or UAP. (Image source: The Department of Defense)

Getting Up To Speed 

Not long ago, The Debrief offered exclusive insight into the growing awareness by the highest levels of the U.S. military and intelligence communities that apparently intelligently controlled devices are seemingly traversing our skies and oceans with impunity. 

Relatedly, a bipartisan handful of political leaders — some retired, some not have begun making increasingly explicit public statements that “someone,” or “something,” appears to possess technologies we fail to understand and to be pursuing purposes we cannot fathom.

Based on our reporting, including statements made on the record and some made in private, not for attribution, elements of the U.S. government now believe that:

  • Some UAP appear to be intelligently controlled, mechanical devices, capable of virtually instantaneous hypersonic acceleration and acute angled turns, without reliance on any obvious sources of propulsion. These observations alone provoke great consternation in the minds of technically knowledgeable analysts.
  • Some of these objects have “transmedium” capability — that is, they are capable of impressive performance through air, underwater, and outside the atmosphere.
  • UAP will appear at times on radar, while in other instances these objects seem to be capable of concealing themselves from visual and other sensor systems.
  • Some UAP have manifested seemingly extraordinary information-gathering abilities and display knowledge that should not be accessible. At times, these objects appear to anticipate the responses of those they encounter. 
  • Some of these objects can detect U.S. nuclear weapons platforms at great range and with absolute impunity. When the historical record is examined with blinders removed, it appears that these enigmatic objects have long displayed a particular interest in nuclear weapons sites. 
  • The UAP issue is not an “American problem.” Many world governments have encountered these mysterious objects to varying degrees. In recent years, as China continues to advance domestic technologies at an exponential rate (chiefly due to espionage and intellectual theft), they’ve also found themselves detecting these mysterious objects at an increasing rate. 

Assuredly, for many in top defense circles, this news is all rather startling and deeply discomforting. Considering none of this is particularly new, though, the fact that it might be alarming to officials is remarkable in and of itself. 

Indeed, for at least a century, “something” that appears to transcend all cultural, ideological, and geographical boundaries has shown a proclivity toward sporadic, yet brilliant, airborne displays. The only discernible consistency this “something” seems to possess is an unwavering commitment to breaking current paradigms and behaving in ways that appear completely alien to human understanding. 

UFO Taboo
Originally appearing in The Denver Post, the cartoon prominently displayed beside The New York Times January 12, 1969 article U.F.O. Verdict: Believers Find It Unbelievable.

The Decades-Long UFO taboo 

To mainstream science and journalism, the subject of UFOs has long been considered as an egregious combination of pseudoscience and conspiracy theory. At best considered by social validators as a grab bag of probably prosaic natural anomalies, the topic has been relegated for decades to an eccentric fringe. A UFO taboo, if you will. 

A few years back, we saw it pretty much that way ourselves. 

We are two journalists who cover national security issues. One of us (Tom Rogan) spends most of his time writing about trouble spots such as China, Russia, the Middle East, and North Korea. The other (Tim McMillan), brings nearly two decades of experience in law enforcement to his coverage of the intelligence and defense beat. What we have found independently in our national security reporting makes us increasingly willing to tackle the radioactive topic of UAP head on.

We recognize this is a subject on which most journalists and scientists remain deeply skeptical (and also, in most cases, profoundly uninformed). It’s worth noting that we have found a great number of highly respected professionals who do secretly harbor great interest in the topic. These individuals, however, largely limit their inquiry within small bands of similarly iconoclastic thinkers spread out around disconnected archipelagos of society. 

In writing on this subject, we know that we are subjecting our credibility and careers to the same UFO taboo, disdain, and ridicule that has followed the topic for decades. We would not risk those interests had we not repeatedly encountered increasingly strong indications that “something” is here that seems to be both real and extraordinary. We know that a growing number of important actors in our government are becoming aware of this as well.

Make no mistake in what we’re saying. Neither of us are necessarily welcomed with open arms by the enthusiasts that make up the “UFO community.” 

Many in the “UFO community” believe there exists some ultra-secret organ in government that has many, if not all, of the answers they seek. We are inclined to doubt that is true. 

Instead, it seems that the military and intelligence communities long ago fell under the stifling influence of the very UFO taboo they helped to create in the 1950s and 1960s. No careers were going to be advanced by displaying an inordinate interest in UFO events — or, eventually, by displaying any interest at all. It appears that some high-quality evidence, photographic and otherwise, that came into government hands in previous generations was not preserved, and there are severe deficits of institutional memory. 

As a result, among each new generation of officers and intelligence officials, some are stunned to find themselves confronting evidence of intruders of a sort that they’d been led to believe existed only in realms of science fiction.

UFO Taboo
During WWII Allied and Axis pilots reported seeing strange glowing objects in the skies. Allied pilots were later call these mysterious objects “Foo Fighters.” (Image Source: Fortean Picture Library)

 Seventy years of kicking the can down the road

In a classified 1947 memo on “flying discs,” Lt. Gen. Nathan Twining (then-chief of Air Materiel Command, later Air Force Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) concluded, “The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious” and described the objects as having “operating characteristics such as extreme rates of climb, maneuverability (particularly in roll), and action which must be considered evasive…”

In his valuable work Unidentified: The National Intelligence Problem of UFOs (2017), Larry Hancock details the responses of the military and intelligence communities to purported UFO events, in particular, innumerable UFO events throughout the mid-1940s and into the 1970s involving military and nuclear weapons sites. For his reporting, Hancock relied mostly on military documents contemporary to the events he described, including many documents that had been long classified.

Hancock says, “From 1947-1952 the Air Force conducted in-depth studies of such UFO incidents, and by 1952 the Air Technical Intelligence Center and Air Intelligence jointly reached the conclusion that a defined pattern had emerged, ‘controlled flights focused on major U.S. defense installations by objects with totally unconventional capabilities,’ an assessment endorsed by the CIA’s Offices of Scientific Intelligence.”

Yet such assessments were received by higher authorities as profoundly inconvenient in the midst of other urgent priorities such as the Cold War. It was found more expedient, bureaucratically and politically, to avert the gaze from UFOs. 

Even the infamous 1968 “Condon Report” — which turned the term “UFO” into a fatal albatross for scientists, academics, government employees, or anyone else who desired a reputable professional stature — never actually said the whole UFO subject was bunk. 

Instead, the report simply said, “Further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.” Authors spent the rest of the preamble explaining their conclusions were based on an apparent lack of sufficient understanding and scientific methodology to study the UFO phenomena. 

Never once did the Condon Report say that UFOs didn’t exist. 

When recommending that no major federal agency to study UFOs was warranted, authors expressly said, “This conclusion may not be true for all time. If, by the progress of research based on new ideas in this field, it then appears worthwhile to create such an agency, the decision to do so may be taken at that time.” 

In the post-Condon years, UFO sightings by the public and military have remained remarkably consistent and on-par with those of the late 1940s through the 1960s. Nevertheless, since shuttering Project Blue Book in 1969, the U.S. government’s official stance of “nothing to see here” and the UFO taboo has remained largely in place. 

Recent evidence suggests “that time” the Condon Report foresaw — when their conclusions may no longer hold true — may very well be upon us now. 

Is The UFO Taboo Changing? 

After 70 years of studious avoidance and institutional amnesia, the UFO Taboo may finally be lifting. 

In June 2020, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), with support from senior committee members of both parties, issued a committee report containing a directive that the Director of National Intelligence, in concert with the Secretary of Defense and other agencies, submit a comprehensive, unclassified report on “Unidentified Aerial Vehicles.” 

The SSCI pointedly noted, “The Committee understands that the relevant intelligence may be sensitive; nevertheless, the Committee finds that the information sharing and coordination across the Intelligence Community has been inconsistent, and this issue has lacked attention from senior leaders.”

On December 27th, President Donald Trump signed into law a massive omnibus spending bill, allocating $1.4 trillion in federal funding for the 2021 fiscal year. Tucked within it was the Intelligence Authorization Act, thus making the committee’s directive for a UAP report officially the will of Congress. 
The SSCI, along with the Senate and House Armed Services committees, is among the last bastions of bipartisanship in today’s extremely polarized Congress. Comments made by committee members have shown that, as with most of SSCI’s work product, the “Advanced Aerial Threats” directive reflects a bipartisan consensus of the committee. 

On July 16th of last year, when Florida newsman Jim DeFede of the Miami CBS affiliate asked the then-acting chairman of the committee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), about the UAP directive, Rubio’s lengthy response was far removed from the brush-off “little green men” jokes to which politicians have long resorted reflexively when the subject of UFOs came up.

“We have things flying over our military bases, and places where we’re conducting military exercises, and we don’t know what it is, and it isn’t ours… and they exhibit, potentially, technologies that you don’t have at your own disposal—that to me is a national security risk, and one that we should be looking into,” said Rubio. 

Three times in this single interview, the senator said variations of “it isn’t ours,” which is particularly significant since the SSCI chair is one of the small group of lawmakers who by law must be informed of, and share oversight responsibility over, the most secret of “black” weapon-development programs.

Rubio went on, “It [UFO encounters] has impacted the Navy, for the most part. I have seen reports on this now for the better part of a decade. Other countries have had similar reports.” He declined to speculate on the origin of the devices, but when pressed, Rubio remarked, “I would say, frankly, that if it’s something from outside this planet, that might actually be better…[than] some technological leap on behalf of the Chinese or the Russians or some other adversary.”

In another interview, conducted on August 27, 2020, by Kellie Meyer of Nexstar, Rubio brushed off suggestions by some that the UFOs of concern are actually secret U.S. military projects.  “If we knew what they were, we’d find a different way to discuss it and you certainly wouldn’t see this sort of demand for more attention to be paid because we’d know the answer,” he said.

On June 20, 2019, when SSCI Vice Chairman, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), emerged from a classified UAP briefing, he stopped in front of a TV camera and succinctly conveyed that this is no longer a laughing matter: “I think people are taking this much more seriously… One of the key takeaways I have is the military and others are taking this issue seriously, which I think in previous generations may not have been the case.” Warner will chair the SSCI in the new Congress.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who’ve been briefed subsequently have also made sober statements, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Both Jim Inhofe (R-OK), previously chairman and now ranking minority member in the new Congress, and new Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) are reportedly on board with the UAP Task Force initiative. 

Rubio also said, in the August 2020 interview, “It’s certainly not a partisan issue. I think there’s different levels of interest in it. Look, I mean, the stigma– it starts out with the fact that a lot of pilots for a long time wouldn’t even report on these things, because they were told you need to go see the flight surgeon to check your head, you know — so people just decided, “They’re going to think I’m crazy. I’m not going to report on it.” I think some of that seeps into the politics. No one ever wants to be accused of being a person that’s out there sort of chasing these things that have been the realm of science fiction for such a long time.”

In 1952 UFOs were seen over Washington D.C. challenging the UFO Taboo
From July 12 to July 29, 1952, a series of UFO sightings occurred over Washington D.C. in one of the most publicized UFO “flaps” in U.S. history. (Source: The New York Times)

What sort of evidence has led these senators to signal such a shift from the dismissive mindsets of the past?

Our sources indicate that military and intelligence community analysts are confident that neither Russia nor China has produced the extraordinary flying devices described in the most compelling encounters. Brigadier General Richard Stapp, director of the Pentagon’s Special Access Program Central Office (i.e., “black” program HQ), has reportedly told inquisitors that the mysterious objects being encountered by the military were not related to secret U.S. technology. Similar sentiments that this doesn’t jive with any type of classified U.S. technology have been shared with us by recently retired Air Force generals, former CIA executives, and “black” program veterans from the storied and shrouded Area 51. 

Nevertheless, the SSCI directive understandably charges the Director of National Intelligence to consider “any links they [UAP] have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations.”

Briefings received by political leaders have certainly included incidents in which extensive military and intelligence resources have been expended. These include multi-day observations by the Nimitz carrier strike group in November 2004 of high-performing UAPs off the coast near San Diego. Legislators have likely also been offered analysis of similar mysterious airborne objects encountered by naval pilots of the Roosevelt carrier group off America’s East Coast in 2015. 

Three short videos captured during these encounters in 2004 and 2015 were leaked to the press in late 2017. The videos’ release sparked heated debates among civilian analysts claiming varying degrees of technical expertise and offering their opinion on what these objects really were. Divorced from many of these discussions was the testimony from the highly-trained naval officers and eyewitnesses at the center of the reports. 

In April 2020, the Pentagon officially released the three leaked videos. In a statement issued on behalf of the Secretary of Defense’s office, the DoD said, “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’”

In an October 2020 tweet, Luis Elizondo, the former Director of the National Programs Special Management Staff for the Office for the Under Secretary of Defense and the man who for years headed up the DoD’s efforts to investigate UAP, said, “We had the best at DoD and the Intelligence Community look at these vids, and I mean the best.” 

There is reason to think that the key senators, and an increasing number of officials within the defense and intelligence communities who hold elevated clearances, have seen much more than those three now-public videos.

Also in October, Elizondo said, “I saw compelling data that demonstrably proves the reality of UAPs. I believe some in Congress have already seen this evidence for themselves. Probably why they are taking it seriously.”

Our sources backup Elizondo’s statement. Speaking on background, multiple government officials with requisite access say the U.S. government has a wealth of unreleased visual evidence. This includes photographs and videos captured on multi-million dollar defense systems as well as with personal GoPros and phone cameras of military pilots. Some images are said to have been taken as close as 50 feet from these enigmatic flying devices. 

Our sources also tell us that the best data collected has come from measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT). Some of the most sophisticated and highly classified surveillance systems in the world have been able to gather diverse forms of data on UAP, including electromagnetic pulse, acoustic signature, electro-optical, unintentional radiation, spectroscopic, and dimension/feature profiling intelligence. 

We speak here of sources that, while well situated and reliable, remain cautious and never become overly specific with respect to classified matters. They are not “whistleblowers,” nor “leakers” in the usual sense. That they are willing to speak to us at all about these matters is a manifestation of how unsettled they are by some of the images, data, and analysis that they have seen. They have been forced to conclude that tangible aerial objects with remarkable capacities exist, that no prosaic explanation fits. They express that we collectively had best start taking this subject way more seriously, and fast. 

Our reporting finds that the SSCI directive for an unclassified and public report on UAP has been poorly received in some quarters of the Pentagon. We have every reason to believe there will be institutional resistance to providing an unclassified report that is particularly comprehensive. We are also aware that on January 4, 2021, the person who had headed up the UAP Task Force for the Office of Naval Intelligence for the last two years was reassigned back to their previous position. Currently, the UAP Task Force is being helmed by another Naval billet out of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)). We believe two aspects of this recent change in leadership are cause for concern.

First, the underlying rationale for the personnel change is based on the fact the task force is currently not being funded. Without financial support, a task force whose efforts have been lauded by Congress, is reduced to borrowing from other billeted positions. Continuing in this manner, it is all but inevitable that the UAP Task Force will eventually die on the vine. 

Secondly, there are reasons to be concerned about the UAP Task Force being placed directly inside The Pentagon, more importantly back inside the office of USD(I). Through our reporting, we’ve heard of USD(I) officials who are devotees of the UFO taboo, offering extreme bureaucratic resistance to even the discussing topic. To be clear, none of these specific concerns relate to the person actually heading up the UAP Task Force now. Rather, we are speaking here on the environment they will have to work in.

Ultimately, how this plays out will depend much on the attitudes of the incoming Director of National Intelligence (President-elect Biden has named the highly regarded Avril Haines), Secretary of Defense, and other top intelligence and defense appointees. And it will chiefly depend on the assessment and political courage of the new president, in his responsibility as commander in chief.

Beam of light from The Pentagon for 9/11 memorial
Beam of light illuminating the Pentagon 9/11 memorial in tribute to those that lost their lives during the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, as seen from the Lincoln Memorial. (2020).

Our purpose here is not to criticize military or political leaders of the past, or the present, for institutional stovepiping or lack of candor. Even now, we believe that the unwillingness by top military and political leaders to fully internalize and publicly acknowledge the reality of non-prosaic UFOs reflects an understandable reluctance to acknowledge to the public, and to the world, a possible gaping national security vulnerability. 

We think this explanation is more plausible, and more consistent with what our sources tell us, than to postulate a multi-generational conspiracy to conceal detailed knowledge of the origins of UFOs and even their technology — although we acknowledge that such theories have many adherents and that there remain some episodes in which the actions of important government actors remain puzzling, the official explanations unsatisfactory.

We do not venture here to speculate on the implications that recognition of such a paradigm-disrupting reality may have in diverse areas of collective human activity. Whatever those implications, however, we believe that our political leaders do us no favors by perpetrating a head-in-the-sand mentality. 

In closing, we offer a few final thoughts for President-elect Biden to consider on the whole UFO taboo and how he can address it. 

President Biden may not be able to avoid the UFO subject

Damn the ufo taboo mr. president 

When it comes to that whole “UFO taboo,” current polling shows that, universally — across all income levels, educational backgrounds, and demographics — one-third of all Americans believe that “some UFOs are alien spacecraft.” The point here, Mr. President-elect isn’t whether or not this is true. Frankly, we are both firm in our stance that we simply don’t know what UFOs truly represent. The higher significance of that statistic is instead that it represents the opinion of one out of every three Americans. 

These same polls show that 68% of all Americans believe the U.S. government knows more about UFOs than it lets on. This is representative of over 223 million Americans — more than 142 million people more than those who secured your recent presidential victory, and nearly 150 million more than those who cast ballots for Donald Trump. 

Almost 65 million more Americans believe their government is withholding information on a subject of consummate importance than the sum total of those who voted in the record-breaking 2020 presidential election. In a representative democratic republic, whereby supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, one has to ask, why exactly is there a UFO taboo? 

Our point in bringing this up, Mr. President-elect: In your acceptance speech, you promised to be a “President for all Americans.” 

When we recently reached out to your transition team to ask your position on the Department of Defense’s withholding of public information (not just about the UFO topic, but in general), we were directed to your comments, which reminded us, “[the government] relies on the informed consent of the American people.” 

When we suggest this issue could be a defining one in your presidency, be assured this isn’t to suggest any of the very pressing issues facing this new presidency should take a back seat. 

President-elect Biden, as you survey the lay of the land and all of the issues you aim to tackle as president — in addition to putting in place the very best people to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, restore unity amongst people, ensure national defense, and rebuild America’s role on the world stage — we suggest that you also make it a point to put smart and non-dogmatic people in place on the UAP issue, and make it known you want them finally to face this decades-long UFO taboo. 

Acquaint yourself with the best UAP evidence held by any branch of the government and then ensure the principles you’ve championed, of evidence-driven policy and transparency, are applied without fear or favor. UFO taboo and institutional resistance be damned.

Douglas D. Johnson (Twitter @ddeanjohnson) and The Debrief’s Features Editor Jed Holtzman contributed to this opinion article.  

The Debrief’s Tim McMillan can be reached via encrypted email at LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com 

Correction January 25, 2021: 

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Brigadier General Richard Stapp, director of the Pentagon’s Special Access Program Central Office had testified in a closed door secession to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that UAP sightings did not represent top-secret U.S. technology. This information was conveyed by several officials under a condition of anonymity, however, the attributed comment did not occur during a closed door Congressional secession, nor to author’s knowledge, has Gen. Stapp testified before elected leadership.