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Pentagon forms group to investigate unexplained aerial sightings

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced a new group Tuesday night to investigate reports of unidentified aerial phenomena in sensitive areas, work that will be overseen by both the military and intelligence services.

The group will make an effort to “detect, identify and allocate objects” in the restricted airspace, and to mitigate any threats to military flights.

The announcement follows the release of a report in June that failed to explain 143 sightings of strange phenomena by military pilots and others over the past two decades.

The report frustrated some within the intelligence community who felt that more analysis and research should have been done to try to categorize and explain the phenomena. Publishing a report saying the sightings were inexplicable further propelled theories that the videos or photos could be visitors from space, a theory few in the US government take seriously.

Kathleen H. Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, said the new group would be called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. It will be overseen by an executive council made up of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, the Director of the Joint Staff and senior officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The group will focus on special-use airspace, including military operations areas, firing ranges, and areas restricted for national security and other uses. In a memo, Dr. Hicks said unidentified aerial phenomena in special-use areas posed a potential safety concern for military pilots and raised “potential national security concerns.”

In June, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report assessing unidentified aerial phenomena observed since 2004, noting that 143 remained unexplained. Of those, 21 reports, with 18 episodes, may have revealed technological know-how unknown to the United States, such as objects moving without discernible propulsion or with rapid acceleration believed to be beyond the capabilities of Russia, China or other terrestrial nations.

Government officials said privately there was no evidence of Russian or Chinese advanced technology in use, let alone space-traveling aliens, in the information collected. But the officials acknowledged that the government’s failure to provide much explanation would fuel a wide range of theories, some more conspiratorial than others.

While the unexplained sightings were mostly around military installations or operations, the report said it could be due to collection bias or the presence of sophisticated sensors.

Some people believe that any phenomenon that exhibits technology beyond the capabilities of the United States needs in-depth study. Skeptics believe that most or all of the sightings, including videos recorded by cameras on military fighter jets, can be explained by optical tricks or naturally occurring phenomena.

But the military research behind the intelligence report did little to address those theories or provide specific explanations for various sightings that have captivated the public’s imagination.

For years, a military intelligence official named Luis Elizondo led a little-known group within the Pentagon called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The Pentagon has said the program was halted in 2012, but proponents of the program said work continued. In 2020, the Pentagon announced it had a new group, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.

The memo released by Dr. Hicks said the task force would move to the new sync group immediately. The board of trustees will elect an acting director for the new group and issue guidelines, subject to the approval of Dr. Hicks, she said.

The new director will have the authority to standardize incident reporting of unidentified area phenomena, oversee the analysis of data on the unexplained sightings and identify deficiencies in detection capabilities.

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