Soon-to-be-President Jimmy Carter in 1973 went public with a claim he had seen a UFO years earlier in the skies above rural Georgia.
Nearly five decades later, former President Barack Obama went on late-night TV this week and admitted there are “objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.”
The two admissions, professional UFO researchers and alien hunters say, were met with wildly different receptions and underscore what’s been a gradual shift in public attitudes that is now hitting its peak.
Mr. Obama’s comments — much like former President Donald Trump last year marveling at the “hell of a video” showing Navy pilots encountering strange objects in the sky — weren’t dismissed, ridiculed or cast aside as science fiction-inspired nonsense. On Capitol Hill, in the media, and across the country, UFOs have gone mainstream, putting unprecedented pressure on the Pentagon, CIA, and other arms of the government to level with American citizens and finally disclose information locked up in a century’s worth of classified files.
“There is this manifest interest in the subject. And let’s face it: It’s not because it might be Chinese or Soviet drones or secret technology,” said Mark Rodeghier, scientific director at the Center for UFO Studies who has spent decades researching the subject. “All the real interest is because, yes, it might be aliens or something incredibly strange.”
“We’ve reached a tipping point in the phenomenon,” he told The Washington Times in an interview, “and in its public perception, and how it has to be treated by various organizations, the media, and politicians.”
Government agencies, Mr. Rodeghier added, “don’t comment on things they don’t have to.” But now they’ve been left with little choice.
A string of leaked videos has put the Defense Department and intelligence agencies in a position where they can no longer shrug off reports of UFOs. The most recent footage, captured in 2019 by the USS Omaha, seems to show an unidentified object disappearing into the waters off the coast of California. The Pentagon this week confirmed that the footage is real and was taken by military personnel.
Last May, the Navy acknowledged as genuine three videos that showed military pilots tracking objects in the sky that were moving at incredibly fast speeds. In one instance, the object flipped end over end while moving against the wind.
Shortly after the confirmation of those videos, the Defense Department publicly disclosed its Unidentified Aerial Phenomena [UAP] Task Force, designed to “detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.”
Close encounters between military personnel and UFOs is nothing new. Reports of pilots, sailors and soldiers seeing strange lights or remarkable objects predate World War II. Some accounts date back centuries.
Until recently, the Pentagon has been extremely tight-lipped on the subject, despite decades of research and billions of dollars spent on investigations. Even parts of the Air Force’s famous Project Blue Book, which ran from 1947 to 1969 and cataloged UFO sightings, remain under wraps.
Now, Defense Department officials openly discuss the unexplained.
“We take reports of incursions, whether they’re by known aircraft or unidentified aerial phenomenon, very seriously, and the safety and security of our personnel and of our operations that they remain paramount,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week. “So to protect our people, maintain those operations and safeguard intelligence methods, we don’t publicly discuss the details of these unexplained aerial phenomenon observations or the examinations of the UAP Task Force.”
At least some of the research is expected to soon become public. A joint report by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies is scheduled to be delivered to Congress next month. The Defense Department Inspector General’s Office also is reviewing how the Pentagon has handled the issue of UFOs, and its report is also expected soon.
The subject has even carved out its own place in the political arena. In addition to deepening interest from powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of political consultants last week announced the formation of “UFOPAC,” the first political action committee that advocates for more transparency on UFOs and extraterrestrial research.
Public interest in UFOs and alien life has been steadily building for years.
A CBS News poll released earlier this month found that 66% of Americans believe there is intelligent life on other planets — an increase of 10 percentage points from 2017. In 2010, the number was less than 50%.
Other surveys have produced similar results.
For the UFO research community, the combination of intense public interest and at least a small level of government transparency could produce unprecedented visibility for the topic.
“When I used to go around and give talks, I’d tell people that I really don’t think we’ll see disclosure in my lifetime. Now I’m saying we might have it any day. Matter of fact, we might have it by the end of the year,” said David MacDonald, executive director of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, which studies UFO sightings and has representatives in more than 40 countries around the world.
“It’s too big a snowball to try to stop right now,” he said, adding that believes the government intends to slowly reveal the truth to the American people.
“I think they’ll continue to leak more and more and ease everybody into it,” he said in an interview. “My theory has been all along, what if the president came out and said, ‘We’ve been lying to you for 70 years. There are other life forms in the universe, they’re here, they’re our trading partners.’ … That’s when you’d have panic in the streets.”
In years past, such comments may have sounded outlandish. But just listen to what current and ex-government officials now are saying out loud in public forums.
Just this week, former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo — a pivotal figure in the UFO research world who has argued the military is hiding the truth — suggested that the government has already interacted with craft from another world and isn’t telling anyone.
“The United States government is in possession of exotic material,” he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “More analysis needs to be done.”
Earlier this year, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe made his own startling admission, claiming that the federal government has seen UFOs break the sound barrier without producing a sonic boom.
“There are instances where we don’t have good explanations for some of the things that we’ve seen,” he said.
But even the highest levels of government have struggled to pry loose the truth. Mr. Carter famously promised to release information about UFOs once in office, but he later backed off that pledge, citing national security concerns.
A similar story played out under in the Clinton administration in the 1990s, and it’s not just Democrats who are taking strange things in the skies seriously. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, in a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this month said he wants the Pentagon to keep a database of every possible UFO encounter and that people should not face ridicule for trying to find the truth.
“There’s a stigma on Capitol Hill. Some of my colleagues are very interested in this topic and some kind of giggle when you bring it up,” Mr. Rubio said. “But I don’t think we can allow the stigma to keep us from having an answer to a very fundamental question.”
“Maybe it has a very simple answer,” he added. “Maybe it doesn’t.”
Mr. Obama showed little interest in the subject during his time in office, though he did create a stir when he publicly acknowledged the famed “Area 51” during a 2013 interview. The top-secret research site in Nevada is considered by many in the UFO research community to be the epicenter of human-alien collaboration, and possibly even where the extraterrestrials who crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 were housed.
Mr. Obama’s most notable comments came just this week in an interview with CBS’s “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”
“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,” he said.