WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials testifying at a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday showed a previously classified video of an unidentified aerial phenomenon, a fleeting color image of a reflective spherical object speeding past a military fighter jet.
The congressional hearing was the first in more than a half-century to focus on military reports of unexplained phenomena — the current term for UFOs — and a chance for lawmakers to prod the Pentagon for more information. It was also an opportunity for government officials to clarify why explanations were not forthcoming and outline their plans for improving data collection.
The Pentagon officials testified under oath that the government had not collected materials from any alien landing on Earth, pushing back on at least one favored conspiracy theory.
The highlight of the hearing was a split-second image, shot last year through the window of an FA-18 jet, of a spherical object in the distance. The pilot also reported observing an object. It remains unexplained and is an example of how difficult it is to determine what a short video clip may show.
Pentagon officials also played a video and displayed an image shot through night-vision lenses that showed glowing green triangles moving through the air. The first video, shot on the West Coast in 2019, puzzled military officials. But the small triangles in the second recording, made this year on the East Coast, were determined to be drones, with the spooky look being an artifact of the lens used to produce the imagery.
“This time, other US Navy assets also observed unmanned aerial systems nearby, and we’re now reasonably confident that these triangles correlate to unmanned aerial systems in the air,” said Scott W. Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence.
The declassified videos were released at the urging of lawmakers as they pledged to bring transparency to an investigation of unexplained reports by military pilots and others that have long been shrouded in stigma, confusion, and secrecy.
The hearing was followed by a classified session, where the Pentagon officials could candidly discuss the capabilities and limitations of the cameras and other sensors used to record images. In the open session, Pentagon officials said they had to be careful.
“We do not want potential adversaries to know exactly what we’re able to see or understand, or how we come to the conclusion,” Bray said. “Therefore, disclosures must be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The Pentagon is creating a task force to examine the reports, with the aim of collecting more information about incidents so that they can be better, and more quickly, identified.
Part of the effort going forward, said Ronald S. Moultrie, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for intelligence, is to make sure that military sensors are properly calibrated to record as much information as practical on the unexplained phenomena. Better, higher-fidelity data will allow the Pentagon to draw better conclusions.
Bray said the Pentagon was focused on a few reports of unexplained phenomena with strange flight characteristics — like fast movement or no visible means of propulsion. “We’ll go wherever the data takes us,” Bray said. “Again, we’ve made no assumptions about what this is or isn’t.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report last year, largely compiled by the military, cataloging unexplained aerial phenomena dating to 2004. The intelligence community criticized the document because it failed to draw conclusions or offer explanations for most of the events.
On Tuesday, Bray tried to explain why it is so difficult to identify the images in the fuzzy videos. But lawmakers insisted that the Pentagon had been too dismissive of explanations.
“You need to show us, Congress and the American public, whose imagination you have captured, you are willing to follow the facts where they lead,” said Representative André Carson, an Indiana Democrat who is chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee that held the hearing.
“We fear sometimes that DOD is focused more on emphasizing what it can explain, not investigating what it can’t,” he said, referring to the Defense Department. “I am looking for you to assure us today that all conclusions are on the table.”
Moultrie, who under questioning from lawmakers said he was a fan of science fiction and had attended at least one sci-fi convention, tried to assure Congress that the Pentagon was taking the reports seriously.
“We have our inquisitiveness; we have our questions,” he said. “We want to know what’s out there as much as you want to know what’s out there.”
Privately, many senior US officials have been dismissive of theories suggesting that unknown objects captured in videos could be aliens and insist there is no evidence that such explanations are probable.
Bray tried to stamp out speculation that the phenomena were extraterrestrial in origin. “We have no material. We have detected no emanations within the UAP task force that would suggest it’s anything non-terrestrial in origin,” he said, referring to unidentified aerial phenomena.
Representative Rick Crawford, Republican of Arkansas, said he was more interested in discussions of Russian or Chinese hypersonic weapons programs than unidentified phenomena. But he said it was important to identify the images.
The government’s inability to identify objects in sensitive operating areas was “tantamount to an intelligence failure that we certainly want to avoid,” Crawford said. “It’s not about finding alien spacecraft.”
Congress last held a public hearing on the issue decades ago, after Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s flawed effort to investigate reports of alien sightings, which inspired generations of television programs.
After the report last year, intelligence officials pledged to renew their efforts. Prompted by Congress, the Pentagon overhauled its task force for looking into the unexplained events, calling it the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.