Friday, June 25, 2021

The Pentagon's Long-Awaited 'Preliminary Assessment' - What Does It Say?


So, just before 5 PM Eastern Time on a Friday, the Pentagon's Director of National Intelligence released its Preliminary Assessment report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. (Which is not surprising. It's sort of expected that, when politicians need to release something bound to cause controversy, they do so at the end of the day on a Friday, to minimize media coverage.) What does the Assessment say?

First, there are no disclosures about "aliens" in it, although many expected that there would be something along that line. Neuroscientist and humanist Sam Harris recently said,
This is probably premature to even talk about this, but I’ve had someone reach out to me and has assured me that I’m going to be on a Zoom call with, you know, former heads of the CIA and Office of Naval Research and people whose bona fide are very easy to track, and they’re concerned about the messaging around all of this to the public, and dampening down panic and conspiracy theories. But the … what is being promised here is a disclosure that is frankly, either the most alarming or the most interesting thing in the world, depending on how you take it, but it’s not a representation of the facts that will give scientific skeptics any comfort, and that’s just … we’re faced with the prospect of having to apologize to the people we’ve been laughing at for the last fifty years who have been alleging that they’ve been abducted or that cattle have been anally probed, pick your punch line.
Poor Sam, it looks like you've been "punked."

The entire report is only nine pages, including title pages and appendixes, which is merciful for those of us trying to understand it. In my assessment, it's a better report than I expected to see. In a nutshell, what it says is,
  1. The available reporting is largely inconclusive,
  2. and explaining UAPs will require analytic, collection and resource investment (i.e., We Need Funds. When did a government agency ever not require more funds?).

The Caveats

 I am very encouraged to see the recognition in the Assessment of the problem of  limited, and likely incorrect, data.
The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP... In a limited number of incidents, UAP reportedly appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics. These observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis. 
In other words, the Assessment recognizes that observers' reports are not 'hard data,' as many seem to think (for example, Luis Elizondo's "five observables," more accurately "five assumables.") Anyone familiar with the history of the UFO controversy understands that problem. We have had 'reliable witnesses' testifying to truly amazing things for more than seventy years, and yet no such report has ever led to the discovery of any extraordinary flying object. Some people try to convince us that certain observers, like 'trained military pilots', are so extraordinarily credible that their accounts and estimations simply must be believed. Perhaps these people are unaware that the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the scientific consultant to the US Air Force's Project Blue Book, wrote “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses”  (The Hynek UFO Report, 1977, p. 271). 
 The Assessment also recognized the problem of "collection bias."
UAP sightings also tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, but we assess that this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.
In other words, the reports of objects seem to cluster around "Military Operations Areas" (MOAs), but it is recognized that this may simply be because that is where defense personnel are spending much of their time.

What is Being Seen?
Another fairly hopeful sign is the recognition in the Assessment that not everfything reported as a "UAP" is necessarily anything mysterious:
There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the available reporting. Our analysis of the data supports the construct that if and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall “other” bin
So many, perhaps most, reports will resolve into things we already know about. Just like in Project Blue Book.
And here is the key conclusion:
The UAPTF has indicated that additional funding for research and development could further the future study of the topics laid out in this report. Such investments should be guided by a UAP Collection Strategy, UAP R&D Technical Roadmap, and a UAP Program Plan.
And thus another government agency is born. Probably those working on the task force are too young to recall the Air Force's persistent publicity problems in the 1950s and 60s with Project Blue Book, for which the Condon Report was supposed to end the controversy (but didn't). It looks like the Defense Department has now ensnared itself in Project Blue Book II, and it's safe to predict that the likes of a Condon Report II will eventually be needed to try to extricate themselves from this tar baby.
My advice to the members of the new UAPTF is this: choose a very few good cases, preferably some of the videos and photos we have already seen. Consult the best experts on the relevant subjects (infrared imaging, optical scattering and glare, etc. - not just the UFO buffs in the Pentagon), then present your findings to the public, with full documentation and analysis. If this confirms the analysis of skeptical civilian analysts - for example, on Metabunk - then I for one will have confidence in the Task Force's analyses, and so will most other serious investigators, as will (presumably) the scientific community. (And if it does not confirm that, then show us solid evidence to the contrary.) Before I will believe any Task Force analysis saying that some report is 'unexplainable' in terms of current knowledge, I want to be assured that the Task Force understands the factors involved in analyzing such cases at least as well as the best civilian investigators do.


  1. Let's hope they get merit-based experts to analyze the data, the best people whomever and wherever, leave politics out of it. They are off to a less-than-impressive start unfortunately with the misspelling of the report's file download name: /files/ODNI/documents/assessments/Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf. Just in case there was a surprise available with it correctly spelled, I checked: Not Found: The requested URL was not found on this server.

  2. Frustratingly, it seems there will be another '10 percent residue' of permanently inexplicable cases, though this time due to national security concerns instead of wildly incomplete data. Saying 'we conclusively determined the object was a commercial quadcopter 2ft across at a distance of 400 miles' sort of gives away the resolution capabilities of your radar.

  3. Riddle me this. Assuming the 'bogies' in these videos are truly anomalous, from the subtle strength of their signatures, would any of them ever even have been detectable on the much less sensitive visual and radar air-to-air surveillance tools of a few decades ago? And reverse the question -- assuming the bogies of the 1970s, say, were genuinely extraordinary objects -- how absolutely unambiguously clear would today's MUCH MORE SENSITIVE instruments have been able to record them?

  4. If they are going to have a Blue Book part 2, one has to worry that there will be a Hynek Jr. waiting for his chance to sell books. One can only hope that if this goes forward, they get scientific help OUTSIDE the UFO field.

  5. Worth re-posting from last yea ==

    Perceptive observers of the UFO scene over the last two thirds of a century have noted a tell-tale feature of the evolution of reports – their nature has been changing, keeping uncanny pace with the progress in human observation and detection technologies. As with dragons and sea serpents of half a millennium ago, they always seem to lurk just at or beyond the limits of clear human vision, with ‘Here be dragons’ on the maps obediently retreating in synchronization to the inexorable advance of human knowledge.

    These new ‘UFO reports’, at first fragmentary and inadequately documented but finally official acknowledged, nicely fit this time-tested pattern – some anomaly is detected at the limits of sight [that by all means needs to be understood] but isn’t clear enough to unambiguously establish its non-explainability. If the reports truly represent an authentic autonomous phenomenon, they would have been invisible to human observers until recently, just as the UFOs of the 1940s and 1950s, if they really were caused by actual phenomena, would today be exhaustively documented by the vastly improved observation capabilities of humankind.

    But. They. Aren’t. Instead, year by year, the ‘old UFOs’ fade away just before the advent of new technologies [that would have unambiguously documented them] come on line, to be replaced by a new flavor of ‘anomalies’ that precisely match the limits of vision of new technologies.

    This is a powerful indication that the phenomenon derives its existence NOT from some stand-alone phenomenon, but directly FROM being at the limits of human detection and recognition. As an observer-based rather than reality-based phenomenon, its apparent existence could well simply derive from the range – and limits – of human perception. That perception and its limits are real, but the apparent stand-alone stimulus does not have to be, and never did. Such a postulated stimulus [ETI technology] could well exist and be responsible, but may not be mandatory.

  6. Why I don't believe we've ever been visited by extraterrestrials: an excerpt from my commentary at

    "No alien species, no matter how advanced, can travel faster than light. Universal physics forbids it."

    But for the moment let's toss out the laws of physics and pretend that an advanced civilization, a “mere” five-hundred light years away, has space ships of huge mass which are capable of light-speed flight and today it determined that intelligent life thrives on Earth. Here's what the alien scientists know:

    The information verifying that Earth bears life is five centuries old (dating to the Christopher-Columbus era). The data collected by the aliens' telescopes, spectrometers, and technosignature-detection devices took five-hundred years to reach them moving at the speed of light.

    If these aliens wanted to visit Earth for the purpose of scouting, taking pictures, and maybe impressing Earthers with real cool aerial maneuvers, getting there would take another five-hundred years (relative to their fellow aliens left behind on their planet, but less than five-hundred years for the travelers themselves: see Einstein's theory of special relativity; i.e., as one approaches light-speed, time slows relative to stationary observers, and when one attains light-speed, time stops, again relative to the observers). Returning home would take still another five-hundred years. Exiting their craft, the traveling aliens, if blessed with very long lifespans, would find themselves considerably younger than their families, friends, and everyone else on their world.

    But here's what the alien scientists also know: Earth might no longer exist. It could have been destroyed by a massive asteroid or planetoid two-hundred years earlier, and the aliens wouldn't find out for another three-hundred years. (If our sun winked out right now, we wouldn't witness this event until eight minutes later; if our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, did likewise, we'd not know for another four-plus years.)
    Granted, the odds are very low that Earth would be destroyed in that relatively brief period of time—but it's possible. And as long as it's possible, why expend an enormous amount of time and resources, only to discover that Earth is a smoldering, lifeless orb no bigger than Rhode Island?

    If a civilization has a craft that moves at only half the speed of light, it is even less likely to risk the journey. A trip to a planet five-hundred light years' distance would then take a thousand years (once again, only for the alien observers left behind—less for the travelers, though for them still an incredibly long period of time). That makes the possibility that Earth no longer exists much greater.

    This fact alone—that a planet might become nonexistent before a space traveler completes a decades- or centuries-long journey to reach it—may explain the absence of alien visits to Earth.

    1. Do you honestly believe if humanity found a planet hosting intelligent life of some kind that we would not send something to further investigate, to get a closer look and learn more, only because "it would take too long"? I find that highly unlikely, even if we're talking massive time scales, I think we're way too curious in our nature.

      I have always found it funny that when people think of UFOs (and assume it's real and is of ET origin) that many people have this idea of being visited by beings from outer space as in literally living biological life zipping around in small crafts. I find it way more likely that it would turn out to be some kind of autonomous machine, like a von neumann probe. Why risk losing lives and valuable resources doing something that could be done by an AI controlled machine?

      I am not even gonna comment on wether this UFO phenomenon is real or not, this whole field is filled with misinformation, bad science, bad debunkers and secrecy and alot of lies and money. It makes it such a mess to try to decipher anything out of all this chaotic mess. Although I really was impressed by Richard M Dolans "UFOs and the national security state", he seems like one of the only people who has a nuanced and sober historical look upon the subject in it's very murky early decades (not that it's impressively better today).

      I have always highly respected the work of folks like Randi and other sceptics, so thank you for maintaining this blog it's so important to keep reminding people that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" - something which which some of the "top UFOlogist" seems to not understand.

      I was beginning to get some hope the recent years (and I still find that certain projects still has dignity and its reputation intact such as SETI fx), but I just can't feel comfortable knowing that Galileo Project is being filled with all the old heads from classical UFOlogy instead of focusing on bringing people who doesn't have a background in UFOlogy but rather their respective fields of study. I can understand the value of being consulted by the "old heads from UFOlogy", it would be foolish not to atleast take their knowledge into consideration but they NEED to be a vast minority in the organisation and then they also NEED to be counter weighed by some veteran debunkers.

      This whole field has been such a fucking shit show since it emerged, so I would argue it's of utmost importance that to be taking serious it NEEDS to go above and beyond avoiding all the stupidly embarrasing failures of past UFOlogy history, avoid the interpersonal drama and perhaps most importantly BE OPEN ABOUT IT ALL, end the tiring old secrecy it just makes UFOlogy seem like a con mans game and not a subject worth of study.

      As a last note and also a BIG criticism I have for this whole field, both in regards to some of the UFO proponents but also some debunkers, is this extremely childish ad hominem attacks everywhere. I understand it's tensions, emotions and battles running deep and far back in time but it's just not a very good look when people start mocking others. I must admit I have sometimes caught you Robert in doing this as well, I just sometimes wish you could let your excellent critical thinking and analytical skills talk for themselves and not sprinkle the petty talk on top. I fully understand there's a difference between poking a bit of fun at eachother, I see nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it goes a bit overboard I think.


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