The U.S. government report is the most substantial public effort to date to deal with decades of speculation about UFOs, and whether the government had a role in concealing information.



During a week full of news coming out of Washington, we didn't want you to miss this story. Today, the U.S. government released its most detailed report ever on what it does and does not know about UFOs. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been following this.

And, Greg, let's start with this. UFOs are somehow part of the infrastructure bill. What's the headline there?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, no sign of little green men here, Audie. The U.S. military and the intelligence community said they found nothing to support evidence of alien life, but they did find more than 140 reports dating back to 2004 where investigators could not find an explanation for what they call - instead of UFOs, they call them unexplained aerial phenomena. Now, the report says the limited amount of high-quality reporting hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions, so it may leave people on both sides a little disappointed. This report had lots of input from the military, was released by the office of the director of national intelligence - part of a task force that's going to continue this work.

CORNISH: What kind of events are we talking about?

MYRE: Well, perhaps the most intriguing are reports coming from Navy pilots, particularly in 2014 and 2015 off the east coast of the U.S. And at least a few of these were filmed. The pilots said they saw objects that moved at exceptional speed and agility and acceleration. And in some incidents, witnesses even claimed these objects went underwater. So we're talking about multiple sightings over the course of months from experienced pilots, not some kind of one-off by an amateur.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what you're saying is it doesn't really explain what's happening, but does it offer any suggestions or guidance?

MYRE: A little bit - it says that these UFO sightings are not part of a secret U.S. government or military project. And another theory was, OK, perhaps it's some sort of secret program coming from a rival country like Russia or China, but there's no evidence to support this either. There's speculation that it's perhaps some kind of hypersonic technology - something that the U.S. and others are working on. But they don't seem to explain the account in this report. So given all these unresolved cases, it is likely to spur certainly more discussion and perhaps talk about even more resources being devoted to looking for some answers here.

CORNISH: Why is this report coming out now?

MYRE: So late last year, Congress passed this big COVID relief bill, and then it was signed by Donald Trump on December 27. And buried inside it was this call for this report. Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, was a big driving force behind it. And so that's what we're seeing today is this preliminary report, and Congress is also being briefed. Now, the main conclusions were leaked to the media several weeks ago. So as we have heard, there's nothing really conclusive that's likely to change people's minds. For UFO skeptics, it's probably going to reinforce the notion that there's no proof here. And for UFO enthusiasts, they're likely to say there are these unexplained cases and it requires further study.

CORNISH: There have been so many conspiracy theories, obviously. Why is this kind of - for the people who are hardcore UFO enthusiasts - I mean, they've claimed that the U.S. government has found aliens. I mean, can you explain how we got from there to here?

MYRE: Right. I mean, I think we all have heard about the Roswell, N.M., story. And it's a case where the fake story is better-known than the real one. The fake story claims that in 1947, the Air Force found a spacecraft and aliens in the desert and has covered it up ever since. But in reality, the Air Force had these high-altitude balloons for spying on the Soviet Union's nuclear program. One of those balloons crashed near Roswell. The Air Force cleaned it up, didn't talk about a top secret program. Wasn't until 1994 that the Air Force put out a detailed report. And by that point, many people just prefer to believe the flying saucer version of events, which contributes to the tourist industry that Roswell still has today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

Greg, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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