Image: Screengrab via the New York Times

The U.S. Navy is “drafting new guidelines” for personnel to report sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena, Politico reported on Tuesday, in response to unexplained incidents in which service members had reported unknown craft in the vicinity of protected airspace or encroaching on naval and air formations.

Politico wrote that the new reporting guidelines are not intended to legitimize speculation that Navy pilots or “sailors have encountered alien spacecraft,” but instead streamline the process of officially logging the incidents for further study or analysis:

“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement in response to questions from POLITICO. “For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.

“As part of this effort,” it added, “the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft.”

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This update appears to an acknowledgement of such reports by “credible and highly trained military personnel,” but it is also related to increased attention from members of Congress, Politico added:

“In response to requests for information from Congressional members and staff, Navy officials have provided a series of briefings by senior Naval Intelligence officials as well as aviators who reported hazards to aviation safety,” the service said in its statement to POLITICO.

The Navy declined to identify who has been briefed, nor would it provide more details on the guidelines for reporting that are being drafted for the fleet. The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Whether or not the Navy as an institution actually believes it needs to pay more attention to UFO reports or whether it just wants to look like it is taking them more seriously, UFOs have indeed been in the news an awful lot in the past few years.

The U.S. military has investigated such things before, most famously Project Blue Book, the 1947-1969 Air Force project investigating UFO sightings. It concluded that there was no threat to national security posed by the sightings, as well as that there was no evidence the sightings were of either extraterrestrials or “technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge” more generally.

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But in 2017, the New York Times reported the Pentagon had spent tens of millions of dollars on a program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) from 2008 to 2011—largely at the behest of former Senator Harry Reid, a well-known UFO aficionado, though the late Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye also approved the program.

Reid apparently believed the program had made significant discoveries, though a former congressional staffer told Politico that AATIP produced nothing but “reams of paperwork,” and the senator eventually agreed it was no longer worth continuing. It probably didn’t help that, as the New York Times reported, much of the funding allegedly went to “an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.”

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The former Pentagon official who ran the project, Luis Elizondo, has since landed at To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, an organization founded by former Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge to study UFOs. Elizondo has made a number of claims, including that the program discovered what the New York Times dubbed “metal alloys” allegedly recovered from unidentified aerial objects.

(In a 2018 interview with the Mufon Journal, he clarified his discussions with the media actually referred to “the potential discovery of certain meta materials in which their isotopic ratios at the molecular level are so unique and so precise that they are not found naturally on this planet, nor, based on the complexity, we don’t currently have the engineering capability to make such materials.”)

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While no evidence of these “meta materials” has ever been publicly released, AATIP did dig up unsettling footage allegedly recorded by F/A-18 Super Hornets that was later released to the public via the Times. Those videos appeared to show U.S. military pilots encountering strange aerial phenomena and were widely touted as evidence of something spooky. There has, however, been ample skepticism about what the videos actually depicted.

Elizondo told Politico, “If you are in a busy airport and see something you are supposed to say something. With our own military members it is kind of the opposite: ‘If you do see something, don’t say something’... [These aircraft] don’t have a tail number or a flag—in some cases not even a tail—it’s crickets. What happens in five years if it turns out these are extremely advanced Russian aircraft?”

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[Politico]