The Current

Pentagon's release of UFO videos a big deal for believers in extraterrestrial life: former U.K. investigator

The U.S. Department of Defense says it declassified the three video clips of 'unidentified aerial phenomena' to 'clear up any misconceptions' about the footage. For believers in extraterrestrial life, the Pentagon's acknowledgement is a big deal, says Nick Pope, a former UFO investigator for the U.K. government.

Skeptics argue that the videos' content can be easily explained, however

A screenshot from a video titled GIMBAL shows what the U.S. Department of Defense characterizes as an 'unidentified aerial phenomena.' Three videos depicting unknown flying objects, captured by U.S. Navy pilots, were officially released by the Pentagon on Monday. (U.S. Department of Defense)
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The Pentagon's official release of footage that appears to show unidentified flying objects sets the stage for an "adult conversation" about a once fringe topic, a former British defence ministry investigator argues.

"This new revelation, I think, takes us to some very interesting territory and at least lays the groundwork for serious adult conversation about this that goes beyond Sci-Fi memes," said Nick Pope, former head of the British government's UFO research project.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense released three short videos, recorded in 2004 and 2015, depicting what they call "unidentified aerial phenomena."

Those same videos have been available online since 2017 when To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, a company founded by former Blink-182 musician Tom DeLonge, posted them online.

In a release, the department says it declassified the clips to "clear up any misconceptions" about whether the footage was real and "whether or not there is more to the videos."

The U.S. Department of Defense officially released three videos, captured by U.S. Navy pilots in 2004 and 2015, of unknown flying objects. This video shows two of those clips, titled GIMBAL and GOFAST. 1:09

For believers in extraterrestrial life, the Pentagon's acknowledgement is a big deal, Pope says.

"After years of what they see as government denial, they think that this is a prelude to disclosure, the moment when the government formally acknowledges an extraterrestrial presence," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

While Pope is far more cautious in his assessment of the videos' contents — he is "unsure" of what they depict — he says whatever is shown "doesn't matter in a sense."

"The important point is this subject has now come out of the fringe and into the mainstream."

But others are far more skeptical that the official release of the videos mean anything at all.

"[The U.S. Navy] essentially acknowledged them back in September last year," said Mick West, a science writer and author of Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect.

"These videos have been out for two years and the Navy has never really said that these are not real videos from Navy planes."

Nick Pope spent years investigating UFOs for the U.K. Ministry of Defence. (Chris Loomis)

Logical explanations

The Pentagon offered no information about what's actually seen in the three clips, but some believe the pilots' incredulous reactions to what they're seeing indicates something bizarre.

"The U.S. Navy top guns are not easily impressed in terms of things like speed and manoeuvrability," Pope said. "So when they get excited, it tells you there's something a little bit unusual about this, to say the least."

But West argues the videos' content can easily be explained.

In one of the videos titled GIMBAL, a small, potato-shaped object is seen. One pilot, watching the screen, declares it a drone. Another counters that there's an entire "fleet" of them. Neither believes it to be a Navy plane.

Eventually, the object begins to rotate, leading to a surprised reaction from the pilots.

"But if you analyze what's going on there," West countered, "it actually seems like it's more likely that it is the heat signature of the jet engine. It kind of flares up in the infrared [camera]."

"It's like if you shone a flashlight into a camera: you don't see the flashlight itself, you just see a bright glare around it," he added.

Mick West is a conspiracy theory debunker and the author of Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect. He believes that there are logical explanations for what's seen in the released videos. (Submitted by Mick West)

And the object's rotation? West chalks it up to a moving part in the camera's lens.

"You've got to realize that what they [the pilots] are looking at is really the same thing that we're looking at. They're just looking at a small screen in their cockpit and they're seeing these things on the screen," West said.

West, who is a licensed pilot, says that often these objects appear as nothing more than white dots given their distance from the aircraft.

"You're seeing things that are too far away to make out any details. So pilots will naturally see things in the sky that they can't identify," he said.

'Let's have that conversation'

Though there may be logical explanations for the objects pictured in the videos, West says they may be kept confidential for national security reasons, no matter how benign.

"The Navy probably has a very good idea of what types of things these are — that they're drones or balloons or aircraft or whatever they are — but they're not going to tell you about it because that's part of a classified investigation," he said.

Pope, who has investigated many UFO claims from the public and Air Force pilots during his career, adds that the government likely has the required intelligence to shed more clarity on what's in the videos.

In its release, the Department of Defense said the objects observed in the video remain "characterized as 'unidentified.'"

Still, West acknowledges that even when offered alternate explanations, die-hard UFO believers won't give up hope that the videos show proof of extraterrestrial life.

He sees their interest as benign — unless it veers into anti-government conspiracy that could prevent them from trusting important information, like health guidelines.

But that curiosity, Pope argues, allows humankind to ponder bigger, more philosophical questions.

"What if there are other civilizations out there that will have profound implications for almost every aspect of human society: politics, religion, science, economics, philosophy?" 

"Let's have that conversation. It would be interesting and it would be fun."


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Arman Aghbali and Richard Raycraft.

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