It’s official: Unidentified Flying Objects are a national-security concern, and members of Congress want an investigation. The proof is in this year’s annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reauthorization legislation, which includes never-before-seen provisions to set up a permanent new office to investigate alleged UFO sightings and keep Congress in the loop about what it finds.

The NDAA is an annual must-pass bill that specifies every defense-related expense that the Federal Government is going to pay in the fiscal year to come. This year’s bill is still under debate in both houses, with a vote expected sometime after Thanksgiving.

Look deep into the House version of the 2021 NDAA’s main text, and you’ll find a section—Section 1652—whose heading reads as follows: “Establishment of Office to Address Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (note: “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAPs) is the term Government officials nowadays like to use for what the general public calls UFOs).

The same mandate (with just some small differences on specifics) appears in Section 345 of the Senate bill.

UFOs/UAPs were in the news again last June, after a Pentagon-mandated group known as the UAP Task Force presented a public report of UAP incidents to Congress. Pentagon officials had formed the group and put it to work after the New York Times and other news media broke a story in 2017 about Navy pilots spotting unrecognized objects flying near their planes. The Task Force’s report contained findings of 144 incidents that had occurred from 2004 to the present and was able to definitively find natural causes for only one; at the time of publication, 80 incidents were still completely unexplainable.

News reporters this year also made this notable find: the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) ongoing (and formerly secret) Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program to investigate UAPs. The DoD had claimed that this program had been shut down in 2012. But that was not so: Reporters found that as of 2021, the program was in fact still very much running.

Which brings us to the current NDAA legislation. Section 1652 of the House bill calls for Defense and intelligence leaders to jointly create a new agency within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) that will carry on the UAP Task Force’s work. Section 345 in the Senate bill makes the same instruction, though it specifies that the new agency should be the current UAP Task Force itself, re-designated as a permanent operation with its own resident office in OSD.

In both versions of the bill, the new agency will develop a standardized system for tracking and assessing UAP claims across DoD and all its partners. What it finds, it will present in regular reports to Congress. The House bill says that Congress will get a report once a year, though the Senate expects a report every four months.

Either way, we probably won’t see them. The Senate bill expressly states that these reports will be classified, for the lawmakers’ eyes and ears only. There isn’t any language explicitly to that effect in the House bill, but given the national security implications of the material, it is likely assumed by the bill’s authors that these documents will not be for the public.

The new agency will also coordinate reports from other non-DoD agencies, contractors, and the governments of U.S. allies.

It’s Not About the Aliens

The lawmakers’ concern is not so much that aliens might be among us, however. These unknown aircraft—if they indeed exist—may have Earthly origins. Namely, nations like China, Russia, or others who are testing new technology and are trying to steal ours.

Many of these UAP sightings either happen near military bases, or their eyewitnesses are U.S. military personnel out on missions. And that may be no coincidence. Those unknown aircraft (perhaps) aren’t flying saucers from another galaxy, but spy planes sent by human adversaries. And they definitely do not come in peace. They come to get high-res photographs and data of U.S. military operations and their secrets; information that their militaries can put to use against us.

The NDAA text spells this out accordingly: The new agency’s main purpose is “evaluating links between unidentified aerial phenomena and adversarial foreign governments, other foreign governments, or nonstate actors” and “evaluating the threat that such incidents present to the United States.” The text doesn’t say anything about little green men.

So don’t expect literal Congressional hearings on alien visitors if this bill passes. In all likelihood, its outcome will be closed-door hearings on attempts by China and other unfriendly militaries to gather intel on U.S. military installations, and how to stop them. Not as exciting as ET, maybe, but indisputably still necessary.

Then again, until we fully investigate these alleged mystery aircraft, who can really say for sure? The truth, as X-Files fans everywhere used to say, is out there.


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Rick Docksai is a Department of Defense writer-editor who covers defense, public policy, and science and technology news. He earned a Master's Degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland in 2007.