2021: The Year of the UFO

As 2021 draws to a close I want to offer some thoughts on the year’s most noteworthy and intriguing UFO developments. And what a year it’s been! 

Few stories were bigger than the June 25 release of a preliminary assessment of UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The unclassified summary that the media and the public saw wasn’t quite the UFO community’s holy grail of “Disclosure”, but it contained plenty of fascinating material, including what might be termed the key initial conclusion, i.e. that “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security”. Other key findings were that “Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers, and visual observation”, along with “And a handful of UAP appear to demonstrate advanced technology” – with “radio frequency (RF) energy” and “signature management” being listed as examples. I believe that Congress received an update around 90 days later, covering “collection strategy and technical issues”, but this has not been confirmed and nothing has been made public.

On June 30 there was a short discussion on UFOs in the UK parliament, in the House of Lords. Baroness Goldie, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, told parliament that the MoD had noted the ODNI report, but was not going to reopen investigations into the UFO phenomenon. In December I obtained a shocking admission from the MoD, confirming that nobody in the department had seen the classified version of the ODNI report! It seems bizarre and perverse that the UK hasn’t seen all the data on something that the US assesses to be a possible threat to national security, and it makes the MoD’s refusal to re-engage on the topic look premature at the least.

The most intriguing UFO book of the year was “Skinwalkers at the Pentagon”, co-written by James Lacatski, Colm Kelleher and George Knapp. Lacatski is important because he was named in the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP) contractual solicitation documentation as being the Contracting Officer Representative and the Government Project Leader. The book attempts to clarify the dividing line between AAWSAP and the better-known Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), but gives rise to some new questions, especially given that the official Department of Defense (DOD) line is that “The total work effort for AATIP consisted of the 38 technical reports produced under the contract vehicle” – essentially claiming that there was no other AATIP output aside from AAWSAP. That said, the DOD line on AATIP – and specifically the question of its UFO-related work – has changed several times previously.

Another big piece of news that emerged this year may help clarify the situation: William Morrow (a HarperCollins imprint) announced that they’d acquired an upcoming memoir from AATIP point man Luis Elizondo. As yet there’s no title or publication date, but 2022 seems likely. On the subject of Luis Elizondo, another big 2021 story was the announcement that he’s working with crusading lawyer Daniel Sheehan on a complaint that went to the DOD’s Inspector General, raising multiple issues about the Pentagon’s handling of the UFO issue, and making specific allegations that officials have unfairly briefed against Elizondo, casting doubts about his involvement with AATIP, thus tarnishing his reputation and potentially jeopardizing his security clearance. 

Investigative journalist George Knapp and filmmaker Jeremy Corbell were also involved in the publication of various additional photographs and videos showing UFOs in apparent close proximity to various US Navy ships. This generated extensive international media coverage, and fed into the wider and still unfolding story about UFO sightings involving the US military, and the ongoing military and intelligence community investigations into all this. On October 19 retired United States Air Force officer Robert Salas organized an event at the National Press Club in Washington DC, titled “UAP and Nuclear Weapons: Witness Testimonies”, highlighting a series of incidents where it’s claimed that UFOs were seen close to nuclear bases and – in some cases – shut down the weapons.

Congress continues to push for more action and more accountability on UFOs. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed very specific provisions on this in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, and Senator Marco Rubio and others subsequently supported her initiative. On November 23 – perhaps to send Congress the message that the DOD was already gripping the issue – the Pentagon announced its own new initiative, the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG), a key aim of which is to see the DOD and the intelligence community working more closely together on the UFO issue. The usual political negotiation process followed in relation to the NDAA, and most – though not all – of the key points in the so-called Gillibrand Amendment survived. As a consequence, what’s in the new defense bill is the most detailed remit Congress has ever handed the military and the intelligence community in relation to UFOs. The message is clear: this is real and it’s in our airspace; it’s a defense and national security issue; we need to find out what we’re dealing with. This common sense assessment of the situation should be welcomed by everyone, irrespective of whether they believe these objects are adversarial technologies from China or Russia, or extraterrestrial spacecraft. The simple truth is that we don’t know, but that it’s time to resolve the issue. President Biden signed the NDAA into law on December 27 – though funding issues remain. Interesting times ahead, for sure!

One of the UFO-related provisions that Congress mandated in the defense bill was the production of a science plan, which leads me to another of the year’s big stories, namely the formation of The Galileo Project by Harvard astronomer Professor Avi Loeb. Professor Loeb’s intriguing theories about the interstellar object Oumuamua made him a household name, and his book “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” is highly recommended. The Galileo Project, as articulated on their website, aims “to identify the nature of UAP and Oumuamua-like interstellar objects using the standard scientific method based on a transparent analysis of open scientific data to be collected using optimized instruments”. I’ve joined The Galileo Project as a Research Affiliate, and Chris Mellon and Lue Elizondo have joined in the same capacity.

Another noteworthy event was the panel discussion “Our Future in Space”, put on by the Ignatius Forum at Washington National Cathedral on November 10. David Ignatius of the Washington Post moderated a discussion which included topics such as future space programs, the scientific search for extraterrestrial life, and UAP/UFOs. The panelists were NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Professor Avi Loeb, entrepreneur Jeff Bezos and theologian David Wilkinson.

As the year drew to a close, the December 25 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope was another development with profound implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. While there are still many steps that need to go right before the telescope is fully operational, its study of exoplanet atmospheres could find biosignatures – the fingerprints of alien life. Additionally, if they exist, it might be able to find so-called alien megastructures – such as the one postulated to exist orbiting Tabby’s Star. Finally, it would be able to spot and study any further Oumuamua-type objects that entered into our solar system.

A final, sad piece of news rounded off the year. On December 28, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid died. Reid had been instrumental in the setting up of AATIP/AAWSAP, and it was the revelations about AATIP and the US Navy UAP videos that played a major part in moving this topic out of the fringe and into the mainstream. It’s arguable, therefore, that most – if not all – of what followed (the UAP Task Force, the ODNI preliminary assessment, the DOD’s AOIMSG, the UAP provisions in the new defense bill, etc.) wouldn’t have happened without Harry Reid’s vision and courage. In these politically fractious times, his gripping of an issue that few politicians dared touch is a timely reminder that the UFO phenomenon isn’t a partisan issue. We can’t know what the future will bring, but in time, Reid’s championing of the UFO issue may come to be seen as an enduring part of his legacy.

On the personal front, all of the stories I’ve mentioned have made it an exceptionally busy year for me. Because of my previous experience researching and investigating this topic for the UK government, the mainstream media often come to me for an insider’s perspective on this topic. I’ve probably done more TV news interviews this year than in any previous year, with the same being the case for documentaries. There are lots of new shows in the pipeline for 2022 as well – too many to mention individually, but watch out for me in some new episodes of Ancient Aliens, and in Season 3 of The Basement Office! It’s difficult to pick out favorites from the broadcasting and the related journalism that I’ve done in 2021, but highlights include being interviewed by BBC’s Today programme, writing an op-ed for The Daily Telegraph, appearing on The Guardian’s daily podcast Today in Focus, filming with Demi Lovato in Sedona, appearing on Kesha’s podcast, featuring in a Tucker Carlson UFO special, and taking part in the 3-hour UFO special “UFOs: Declassified Live”, simulcast on Science Channel, Discovery Channel and Travel Channel. I also enjoyed taking part in two TV specials filmed at our desert home in Tucson: a Politico feature with Bryan Bender, and a spotlight on my government UFO work on Arizona’s KOLD News channel.

My constant presence in the mainstream media this year generated some conspiracy theories suggesting that I’m still secretly working for the government, where my mission – according to some people in the UFO community – is to ramp up the threat narrative in relation to UFOs. According to one bizarre and very specific claim doing the rounds, I’ve been given three luxury properties in Soho for this work! It’s nonsense, of course, but as an ex-government UFO investigator who comments on this topic, I’m always going to be the villain in some people’s eyes – and this certainly isn’t the first time that bogus claims and conspiracy theories about me have been circulating in the blogosphere! While these latest claims that I’m an intelligence officer with a counter-intelligence and/or disinformation role are false, it is true that I’ve used some of my 2021 media interviews to explain how those of us who’ve looked at this issue from inside government define the UFO phenomenon in terms of the equation threat = capability x intent. This means that UAP should be treated as a potential national security threat, in view of the apparently impressive capabilities and the unknown intent. And this, of course, is precisely the way in which the US government and Congress are now looking at the phenomenon.

In summary, 2021 has been a fascinating year for UFO-related developments, and 2022 promises further developments and revelations. Watch this space!