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“I think its a huge step in the right direction and helps to move the ball down the field.”
This following is written by a friend of mine. Hope folks enjoy the insight this person offers as they take a more in-depth look at what this report means for the study of UFOs/UAP going forward.
Definition of Terms…
IC = Intelligence Community
DoD = Department of Defense
SIGINT – Signals Intelligence: Intelligence derived from electronic signals and systems used by foreign targets, such as communications systems, radars, and weapons systems.
IMINT – Imagery Intelligence: Includes representations of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices, or other media.
MASINT – Measurement and Signature Intelligence: Technically derived intelligence data other than imagery and SIGINT. The data results in intelligence that locates, identifies, or describes distinctive characteristics of targets. It employs a broad group of disciplines including nuclear, optical, radio frequency, acoustics, seismic, and materials sciences.
Thoughts on ODNI’s Preliminary Assessment of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
I have to say first that, from a perspective formed over twenty-plus years in the IC/DoD supporting SIGINT and IMINT aerospace operations, I never thought I’d see the United States Government (USG) issue a report on UFOs/UAP. It was, quite frankly, unimaginable a few years ago. Far from disappointing, I think the report is fascinating and encouraging, both from the stated intent and inferences made both from what’s written and what wasn’t. What interests me the most here is the intricate set of underlying collection requirements and Collection Management activities going on behind the scenes to increase the volume, variety, and utility of UAP data. Put simply, Collection Management is the lifecycle of administrative and technical processes that ensure our nation’s requirements for intelligence information are met. With an increased collection focus on UAP activity and data collection, there would be a necessary involvement of the IC’s vast assortment of national-level technical capabilities (a.k.a. overhead systems), otherwise known as National Technical Means (NTM). It’s highly unlikely much of it will ever be publicly written about, though there are some publicly available, open source references to it online. Based on my background and experience, it would be interesting to learn over time how this enhanced UAP collection effort plays out behind the scenes across the IC. More about that later.
The ODNI report stands in stark contrast to past serious UAP reports we’ve seen from the USG. In fact, The Univ. of Colorado study commissioned by the Air Force in 1968 was actually used as justification to terminate Project Blue Book. Out of the fifty or so compelling cases looked at by the CU team, just over thirty were never explained. The head of the study, Dr. Edward Condon, wrote the report’s conclusion – his only contribution to the effort. Despite the thirty-plus unexplained events, Condon’s conclusion was entirely dismissive of UFOs and recommended that there would be no benefit to science from further study of UFOs. The power of his written conclusion was profound and was taken at face value by the media and skeptics alike. Years later the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service produced a report entitled The UFO Enigma, and it did nothing to move the ball forward with respect to more open study of UAP. The last USG report on this topic was The Roswell Report – Case Closed, which was hard to take seriously and seemed written to stop any further inquiry on the topic whatsoever. Conversely, this ODNI report effectively revives and expands the discourse. For far too long the ‘UFO conversation’ was little more than a echo chamber for UFO-logists and ‘enthusiasts’. Now the USG is not only taking it seriously and talking about it, they’re actively moving to increase and enhance their study of UAP, and I think that’s remarkable.
First off, the report includes the word ‘preliminary’ in its title. This normally indicates that a future, more detailed report is likely forthcoming, though there’s no indication so far of when that might be. In a sense this report is the modern opening statement by the Government in the long running conversation it has recently joined to address public and legislative interests and concerns around UAP. In some ways it’s merely responsive to a Congressional mandate, per the index, though not responding wasn’t an option. At nine pages you might argue that it’s a half measure or less. Still, I think its a huge step in the right direction and helps to move the ball down the field.
Based on my background, one of the more interesting aspects is what would be taking place behind the scenes and out of public view in the IC in order to initiate a formal collection effort against UAP using NTM. At a basic level, all ground, fleet, airborne, and spaceborne intelligence collection platforms carry out collection based on guidance from the National Security Agency (NSA), the Collection Management Authority (CMA) for SIGINT.
The CMA ensures that all the nation’s satellite collection needs are properly met. The CMA evaluates and assigns a priority to ensure an efficient and effective use of the systems according to defined schedules. There can be spur of the moment or ad hoc collections, but for the most part SIGINT collection is a carefully pre-orchestrated ballet involving the active management of collection platforms, including collection routing, processing, and dissemination to end-users. The UAP data collection would be no different. It would require a CMA, if it does not already exist, with authority to write and manage the technical collection requirements, understand which systems to deploy against it, etc. From there we know from the report that the data would be processed/analyzed by the Task Force in collaboration with the identified agencies and organizations and issue formal reports.
Tasking national level SIGINT collection systems is obviously on a different level from normal sighting reports. These reports appear to be mostly serendipitous with encounters producing various forms of technical collection data from radars, IR tracking, electro-optical systems, and/or eyewitness accounts. Based on recent Navy and Air Force directives that have been issued, we can assume there will be some refinement to existing methods to report on UAP at the unit/squadron level. With the addition of NTM collection, and with the added oversight from a CMA with assigned operational oversight for that collection, this effort could conceivable grow into a formal UAP Program Office. Currently it’s hard to see the necessary CMA authority existing or growing within the Task Force itself, though they would certainly have input to the process and would likely be the primary ‘customer’ of the data collected. Whether it evolves into a larger, formal program or stays in the Office of Naval Intelligence as a Task Force would depend, I would think, on the internal advocacy and whether USG thinks the current organization and leadership are sufficiently empowered to achieve the stated intent.
The report also mentions that the Task Force “intends to focus additional analysis on the small number of cases where a UAP appeared to display unusual flight characteristics or signature management“ and that they’ve observed “acceleration or signature management.” which It indicates they’re observing these objects either instantly accelerating out of view or masking/cloaking themselves and, perhaps, remaining in position. Deploying more capable systems designed to detect and track these objects with UAP characteristics could potentially remove the ambiguity of that statement in some future reports by confirming whether the UAP actually left the area instantly or simply ‘went dark’ signature wise becoming essentially a hole in the sky. Signature management is used extensively across the military already; we see it in new warship and aircraft designs today. It involves manipulating, reducing or eliminating observable or detectable characteristics such as apparent shape, thermal and electromagnetic frequency emissions, etc., all of which are notable characteristics discussed in UFO/UAP reports going back throughout history. Having the capabilities to detect and track UAP regardless of their signature management efforts would be a huge game changer and would, no doubt, be a USG objective.
We know from the Congressional mandate that data from Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) collection were to be leveraged in their analysis and reporting, which might indicate at least some level of NTM collection may already be underway. Given the large volume of publicly available historical data containing many references to UAP effects, e.g., intensely bright luminosity, EM radiation, audible low pitch humming/buzzing, thermal emissions, etc., using our extraordinary national level MASINT capabilities could/should help provide additional insights into how UAP operate. However, MASINT was not my particular area of focus, so anymore that I might say about it would be pure speculation. Still, it’s encouraging to see evidence of the Task Force is tapping into these national level capabilities. I can imagine there being some challenges around some types of NTM collection due to the often fleeting nature of UAP activity. Their fleeting nature and short detection windows could result in a lack of sufficient forewarning or tip-off of a UAP event occurring in the first place. In the 2004 Nimitz Tic-Tac incident, the USS Princeton was using it’s AEGIS SPY-1 radar system to provide Indications & Warning (I&W) to the fleet and fighters aloft. Some UAP events might be so fleeting that sufficient I&W isn’t possible and, as a result, NTM collection may not be possible unless there was persistent collection already taking place for that particular area of interest. I see this as just one of many potential challenges in collecting against UAP with NTM systems.
To wrap up, the report wasn’t as far reaching and detailed as I’d hoped, but it did meet the legislative mandate. It touched on the areas called out in the bill’s language and, importantly, it represents the USG jumping back into the public conversation. It’s remarkable that a report on this topic would be issued at all by the IC given its taboo-ridden and ridicule-laden history. If legislators and the public continue pressing the IC/DoD then, hopefully, we’ll get more information sooner rather than later. If the Task Force is appropriately staffed (with the right leadership and mix of scientists, engineers, analysts, etc.), funded, and if senior leaders (in the IC and on The Hill) continue to bring the necessary curiosity and conviction to carrying out the mission then all the necessary tools, techniques, and technologies will be available to derive even greater meaning from UAP data.
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