Official Washington is rethinking UFOs – The Washington Post

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Suddenly, all of Washington seems like a scene from a Hollywood film. No, the film isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” It isn’t even “National Treasure.” Space aliens may be responsible for the mood that currently grips the capital, but the movie isn’t “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” either.

The movie is “Galaxy Quest,” the 1999 “Star Trek” sendup. And the scene is the one where a disillusioned sci-fi fanboy, played by Justin Long, gets a call from TV spaceship captain Tim Allen, who tells Long it was all real after all.

“Oh, my God, I knew it!” exclaims Long. “I knew it!”

Yup. Our government now says extraterrestrials could be joyriding around our planet. UFOs could be real, except we’re not supposed to call them UFOs. The new term is UAPs: unidentified aerial phenomena.

It turns out the Pentagon had a secret office investigating reports of unexplained objects. Politicians have demanded answers and a report is due any day now. Military pilots — not known for flights of fancy — have been on “60 Minutes” describing their close encounters.

Frankly, the cockpit videos have been pretty disappointing — the ghostly lozenges, saucers and spinning pyramids look more Pong than Xbox — but the top guns seemed pretty astounded.

All of this puts me in an awkward spot. In 2010, I attended a news conference at the National Press Club where ufologists claimed that alien spaceships had been systematically hovering over our country’s nuclear missile silos.

The column I wrote about it fairly dripped with contempt. After every outlandish claim, I inserted a prissy, “Hmmm.”

After my column ran, a reader from Castro Valley, Calif., emailed me, writing: “When the truth really comes out about how the military and others have lied to the American public for over the past 60 years about the existence of ETs, the members of the press, like yourself, will be asking themselves, ‘Where were we all this time?’ ”


Rereading my column now kind of makes me cringe. A letter to the editor criticizing it ran under the headline “The UFOs deserve better.”

It turns out that UFO people — the people who believe in UFOs — have really good memories. Two years after that first column, I wrote one about the so-called “Washington Flap” of 1952. That’s when unidentified flying objects were picked up on Reagan National Airport’s radar.

The craft were supposedly spotted by Capt. S.C. “Casey” Pierman of Capital Air Flight 807, who told the airport’s tower he saw six bright lights streaking across the sky, “like falling stars without tails.”

F-94 jets were scrambled from Delaware’s New Castle Air Force Base, but those pilots saw nothing.

The following weekend, the radar blips were back. This time, an Air Force pilot did see them.

“I tried to make contact with the bogies below 1,000 feet,” pilot William Patterson told investigators. “I was at my maximum speed but . . . I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of overtaking them.”

A headline on the front page of The Washington Post read: “ ‘Saucer’ Outran Jet, Pilot Says.” The Air Force said that a temperature inversion — a layer of cold air trapped under a layer of warm air — had tricked the radar.

In other words: no aliens. I wrote that asking whether there were any alien spacecraft over Washington in 1952 was like asking whether there were any witches in Salem, Mass., in 1692.

This prompted another letter to the editor: “The Post continues to allow a columnist whose bias on unidentified flying objects has been revealed in previous articles to write on the subject.”

Well, today the official U.S. government position is basically: We’re not saying these things are proof that aliens exist, but we’re not not saying that, either.

Should I be eating crow? Not necessarily. Recently in the New Republic, writer Jason Colavito profiled some of the leading boosters of UAP scholarship. Some of these folks hold some pretty weird beliefs, including that these craft aren’t piloted by extraterrestrials (or Chinese drone operators), but by interdimensional demons.

It’s enough to make me long for the less-controversial topic of whether Bigfoot is real.

Still, there was something prescient about that Castro Valley letter writer, who in 2010 predicted that the “members of the press, like yourself, will be asking themselves, ‘Where were we all this time?’”

I should probably be more open-minded and less snarky. And I will never again underestimate the power of the UFO people, who live the motto of “Galaxy Quest’s” fictitious space captain: “Never give up, never surrender.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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