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Flight safety, national security at risk
SCU urges the intel community to get help and share UFO data
Screengrab: When UAPx investigators attempted to acquire contemporaneous commercial satellite imagery from the coordinates where an anomaly popped up over southern California in July 2021, the data turned up missing, no explanation.
Rumor had it that Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, the newly appointed but as yet unconfirmed director of the Pentagon’s UFO research arm — the ridiculously named Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group — was monitoring events at Rocket City Tavern last weekend in Huntsville, Alabama. Smart move if it’s true. Because the Chief Scientist at the nearby Missile and Space Intelligence Center would’ve gotten an earful.
It marked the first post-COVID confab of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU), the nonprofit team of UFO researchers whose investigations into 21st century encounters – e.g., the Nimitz Tic Tac, Aguadilla, Stephenville – set benchmarks for applying rigorous science to high strangeness. After three days of testimony that kicked off with keynote speaker Ryan Graves, the ex-Navy fighter pilot who warned “60 Minutes” viewers in 2021 of burgeoning flight-safety issues, the takeaway was unambiguous: The hyper-classification and compartmentalization of UFO evidence by the intelligence community is killing creativity and innovation. Which also possibly puts the United States military at a strategic disadvantage – to say nothing of the risks to civilian aviation.
“Typically what we do is, we wait until the problem is perfectly evident until we fix it,” said Graves, whose elite “Red Rippers” F-18 unit recorded the “Gimbal” and “GoFast” videos during exercises over the Atlantic in 2014-15. “I don’t want someone to die to fix this problem.
“With 10, 11 near mid-airs over the last few years,” he added, referencing the Office of National Intelligence statement issued in 2021 regarding narrowly avoided collisions with UFOs, “I wonder how the Defense Department can justify not sharing the lessons learned with the commercial aviation sector. It’s been said, very clearly, this is an aviation threat . . . And it’s been explicit that the data’s not gonna be shared with commercial aviation markets . . . I don’t think that is a defensible position.”
Physicist Eric Davis, at the center of the hotly debated “Wilson Memo,” huddles with Air Force veteran Lenval Logan, right, during the SCU convention in Huntsville.
For Dr. Garry Nolan, the prodigious Stanford School of Medicine immunologist/inventor best known by the Rocket City Tavern crowd for his trailblazing forays into UFO arcana, the Pentagon’s refusal to invite more interdisciplinary eyes to the problem is a prescription for failure. He drew comparisons with collaborative cancer research.
“Once you come up with what you think is the way (to pursue it), it starts to become the niche exploitation problem,” said Nolan, who has been studying alleged UFO hardware as well as the brain scans of more than 100 people purportedly harmed by exposure to UAP energies. “Somebody has stated, this is the way we do it, and other ways are not considered. So how do you allow for the advancement of technologies that you’re using to investigate the problem, and also the algorithms, before things become set in stone?
“That’s going to lead to interpretation problems if you limit yourself from novel ways of thinking about it. And that’s the reason we’re all here. We’re all here because people have said no, we’re not gonna bother looking at this point.”
Recommended for advisory board status in the original language of the National Defense Authorization Act last year before getting bounced by the Pentagon, SCU tallied its largest conference crowd to date. Stung by two successive pandemic years, SCU’s fourth annual panel conversation drew more than 250 attendees, virtual and in-person, or more than double its 2019 debut with 119 at the same venue.
Among those appealing to the DoD for better judgement were physicists Matthew Szydagis, Kevin Knuth, and Chris Altman, attached to the nonprofit UAPx.
Founded by Navy veterans Kevin Day and Gary Voorhis, UAPx pulled a five-day surveillance operation in southern California last summer in hopes of getting a handle on the UFOs that bedeviled the USS Nimitz task force in the same nearby waters in November 2004.
Their efforts were the focus of the recent “A Tear in the Sky” documentary, in which director Caroline Cory tendered the sensational possibility that UAPx may have recorded evidence of a “wormhole” in the wee hours of July 16, 2021. However, UAPx researchers warned Conference attendees that, nearly a year after the event, their analyses were just beginning. And that the astonishing array of multi-sensor platforms brought to bear on and around Catalina Island – subjected to a portable and reasonably affordable toolkit called UFODAP – are meaningless without skilled hands. Szydagis reminded his audience of the Geico commercial in which the machine-learning robot was stymied by squishy interpretation – “Is that a 5 or an S?”
“Science is not in the equipment, it’s in the analysis,” Szydagis said. “So you can show up with 50,000 piece of equipment, but if you don’t have people with the intellect to do the analysis afterwards, this by itself is not good enough.”
But even the most fastidious analysts can get derailed by communication breakdowns.
“I have seen this again and again in science, where things aren’t classified but it just so happens that Group A didn’t talk to Group B and Group B didn’t realize that Group A had already solved the problem 30 years ago,” Szydagis said. “But that’s exacerbated when you have classification of information and people who might’ve had the answer to certain aspects of the phenomenon 10, 20, 30 years ago and are not allowed to see the data.”
“I’ve heard they’ve authorized something like $50-$60 million for this AOIMSG. If it actually gets appropriated, the question is, are they going to just use it to create another bureaucracy in Washington? Or are they actually going to give it to scientists that are in positions to do some real research?” — Travis Taylor, lead researcher for History’s “Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” series.
Small wonder that SCU’s often highly technical discussions drew listeners who could’ve been panelists themselves. In fact, aerospace engineer/sci-fi author Travis Taylor, currently attempting to demystify the spookiness on History’s “Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” series, was an SCU speaker in 2019. Investigative reporter George Knapp and filmmaker Jeremy Corbell dropped in to grab interviews. “Ariel Phenomenon” director Randall Nickerson floated some ideas past SCU leadership. And, from the stage, speaker John Alexander even tried to goad public comment from one the most controversial attendees in the peanut gallery.
Veteran paranormal researcher and author of UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies and Realities, Alexander made a pitch for funding the interrelated and complex fields of consciousness modeled on the Human Genome Project. That 13-year data-sharing initiative – conducted by a network of universities, foreign governments and private concerns – produced the entire architecture of human genetics for $3 billion in 2003.
During the Q&A session, the retired Army colonel stated with “98 percent” certainty that the U.S. was not in possession of crashed alien vehicles or their occupants. That triggered a question about the so-called “Admiral Wilson memo,” in which retired Joint Chiefs of Staff insider Admiral Thomas Wilson admitted being blocked, by a defense contractor, from peering into a Special Access Program involving the reverse engineering of an ET spaceship. The notes were purportedly written by physicist Eric Davis, either during or immediately after a private chat with Wilson in 2002.
Wilson denies having met Davis and has long maintained the notes are fake. Davis has avoided commenting on their authenticity.
Alexander struck a glib tone when asked if he had received “Wilson memo” notes several years ago. “I don’t know,” he replied, gesturing at one audience member in particular. “Why don’t you call Eric up and he can talk about it. He wrote it.”
I’d tried putting the “Wilson memo” question directly to Davis earlier, but no dice. He said the company he works for – The Aerospace Corporation in Huntsville – has him under a gag order and doesn’t want him quoted in the media, about the Wilson thing, UFOs, or anything else. However, speaking off the record, Davis talked enthusiastically about his research at Skinwalker Ranch in the 1990s, when he and Alexander were part of jillionaire Robert Bigelow’s research team exploring a spectrum of weird phenomena coiling around the badlands of northeast Utah.
Also joining the SCU attendees was former UAP Task Force director John “Jay” Stratton, who recently left his post as Defense Intelligence Senior Executive with the Office of Naval Intelligence to join Radiance Technologies in Huntsville. Transitioning from public servant to private citizen isn’t a comfy fit, yet. “I feel the heebie-jeebies even talking to somebody,” he said. “I’m just not used to it.”
As the one-time Chief of Air and Space Warfare for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Stratton said he was well aware of the UFO issue when he was tapped to lead the UAPTF. Created in 2020 by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist following a surge of public and congressional interest in the phenomenon, the new office faced some prickly challenges, among them a) getting military personnel to talk, and b) where to begin the timeline with the long and convoluted history of UFOs in America. Because Capitol Hill was demanding a report.
“If I’m an Iran analyst, would I start with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979? Or would I go all the way back to ancient history? Starting with 2004 was my idea,” he said, alluding to the 2004 Tic Tac incident, revealed by the New York Times in 2017. “It wasn’t just an anecdotal case. I’ve got multiple pilots, I’ve got aircrew, I’ve got other surface ships – I’ve got all this bigger-picture information, plus I’ve got some data.”
‘It was something to build on’
On May 17, under questioning by House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) regarding nuclear missile shutdowns by UAP in 1967, Pentagon A-list administrators Ronald Moultrie and Scott Bray pleaded ignorance of the event. How important is deep perspective?
“The nukes? It’s important to these people,” Stratton said, meaning the SCU crowd. In terms of the current effort to satisfy lawmakers? “It’s important in the realization that this has been going on for a long time. You can look back at reports from the ‘50s, where they were describing things that looked like propane tanks, and we call them Tic Tacs today.
“You’ve got to draw the line somewhere for Congress. The (Tic Tac report) gave us tangible evidence. And it was something to build on. Because I trust my pilots 100 percent.”
Also complicating the UAPTF mission was the question of unimpeachable data, of whom to consult for foundational knowledge.
“This isn’t a field that’s easy, because people who call themselves ufologists – I mean really, what is that? Whereas, if I’m looking at a foreign (jet) fighter, there’s plenty of folks who understand fighters in general, foreign or otherwise, and there’s plenty of reputable people I can reach out to for an education,” Stratton said. “At the University of Maryland for example, there’s a professor emeritus who can get me up to speed on the latest developments in aerodynamics research. The point is, there’s no professor of ufology that I can go to, and it really is a field of landmines, with lots of potentially false information.”
Stratton might’ve had better options had he lived in France, whose official government UFO research agency, GEIPAN, has been active since 1977. Or maybe even Germany, where big things are happening at the University of Wurzburg (established in 1402). In a remote briefing to SCU, space tech professor Hakan Kayal detailed a variety of UAP/SETI initiatives emerging from the University since 2008, and how its Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Extraterrestrial Studies became part of the University’s formalized curricula this year.
But maybe America’s UFO secrets are so deeply embedded that any collaboration with outsiders will degenerate into a black hole of one-way flow. That’s a potential scenario raised by SCU’s keynote speaker.
“(Fighter pilots) are not there to be doing scientific data collection on UAPs and they’re not there to do hardcore science. They’re there to conduct the mission” — former Navy F-18 pilot Ryan Graves
In 2019, the Navy released a statement saying it was “updating” its system for aviators to report UFO encounters. The new rules were enacted after Graves left the military. Still, he said his active-duty buddies tell him they’re making reports but getting zero followup.
“The fact that they’re not getting any information back worries me that they’re gonna stop reporting,” he said. “Because if you’re not getting any feedback for anything you do, eventually it’s like, well, you know, I’ve suitcased it, it’s a safety hazard I’ve identified, I’ve done my due diligence, I’ve sent in the information, I’m just gonna go about my day.
“My fear,” Graves went on, alluding to the new entity created by Congress to restore accountability, “is that AOIMSG is gonna get hungry for more data and they’re gonna take commercial aviation data, from the FAA and whatnot, and move it into the system and classify it – that’s one fear I have, that once it comes in by association, it’s classified.
“So I would like to be able to establish a relationship to ensure they’re not the only people who have access to the information.”
Graves is now working on the UFO problem with the 30,000 members, national and international, of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where he chairs its UAP Community of Interest.
The arguments presented by the SCU conference over three days firmly whacked the ball into the court of the Pentagon. Said Szydagis, an associate physics professor at the University of Albany SUNY, “Why can’t we just release all the juiciest alleged images and videos and just scrub the parts that would reveal the classified technology, how the radar and the cameras work? I’ve had absolutely no good answer to that question. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
SCU cofounder Rich Hoffman cited his team’s evaluation of the Tic Tac video, authorized by the DoD for release in 2017, as Exhibit A: “All they did was strip the metadata so you can’t get the GPS location, they were probably edited down. But we were able to take that little something we got, and the scientists were able to work on it. And we were able to put a 277-page report together based on our analysis of the video and everything else.
“And we sent our report on up to the people on The Hill.”
On Thursday, four days after SCU rested its case, NASA announced its intentions to launch an independent inquiry into the UFO mystery, beginning this fall.