“You’re a sci-fi fanatic, right?” the committee chair asked Ronald Moultrie, Assistant Secretary of Defense at the US Department of Defense. Moultrie has been talking about unidentified aerial phenomena, i.e. UFOs, for quite a while earlier this Tuesday morning. “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”, or UAP for short, are an increasing topic in Washington – after the government has discredited them for decades, even ridiculed them.

It’s the only casual, nonserious moment during the House Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation Subcommittee to hear the administration on the UFO issue.

Moultrie, who is responsible for intelligence and security at the Pentagon, confirms his interest in science fiction, reporting on films and conventions that he has attended. He grew up with space sagas and is a curious person, says the deputy state secretary, only to immediately switch back to his serious tone: “We want to know what’s out there.” You have to find out, especially to make sure “that our people, our staff, our planes, our bases and facilities are safe.”

Take reports about UFOs seriously, follow them up, don’t automatically dismiss them as crazy. Do not stigmatize the people who report such observations. Instead, encourage them to report such sightings. Querying, collecting, evaluating your data – this attitude runs through the entire hearing, the first on this topic in over half a century.

What was once considered a marginal phenomenon, a topic for conspiracy theories, is once again at the center of American politics with the hearing in the Capitol. Although the fact that the subcommittee not only gives public advice on Tuesday, but also afterwards in a secret meeting, formally invites speculation.

Committee Chairman Andre Carson immediately sets the tone at the beginning of the hearing: “Unidentified aerial phenomena are a potential national security threat. And they must be treated as such.”

For too long, a stigma attached to UFOs has prevented intelligence analysis. Pilots would have avoided reporting such observations, the Democratic MP laments, “or they would have been laughed at if they did. Department of Defense officials relegated the issue to the back room or swept it entirely under the rug” for fear of a skeptical intelligence community.

“Today we know better,” Carson is convinced: “UFOs are inexplicable … but they are real. They must be investigated.” Any threats they pose must be defused.

Recently, the USA has approached the topic of UFOs in cautious steps. In 2020, the Pentagon set up a UFO task force. A year ago, the Pentagon sent a corresponding report to Congress. The report, which was supposed to contain the combined knowledge of the military, secret services and UFI task force, remained vague.

There is no shortage of reports and observations, especially in the last 20 years, where technical material and drones can always provide better images. So pilots filmed glowing balls without wings or engines. Officers from a frigate observed three twinkling pyramids in the sky. US generals confirmed: all genuine. “We don’t know what these objects are,” NASA CEO Bill Nelson said last year.

Always reason enough for Congress to deal with the issue, to question the government. In order to remove the “cultural stigma” surrounding the UFO phenomenon, the USA wants to collect corresponding reports more systematically. “We know that our soldiers encountered UFOs. And since UFOs pose a potential security risk, we want to find out where they came from,” said Deputy Secretary of State Moultrie. The Pentagon is now collecting and evaluating relevant reports.

“We took these reports very seriously from the start. We have a data-driven investigative approach,” said Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence. Efforts are being made to de-stigmatize the reporting of UFO sightings. The goal: a shift from an “anecdotal or narrative-based approach to a rigorous scientific-technical approach.” So: observations, data, analysis. Science, not slapstick or hearsay, silent mail.

The Pentagon even goes one step further: Pilots have to report if they see something. Vice-Intelligence Chief Bray proudly mentions: “I recently received a call from an experienced Navy aviator with over 2000 flight hours who called me personally after landing to tell me about a sighting he had just experienced.”

Now experts from all areas of government, with industrial partners, academic research laboratories, allies, experts from the fields of physics, optics, meteorology should cooperate more intensively in order to approach the topic of UFOs, says Bray.

“Mr. Bray, suppose I’ve met a naval pilot and a UFO. How do I report this?” asks Republican Rep. Rick Crawford.

If the pilot sees something that he considers reportable, he tells his intelligence officer after landing, says Bray: “He then takes him through an initial data backup to ensure that all of the aircraft’s sensor data is available for later analysis.” All details, such as flight altitude, operating speed and what exactly was observed, should be noted. That then goes through the military chain of command – and parallel to the UFO task force.

When asked by Republican MP Brad Wenstrup about the international dimension of identifying UFOs, Deputy Intelligence Chief Bray was quite taciturn. Yes, there are similar reports in other countries besides the US, says Bray.

“Are they all our allies or are they allies and enemies?” Wenstrup wants to know. Bray refers to the secret part of the meeting, but then mentions that China, for example, has also set up a kind of UFO task force.

“Do we share data with some or with all – and do they share data with us?” asks Wenstrup. When asked about the international exchange of UFO knowledge, Bray remains, well, cloudy. He says: “We share data with some, some share data with us.”