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Regional Interests

Release Of UFO Photo Prompts More Questions Than Answers

NOEL KING, HOST:

Right now, officials at the Defense Department are working on a report for Congress on what the government knows about unidentified aerial phenomena, or UFOs. Lieutenant Commander Alex Dietrich is a former U.S. Navy pilot, and she has seen one. She was flying a routine mission off the coast of Southern California with three other service members, and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX DIETRICH: We call it the Tic Tac because that's what it looked like - this sort of round, oblong, smooth, white object flying low and fast. What was so surprising, and what was so unnerving for us, was the way that it moved. This was behaving in a way that we weren't used to. It didn't fit any of our mental models. It didn't - we couldn't categorize it, and it seemed to be defying our laws of physics.

KING: Former President Barack Obama has also said that something is out there. Here he is on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

BARACK OBAMA: What is true - and I'm actually being serious here - is that there are - there's footage and records of objects in the skies that we don't know exactly what they are. We can't explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern.

KING: And former Nevada Senator Harry Reid says the government has records of UFO sightings that go back 70 years.

HARRY REID: Now, the reason we didn't hear more about them is because the military kept them all secret until very recently.

KING: Back in 2007, Reid got funding for a hush-hush project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. It was shut down five years later. And then last year, the Department of Defense released footage of Navy pilot interactions with unidentified aerial phenomena, UFOs. Here's Harry Reid again.

REID: They don't know what they are, but they don't know what they aren't either. They just don't know. And that's the way I look at it. I - we know now, without any hesitancy, that they exist.

KING: I'm going to ask a question that is the height of absurdity. Why would the American government hide information about UFOs from the American people?

REID: There could be many reasons because people in authority feel it would be damaging to the security of our country. It isn't the first time they've - the government has hidden things from the American people for reasons that they felt was right but not necessarily so.

KING: This month or next, a Department of Defense task force is scheduled to report to a Senate committee what intelligence agencies have learned or currently know about UFOs. Do you know what is in that report from the Department of Defense?

REID: No, it's going to come out toward the end of this month, and I personally don't think they will come up with any conclusions. What I have said about this - it can't be a one-shot deal. There needs to be continual study of this. I think that we're not going to learn much when this report comes out in a few weeks, but I think we need to continue working on it. Without any question, I believe that.

KING: When might the public see that report? Do you know?

REID: Well, that's going to be up to the administration - the Biden administration. It's going to be up to the committees of jurisdiction, and they'll make that decision.

KING: We are in a moment right now where, all of a sudden, people are taking UFOs seriously. I don't exactly know what happened, if I can be honest. Lots of news stories recently about unidentified flying objects - about the history of them, about people who study them, about people who think it's all nonsense. What is it about this moment, do you think?

REID: I think that the subject itself is one that breeds curiosity. I believe that what we have learned is that you don't have to be some kind of oddball to be interested in what's going on. People are curious, as they should be. And as I indicated, I don't know what they are. I don't know what they aren't. I think the more we look into this, the better off we'll be. We cannot have the report come forward as, well, we had a couple weeks, then not do anymore. It has to be ongoing.

KING: There is something in your voice that suggests you feel the stakes here are very high. We've had reports of sightings - I was reading in The New Yorker - since, like, the 1800s - people seeing strange objects in the sky. What, to you, are the actual stakes here? What is weighing on your mind?

REID: Well, in the past, we've had dirigibles, balloons, that had piqued people's curiosity, and then we got into airplanes. So there's been a lot of sightings of things that people didn't understand. Because some of them are surely caused by atmospheric conditions. But I think we've looked at this long enough now to know that it's not something that's because there's a cloud formation that's unique that has created this. These vehicles have been witnessed by scientists, astrophysicists. It's something that the American people need to know more about, and the federal government better help.

KING: And lastly, with so many people paying such attention now to UFOs, including at the highest levels of the American government, do you feel less alone?

REID: No, not really. I think it's something I've been curious about for a long, long time. And I think it's good that we're having scientific minds look at it and get away from all these conspiratorial theories and quack ideas. And I think we need to continue looking at it, and do it based on science.

KING: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. Thank you so much for joining us, sir. We appreciate your time.

REID: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOO'S "RELEASE YOUR MIND")

KING: The unclassified Defense Department report will be sent to a Senate committee later this month. And I should note, there is currently no publicly available evidence that the U.S. government is withholding information about UFOs from the American public currently.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACOO'S "RELEASE YOUR MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.