From UFAs to UFOs
I do not know about anyone else, but I would like to take a little rest from reading, pondering, discussing, and writing about the numerous allegations and accusations that have been flying back and forth between the presidential candidates recently. For lack of a better term, let me call these “Unidentified Flying Accusations,” or “UFAs,” which (how conveniently!) takes me to the topic that I would like to briefly discuss, “Unidentified Flying Objects,“ or “UFOs”
What brings me to this topic is a recent New York Times article by Nick Pope who, according to the Times, is “the author of ‘Open Skies, Closed Minds, [and] was in charge of UFO investigations for the British Ministry of Defense from 1991 to 1994.”
I am neither a believer of UFOs nor one who considers those who believe in them to be total kooks. Nor am I an expert in this sort of phenomena. However, the national security implications that Pope raises in “Unidentified Flying Threats” piqued my interest–and skepticism.
Pope starts his interesting essay as follows:
On the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2006, pilots and airport employees at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago saw a disc-like object hovering over the tarmac for several minutes. Because nothing was tracked on radar, the Federal Aviation Administration did not investigate. Yet radar is not a reliable detector of all aircraft. Stealth planes are designed to be invisible to radar, and many radar systems filter out signals not matching the normal characteristics of aircraft. Did it really make sense to entirely ignore the observations of several witnesses?
Pope describes various UFO sightings in Britain, France and in the U.S., and is concerned that:
[T]he American government has not investigated U.F.O. sightings since 1969, when the Air Force ended Project Blue Book, while Britain and France, in contrast, continue to investigate U.F.O. sightings, because of concerns that some sightings might be attributable to foreign military aircraft breaching their airspace, or to foreign space-based systems of interest to the intelligence community.
Referring back to the weaknesses or deficiencies he attributes to radar, Pope assumes that:
…in the United States, this translates into overdependence on radar data and indifference to all kinds of unidentified aircraft — a weakness that could be exploited by terrorists or anyone seeking to engage in espionage against the United States.
One of my areas of some expertise while in the U.S. Air Force and with industry was related to air defense and air traffic control radars, but such “expertise” is about 20 years “out-of-date.” However, I can not believe that, considering the development and use of stealth and other “invisible” technologies by our adversaries here on earth, we would not have come up with our own “counter-technologies“ to provide timely and effective detection, identification, and, if necessary, destruction of any possible threat to our security—terrestrial or otherwise.
True, the Air Force “officially” ended its Blue Book Project in 1969, but, again, I am confident that our government, through other agencies, methods, technology—and funding—is continuing to be vigilant in this area.
The famous October 20, 1969, (USAF Brig. Gen. C. H.) “Bolender Memo” that recommended termination of Project Blue Book significantly included several caveats such as:
Termination of Project Blue Book would leave no official federal office to receive reports of UFOs. However, as already stated, reports of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose.
Moreover, reports of unidentified flying objects which could affect national security are made in accordance with JANAP 146 or Air Force Manual 55-11, and are not part of the Blue Book system
… the defense function could be performed within the framework established for intelligence and surveillance operations without the continuance of a special unit such as Project Blue Book.
Again, I am not an expert on, nor am I on either side of the UFO debate, but I have absolutely no problem repeating what we used to say during the days of the Soviet nuclear-tipped-ICBM threat: “Sleep well, your U.S. Air Force is watching over you.” This, I am positive, still goes not only with respect to the present earthbound threat, but also when it comes to the “little green men” threat.