Congress passed legislation Thursday directing the government to eventually tell the public at least some of what it knows about UFOs, but stops short of taking more aggressive steps lawmakers sought to force greater transparency around unseen phenomena. identified and extraterrestrial activity.
The measure, which was included in the annual defense policy bill that won final approval with a bipartisan vote, directs the National Archives to collect government documents on “unidentified anomalous phenomena, technologies of unknown origin, and non-human intelligence.” ”.
Under the provision, which President Biden is expected to sign into law, any records that have not yet been officially released must be made public within 25 years of their creation, unless the president determines they should remain classified for national security reasons. .
Lawmakers in both chambers have stepped up efforts to increase government transparency around UFOs and extraterrestrial matters as conspiracy theories proliferate and suspicions that the government is withholding information from the public persist. They have said that Congress has reason to believe that the executive branch has withheld information about UFOs that should be made public.
“This is a major victory for government transparency regarding UAPs and gives us a solid foundation for taking further action in the future,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, using the acronym for “anomalous phenomena not identified,” the government term for UFOs and unidentified objects.
But the measure is much weaker than what Schumer and other lawmakers from both parties had sought. Schumer managed over the summer to attach a bipartisan measure to the defense bill that would have established a presidential commission with broad power to declassify government records about UFOs, modeled after the panel that reviewed and released documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. .
The Republican-led House added a proposal by Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., that would have bypassed any review and simply ordered the Defense Department to declassify “records related to publicly known sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena that “They do not reveal sources, methods or otherwise they would compromise the national security of the United States.”
Unable to reconcile the two competing approaches, negotiators who reached a bipartisan compromise between the House and Senate on the defense policy bill ended up abandoning both Schumer's and Burchett's measures.
“We got ripped off,” Burchett said. “We are completely soaked. “They took everything away.”
Burchett said the “intelligence community came together” to quash his proposal and suppress more aggressive ones to force broader disclosure. Another person familiar with the conversations who insisted on anonymity to describe them noted that the Defense Department had also strongly rejected broader measures.
The measure that was ultimately included in the defense bill gives government agencies broad latitude in keeping records classified.
Allows government agencies to determine whether public disclosure of certain records would pose a threat to national security that outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Records whose disclosure would “demonstrably and substantially harm the national security of the United States” or “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” for example, would be exempt from disclosure. Classified records must be reviewed periodically for declassification.
“It is truly a scandal that the House has not worked with us to adopt our proposal for a review board,” Schumer said. “It means that the declassification of UAP records will largely depend on the same entities that have blocked and obfuscated their disclosure for decades.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican and a co-sponsor of Schumer's proposal, echoed his disappointment on the Senate floor Wednesday, just before the defense bill passed.
“We are lacking oversight opportunities and are not fulfilling our responsibilities,” Rounds said.
The Pentagon has begun to increase the number of explanations it provides for recent videos showing unidentified phenomena, suggesting that congressional pressure for greater transparency has had some initial results.
These videos of unidentified phenomena, captured by military sensors and released in recent years, and reports from naval aviators about strange objects have fueled speculation about UFOs and extraterrestrial activity. Some of these videos have been explained as optical illusions or drones, but others remain unexplained and have become topics of widespread conspiratorial interest.
Julian Barnes contributed reports.
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