A first step in reframing the debate might be changing the language. The term “UFO” has become as obsolete and baggage-laden as the now largely-defunct “flying saucer”. Both are widely, but wrongly, regarded as being synonymous with “extraterrestrial spacecraft”, when self-evidently all the phrase should mean is something in the sky that the observer cannot identify. When the question “do you believe in UFOs?” is misinterpreted as “do you think we’re being visited by aliens?” then we clearly have a problem.
We addressed this in the MoD in the 1990s by replacing “UFO” with “UAP”, for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. It got us increased funding and made a few senior officials take the matter more seriously, because they felt we were looking at a science problem, not a science fiction mystery.
During Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, for which Podesta was the campaign chair, she occasionally discussed UAPs and in one interview on the Jimmy Kimmel show she corrected the host for using the term “UFO”. We have yet to learn what Donald Trump thinks about UAPs, but his enthusiasm for a Space Force has certainly created a few conspiracy theories.
When it comes to UAPs, truth really is stranger than fiction. It turns out that AATIP was largely the brainchild of the then Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and that much of the work was contracted out to Bigelow Aerospace, run by former budget hotel magnate (and believer in extraterrestrial visitation) Robert Bigelow. A 2009 letter from Harry Reid about AATIP reads like science fiction in places.
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