(As of press time, a spokesperson for the US Navy had not returned a request for comment.)
So does the official authorization of these videos mean the Pentagon has finally admitted that aliens exist? Nope. For starters, anything the military labels “unidentified” is not necessarily extraterrestrial. It’s just something in the sky that military officials can’t explain—civil and military pilots see unidentified aircraft all the time. Could they be piloted by little green men? Sure, if you have an active imagination. But usually they turn out to be something much more mundane—an atmospheric illusion, an undisclosed military drill, a satellite, or evidence of a tired pilot’s brain playing tricks on them.
In the case of the videos released this week by the Pentagon, it’s still unclear what’s in them. As a Department of Defense staffer notes in the press release, “the aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as ‘unidentified.’” The flying objects in the video might be aircraft, but if they are, they don’t move like any aircraft we’re familiar with. Audio from the 2015 video suggests that even the pilots who filmed it couldn’t understand what they were seeing. “What the fuck is that thing?” one of the pilots asks over the radio.
If these were evidence of extraterrestrial activity, or even just advanced military aircraft built by another country, one would expect that the Pentagon would classify those videos faster than you can say “Freedom of Information Act.” But here’s the thing: The DOD described the videos released this week as unclassified, which is not the same thing as declassified. Unclassified means that the military never thought the information was sensitive enough to slap national security restrictions on it in the first place. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense told WIRED that “imagery from military aircraft are routinely treated as classified until they are reviewed” and that a copy of the FLIR video had been “erroneously marked as classified during the intelligence investigation process.” According to the press release, the reason the Pentagon decided to release the videos was “to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos.
“The investigation into unidentified incursions into military airspace involves various intelligence methods and agencies, which means these videos were part of classified investigations,” a spokesperson for the Department of Defense told WIRED in an email. “The videos themselves were eventually deemed unclassified, but we do not release information that is part of ongoing investigations.”