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UFOs spotlight Pentagon’s trust deficit

Lawmakers say numerous classified briefings have brought few answers

The Pentagon iStock.com/Ivan Cholakov

UFOs spotlight Pentagon’s trust deficit

Congress urged President Joe Biden to address concerns about U.S. air defenses for nearly a week before the president finally gave a speech to the nation on Thursday. He promised better inventory of unmanned flying objects like the Chinese spy balloon and three other aircraft shot down over the United States in recent weeks. Biden said he plans to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon and to “keep our allies and Congress informed.”

The stakes are high. The balloon could have been spying on Americans or it could have truly just blown into the wrong airspace. The other three objects could be accidents or indications or more to come. These risks plus the lack of answers have ignited long-declining trust in the nation’s military. But while Pentagon leaders urge patience and calm, Congress members are taking to Twitter and the media to demand answers.

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, criticized a lack of transparency from Biden and his administration. “It is baffling and frustrating that these ‘objects’ had to be taken down with fighter jets and missiles, yet we still do not know anything about them and still don’t have them in our possession,” Lee tweeted.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., warned that when trust is low, conspiracies will increase: “While I understand there are national security implications, I believe the American people have a right to know the status of your investigation into these incidents.”

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., filmed a Twitter video while walking through the Capitol’s underground tunnel after a classified briefing on unknown flying objects. He also called on the administration to be more forthcoming with the public. Lankford said he didn’t get enough information even in the classified session and promised to keep pushing for more: “Right now we’ve still got way more questions that we have answers.”

Retired Marine Corps Col. David Lapan worked in public affairs for the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with a brief stint at the Department of Homeland Security. Now he runs his own communications consulting company, and he says the answers Congress members seek are likely what the Pentagon simply cannot give right now.

“Part of this is political gamesmanship,” Lapan told me. “Members of Congress are getting pressure from their constituents and wanting answers. And the fact that people want answers quickly is understandable. But from the Pentagon perspective, and also from the larger federal government perspective, if you don’t have those answers, you don’t want to get out and speculate.”

Lapan recalled a time he served in Iraq under a public affairs office. He said the office released some information about a deadly improvised explosive device too soon and had to correct a statement about the deaths of the Marines involved. Angry complaints and accusations of hiding information flooded the office. He said cases like that taught him to wait for right information rather than fast information. Lapan thinks the current conversation around unidentified objects is part of the same lesson.

“Earlier in the process, [the Pentagon] should have explained why it was going to take time to gather information,” Lapan said. “But the thing we always say in this communication world is it takes a long time to build up trust, and it takes very little to lose it. They should have set the conditions to make people understand that they’re going to tell what they know now, gather information, and then provide more later.”

Leaving the classified briefing on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the Pentagon was playing too safe with its information.

“Ninety-five percent of what was discussed in that room today can be made public without compromising the security of this country,” Rubio insisted.

He cited a 2022 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that stated more than 500 unidentified objects breached American airspace in the past 17 years, and the numbers are increasing as detection software improves. But the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had never shot down any objects until this month. Rubio said he doesn’t trust the military to share its information with the new members of Biden’s UFO task force: “The question now has to be [whether they will] take this data, make it immediately available to those scientists. … That’s the only way you’re going to get answers about what it is we’re dealing with here, who it belongs to, and what it’s doing here.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The spy balloon flew over key military bases in his state.

“When you don't tell people the facts or you withhold information, you allow fear to fill the void,” he wrote in an email to WORLD. “We all want answers, but we need to remain cautious. The President, Director of National Intelligence, and other agencies need to coordinate and be more transparent with the American people. I expect to attend more briefings and meetings on this, but our citizens should be kept in the loop, without disclosing sensitive information or compromising national security interests.”

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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