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UFO report: Government can't explain 143 of 144 mysterious flying objects, blames limited data

Courtney Kube and Adam Edelman
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A still of one of three videos released by the Pentagon on Monday, April 27, 2020 showing "unidentified aerial phenomena" captured by U.S. Navy pilots during training flights in 2004 and 2015. "The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as 'unidentified,' the Pentagon said in a statement.
U.S. Department of Defense

The U.S. government can't explain 143 of the 144 cases of unidentified flying objects reported by military planes, according to a highly anticipated intelligence report released Friday.

That report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was meant to shed light on the mystery of those dozens of flying objects, spotted between 2004 and 2021, but instead said it didn't have adequate data to put all but one of them into a category.

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"We have no clear indications that there is any non-terrestrial explanation for them — but we will go wherever the data takes us," a senior U.S. government official told NBC News ahead of the report's release Friday.

The official added: "We do not have any data that indicates that any of these unidentified air phenomena are part of a foreign collection program nor do we have any data that is indicative of a major technological advancement by a potential adversary."

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Last month, officials, speaking about the upcoming report, told NBC News the government had not ruled out the possibility that the flying objects seen by U.S. military planes were highly advanced aircraft developed by other nations. These officials also said that the objects did not appear to be evidence of secret U.S. technology, but didn't definitively rule that out, either.

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The report, however, said these "unidentified aerial phenomena" represented safety of flight issues and potential operational security issues. Parts of the report remained classified.

"There is a wide, wide range of phenomena that we observe that are ultimately put into the UAP category. There is not one single explanation for UAP, it's rather a series of things," the senior U.S. official said Friday.

The Department of Defense established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force last August to investigate and "gain insight" into the "nature and origins" of unidentified flying objects. Earlier that year, the Department of Defense declassified three videos taken by Navy pilots — one from 2004 and two from 2015 — that showed mysterious objects flying at high speeds across the sky.

"The aerial phenomena observed in the videos remain characterized as 'unidentified,'" Pentagon officials said in a statement at the time.

The three videos had leaked years earlier, but Pentagon officials said they declassified the footage 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."

No additional incidents or videos were released Friday as part of the report.

According to the report, there were 18 incidents reported in which the UAPs seen featured some sort of propulsion or other technology that wasn't evident and that could be advanced. Eleven of the incidents reported were near misses with military planes, the report said.

All videos of the incidents that have so far been released remain unexplained, the report said.

The report noted that the limited amount of anecdotal data — as opposed to scientific data — and inconsistencies in reporting due to the lack of a standardized system makes evaluating UFOs a challenge.

"We quite frankly have a bit of work yet to do in order to truly assess and address the threat posed by UAP," the senior U.S official said Friday. "Not all UAP are the same thing."

The Pentagon, the report said, would prefer to rely on a scientific and data-driven approach to collecting information on the UAP, instead of the anecdotal observations reported by military planes.

To that end, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Pentagon are making efforts to create a new collection strategy to standardize data reporting on UFOs, according to the report. The agencies said they will update Congress on their progress within the next 90 days, the report said.