We’re still some days away from the release of the Pentagon’s declassified report on the UFOs that have been reported by Naval pilots and others in recent years. However, a version of that report has apparently been shared among several people in the military and administration, and the their reactions to the report have begun to leak out.

According to The New York Times, the report does not indicate that the sightings reflect visits from alien spacecraft—though it also does not definitively rule this out. The report also doesn’t definitely pin the 120 incidents examined on sneaky new tech from Russia or China, but doesn’t rule out these nations as the source for the sightings. For individual incidents, the report shoots down specific candidates like weather balloons or passenger planes, but overall very little is ruled out. Including those pesky aliens. 

In fact, the report apparently contains little definitive information except to say that that, few if any the the UFOs (or UAPs, for those who prefer their unidentified aerial phenomena to come without any E.T. connotations) can be attributed to technology that belongs to the United States.

However, there’s a very good chance that the number of incidents attributable to American technology  is actually very close to 100%. Only … not exactly in the way the report seems to consider.

Most of the incidents included in the report have not been shared with the public. However, a series of fairly spectacular video snippets have been widely seen. In one, objects pass from air to water and back again with no evidence that they’re bothered by the 830x difference in density. 

In another, a number of pyramid shaped objects appear to float above a Navy ship.

In multiple videos, objects are seen making abrupt turns, or executing maneuvers at high speed, that would generate G forces far in excess of those which could be sustained by any piloted craft.

Leaving aliens out of the picture, an barring a wealth of reported detail in the forthcoming report, there appear to be only two possible conclusions that can be drawn about these UFOs. One of which is a lot more “fun” than the other—so long as “fun” is defined as including things that mean imminent doom.

Option 1: Clarke’s Law

In 1962, Science fiction writer and engineer Arthur C. Clarke matched rival Isaac Asimov with three laws of his own. However, just one of Clarke’s laws went on to become very (very) widely quoted: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Have no doubt about it, the level of technology that appears to be demonstrated by these videos is first-order hocus pocus. To behave in the same way as the objects documented by these videos, would require not just a decade of new research, but decades of new science. It’s not even the upgrade from Wright Flyer to F-32. These are objects behaving in ways that no known propulsion system could support, interacting with the environment in a way that no known materials could withstand.

If Russia or China has developed this technology … this would be a great time to invest in some nice translation software, because English is on its way to the dustbin. If these sightings are genuinely of alien visitors, it might be worth perusing any number of books about past first contacts. Here’s a hint: Being on the low-tech side of those contacts doesn’t work out, even under the best of circumstances. Visitation from “friendly” high-tech neighbors isn’t much better than a visit from the “unfriendly” variety when it comes to the odds of survival.

Also, no matter where this space- and matter-defying tech might have originated, shouldn’t we all be concerned that it’s being spotted around the most potent of our potent military forces? If these objects are real, then they very much appear to be probing our ability to mount a military response. And if there is someone looking back as we ooh and ahh over these zipping and zapping objects, what they have to be seeing is just how incapable we are of competing with this technology in any sense.  

If these videos accurately reflect physical objects behaving as they are reported in these incidents, the whole thing will be enormously exciting … right up until the point where we all die. Which we will.

Option 2: Bugs

All those points up there where the statement is qualified with “if these objects are real?” What if they’re not?

The one thing that these videos have in common is that they are videos. And what videos all have in common are video artifacts. Anyone who ever sat through an hour of some cable TV “ghost hunting” series has surely run into photos or videos showing mysterious “orbs” or fast-moving “rods.” These otherworldly appearances are generally completely invisible to the person on site, and appear as a big surprise when the video or photographs are being reviewed. That’s because these things are only bugs, or even dust specs, that were more or less invisible to those present, but which happened to catch the light in a way that fooled the sensors on the camera.

So-called flying “rods” or “air fish” are recorded in hundreds of videos. I’m including this one here not just because it’s a good example of the form, but because the guy who captured the image makes a correct ID, in spite of what the camera recorded.

We’re all familiar with how our eyes can be fooled by optical illusions. It doesn’t take a book of special designs or a masterclass illusionist to trick our eyes into seeing something that’s not there. Even so, we insist that “seeing is believing.” We tend to give even more credence to recorded evidence like that seen in the UFO videos, and double down on that evidence because it’s been recorded using high-tech gear from military sources.

But that’s exactly why we should up our skepticism. These clearly aren’t just ordinary videos, but videos that were recorded using technologies that enhance light gathering or use spectrums like infrared outside the limits of our normal vision. That means these videos are not just subject to artifacts, they are subject to artifacts whose causes and appearance may be extremely unfamiliar, even for people who work with video equipment every day. 

Take a look at this video of a new advanced night vision system being deployed by the Army.

The system here is fantastic at making the silhouettes of these soldiers and their gear stand out from a drab background. Clearly that’s because the system has been trained to do something that’s included in a lot of photo manipulation software: edge detection. About 38 seconds in, you can see how this edge detection algorithm finds and highlights a group of people in the middle distance. But a careful examination also shows that the edge detection is lighting up some other objects. Why is the tree on the right outlined, but not the trees on the left? Why is what appears to be a bench given a bright outline, but not a wall visible in another scene? It’s obvious that this system is making a lot of decisions about what should be enhanced and what should be ignored. The result is an image that not only doesn’t match what anyone present would actually see; in a larger sense, it’s not what’s actually there. The image has been manipulated both by light-amplifying hardware, and context-enhancing software.

While one of the videos above may have highlighted the way an actual insect can create a false image in video, the nature of the Navy videos means there’s a whole other class of bugs that need to be considered—software and hardware bugs. In each of the videos that have been released there’s clearly a system in place that is not only attempting to improve the view of a dark sky, as well as provide additional information to the viewer. Just as an ordinary camera can turn a dust mote into an “orb” that no one present could spot, it’s completely possible that a flickering pyramidal form could appear out of a combination of hardware and software trying their best to massage an image that is extremely high in noise and extremely low in actual content.

At least one of the videos of an object moving rapidly was clearly generated by a system designed to find and lock onto such objects. Anyone who suffers from “floaters” in their eyes is familiar with how such optical flaws can generate an image that appears to move against the background. How easily might a “smart” camera be fooled in conditions right at the edge of its ability to differentiate foreground and background? The reflection of distant lights, the movement of nearby waves, even the flickering of some instrument inside the cockpit, all of these things could have contributed to a system doing its very best to interpret what it saw, and generating something that wasn’t there.

It’s certain that the intelligence community considered this option when making their evaluations, However, as anyone who has ever been in charge of a complex system will confirm,  but we’ll have to wait for the actual report to see if they considered it enough. Because once you get past the “it’s not real” answer, it almost doesn’t matter what comes next. Whether China, Russia, time travel, multiverse, or aliens … if this technology exists, we’re in trouble.

Option 3: The answer we’re going to get

Despite everything above, it appears that the actual report is going to end with a third answer. According to those early leaks, it doesn’t prove alien craft, but doesn’t rule them out. It doesn’t pin any competitor with having drastically advanced tech, but doesn’t rule it out. None of the early leaks seem to indicate whether the intelligence community examined the possibility of data error, but if they did, they probably didn’t rule that out either.

It appears that what we’re going to get is going to be a well-analyzed shrug. Which is going to be deeply unsatisfying. But really, take it as a win.

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