The time has never been better for probing this uniquely American story, which also evokes some of the biggest questions concerning humanity: Why do we sometimes see things in the sky that no one can explain? What is known about these strange lights and objects?
In light of new evidence and disclosures about a secret Pentagon UFO program, we could be on the cusp of a paradigm shift! UFOs: INVESTIGATING THE UNKNOWN (premiers tonight on National Geographic Channel) digs into these new (and still developing) revelations while also weaving in the rich history of UFO cases in America that have permeated our culture, challenged the taboo, unsettled government officials, and forever changed the lives of the people directly involved. The five-part series takes full advantage of abundant archival material, eyewitness testimony, and compelling expert interviews to examine mystifying UFO encounters from the 1940s through the current day.
One of the key journalists who has brought new evidence to light is Leslie Kean. She set aside some time to discuss the documentary series and her work investigating unidentified aerial phenomena with SCINQ.
How did you become convinced that unidentified aerial phenomena actually exist? Was it a gradual acceptance or was there a Eureka moment?
In 1999, I was working for a public radio station in California and I received a report from a colleague in France. It was a 90-page study of this phenomenon of UFOs authored by a lot of retired military and scientists and engineers, a group of about 13 high level French people. The belonged to a think tank, and they did a three year study on official data on UFOs. They released a report and I received an English translation of it. It was really compelling and really convincing to me because of the level of the people involved who wrote it.
There were three-star generals, an admiral, scientists, and an investigator from the government who had studied this thing for decades. It was a very impressive group of authors. That really opened my eyes to the strong possibility that this could be real. These authors concluded that the Extra Terrestrial hypothesis is the most logical and rational and valid explanation for the phenomenon. The cases they studied had so much data to them that they could eliminate conventional explanations. They explored all the conventional explanations and none of them for various reasons, none of them could explain it.
They were left with this other hypothesis and they put it out there in black and white, which was kind of radical in those days. Nowadays, people talk about this a lot more. To have an admiral and generals say “I we think the Extra Terrestrial hypothesis is the most valid rational and logical explanation of this phenomenon.” That really caught my attention.
Also, the data that they presented in the report, which was accounts of various incidences involving pilots and radar, was also very convincing. That was a real turning point for me, and that got me involved.
I spent the following years reporting on this and at the same time investigating a lot of it. I went through government documents and interviews with very, very credible people. It didn’t take that long for me to realize that this was real, that there was something here that was physical and could not be explained.
So it was that the French report, not an American report ,that had first turned you on to it?
The French report had been translated by Laurance Rockefeller who had put the funds into their word translated but I was the first American journalist to be given a copy of that English translation. So it was a French report. You’re right. It’s ironic. After that, I started reading and talking to Americans there were many, many documents that have been released through the Freedom of Information Act. Even as far back in the 1940s, there was some phenomenon that that our officials could not explain, and it’s very clear in the documents.
The second phase after that French report was to study all the official records and government documents that have been released, determine how long this thing has been happening, and establish how our officials have been responding to it. It was only in the 1970s that a lot of documents were released. That was very convincing as well.
At any point, since then, have you wavered or maybe questioned their existence?
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wavered since then. Once I became convinced of their physical reality, the more I studied it and the more time I spent with it, the more convinced I became. I would have to say, I certainly have questioned the simplicity of the Extra Terrestrial Hypothesis. I think today we have a much broader understanding of the phenomenon which is partly why it’s been renamed, you know, unidentified aerial phenomena as opposed to unidentified flying objects. It’s not something as simple as the people in the French report proposed.
The main way that I’ve changed my perspective is not to waver on realizing its physicality or realizing it’s that it exists, but it’s more in my comprehension of what it actually might be, and how to best describe the phenomenon. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve understood how much we really don’t understand about it.
You have these two things simultaneously. First, I became more and more convinced of its reality the more I studied, and the more I talked to very knowledgeable people. At the same time, I became more aware of the incomprehensible nature of the phenomena, and how impossible it is to pin it down and explain. It has so many unexplainable qualities. I don’t know how else to say it.
Then there’s a component of it impacting the perceptions of people who witness it, of it causing medical effects on people. It’s just not as simple as being able to explain it as something coming from some other planet.
It’s not so much about believing. It’s about it’s about becoming more aware of the complexity and difficulty of explaining what it actually is.
How has your viewpoint changed? Do you appreciate it differently?
The people I talked to when I wrote about unidentified aerial phenomena in my book, which came out in 2010, were government officials, pilots, and military experts, people of the highest caliber. The thinking of The Extra Terrestrial hypothesis was that these were technological objects that came here from somewhere else in our universe, another solar system, or comes from some of these exoplanets or something.
It may not be from another planet or something, it may be from another dimension, or some people have proposed maybe these are travelers from the future. They just don’t behave as simply as just some technological climbing machine even though they have that component to them. They also do a lot of very strange things that they might be able to disappear before your eyes or look like they’re coming, fading in and out of other reality. Or they might have groups of witnesses and only some of the people see them and others don’t.
There’s a lot of what they call high strangeness. That’s the term used to describe the inexplicable, more complicated aspects of this that affect human psychology and human consciousness. They affect people’s medical situations. Sometimes, a sighting will lead to people having some psychic abilities that they didn’t have previously. It’s just there’s a lot of very bizarre aspects to it. That’s why there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to explain the phenomena. They just seem to be from some other completely different reality that we don’t understand.
What would you say is the most convincing incident that’s happened in the past century or so? Or maybe a top three?
The really famous one is the 2004 Nimitz incident. That’s gotten a lot of attention since 2017, when our New York Times story came out, because we actually wrote a piece about that case, which accompanied our story in The New York Times in December of 2017.
The pilots in that case have really made a big contribution and talking about the incident and what they saw. There was a video, and there were a whole lot of people involved with that. And
Then there was the pilot Ryan Graves, who we also wrote about the New York Times in 2019. He described events off the eastern coast of the United States, of many pilots seeing objects and which is still going on today. They’re smaller, very fast things that go speeding by, sometimes too close to aircraft to be safe. They’re in restricted airspace where pilots are practicing maneuvers. Those reports are also really compelling.
There seems to be a split between people who believe in the incidents, and then people who kind of don’t believe, who are hanging out in the background with a more wait and see attitude, people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth Shostack from SETI. I don’t think there’s many astronomers who would say extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist. I think everyone pretty much thinks it’s a probability and that they do exist. It strikes me as a little weird that they that they put them in a disbelieving group because it’s not that they disbelieve, but they kind of they don’t believe that UAPs have been to planet earth. Can you just sort of discuss how they fit into the equation?
You’re absolutely right. They acknowledge that there probably is life out there somewhere else. But they believe that there isn’t enough evidence, that whatever we call UFOs is not evidence of anything extra terrestrial necessarily. There’s no evidence that proves that aliens are visiting us and they basically dismiss that as as a possibility. I think the reason for that is that most of the really good evidence for this is classified.
They haven’t studied all the data that’s out there, which takes years to study and they don’t have access to the classified information, which is probably what would be needed to convince them that there is something here that may not be from another planet, but it’s not ours either. It’s not made by humans. So what they’ve seen so far they feel is not convincing. I respect that position. They don’t feel like there’s really evidence for anything. They don’t think the videos are evidence for anything. They think the documents are too ambiguous and they want science, they want hard data. You know, the hard data is basically classified and I think they tend to forget that when they dismiss this because they say they haven’t seen anything or enough on it.
I’ve heard them I’ve heard Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth Shostack. Both believe that if there is something flying around in our skies that we can’t explain, yes, of course, we should investigate and find out what it is. So they believe that but they don’t believe that they’re aliens. And they use that word “alien” a lot, which I think is partly to diminish the seriousness of the whole thing. Because people involved do not use the word “aliens” to describe this. But they do. I think it’s partly to make the whole thing look silly, which they do. But they’re not completely closed-minded either.
Another scientist is Avi Loeb. He’s one who just feels “I don’t know about the data that we have, but I’m gonna go out and get it myself.” That’s his approach. I don’t know if he’s convinced by what he’s already seen or not. He may not be, but he’s just not going to wait around for the government to provide it. He’s going to try and get it and the fact that he’s willing to invest a lot of money and time into trying to get that data shows that he believes there’s data out there to get. There’s something there. He’s said that we have to be open to our galactic neighbors.
Is their territoriality thing going on?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. I just think they they’re very hardcore, conventional scientists.
Is the military still trying to discredit sightings?
The Navy has encouraged U.S. pilots to report incidents. They’ve acknowledged that what the pilots have reported is unexplained and that the videos are unexplained. The Air Force has been quieter on this, but I don’t think the level of ridicule that these pilots and military officers have faced prior to 2017 is still in in play for them within their own units.
Some of them are definitely still hesitant to talk about it, though, if they’re still active duty. So they do feel some sense of risks there, even though the policies of the military are not to ridicule these people. But, there is still stigma.
The more that the Congress gets involved and the more that the high level officials makes the kinds of statements they’ve been making about the national security implications of it, the better it gets. They do not appear to be from China or Russia and they’re not ours. We’re due for another congressional report, another report from the Office of the Director of Navy Intelligence that was supposed to be delivered to Congress. Every time something like that happens it helps to diminish the stigma.
IMAGE CREDIT: Vice Media.