2023: The year UFOs descended on Washington, DC (but not like you'd expect)

the white dome of the u.s. capitol building is lit up at night
Venus and Jupiter shine to the left of the United States Capitol dome. (Image credit: Getty Images/Philip Yabut)

For those who follow news related to anomalous flying objects, 2023 will be remembered as the year UFOs came to Washington, D.C.

Not in the way we'd all like, though. No, there were no Tic-Tac-shaped UFOs landing on the White House lawn or big black triangles hovering silently in the air above it. Instead, there were new bureaucratic offices and government websites created, pieces of dense legislation deliberated over, and hearings. Lots of hearings.

Throughout the pockets of social media that are most vocal about UFOs, many thought that this year would finally bring about disclosure, the revelation of UFO-related truth in which the U.S. government would finally fess up and reveal what it has allegedly been covering up about unidentified, physics-defying craft and their possible occupants for at least seven decades.

But disclosure didn't happen. While many sensational claims were made that would, if true, indeed bring about ontological shock and a rethinking of our place in the universe, in the end none of these was substantiated with little more than hearsay. As is tradition.

Related: Some UFO records must be released, US Congress says

Government reports and Chinese balloons

The big UFO year began on Jan. 12, when the Pentagon's Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its long-awaited "2022 Annual Report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena." The report, produced by the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) that was established in July 2022, included over 500 reports of unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP, a new term that describes unidentified objects or phenomena in the air, under water, in space or that appear to travel between them.

The much-anticipated report analyzed the reports, finding only 171 that remained  "uncharacterized," or unidentified. "Some of these uncharacterized UAP appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis," the report stated. Ultimately, while the report was unable to reach any broad conclusions about UFOs/UAP, it found that many of these sightings "continue to represent a hazard to flight safety and pose a possible adversary collection threat," meaning they could possibly be related to foreign spy activities. 

Just a few weeks later, on Feb. 1, UFOs took center stage in both Washington D.C. and the news cycle when a large white orb was spotted floating over Montana. The object turned out to be a massive high-altitude balloon operated by China. The appearance of such a brazen intelligence-gathering aircraft caused an international stir, and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs eventually issued an apology.

The balloon was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 5 and recovered by the U.S. military. In the weeks that followed, several other UFOs were shot down over the northern United States and Canada, some of which were never recovered and remain unidentified to this day  —  at least publicly. 

Soon after, The New York Times reported that similar balloons had intruded in American airspace between 2017 and 2021 and that military and governmental leaders were unaware of them in some cases because they were initially mischaracterized as UAP. "Balloons account for many of the unexplained incidents the Navy and other military services have tracked in recent years. The previous incidents, like other unexplained events, were handed over to a Pentagon task force charged with investigating UFOs and other aerial phenomena," the Times wrote in its report. "As the Pentagon and intelligence agencies stepped up efforts over the past two years to find explanations for many of those incidents, officials reclassified some events as Chinese spy balloons."

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Feb. 5, 2023. (Image credit: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler Thompson)

The furor over the Chinese spy events continued through the early spring, leading up to the first public testimony of the director of the Pentagon's All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office on April 19, 2023. During that testimony, Sean Kirkpatrick, AARO's first director, told members of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services at a hearing in Washington, D.C. that, despite the rather sensational claims in mainstream and social media concerning possible alien visitation of Earth, his office found "no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology or objects that defy the known laws of physics." 

Instead, most UAP cases "demonstrate mundane characteristics of balloons, [uncrewed] aerial systems, clutter, natural phenomena or other readily explainable sources," Kirkpatrick told the armed services committee.  

The next month, NASA held the first public meeting of its independent UAP study group at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. NASA commissioned the group in 2022 to help examine data related to unidentified anomalous phenomena and make recommendations on how the agency might better contribute to the topic. 

During the meeting held on May 31, group members laid out a roadmap for how U.S. government agencies can "use the tools of science to evaluate and categorize the nature of UAPs going forward," said Nicki Fox, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. 

While many different potential approaches for accomplishing this were described and discussed, ultimately the group, like AARO before it, reached the conclusion that UAP will remain mysterious without better data. "To make the claim that we've seen something that is evidence of non-human intelligence, it would require extraordinary evidence," said astrophysicist David Spergel, chair of the study group and former member of the NASA Advisory Council. "And we have not seen that. I think that's important to make clear. "

Still, the public and governmental interest in UFOs by this point had reached such a height that two U.S. Senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), introduced a bill known as the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) Disclosure Act of 2023, or the Schumer-Rounds amendment, which called for the public release of U.S. government records related to UFOs and/or UAP. 

"For decades, many Americans have been fascinated by objects mysterious and unexplained, and it’s long past time they get some answers," Schumer said in a statement accompanying the bill. "The American public has a right to learn about technologies of unknown origins, non-human intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena. We are not only working to declassify what the government has previously learned about these phenomena but to create a pipeline for future research to be made public."

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) talk to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on Oct. 31, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Allegations get wilder

Undoubtedly, the most out-of-this world UFO event of 2023 came two months after NASA's UAP study group meeting when, on July 26, three former U.S. military personnel testified to the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on National Security at the Border and Foreign Affairs. Two of the witnesses, Ryan Graves and David Fravor, are former U.S. Navy aviators who had previously reported highly publicized encounters with unknown objects in military training airspace that have become touchstones for the UFO community in terms of credible sightings from reputable, trained witnesses.

But it was the third witness at the July hearing that caused the biggest stir. That witness, David Grusch, a decorated U.S. military combat veteran and former Pentagon intelligence officer, told the subcommittee that the U.S. government has operated a "multi-decade UAP crash retrieval and reverse-engineering program," along with a disinformation campaign to keep the public in the dark.

Grusch would go on to state to the subcommittee that "biologics came with some of these recoveries" and that these "biologics" were "non-human," according to individuals with direct knowledge of these crash recovery programs that he had spoken with during his time in the intelligence community.

Naturally, a media feeding frenzy ensued, and Grusch has since become a regular talking head on the podcast circuit and television news programs. Evidence for his claims has yet to surface.

Ryan Graves, executive director of Americans for Safe Aerospace, David Grusch, former National Reconnaissance Officer Representative of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Task Force at the U.S. Department of Defense, and Retired Navy Commander David Fravor are sworn-in during a House Oversight Committee hearing titled 'Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena: Implications on National Security, Public Safety, and Government Transparency' on Capitol Hill July 26, 2023 in Washington, D.C.  (Image credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

A month later, on Aug. 31, the Pentagon's AARO office quietly unveiled an official government website through which U.S. government personnel can report UFO/UAP sightings "in the vicinity of national security areas" such as military bases or other U.S. government sites. 

NASA's UAP study team would then go on to release a written report on Sept. 14 that reached similar conclusions to AARO director Kirkpatrick's testimony in April. "The top takeaway from the study is that there is a lot more to learn," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a teleconference held after the agency released the report. "The NASA independent study team did not find any evidence that UAP have an extraterrestrial origin, but we don't know what these UAP are."

The year in UFOs would ultimately end not with a bang, but with a whimper, when in December the U.S. Congress approved legislation containing a portion of the Schumer-Rounds language that ordered that some government records related to UAP must be released. 

However, many UFO disclosure proponents felt that the final version of the Schumer-Rounds amendment was far weaker than what was originally proposed. 

"The most important components of the Schumer-Rounds language were dropped  — an independent Senate-confirmed review board with subpoena power, professional staff to search out records, and other serious resources," Douglas Dean Johnson, an independent researcher who writes on various aspects relating to UAP, told Space.com. "What is being enacted instead is a modest mechanism that is far less likely to result in the location, extraction and disclosure of important UAP-related records that may be tightly held or even long forgotten."

All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

For those who have followed the UFO topic for a significant amount of time, none of these developments should feel new. The U.S. government has commissioned and/or conducted several UFO studies in the past, many of which reached similar conclusions as those reported by federal studies and agencies in 2023. 

So, yes, while UFOs came to Washington in 2023, ultimately they left the same way they came: Shrouded in mystery, tainted by sensationalism, and wrapped in the jingoistic and sometimes paranoid language of national security. The U.S. government, at least outwardly, appears no closer to solving the UFO enigma or revealing what it may know about these phenomena to the American public. 

Yet, anyway. Many of those behind the current disclosure movement assure us that despite the legislative setbacks, the fight for the truth  —  if it's out there  —  is just beginning.

Here's hoping we see that big black triangle over the White House in 2024.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor, Space.com

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.

  • Alteron
    It is clear that there are other beings visiting earth. I am optimistic that the governments will soon announce it to the public.
  • COLGeek
    Alteron said:
    It is clear that there are other beings visiting earth. I am optimistic that the governments will soon announce it to the public.
    I wouldn't hold my breath on such an announcement.
  • Questioner
    Smug conciete runs rampant in narcissistic cliques.

    Cliques telling ocean sailors their reports of rogue were anecdotal nonsense.

    Too bad the established wave 'theories' didn’t fit actual reality and its physics.

    Cliques of thinking challenged self anointed 'experts' propose 'dark matter' and its impossible characteristics. For DM to not follow gravity means it doesn't have inertia. Tremendous mass and zero inertia?!? It is invisible & on top of that it requires invisible physics to whip it up into confabulated 'halos'. And the invisible physics moving DM have zero effect on visible matter?!?

    Cliques that tried to convince us for decades the environmental lead from gasoline was instead 'natural background lead' in their published 'peer reviewed' 'studies'.

    Cliques telling us 'Zika causes microcephally'
    when in fact the time and location windows of zika mismatches the microcephally outbreak in NE Brazil while it is a tight fit for Pyroproxifen used there.
    Additionally the Lancet published 'proof' that zika caused the microcephally when in fact the only thing their data actually proved was in 20% of the cases it was impossible for zika to have caused it because neither the mother nor her microcephallic baby had zika.
    Something proven to NOT be zika caused those cases & almost certainly all the microcephally there.

    Smug concieted 'experts' who can't follow primary logic?!?

    What is good to see is people & elected officials taking UAP reports seriously and not laughing it off.

    There is good science out there, but it has to be ferreted out from mounds of pubished nonsense.
  • Dave
    Since the long anticipated and laughable 9 page report released by the military regarding UAP disclosure in 2022 a lot has happened. It is now known that enormous amounts of money continue to be funneled for the purpose of lying, misdirecting and covering up information regarding UAP's to the public. Bipartisan members of congress are now on an important mission, to have disclosure made available not only to the public, but to elected members of congress as well. Mid- level bureaucrats and their minions put up a wall at every turn. The military continues with their agenda built on a foundation of lies. Evidence to this day is kept hidden as the bipartisan members of congress continue to fight for the truth. Be confident that in the end these brave members of congress will prevail.

    We are not alone. Intelligent lifeforms are observing us. They do not wish to be discovered . They do not wish to contact us. Their spacecraft have been observed by credible witnesses hundreds of times. Our science is primitive in comparison. These spacecraft are capable of movement that defies the laws of physics. We are not the center of the universe. It is time for the truth.
  • COLGeek
    I have no doubt that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the vast Universe. Zero.

    I do have doubts that they are visiting us. That requires more than hoping it to be true. To date, this evidence has been non-existent.

    Reports and testimony don't make it so.

    Time will tell.