Are there aliens? What happened in the United States Congress?

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Congress on Tuesday held its first hearing on unidentified flying objects in half a century. And no, the government has not yet confirmed the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In testimony before a House Intelligence Subcommittee, Pentagon officials did not disclose additional information about their ongoing investigation of hundreds of unexplained sightings in the sky. But they reported that they have selected a director for a new working group tasked with coordinating data collection efforts on what the government officially describes as “unidentified aerial phenomena” (or UAP).

Ronald Moultrie, assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, said the Pentagon was also trying to destigmatize the issue and encourage pilots and other military personnel to report anything unusual they see.

“We want to know what’s out there as much as you do,” Moultrie told lawmakers, adding that he himself was a science fiction fan. “You are not the only ones asking us questions. Our relatives make them for us, and they do it all the time.”

Lawmakers from both parties say UFOs are a national security issue. Sightings of what appear to be aircraft flying without discernible means of propulsion have been reported near military bases and in coastal areas, raising the possibility that witnesses may have seen secret Chinese or Russian technology.

But the sightings are usually fleeting. Some appear just for a few moments in front of the cameras, and sometimes distorted by the camera lenses. The US government is believed to have additional information that it has not released to the public about the sightings.

An interim report intelligence officials released last year listed 144 sightings of aircraft or other devices flying at unknown speeds or trajectories. With the exception of one case, there was not enough information in the investigated sightings for investigators to even describe the nature of the incident.

A senior Pentagon official briefly demonstrated on Tuesday just how difficult the challenge is. Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, stood in front of a television screen to show a short video captured by an F-18.

The video shows the blue sky and the rapidly passing clouds. In one painting, which took staff several minutes to find, is an image of a balloon-shaped object.

“As you can see, finding UAPs is more difficult than you might think,” said Bray.

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