UFOs — or UAPs, standing for "Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena" in government-speak — have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill for years, given a number of high-profile disclosures. But a hearing over the summer with former intelligence officer and whistleblower David Grusch, where he claimed the government was concealing information like evidence of "non-human biologics" recovered from UFOs, took the frenzy to a new level.
That hearing put UFO policies front and center in the annual defense bill, which had already been written in both chambers before the hearing. But lawmakers from both parties — including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — pushed negotiators working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill to add new UFO disclosure laws to the legislation.
Schumer and a number of other senators wanted to create a "UAP Records Review Board" — modeled after how the government handled records associated with President John F. Kennedy's assassination — where UFO documents would carry "the presumption of immediate disclosure." (That didn't make it in the final bill.)
Still, lawmakers are now on the verge of approving new disclosure rules in the annual defense policy bill after House and Senate negotiators inserted language into the 3,093-page National Defense Authorization Act conference report.
The new rules would require the government to create a records collection at the National Archives for UAPs, "technologies of unknown origin, and non-human intelligence."
Top government officials would have to review the UAP documents and organize them for transmission to the National Archives within 300 days of the defense bill's passage. The bill states that each record must be fully disclosed to the public and made available "not later than the date that is 25 years after the date of the first creation of the record by the originating body."
Once the records make it to the archives, they would be made available for public inspection in 30 days and be accessible online within 180 days later.
But there are some catches. Disclosure could be postponed with "clear and convincing evidence" that a national security risk "outweighs the public interest in disclosure." A disclosure could also be delayed if doing so would violate privacy laws or "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
It's a massive step forward for transparency on UFOs, even if there are mechanisms to hold off on disclosures for decades.
But the lawmakers who were most forcefully pushing for new rules on handling UFO documents aren't entirely taken by the final product.
"All I want is total disclosure," said conservative Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN), who has been leading the charge on UAP transparency.
"I don't trust them to do the right thing anyway," he told The Daily Beast. "We can put all the words that we want in there, but until we have people in the White House and in Congress that are going to hold the Pentagon accountable, it's not going to happen."
Comment: Exactly. The UAPDA would have given the civilian review board subpoena power. That too was axed. The current legislation leaves the power in the hands of the departments and agencies controlling the documents. There is nothing to compel them to actually offer up anything of substance.
As Burchett continued to review the defense bill later this week, his communications director said the congressman remains "very concerned about changes to the NDAA that decrease transparency."
Disappointment has made its way to the other end of the Capitol, too. Another leader on the issue, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), told Roll Call Wednesday evening that the UAP language in the NDAA is "a step in the right direction" but he was clear that it wasn't a complete victory.
"We didn't get everything that we wanted," Rounds said.
The provisions that finally made it into the defense bill came after tensions over UAP rules were at their highest. During a press conference last week, the UAP caucus slammed the "intelligence community" for stonewalling their disclosure efforts.
"The reason why I got involved is, as we started asking questions, legitimate questions, the pushback we got is what interests me," said Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida, the caucus' lone Democrat.
"Every time we pulled the thread and we stumbled on something, it seemed that we would get stonewalled," Moskowitz continued.
Another member of the UAP caucus, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), specifically blamed Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) for stifling UAP disclosures.
"People won't want to own their shit — excuse my language — but they don't. They don't want to say like, 'Hey, we're gonna fight it for this reason,'" Luna told The Daily Beast. "They just kind of won't ever really get back to you and they keep just either cutting you off or not really answering the question."
For his part, Turner told NewsNation last week that he was not holding up the Senate's UAP disclosure provision "at all" and that members pushing for UAP legislation had not "even raised it."
Schumer also ratcheted up the tensions on UAP policy during a Monday floor speech when he called out House Republicans for "attempting to kill another commonsense, bipartisan measure passed by the Senate."
But finger-pointing on UAP progress has cut both ways. Burchett objected to Schumer's independent commission proposal over concerns that it would overly restrict document access — which he said would further exacerbate the problem.
While not every member is over the moon about the defense bill language, Moskowitz told The Daily Beast that he is encouraged UAP legislation made it into the defense bill.
"I mean, look you always would like to try to get the best you can get, but the fact that we're getting transparency in the NDAA we're making progress I'm happy with that," he said.
The UAP-fixated lawmakers say they aren't done with the issue yet and have their eye on bolstering UAP transparency in the new year.
"I think we can build consensus over a period of a year or so," Rounds told The Daily Beast about the remaining elements of his policy with Schumer.
Burchett isn't done with UAPs either. He's focused on getting back into the sensitive compartmented information facility — basically, a fancy, secure room fit to divulge alien secrets — to discuss a future UAP hearing.
"I'd like to put some government officials under the microscope," he said.