Did the fascist government of Benito Mussolini recover a crashed alien spaceship in the 1930s? Did the ship then make its way into the custody of the Vatican, which in turn handed it to the United States at the end of World War II? Have “nonhuman biologics” been recovered from more recent crashes?
It all sounds like the premise of an amazing episode of the X-Files. In this case, though, it’s been presented as nonfiction by “whistleblower” David Grusch. Late last month, he was a star witness in Congress’s hearings on what were once called Unidentified Flying Objects and have since been dubbed Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) — presumably because “UFO” has an embarrassing ring to it.
Even if you don’t believe that little green men (or X-Files-era gray aliens) were crash-landing in fascist Italy, the bipartisan interest in getting to the bottom of all this makes sense for far more mundane reasons. Should we really trust the military and intelligence communities to spend money “looking into UAPs” without the public getting to know exactly what they’re up to, and how this might relate to the rest of what they’re up to?
Grusch’s specific story seems awfully unlikely. There are forty-five thousand domestic flights in the United States every day and hardly any of them crash. As Mick West points out, it would be awfully strange if intergalactic spaceships that navigated a faster-than-life obstacle course to make it to Earth crashed at a far higher rate.
Still, polls show that a majority Americans distrust official denials and suspect that there may be something to UAP claims. Some of my fellow skeptics might see the poll numbers and be tempted to laugh at the gullibility of ordinary Americans. That would be a mistake — and not just because there may well be a coverup, even if what’s being covered up is less likely to be the “nonhuman biologics” Grusch claims have been recovered from crash sites than the day-to-day shenanigans of the military-industrial complex.
The truth is that the federal government has done everything in its power to lose the public’s trust. The only way to earn it back would be with a dramatic pivot toward real transparency.
Why Won’t They Let Us See the Evidence?
Crucially, so far not a single shred of direct evidence has so far been made public for any of these claims, some of which are hard to square with what we know about the laws of physics and all of which are innately implausible. Grusch’s pitch is, at the moment, “Trust me.”
So far, that sounds laughable — and, to be clear, I think that there are excellent reasons to reject his claims. But Grusch and his supporters can reasonably point out that it’s not his fault that he can’t share whatever evidence might be in his possession. If he started making classified information public, he would end up in a prison cell like Julian Assange.
This raises an obvious question: Why won’t the government let him release whatever he has, so that we can all make up our own minds?
If I say that my bedroom closet contains an interdimensional portal leading to a world where everyone has a third ear in the middle of their forehead and I won’t let you come into my room to take a look, that’s one thing. If someone from the Department of Homeland Security shows up to say that no one is allowed into my room — not even me — and you should stop asking questions, you might reasonably wonder what’s going on.
In this case, though, there are a few other pretty obvious explanations for the government’s behavior. For one thing, once military and intelligence bureaucracies have gained the power to keep things secret, they tend to start valuing secrecy for the sake of secrecy, whether or not any particular piece of information actually matters. Vast swathes of totally benign information are pointlessly classified.
For another, in this case — even if you don’t buy the Vatican spaceship and the recovered nonhuman biologics and the rest — the military-industrial complex might well have a lot to hide. Budgets for investigating UFOs — sorry, UAPs —are black boxes without meaningful oversight. It’s not hard to imagine the Pentagon and the intelligence community wanting to cover up secret weapons programs, embarrassing giveaways to military contractors, and all sorts of other thoroughly earthbound bad behavior.
It’s also entirely possible that Grusch believes every word he’s saying. He doesn’t claim to have seen any spaceships or biologics with his own eyes, only to have been convinced by classified information shown to him by others. Who knows what false information he could have been fed, or with what agenda? I’d love to get some answers on that, but that would involve a level of official transparency that’s not currently in the cards.
David Grusch Versus David Hume
When Grusch’s “revelations” first became public, a key part of his appeal was that as an Air Force intelligence officer with a deeply impressive career until his attempt to uncover the supposed truth about aliens, it was hard to dismiss him as a crank. Last week, that narrative was complicated by investigative reporter Ken Klippenstein, who used the Freedom of Information Act to expose potentially embarrassing parts of Grusch’s history — including a stint in a mental institution.
Grusch’s many supporters have argued that this is irrelevant and compared it to past attempts to discredit whistleblowers, like Richard Nixon ordering his goons to ransack the office of Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist after Ellsburg leaked the Pentagon Papers. They say that Grusch’s psychiatric detention many years ago had nothing to do with any sort of delusional break from reality and everything to do with his struggles with drinking, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people come out of the military dealing with such issues, and it’s not fair to use it to discredit Grusch.
Perhaps they have a point — although it’s worth pointing out, then, that the impressive service record previously trumpeted by his supporters is hardly more relevant to the believability of his claims. Let’s take a long step back and think about what he’s saying.
We know enough about our immediate cosmic neighborhood to know that any alien visitors would have to be coming from distances requiring faster-than-light travel. The relativistic physics that tell us that this is impossible are supported by mountains of evidence. Even the satellites that help your phone give you directions to the movie theater have to make adjustments for tiny relativistic effects.
Of course, Einstein might have been wrong about the speed of light. But the question is whether evidence from personal testimony can outweigh all our evidence for our best current physics. As the eighteenth century-philosopher David Hume pointed out in his classic discussion of miracles, it’s hard to see how it could be less likely that even an extremely trustworthy person could say something false than that natural laws whose operations we constantly confirm would fail to hold.
It’s true that it’s not Grusch’s fault that he can’t share any evidence he has — it’s classified. But that’s a different question. If I claim to have a video on my phone proving the existence of telekinesis, and my phone is stolen, you shouldn’t take my word for it, even if I can prove that my phone really was stolen.
No Aliens Doesn’t Mean Nothing to See Here
Does that mean we shouldn’t care about transparency? Exactly the opposite is true.
First, anyone who wants to debunk UAP claims should want a far greater level of transparency, both on this issue and in general, since the federal government’s long record of covering up genuine wrongdoing gives plenty of credence to those who believe it’s covering up aliens. Military and intelligence officials have been caught lying and covering up those lies over and over and over again, from the Gulf of Tonkin to Iraqi “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to the mass surveillance program that Edward Snowden had to flee the country for revealing. Genuine whistleblowers are persecuted.
Julian Assange is facing extradition for reporting accurate information embarrassing to the US government. Under those circumstances, it’s deeply unsurprising that 57 percent of respondents in a poll conducted last month for Newsweek believe that “the U.S. government has more information about UFOs and alien life than it publicly shared.”
The poster on the wall in Mulder’s office in the X-Files said, “I Want to Believe.” In this case, though, it may be less of a matter of wanting to believe that the government is once again lying than having trouble not believing it after this shameful track record.
Second, if we assume that what the government is covering up is not little green men, that dramatically increases the possibility that it’s concealing its own far-more mundane bad behavior. The usual explanation of alleged alien coverups is that the government wants to avoid “mass panic,” but this never made sense. The military-industrial complex loves mass panic. It’s good for its budgets. If it’s covering something up, it has far less high-minded reasons.
One way or the other, we have a right to know.