This Threat to National Security may be out of this World!

John Gilmour · Former member (retired) of Canada's intelligence and national security community · Posted: September 28, 2020

On June 17, 2020, US Senator Marco Rubio submitted a legislative report to Congress on behalf of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  While such reports are typically scanned by media and political junkies for oblique reporting or clues on classified government intelligence initiatives, this particular report created quite a stir for a different reason.

In a section of the report entitled “Advanced Aerial Threats”, the report noted “The Committee supports the efforts of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force at the Office of Naval Intelligence to standardize collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena, any links they have to adversarial governments, and the threats they pose to  US military assets and installations. However, the Committee remains concerned that there is no unified, comprehensive process within the Federal Government for collecting and analyzing intelligence on aerial phenomena despite the potential threat.”  The report subsequently directs the intelligence community to submit an unclassified report to Congress, on the subject of “unidentified aerial phenomena (also known as “anomalous aerial vehicles”) including observed airborne objects that have not been identified.”

The direction emanating from the report came on the heels of an official acknowledgement from the Pentagon in April of this year that verified videos taken from F-18 gun cameras and infrared sensors were of UFOs of unknown origin off the coast of California in 2004. The videos had been previously released by a private company with an interest in UFO phenomena. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO_M0hLlJ-Q)

The US has had a number of official but mostly little-known bodies examining UFOs since the late 1940s (Project “Sign”, Project ”Grudge” “Project Blue Book” being the best known), the most recent winding up in 2012. The agenda of these investigative bodies was, for the most part, to provide documented support that UFO sightings were easily explained as man-made or natural phenomena. It is clear the Rubio report seeks to significantly reduce the stigma associated with UFO sightings within the military and intelligence communities, and to change the broader cultural government mindset when it comes to how sightings are to be treated going forward.  Clearly there were concerns expressed  when Navy pilots couldn’t keep up with whatever the unidentified objects were, judged as performing maneuvers that would result in g-forces that would turn a pilot’s innards to jelly.  While not going as far as to suggest the objects are of extra-terrestrial origin, US politicians and intelligence experts have publicly suggested whatever the source of the technologies concerned, they have the ability to outrun and out manoeuver US technology, and avoid detection of advanced sensing technologies. This has officially been expressed as a national security concern, and the US has conveyed it is now taking the issue seriously.   

What of Canada?

According to recent media reporting, the 2019 Canadian UFO Survey, an amalgam of civilian  UFO research group numbers,  notes there were close to 850 sightings in Canada for that year. And while a large majority of these sightings can be attributed to either man-made or natural causes, the general rule of thumb is that ten percent cannot. And yes, while a certain number of these sightings originate in what is often referred to as ‘fringe elements’, others are, in turn, reported by very credible sources, including pilots and law enforcement officers. Canada has also experienced two famous UFO incidents, (the Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia and “Charlie Red Star” sightings in Manitoba) that resulted in multiple witnesses, disturbed physical environments, high radiation readings and even some physical ailments to witnesses. So the question is, what is the Government of Canada doing in relation to UFO  sightings that have continue unabated for decades? It would appear, not much.

Historically, and taking a lead from the US, Canadian governments have adopted a position of obfuscation and double-speak when it has come to responding to public inquiries about the UFO phenomena in Canada. Again, as in the US, this has often led to charges of cover-up or conspiracy on the part of governments.  But while such charges in the US may ultimately be proven to be legitimate,(with the implication that US administrations have indeed been keenly aware and interested in UFOs for some time), it is suggested the Canadian government can be charged with something arguably more serious – apathy.

The Canadian government also undertook some initial studies in the early days of the modern UFO era (say late 1940s-early 1950s) which essentially concluded UFO sightings  posed neither a military or national security threat, nor warranted anything in the way of detailed scientific examination. That has pretty well governed the approach from that time on, with respective governments doing their best to ignore the issue. And while US governments may have been purposely trying to manage the issue thorough denial and subterfuge, public perceptions in Canada about hidden government agendas seem to have been misplaced. In the absence of any evidence suggesting an actual cover-up, the inability of Canadian governments to respond to public demands for answers may rest more with bureaucratic inertness rather than malicious intent. Over time, primary responsibility for reporting, or those involved with, UFO sightings, has bounced around between the RCMP, NRC, Transport Canada, Defence, and Nav Canada, none of which have seemed interested in pursuing the issue with any vigour. Furthermore, the opportunities for the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand is doing in such a scenario are obvious.

In conducting research on a recent article dealing with the apparent US shift in policy relative to UFOs, journalist MJ Banias, further to an Access to Information request to DND, received a response that noted “We wouldn’t comment on speculative matters such as this. The Canadian Armed Forces concerns itself with credible threats (italics added) and this falls outside the scope of our operations.”

As Canadian governments have historically glanced over to the US to see how the UFO issue was being managed in its backyard, it will be interesting to see if the government will now dedicate a little more time and effort in responding to reported sightings together with greater transparency, or even establishing a more straightforward process to do so. This will require greater cooperation and coordination between scientific, intelligence and defence communities and, of course, a cultural shift in how UFOs are perceived as a legitimate field of investigation.   While the jury is still out regarding the degree US agencies are prepared to respond to the Committee’s direction, the US government has clearly signalled it is prepared to allow more transparent reporting and oversight regarding UFOs for reasons of national security. Is the Canadian government, prepared to follow suit?  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Professional Development Institute of the University of Ottawa.


John Gilmour joins the PDI team after a thirty-seven year career in the federal government in positions of growing responsibility. His initial professional experience was with Transport Canada and the management of Canada’s major international airports. This  included serving as project manager and analyst for airport security programs. This led to a two-year assignment to the Security and Intelligence (Operations) section of the Privy Council office as a senior policy analyst, in support of the office of the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister (NSA). 

From there John joined the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), where he served in a variety of branches, most recently as the Head-Strategic Planning and Operational Analysis with the Service’s Counter Terrorism Division.  Although retiring in 2018 from the Service, John continues to be retained as a senior advisor for that  unit.

John has a BA from Carleton University (Ottawa), and a Masters and Ph.D from the War Studies Program of the Royal Military College of Canada (Kingston).

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