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What I have perceived so far over years, people can observe things like atmospheric effects or military experiments and tell them to be UFOs of alien, or at least other state's origin.

Mostly it is just a news and conspiracy thing.

Now I read this at a Fastcompany article:

President Trump told ABC News that he had also been briefed about UFOs. While he said he didn’t "particularly" believe in UFOs, he thought the Navy might.

Now is this a real meeting and how comes?

UPDATE - a quote from USS Nimitz executive summary on Wikipedia of a 2004 US military sighting.

  • The Anomalous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) was no known aircraft or air vehicle currently in the inventory of the United States or any foreign nation.

  • The AAV exhibited advanced propulsion capability by demonstrating the ability ... far greater than any known aerial vehicle with little to no visible signature.

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    Are you asking whether the quote is accurate? If so, it's better suited for Skeptics.SE. If not, please clarify what you want to know specifically. – JJJ Aug 19 at 17:00
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    for the accuracy, I've already asked sceptics. Then, a President briefing on UFOs is rather a scene from a Hollywood movie isn't it? Or does US military indeed believe in UFOs? – J. Doe Aug 19 at 17:06
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    I feel like its important to make the clarification that the U in UFO stands for unidentified. It just means "I saw something in the sky and dont know what it is". It doesnt mean aliens. Things get seen or detected all the time that cant be clearly identified. Sometimes its optical illusions or software glitches. Sometimes it unknown aircraft. The military has often tracked and kept files on such events, that doesnt mean they believe in aliens. As for the specific quote in question, it's reliability seems entirely based on how much stock you put in words that come out of Trump's mouth. – Tal Aug 19 at 17:21
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    I love this question. I'll drop a bounty on it to encourage backed-up answers once the bounty period opens. There's probably some interesting insights into executive reporting buried in it. – indigochild Aug 19 at 18:25
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    Some of the answers here suggest UFO just means Unidentified Flying Object, but is that's what's being discussed, why did he say he doesn't believe in Unidentified Flying Objects? It sounds like he really did mean UFO not in the dictionary sense, but in the sense it is commonly used by the general public. – AquaticFire Aug 20 at 21:19
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An UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object.

Usually the name is not applied when somebody sees a light prop plane overhead and cannot recognize the specific model or registration letters, but what the name means is that the observer cannot identify it. When a Navy pilot sees something he or she cannot identify, and when air traffic control has no clue either, that is reason for concern. A Navy pilot would be expected to recognize most fast aircraft, at least generally.

The idea that it is extraterrestrial is rather far-fetched.

It could be Air Force, and the Navy isn't cleared for it. Admitting that to the Navy would breach security, so the charade must be maintained.

It could be Russian.

It could be Chinese.

It could belong to some other NATO member which didn't tell the US. (A really disquieting thought for the Pentagon.)

It could be Israeli, or Indian, or Japanese.


Follow-Up: Some commenters thought I'm not specific enough regarding the role of the President and the news media.

  • If somebody operates an aircraft near or over the United States that the US military cannot identify, that is obviously a major concern to the military. The President is the National Command Authority and should be informed.
  • Briefers might have approached the President, telling what they know, what they suspect, and what they think they have disproven. They might have asked for hefty chunk of black budget to improve radars and interceptors ...
  • Or the President might have asked the military to provide a briefing on what they know or suspect. I will not speculate about his internal motivations for doing so.

Regarding the Nimitz quote, while I believe that US intelligence has extremely good information on technology worldwide, personally I'd rather believe that some Earth power has something the US doesn't know about than believe in extraterrestrials.

And I'm convinced that the US has Earth-made aircraft that it really doesn't want to talk about, up to the deliberate spread of UFO theories to cover them up.

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    Do you have any knowledge or insight as to why the President would be briefed about a UFO? Is this not something the military apparatus can handle? Is there a particular criterion for when they need to alert the President? – indigochild Aug 19 at 18:14
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    @indigochild, in previous administration there was a structured process of national security briefings. They would probably not inform the president on a single unexplained sighting, but certainly if there is a pattern and if people who should be able to find answers fail to do so. – o.m. Aug 20 at 4:56
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    It always bothers me when I see statements like "The Martians stepped out of the UFO and greeted the crowd." I mean, once you know it's a Martian spacecraft, it's not "unidentified" anymore. And if they just stepped out of it, it's not "flying" anymore. The only true part of that statement is that it is, indeed, still an "object", but then so is everything else. – Darrel Hoffman Aug 20 at 13:26
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    The US government has done formal investigations into UFOs in the past, such as Project Blue Book. Briefing the President on the current status thereof makes as much sense as briefing them on the current status of all the other government operations. – HamHamJ Aug 20 at 13:45
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    @DarrelHoffman Language changes. "UFO" now means "alien spacecraft" as well as its older meaning of "unidentified flying object". See also "literally". – Martin Bonner Aug 21 at 13:20
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Now is this a real meeting and how comes?

It appears to be, Trump said it in this interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

Contrary to o.m.'s answer, the question in the interview seems to be about extraterrestrials (though perhaps only jokingly), as that's mentioned in the exchange explicitly. As for the meetings and the reports on UFOs, that's probably (though I haven't seen the reports or been party to the briefings) on unidentified objects, without speculation on extraterrestrials.

In particular, he is asked by George:

Before we go, one of the things you have, as president, is that you have access to all the information, in the world, all the mysteries out there. And I was just struck in the last couple weeks from reading more and more reports of navy pilots seeing lots and lots of UFOs, have you been briefed on that? What do you make of it?

Trump replies (emphasis mine):

I have, I have, I think it's probably. I want them to think whatever they think. They do say, I mean I've seen, and I've read, and I've heard, and I did have one very brief meeting on it. But people are saying they're seeing UFOs. DO I believe it? Not particularly.

Then George asks:

Do you think you'd know if there was evidence of extraterrestrials?

To which Trump replies:

Well, I think my great, our great pilots would know. And some of them really see things that were a little bit different than in the past. So we're going to see, but we'll watch it you'll be the first to know.

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    Do you have a reliable source that this briefing took place? – Rupert Morrish Aug 19 at 21:05
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    @RupertMorrish only that interview in which the president stated so. – JJJ Aug 19 at 21:22
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    @JJJ: so, no. OK, thanks... – Bob Jarvis Aug 20 at 11:36
  • iow, the president never talks about extra terrestrial origins of the UFOs, he only states that he trusts the pilots reporting the UFOs to not report known phenomena as such. – jwenting Aug 26 at 10:45
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+200

Short Answer

The reason the president may need briefings on UFOs is that the two organizations who have or had programs investigating this matter are also responsible for transferring any high priority classified information to the President's Daily Brief. Thus, either of these programs may uncover information that warrants its placement on the Daily Brief.


Long Answer

Preface

I will answer the question as written in the title, that is:

Why would the US President need briefings on UFOs?

The reason for this is that there seems to be no official source as to the reality of the specifc briefing you mentioned. All of the sources, including the Wikipedia page on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which is the most credible public knowledge of studies relating to UFOs (officially Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), mostly reference other news articles at best and not hard documentation. That said, I will reference news articles, to establish a relevant procedural connection.

The President Receives Daily Intelligence Briefs

Every day the President is briefed from multiple sources on the most pressing matters that need his attention. This is called the President's Daily Brief. This brief is produced by the director of national intelligence, whose main role is to compile information from a coalition of 17 executive organizations for said brief:

The White House has decided that the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, will take over from CIA Director Porter J. Goss the responsibility for producing the intelligence material given to President Bush each morning, Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said yesterday.

The Navy Reports UFO Information Upon Request

Joseph Gradisher is the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, which was established by the Navy in 2014. Since it was established by the navy it is also a part of the coalition of 17 organizations under the DNI. Therefore, this part of the Navy may gather info that will eventually end up on the PDB and on the president's desk.

Gradisher has made these dual statements, which suggest that although this kind of aviation information is not available to the general public, Navy intelligence may brief other governmental staff by request.

"Military aviation safety organizations always retain reporting of hazards to aviation as privileged information in order to preserve the free and honest prioritization and discussion of safety among aircrew...no release of information to the general public is expected" (Source: LiveScience)


There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years. For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the USAF take these reports very seriously and investigate each and every report. As part of this effort, the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be m,ade to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft. In response to requests for information from Congressional members and staff, Navy officials have provided a series of briefings by senior Naval Intelligence officials as well as aviators who reported hazards to aviation safety." (Source: NBC News)

An Existing Intelligence Program Collects UFO Observations as Potential Threats

One of these 17 organizations is the Defense Intelligence Agency. This specific agency was associated with the AATIP studies that were released as the result of a FOIA request back in 2018:

(U//FOUO) Based on interest from your staff regarding the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)'s role in the Advanced Aerospace Threat and Identification Program (AATIP) please find attached a list of all products produced under the AATIP contract for DIA to publich. The purpost of AATIP was to investigate foreign advanced aerospace weapon threats from the present out to the next 40 years.

Given that the purpose of AATIP was to analyze threats and that the PDB goes over the most pressing threats of the day, it would be no surprise that something arising out of the AATIP investigation by the Defense Intelligence Agency would work its way into one of the PDBs. In addition, it is not entirely clear that AATIP ended in 2012, like it was supposed to (emphasis mine):

“The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 timeframe,” Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said in an email.

“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” she said.

But the Pentagon was less clear about whether the UFO program continues to hover somewhere in the vast universe of the U.S. defense establishment.

“The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed,” Ochoa said.

Therefore it is not out of the realm of possibility that AATIP may still exist and is investigating threats that may also make their way up into the PDB.

  • I made some edits which reorganized the answer. feel free to roll back anything you don't like. – indigochild Aug 29 at 19:06
  • @indigochild You made my answer so much better. No rollbacks needed. – isakbob Aug 30 at 0:09
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As mentioned, the UFO issue is a concern to the military as stuff flying around that we don't know what it is, is kind of alarming when you consider this is the same group that is making sure that no weapons systems... including nuclear missiles... are coming our way. The Nimitiz incident strikes me as having been something that was unknown and at the time looked into with no conclusive identification. Trump was likely briefed on the matter because the footage only recently was released to the public. While the more plausible unknown aircraft from not the navy is plausible, the U.S. Airforce is not the most likely culprit as the inter-service rivalry in the U.S. Military is strictly for funsies... somewhere up the chain of command an USAF general and an Admiral would have likely swapped notes on Top Secret operations of test vehicles long before the need to concern the President (and at either rate, congress does know what's being payed for and if the U.S. would have paid for something that can do what the Nimizt UFO could do. The Air Force and Navy don't build planes in house.).

This leaves that it was an unknown foreign (if we want to get technical, the word "alien" does work here both for the terrestrial and extraterrestrial definition... and both are flying under color of a foreign government as far as the U.S. is concerned) or more plausibly it could be some weirdness of atmospheric issues. I know it sounds like I work for MIB and have a memory flashy thingy in that suggestion, but atmosheric phenomena is the most cited cause of all cases documented in Project Blue Book and at least one nearly destroyed the world (It tricked the Soviet Early warning systems into think that the U.S. had launched inbound nukes... it was only to a colonel realizing the equipment was new and the inbound strike was atypical in Soviet assessment of the threat, that he decided not to start a WWIII. Mercifully, he made the correct call and saved the world. It turned out it was a rare condition of the sun). On a less scary global thermonuclear warfare level, there are some known atmospheric phenomena which are known to happen by science, but "why" they happen is another matter. Conditions for a Tornado forming aren't fully understood and why they form more redilly in the mid-west is still fuzzy, even though the public keenly is aware of that weather pattern, another known weather weirdo is Ball Lightning, which is an odd electrial atmospheric disturbance that takes a lot of credit for UFO reports, plays all sorts of havoc with electronics, has been reported to pass through walls and glass windows, explode, and have other weird behaviors... it's rare enough that the public at large might not know it's a real thing (it is often used as a video game power name) but common enough that science knows it's a thing... but science still doesn't know what the hell causes ball lightning to form... Reliable pictures of the event were first taken in 2014, though the phenomena is said to be witnessed by as much as 5% of the population and there are studies that pooled 10,000 individual cases as credible and the phenomena is thought to have been noted by the Mapuche mythology, a pre-Columbian Culture that is believed to have formed in modern Argentina and Chile at some time between 600 and 500 b.c.

Suffice to say, the object seen in the Nimitz image, is better described in terms of things we know it definitely isn't... which is helpful in that we know not to call it those things... but still doesn't answer to any conclusion what it is. To be sure, as Comander-in-Chief, Donald Trump probably has the best information of any outside of the military, but even he's saying he doesn't think it's aliens... and likely that the navy doesn't know enough to say for certain it's not little green men in a space ship for certain.

(I should point out that in the UFO cirlces, there is a joke that Donald Trump is the greatest proof that the U.S. government isn't hiding aliens. It's been three years, he would have tweeted about aliens in Area 51 by now if they existed.).

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    Those first two paragraphs really need to be broken up. This is a giant wall of text right now. – F1Krazy Aug 21 at 20:08
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In short, because the dissemination of classified information is a very formal procedure.

As mentioned above, UFO doesn't necessarily mean extra-terrestrial. It could be a new spy plane from a foreign nation, it could be our OWN secret aircraft that was spotted by the public but without clear details and we don't want others to know about, etc.

I'm going to overgeneralize here, but I think it will suffice for your question. I worked as a cryptologist in the US Navy. As such, because I COULD have seen extremely highly classified information, I had, as you'd expect, an extremely high security clearance. However, that doesn't mean that I can just go around asking about UFOs and anything else I've technically been cleared for. This is what's referred to (mostly colloquially) as "need to know."

At the highest, generally available, levels of security clearance you're generally only granted access to things you need to know to perform whatever functions your security clearance was given for. I'll admit I've never been a part of one, despite my clearance, briefings of highly classified information are generally a way for someone who is highly familiar with the subject matter to brief a person new to the subject and make a determination as to what they need to know to perform their function.

While the president probably could ask for every file mentioning any UFO be brought to him to read, it would be highly unusual and doesn't follow the normal protocols in place, thus the briefing process tends to be used, even in the case of the president.

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    interesting, thank you! A side question.. so does it mean actually there things the President does not need to know? – J. Doe Aug 27 at 8:50
  • That's beyond the scope of my experience, unfortunately. I can speculate that if it was important you'd have a hard time suggesting that the president didn't need to know. You could probably say that it wasn't important enough to demand their attention, but saying that it was outside their purview would be a difficult sell. – AHamilton Aug 27 at 14:21
  • I really appreciate that this answer is based on experience. Are there any formal policies or standards you are aware of that governs the reporting of this kind of stuff? – indigochild Aug 27 at 18:32
  • The short answer is, here's the wiki link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Unfortunately, as per the wiki, most handling of classified information is handled by executive order, rather than law (as it's primarily a function of the military and national security, thus falls into the operational jurisdiction of the executive branch). There have been some significant changes since my days in the military, so I don't want to get too deep into the weeds. – AHamilton Aug 28 at 8:02
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While UFOs have captivated the public imagination as being extraterrestrial visitors, governments are interested in them for more mundane reasons. To the uneducated public, UFO means spaceships from outer space, but in reality it is simply an object that could not be identified.

Sensor equipment such as radar is not perfect and can provide only vague signals. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if a signal is an actual object at all, or merely electromagnetic noise. The object may also be misidentified, or be unidentified due to not fitting any known signatures. Note that a known object can easily have an unknown signature because its original signal has been distorted by natural phenomena or mechanical malfunctions. Sensors are also designed with specific craft in mind, so that they are better at detecting common known enemy planes. If the enemy makes a new plane, the sensor might not be very good at detecting it - especially if it was deliberately designed to exploit the sensors' weak points.

So UFOs have the boring (boring to us, but very exciting to national security types) implication that they could be planes of enemy countries that are using a new high tech stealth design. It's important to keep up with the military arms race, but also the fact that the plane could not be identified potentially means that radar technology must be urgently improved. This is why there is a need to brief the president: Just like any military intelligence, it is something he must be aware of.

Of course the president realizes that many in the public, especially his voter base, are interested in the UFOs as extraterrestrials idea. Being public about this ordinary task of running a country, without specifically explaining the mundane aspects I outlined above, excites these people. Therefore the President mentions it to throw them a bone, as it were. But most likely, the content of the briefing is the usual boring military intelligence stuff, such as "this object might be country X using tech A or country Y using techs B, therefore give us money to develop technology C" rather than "the men in this saucer were blue, as opposed to the green ones from before - what planet could they be from?"

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