Published: 2:21 PM 5/4/2013
NEW YORK TIMES | May 3, 2013
WASHINGTON - While President Barack Obama was promoting an immigration overhaul in Mexico, six former members of Congress gathered two blocks from the White House to consider what they see as the enforced government secrecy surrounding another kind of visitor: the kind who comes from a lot farther away than Mexico.
Every day this week, the former legislators presided over panels made up of academics and - former, of course - government and military officials, who were there to discuss their research or their own eyewitness accounts of unidentified flying objects and the extraterrestrials who presumably would have occupied them.
"Something is monitoring the planet, and they are monitoring it very cautiously, because we are a very warlike planet," said Mike Gravel, a former Democratic senator from Alaska who ran in both the Democratic and Libertarian presidential primaries in 2008.
Gravel and his fellow panelists were assembled by the Paradigm Research Group, which says it is committed to ending the government's "truth embargo" on the existence of extraterrestrial life. The lawmakers were hoping their political credibility would persuade Congress to take the issue seriously.
"I've been exploring how we might get this issue out of the shadows of the lunatic fringe," said Roscoe Bartlett, a former Republican representative from Maryland.
Called the "Citizen Hearing on Disclosure," the event might have been mistaken as advocacy for government transparency, and some of the panelists had impressive resumes.
"I've come to understand and appreciate the importance of open, transparent government and the power of truth," said Paul Hellyer, who was Canada's defense minister during the 1960s.
"We are not alone in the cosmos," he added.
One reason the ex-members of Congress agreed to sit on the dais and ask questions may have been intellectual curiosity in the subject.
"Our country has trivialized it, has made it a joke, has made it green people with horns …," said Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Democratic representative from Michigan who lost her seat in 2010. "And it's not a joke. And there is scientific data that there may be something there."
Another possible reason: the $20,000 each panelist reportedly was paid to take part. But they are still maintaining a healthy skepticism.
"Just because the government might have had a document about how to handle extraterrestrials doesn't mean there were any," said Merrill Cook, a Utah Republican who was twice elected to the House, despite his own chief of staff once writing in an email that "Merrill has taken up permanent residence in wackoland."
Not all of the people who study UFOs think this week's panels will help them improve their stature in Washington.
"There really is something to this issue, and there is a serious side to it, but that's not what's being presented as this event," said Leslie Kean, a journalist and author of "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record," a collection of firsthand accounts by people who believe they saw them.