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David Grusch, a former intelligence officer testifies during a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs hearing on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 26.SARAH SILBIGER/The New York Times News Service

Some years ago, I happened to get on the email list – don’t ask me how – of the group. Exopolitics, for the uninitiated, is concerned with “creating or influencing policy toward extraterrestrial phenomena and extraterrestrial beings.” In other words, it is for people who are prepared to believe in anything and everything so long as it isn’t true.

The organization’s website contains material on everything from “9/11 false flag operation” and “The Discovery of Life on Mars” to “Galactic governance,” “Time Travel & U.S. Presidency” and something called the Ascension Hypothesis (“Is Mother Earth’s coming planetary density shift a reality?”). I distinctly recall finding several lengthy discussions in my inbox about which celebrity was actually a lizard-person and I confess I wrote the group off as a bunch of kooks.

Until they started to send me videos. I clicked on one, expecting to be diverted by the pitiable sight of some frothing lunatic writhing around and speaking in tongues – alien tongues. What I found instead shook me to my core. There were two or three professorial types in suits and ties, seated around a table, engaged in an articulate, thoughtful and I may say persuasive discussion of which celebrities were actually lizard-persons. It was like some high-brow talk show: Firing Line for space nuts.

The lesson I took away from this profoundly unsettling experience: people don’t have to look crazy to be crazy. Or perhaps: people don’t have to be crazy to believe and say crazy things. It is a lesson that has sustained me through the last few years, as much of America and not a small part of Canada surrendered to various kinds of madness.

I well remember watching a video of a former vice-president of an international pharmaceutical firm earnestly and reasonably explaining how the COVID vaccine was part of a plot involving the World Economic Forum, together with various central banks, to enslave the world’s population.

I was reminded of all this as I watched the testimony before a Congressional committee of David Grusch, a former military intelligence analyst invariably described in news reports as a “whistleblower.”

The whistle Mr. Grusch has been blowing, hard, since he first came to public prominence last month: the Pentagon has in its possession several crashed alien aircraft, some with alien bodies inside, which it has been secretly collecting since the 1930s as part of an effort to reverse-engineer the technologies used in their construction.

Mr. Grusch has not seen the alleged alien craft himself, and has no physical evidence of their existence, but says he has been told about them. He claims he has been threatened with “reprisals” by persons unknown for speaking out.

And yet, not only was he invited to appear before the House Oversight Committee’s national security subcommittee to tell this fantastic tale, but he was treated respectfully, even deferentially throughout. Indeed, Mr. Grusch is no ordinary kook, having worked for many years in the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), before being seconded to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.

He was not the only witness to appear before the committee. Beside him were two former U.S. fighter pilots who say they have witnessed firsthand what the military calls UAP – what the rest of us call UFOs. I don’t doubt they saw something: there have been hundreds of such sightings, involving unidentified objects of mysterious origins moving in improbable ways.

It’s also not hard to believe in the existence of other forms of intelligent life, somewhere in the universe. Estimates vary, but there are something on the order of two trillion galaxies in the universe, each of which contains something like 100 billion stars. Some of those 200 billion trillion stars are bound to have planets revolving around them, some of which would have the conditions necessary for life to evolve, some smaller number of which would have produced intelligent life.

Suppose we limit our search to our own galaxy, the Milky Way, with about 400 billion stars. A famous theorem known as the Drake equation suggests, based on a series of probabilistic assumptions, there are at least 20 and as many as 50,000 intelligent civilizations out there. So it is not the existence of extraterrestrial beings that is in question. Where the doubt starts to creep in is at the suggestion that the first thing that would occur to these beings to do once they had escaped the confines of their own planets is to stop by to see us.

We do seem determined to make the universe about us. Long after the geocentric view had been debunked, people were still making the same mistake. The pseudo-science of “intelligent design,” for example, is based on the seeming unlikelihood that mere chance could have produced such an intricate wonder as a human being. But this assumes the existence of human beings is of some objective significance, that is to anyone but ourselves. To which the universe replies: Huh?

So let’s consider the odds. Supposing there were intelligent life out there. And suppose they had both the intent and the ability to look for life on planets other than their own. They would face the same problem as we do: where to look first, among the infinite vastness of space and the hundreds of billions of stars just in our galaxy alone. What are the odds they pick us?

Suppose they do. How far would they have to travel to visit? The nearest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years away, or about 24 trillion miles. (Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, so a light year works out to nearly 6 trillion miles.) But it would be an astonishing coincidence if intelligent life should happen to emerge in the solar system next door.

What’s a more typical interstellar distance? The Milky Way is estimated to be about 100,000 light years across. The sun – our sun – is about a quarter of the way in. Assuming an even distribution, that would mean the average star in our galaxy was a little over 32,000 light years away, or eight thousand times the distance to Proxima Centauri: 192 quadrillion miles.

(So much for our efforts to advertise our existence to the cosmos. We may send out signals, but they’re not going to even arrive anywhere for tens of thousands of years, with no guarantee that anyone ever receives them, let alone understands them. And if they do, who’s to say they do not receive other signals from other civilizations?)

How long would it take to travel such a distance? The fastest any human spacecraft has ever travelled is 365,000 miles per hour (the Parker Solar Probe in 2021). But let’s assume we’re dealing with a highly advanced civilization, far beyond our own. So let’s say they have spacecraft capable of travelling at many times that speed: say, ten million miles an hour. No, make it 20 million. Oh hell, let’s put the pedal to the metal: take it all the way to a tenth of the speed of light. At that incomprehensible speed – 19,000 miles per second, 67 million miles per hour – it would take them more than 320,000 years to get here

But that still doesn’t describe the improbability of the exercise. Our alien friends would not only have to have selected us, among a literal universe of alternatives, for a visit, and made the arduous trek to get here. They’d also have to have timed their trip for exactly the moment, cosmologically speaking, when we happened to be here. The Earth might have come into existence about 4.5 billion years ago, but human beings, homo sapiens, have only been around for a tiny fraction of that time: 100,000 years, maybe 200,000 tops.

And of that 200,000-year blink of an eye, how long have we even speculated about the possibility of life on other worlds? Two hundred years? One hundred? Yet by a remarkable, unimaginable, completely unhinged coincidence, it is precisely in that millisecond, we are told, that visitors from outer space began descending on us in droves. We looked for them, and there they were!

Ah, but where were they? Strangely, they seem to have confined their visits, judging by the frequency of the reports, mostly to the United States, mostly to its rural areas, and mostly in the South. And rather than announce their presence in some fashion – it’s not as if they’d have much to fear from us, given their technological superiority – they behave like intergalactic coquettes, never saying a word, always dancing just out of reach.

All of which is dog-bites-man stuff next to what is implied by Mr. Grusch’s story. Which is this: after travelling hundreds of thousands of years at a tenth of the speed of light (oh, they’ve mastered light-speed you say? Okay, make it 32,000 years) in whatever type of craft that could possibly be, having navigated safely through the cosmos en route to our microscopic speck of a planet, they arrive here and – wouldn’t you just know it – crash.

I suppose we will never know what happened then. Was everyone on board killed? If not, where did the others go? Were there other craft? Why didn’t they rescue the survivors? And so on. All we know is that some human discovered the wreckage. And alerted some other human, who alerted some other humans to come and retrieve it. Other humans were assigned to store it, inspect it, and guard it.

All this happened not once, but according to Mr. Grusch, dozens of times. Over many years. And yet not one of these humans, hundreds of them, in the decades this plan has been in effect, thought to tell anyone else of this, the biggest story in the history of humanity. No one, that is, until Mr. Grusch, plus whoever told him.

I bear him no ill will. I do not think he is lying, in the sense of knowingly uttering untruths, any more than the people at Exopolitics can be said to be lying. I just want to know why anyone is paying him the slightest attention.

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