U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand intends to get to the bottom of potential UFO activity.
While that’s not a word you are likely to hear around the halls of government – the official term is unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAP – the topic is currently the subject of heightened scrutiny. A House Oversight subcommittee held a hearing July 26 on UFOs in which lawmakers heard testimony from three former military officials who made claims ranging from allegations of the federal government sheltering alien spacecraft to encounters with unknown objects.
Having helped lead the effort to create the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office tasked with detecting and identifying mysterious objects a few years ago, probing for answers is right up Gillibrand’s alley.
City & State caught up with the senator to discuss some of her recent legislative wins, the Trump indictment, the Equal Rights Amendment and the dire need for federal action to help New York support asylum-seekers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order to strengthen how the military handles sexual assault cases last week. That was based on your legislation. What’s it been like for you to see this another step closer to implementation?
It was a huge win for survivors. It was what they’ve been asking for since I started working on this about 10 years ago. I think President Biden showed great leadership and courage to reform a military justice system that’s been broken for a long time. And signing the executive order five months early just shows his leadership and determination to eradicate sexual violence, harassment, murder and other serious crimes for the military, and make sure that those who do commit those crimes are held accountable, and that there’s a justice system worthy of the sacrifice that our service members make every day.
What are your thoughts on the federal indictment of Donald Trump?
I think that prosecutor Jack Smith is extremely thoughtful in his approach towards what happened on Jan. 6. I think suing the former president on criminal fraud is the right approach. The nature of the indictment from the grand jury was extremely detailed and a very thoughtful and precise set of allegations about what President Trump did to stoke and really set in motion the Jan. 6 riots.
Your Fend Off Fentanyl Act just passed in the U.S. Senate. Tell us a little bit about that piece and how it was crafted?
I’ve just heard so many heartbreaking stories of families losing loved ones. One particular story of a 16-year-old girl going to a sleep over and taking what she thought was a Percocet, and it was pure fentanyl. Her parents said she didn’t have a chance and I thought that is so representative of how horrific this scourge of fentanyl is in our society.
The precursor chemicals are from China straight to Mexico, and then sold directly to drug dealers throughout the United States. This piece of legislation takes the issue very seriously. It declares the international trafficking of fentanyl as a national emergency. It requires the president to sanction transnational criminal organizations, drug cartels and key members engaged in the international fentanyl trafficking. It also enables the president to use the proceeds of forfeited sanctioned property of fentanyl traffickers to further law enforcement activities. This is a really robust piece of legislation that tries to take on this criminal network head on to stop the death of our young people who don’t even know they’re taking fentanyl.
What were your biggest takeaways from the recent testimony about alleged secret government programs involving UFOs?
They are very serious allegations. The hearing had two sets of testimony. The first was from pilots who saw an object flying in the sky that looked like a Tic Tac that had very strange patterns and abilities. Those pilots were retaliated against, and their careers were derailed, which is how I got involved in the issue. We want our pilots and our service members to come forward when they see things that they cannot identify, which is why I created the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office to review all of these unidentified aerial phenomena in a scientific and thorough way.
So far, they are looking at about 600 (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) reports and data sets and they’ve only finished about half of them. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence made a report on what AARO accomplished in January. There they assessed the first 366 unidentified aerial phenomena, about 26 were basically drone-like systems, 163 were balloon or balloon like-entities, six were birds or debris, but they couldn’t identify 171. We realized for AARO to really work better we are going to need a lot more sensors around military bases, nuclear sites, on our aircrafts. That is going to be one of my to-dos for the new Congress. Some of the unidentified aerial phenomena is going to be Chinese, some is going to be Russian, some is going to be Iranian and some may be others. But we need to know what we can know and at least identify the knowable so our pilots are safer, so that we know what else is in the sky. We were not tracking these spy balloons when the AARO office was created. That’s a problem. We need to know when our adversaries are spying on us. We need domain awareness, and we need air superiority. If our adversaries have technology that we don’t have, we need to know about it.
The second testimony was about a service member whose job was to investigate all UAP programs and co-locate them and write an assessment. Through that effort, this whistleblower met several people who said they had worked on alien-related programs where they either had crash material or that crash material resulted in dead aliens. I have no ability to verify that testimony because we’ve not been told of any such programs. We’ve asked for all information related to all programs and have not been given that detail. One of three things are true: Either it doesn’t exist and they worked on programs that were alien-related which weren’t, or they are making it up, or these programs do exist and the Department of Defense is not either read in on it, or the need to know is so small that the people that have been testifying in front of us don’t know about it, or they are just misrepresenting the facts.
I intend to get to the bottom of it. I think these service members – certainly the whistleblowers that I’ve met – are very thoughtful, serious people. So I really want to investigate it to its fullest. An arrow stands for (All-domain) Anomaly Resolution Office.
I understand you helped secure full funding for AARO this year, but do you feel like the U.S. is doing enough to research and review unidentified anomalous phenomena incidents?
I think this AARO office is excellent and built to do this job. If there are special access programs – they are called SAP programs – that Congress was not read in on, we put an amendment in the defense bill to say they can’t be funded. We do not want to be misled. We do not want to be led astray. We want to get to the bottom of this and this office is perfectly positioned to do that work.
There’s certainly been a renewed fire to revive the Equal Rights Amendment in wake of the Dobbs decision. You and Rep. Cori Bush introduced a resolution last month that essentially argued that the ERA is already the law. Why this approach? Do you think it will pass or do you see it as more vital messaging?
I think this is a legitimate legal theory. We are calling on the national archivist to sign and publish this amendment and make it the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There’s a lot of legal precedent that informed this strategy. One was how the 27th Amendment was created, which was created 200 years after it was written. Basically, a student noticed that it only needed one more state, so that student tried to get it ratified and did, and the archivist published it. It doesn’t matter that it’s taken years and years and years.
The only opposition is to say the preamble has a deadline in it, but there's a difference legally between a preamble and the actual legislative language. Preambles are not dispositive, or part of the law. It’s usually just context for a law. I don’t think the preamble is relevant and I think legal scholars will agree. That is why we are asking the president to tell the archivist that she may now sign and publish it as the 28th Amendment.
New York City’s calls to the federal government for help with the influx of asylum-seekers have so far largely gone unanswered. Why is that? Is the city going to see any additional relief from the Biden administration?
I sent a letter to the Biden administration on July 27 asking for emergency action for migrant centers to welcome new arrivals from this current crisis. We created these Welcome Centers across the country for the Afghan refugees, and those centers were able to provide health care, shelter, food, water, legal counsel – we want current migrants to be able to access those centers. Gov. Kathy Hochul has said there are 200,000 open jobs in New York state right now – there are 60,000 migrants that are currently in city care. We could easily find jobs for those migrants, but the law right now requires 180 days after you file an asylum claim. I have legislation called the Aspire Act, which would change the law to 30 days after arrival. The problem is that the Republicans in the House refuse to legislate on this issue, which is why I would like the president to implement that through executive order. Helping migrants get jobs that are already open sooner rather than later would be a very helpful solution.
Why do you think New York Democrats lost so many House seats last year? Is the party taking the right steps now to rectify this in the next election?
Hochul is leading an effort with me and Hakeem Jeffries to create a coordinated campaign this cycle. We’ve never had one before. We plan to create a battleground effort for the six House seats that we can flip as well as the one or two that are hard to hold. I’m very optimistic that as we create this coordinated campaign, we’ll have economies of scale. We will have synergies. We will have highlighted and lifted up message discipline. We will also be able to save money for candidates because instead of sending out four mailers for four different candidates, we can send out one. Our plan is modeled after Wisconsin and other states that have used strong coordinated campaigns successfully. We are also likely to get new maps because the ones that were drawn last cycle were inappropriate, which will also create fairer districts so candidates aren’t running in brand-new districts. The other thing that’s going to be helpful for the 2024 cycle is we have our own ERA on the ballot. This is an organizing principle about basic equality and human rights for women. This ERA is written very broadly to ensure equality for all people – women, LGBTQ, race, gender, sexual identity – everything is covered in this ERA. I think it will galvanize voters, Democrats and Republicans, to support equality. Being able to speak to voters on a nonpartisan level is also really important for Democratic turnout.