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Aliens, FOIA, and the Fight for Transparency

In late July, Congress convened a hearing on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs), more commonly known as UFOs. Three retired military and intelligence officers testified that military personnel regularly see inexplicable aircraft they’re pressured not to report. Retired Air Force intelligence officer David Grusch claimed a secret government program recovered UAPs and punished whistleblowers. He then told Congress that “non-human” biological material was taken from downed UAPs. Since lying to Congress is a crime, three career military officers staked their credibility and freedom on testimony that UFOs, and perhaps extraterrestrials, are known to factions of the U.S. government (BBC News).

Though the jury is still out on the existence of aliens, government secrecy run amok is a known fact. There are two components to the UAP claims. First, there’s testimony that extraterrestrial life is not only real but here on Earth. Many people will require more evidence before whole-heartedly adopting such a view. Second, witnesses claim that elements within the “world’s longest-standing democracy” kept information of earth-shattering importance secret, through threats and deceit, not only from the electorate they claim to represent but also from other government agencies and the politicians appointed to oversee them. This sort of nefarious, anti-democratic activity isn’t a conspiracy theory: it’s a matter of historical record. 


• File a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about government decisions made behind closed doors. The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a free guide and MuckRock provides information and search tools for a fee.

• Support Lucy Parsons Lab, a collective of data scientists, activists, artists, and technologists that conducts training on open records requests.

• Support MuckRock’s partners at the Global Investigative Journalism Network

The U.S. government spied on, impersonated, infiltrated, assassinated, and incarcerated hundreds through COINTELPRO. Following the 1999 wrongful death civil action over the assassination of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King revealed there was “evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the murder of my husband, Martin Luther King Jr” from various government agencies. 

A 2014 Human Rights Watch report noted that in “some [counterterrorism conviction] cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals” (HRW). In July, three men arrested in 2009 for supposedly plotting to blow up airplanes and synagogues at the behest of a terrorist group were ordered to be released by a judge. She found that they were victims of entrapment in a “fictitious plot,” writing that “the real lead conspirator was the United States” (AP News). The government faked the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify the invasion of Vietnam and planned false flag terrorist attacks to justify the invasion of Cuba. The first Bush administration hired a PR firm to “coordinate” a 15-year-old’s Congressional testimony to drum up support for the Gulf War (Business Insider). 

Though Grusch co-led a Department of Defense task force on UAPs, he told Congress that even he was “denied access” to a “multi-decade UAP crash retrieval and reverse engineering program” he learned about, prompting him to go public (Smithsonian Magazine). Aside from the question of aliens, government secrecy between branches of the state goes so deep that the Pentagon and CIA funded rival militias that fought each other in Syria (LA Times). Most U.S. residents don’t know much, if anything about, their state and local governments that decide on everything from education and social services to policing and prisons (JHU Hub), meaning backroom deals get even less public scrutiny. 

Beyond the restrictions on voting access rolling out across the nation, we should consider that the vote is only meaningful to the degree that voters have the information necessary to make informed decisions. Whether FBI assassinations or purported aliens, government secrecy has required great personal and legal risk to expose. COINTELPRO was only revealed after activists broke into an FBI office and stole documents to send to the press (WHYY). But other government secrets that harm communities can be revealed by anyone—even you. 

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) mandates that government officials provide many documents and materials upon request, including those they would never reveal voluntarily. Federal, state, and local government departments are required to publicly disclose where to submit “Right to Know” requests for information. Activists, journalists, and everyday people have learned through FOIA requests that the government almost detonated a nuclear bomb over North Carolina, surveilled Black authors for decades, and knew that paper mills were poisoning waterways (History). You can submit FOIA requests to uncover government secrets and publicize the information or pass it on to journalists or activists working towards justice. 

Want to read the emails between officials concerning a controversial decision or what your city council member texted a developer before approving a new project? MuckRock offers assistance, tools, and hundreds of thousands of pages of documents received in response to previous requests (MuckRock). Free resources on filing FOIA requests are available from many sources like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Lucy Parsons Lab does incredible work training activists on filing information requests, supporting whistleblowers, and using public data to track police misconduct and civil asset forfeiture (LPL). With these tools, you can expose the truth behind the decisions affecting you and your community. 


• Government secrecy is anti-democratic because it prevents citizens from making informed decisions on public affairs. 

• Though some secrets have only been revealed through illegal direct action, many can be uncovered through tools like Freedom of Information Act requests. 

• Activists, artists, journalists, and everyday people like you or I can use FOIA requests to expose corruption and harm.

1280 853 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

All stories by : Andrew Lee
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