The International Stage

Charting the course from the Senate to the world stage. How will TTSA's Chris Mellon and Elizondo architect alliances on the international stage?

The International Stage

In the last three years, Christopher Mellon, Luis Elizondo and TTSA have achieved several significant policy objectives:

  1. TTSA appear to have precipitated enhanced technical reporting standards regarding UAP within the Navy
  2. They created the blueprint for the recent Senate request to create an intelligence community wide task force to systematically examined UAP

Given the conclusion of the second season of TTSA's Unidentified, and in light of the Senate developments, I wrote in late August that TTSA would likely be entering into a new stage in terms of policy objectives:

Above, I made some friendly recommendations. Based on my outsider understanding of the thinking of TTSA, I expected they may be interested in focusing on international cooperation in the future.

Interestingly, today (September 6, 2020) Luis Elizondo made the following statement via Twitter:

It appears that "Phase II" is underway, or at least in the planning stages. It does indeed focus on international cooperation.

The prospect of an international framework to work on UAP issues is a somewhat obvious next step, and if successfully could be an intelligence force multiplier. It is also a near necessity if Christopher Mellon's analysis of the situation is basically correct.

However, it is also an enormously complex policy and diplomatic endeavor.

In late August, I also made an initial effort to outline the policy challenges:

In short, what would go into actually creating an effective international framework? What are the practical options? Below, I expand on the tweets above. We'll start with three major options, ranging from relatively conservative to truly global and far-reaching.

Five Eyes

The Five Eyes is perhaps the most important intelligence alliance on the planet. It compromises a major portion of the anglophone world including: The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The alliance has its roots in World War II era intelligence sharing arrangements, and has only grown in importance over the years.

The term "Five Eyes" itself comes, as so many things do, from a naval security designation "AUSCANNZUKUS EYES ONLY" – in other words, intelligence only shareable with the countries described above.

The importance of Five Eyes is that it represents an inner-layer of trust between anglophone countries with a deep history of cooperation, and highly aligned values and policy objectives. As a practical matter, the Five Eyes arrangement involves extensive intelligence sharing built initially on the "special relationship" between the United States and the UK.

The economic and geographic positioning of the Five Eyes permits extremely powerful access to signals intelligence, given that a large percentage of the world's communications traffic flows through their collective borders. Access to Internet traffic alone enables sweeping programs like ECHELON that enable mass scale surveillance and espionage.

A few things to consider with respect to UAP:

  1. The Five Eyes intelligence community likely already has some level of cooperation (though likely a low level of general interest) on the UAP issue. The relationship between Five Eyes nations means that if UAP issues have occurred elsewhere in the anglosphere, there is a high likelihood that the other intelligence services were at least consulted. The American intelligence community would be an obvious port of call, given our technological sophistication.
  2. Therefore, deepening the engagement of Five Eyes on this issue would require only incremental commitment and a lower level of counter-intelligence risk. As I wrote on Twitter, it is probably the most conservative way to increase engagement beyond the American IC.
  3. However, Five Eyes, while powerful in intelligence terms, is not a vehicle for true diplomatic effort. It is also parochial in that it is limited to a subset of the anglophone world. While everyone has heard of the UN, fewer know of the existence or relevance of Five Eyes.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is arguably one of the most important military alliances in the world. Since its formation in 1949, it has been the preeminent international security organization aside from the UN Security Council. Its core membership consists of the United States, and a large portion of European states. Importantly, NATO also includes other nations via special partnership and diplomatic programs.

While the strength of NATO has been questioned in recent years, it is an enduring institution. Any serious international framework dealing with UAP matters would likely have at least some engagement with NATO.

Issues to consider:

  1. NATO is explicitly a military alliance, and therefore would root the issue in security matters. At one level, this may be a practical way to share sensor data that largely comes from military platforms. However, casting the UAP issue in martial terms may be problematic and limiting.
  2. The larger issue is that NATO is historically the primary check on Soviet and now Russian power. Therefore, despite the "Partnership for Peace" it is an inherently adversarial posture with other nations.
  3. NATO is inherently a regional organization despite its "Global Partners" program. As with Five Eyes, it would exclude a large portion of the world.
  4. In recent years, NATO has become a lightening rod for controversy and politics. The strength of the the alliance has been under question, and is potentially not the unanimously supported institution it once was.

The United Nations Security Council

The United Nations Security Council is one of the six primary components of the United Nations. It is tasked with "maintaining international peace and security." Unlike the United Nations as a whole, it consists of a smaller group of 15 nations. There are five permanent members

  1. China
  2. France
  3. Russia
  4. The United States
  5. The United Kingdom

Since 1965, the United Nations Security Council has also included a rotating set of 10 nations, representing the major regions of the world.

Passing a resolution in the UN Security Council requires nine member states. Importantly, any permanent member may veto a resolution on its own. It arguably rests on an "injunctive" political theory, where any of the core members may prevent action. Diplomatic efforts are therefore intensely focused on preventing vetoes, or at the least, managing international perception of vetoes.

Issues to consider:

  1. The Security Council has historically been the arena where international security dramas play out. For instance, Security Council Resolution 1441 set the stage for inspections of Iraq, and ultimately under girded coalition support for the war.
  2. The permanent members of the Security Council are still the greatest military powers of the world. The Security Council is a forum for debate that is more focused, given its smaller membership. It is the highest profile environment for differences on this issue between the United States, Russia, and China to play out.
  3. Although the Security Council has historically been focused on resolving disputes, it is a peacekeeping organization rather than a military alliance.
  4. An agreement within the Security Council would represent a truly global recognition of this issue. Since France, China or Russia could veto, it would also likely require extremely carefully designed provisions. It would require diplomacy at the highest level within each nation and would likely be a major preoccupation for foreign ministers and the American Secretary of State.
  5. Don't expect movement in the UN Security Council anytime soon; if it will be relevant in the UAP issue, it would be in an extreme "end-stage" scenario that involves compelling data that has never been publicly demonstrated.

Dilemmas for International UAP Frameworks

Resolving UAP sightings, particularly those that involve remarkable characteristics like the "Five Observables" identified by TTSA, is a very complex intelligence endeavor.

It requires some ability to examine the inventory of experimental projects within your own capabilities, as well as within the capabilities of allies and rivals. It also requires an intimate knowledge of potential vulnerabilities within key sensor layers, at least in military cases. All of these things are highly sensitive, and typically highly compartmentalized within intelligence and security services.

An international framework would therefore necessitate sharing of sensitive data – some of which would likely include disclosing collections methods. This is something many nations will be reluctant to do.

Their reluctance will largely be predicated on distrust of the United States and its allies (notably the Five Eyes). Other nations may view this as a cynical ploy designed to widen American intelligence efforts. There will likely be debates about member states withholding or tampering with information.

Even if other nations are independently convinced that the UAP phenomena is significant and wish to participate in an international framework, that framework will still become a shadow battleground for intelligence services for the reasons above. In other words, while a nation may be committed to the stated goals of the framework, they may find it hard to pass up opportunities to use the framework for their own terrestrial intelligence objectives. This is true presently with the United Nations, which is a significant espionage target.

Another key issue will, loosely speaking, be "rules of engagement." In other words, what are aviators or others allowed to do when encountering something initially designated as UAP? If a UAP is presenting an imminent threat, as they have been known to do in cases of severe aviation safety incidents, what can a member state do in response? In more peaceful terms, is it permissible for a member state to attempt to communicate with one of these objects? If so, what may they communicate? Should that message be up to the member state, or should it be subject to international agreement?

Importantly, such protocols could become a "tell" in intelligence terms. A member state might use such protocols to intentionally trigger "UAP" responses instead of typical territorial protection protocols. If your advanced stealth drone probes the territory of a member state and receives the "Hello world" UAP message, you will know that you have successfully confused your target.

Issues like these may seem far-fetched or silly. However, they are precisely the kind of things that intelligence services and military organizations consider and regularly exploit. The legal boundaries of such a framework will be massively important, and likely compromise a lot of the potential negotiation.

The Road Ahead

As it stands in September 2020, the UAP issue has nowhere near the traction or public recognition required to make a full international agreement on the issue possible. However, the policy achievements of Mellon and Elizondo have demonstrated real progress, and it is impossible to assess the potential impact of the Senate report. It may well be an example of executive branch obstruction, and contain little of public interest. Or, it may precipitate something significant.

Clearly, Luis Elizondo's statement anticipates that the Senate process will at least partially succeed, and provide further fuel for a "Phase II" effort.

I am, emphatically, not familiar with the inside thinking of TTSA. That said, it is possible to make a few observations. Chiefly, it is that a strategy is likely to be layered and consist of parts that move simultaneously:

  1. Given Mellon and Elizondo's background, it will likely include background encouragement for greater engagement from Five Eyes. This is the least risky, least visible and essentially "easiest" form of international cooperation to advocate for. It would not require any new agreements, and doesn't require public negotiation.
  2. A secondary thread might be engaging elements of NATO. As with Five Eyes, there may be "quiet" ways to achieve this that will amplify a collections effort without requiring much political risk.
  3. A second-order consequence of increasing Five Eyes and/or NATO's efforts will be that it will further encourage Russia and China to do the same.
  4. A third-order consequence may be that international agreements on this issue will become extremely significant counter-intelligence and fourth-party collections threats. Penetrating any major coalitions UAP effort will reveal a great deal about how they see the technological and geostrategic chessboard.
  5. All of the above will influence lawmakers involved in intelligence oversight, as well as senior officials. They will have to make more regular review of this data, and it will potentially become less ignored as a result – particularly if it has increasing salience for "real-world" decision making involving advanced platforms.

The overall strategy may be to use "quieter" forms of international cooperation to gradually build and disseminate greater evidence. As international partners collect and assess more, they will become increasingly familiar with the underlying issues. If Russia and China are prodded to do the same, they will also inevitably possess more data. Further, if they successfully penetrate US/Five Eyes or NATO efforts, they will by proxy become more aware of the data. Their interpretation of that data is another matter, and will be subject to the usual "wilderness of mirrors" problems that often come up in intelligence.

Once enough data has been collected and disseminated, it will seed the public and political process. A key aspect of managing any vote – domestic or international – is to be sure that you will win before any votes are cast. Therefore, the parties cannot come into the process "cold." They will need time to acclimate to the issue, and to review trusted intelligence.

I'm not familiar with Elizondo or Mellon's thinking, but I would suspect that "Phase III" would take advantage of a wider basis of information to precipitate a highly public vote in a global institution, like the UN Security Council.

In order for that to succeed, importantly, they must make partial allies out of Russia and China due to their veto powers. Precisely how they plan to do that is a fascinating question. The only other alternative is a purpose-built coalition that would work around Russia and China. However, excluding our two key strategic competitors would drastically weaken an international effort.

In short, much remains to be seen. The question at hand:

How do they plan to get started? What is their opening move? Has it already happened? How will they chart a course from partial recognition to a global diplomatic moment? How can they avoid the pitfalls of international frameworks? Can they overcome a legacy of distrust and nationalism?