New York Times Contributor Leslie Kean of ‘UFOs: Investigating the Unknown’ from National Geographic Films On The Message She Hopes Viewers Take From The Docuseries

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
10 min readFeb 13, 2023

… One of the misconceptions people have is that they think a UFO by definition means a spaceship that comes from another planet with an alien at the wheel. That’s why people say they don’t believe in them, or that’s why people think it’s a joke. We’ve even changed the language to try to deal with this problem. We now call them UAP, which is Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, but by definition they’re simply objects or phenomena of some sort. We just don’t know what they are yet.

People have this misconception that if you’re studying UFOs, you believe in aliens, but they’re not equivalent. You’re just studying something that’s there and you want to understand what it is that our conventional arsenal of explanations doesn’t account for. I get so annoyed when people interpret an article that I’ve co-written for the New York Times as being some statement about aliens when it has absolutely no reference to aliens or anything to do with aliens. People have to understand what we’re dealing with here. We’re not dealing with an assumption that we’re being visited by spaceships from somewhere else that have aliens driving them.

I had the pleasure to interview Leslie Kean, Investigative Journalist for the docuseries ‘UFOs: Investigating the Unknown’ from National Geographic Films.

Leslie is an independent investigative journalist focused on bringing credible information about hidden, paranormal and “impossible” realities into the mainstream. She is the author of the award-winning book ‘Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife’ and

‘UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record’ which was a 2010 New York Times bestseller and has been published in eight additional languages. Kean helped produce the 2011 History Channel documentary ‘Secret Access: UFOs on the Record’ based on her book and has appeared in numerous other documentaries.

Leslie Kean has lectured at American University, Rice University, the Franklin Institute, The Institute of Noetic Sciences, and Omega Institute. She has been featured in print and broadcast media for over twenty years.

Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better, Leslie. Can you tell us a bit of your backstory and what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working at a public radio station in 1999 in Berkeley, California as a producer and an on-air host, and I was sent a report from a colleague in France about UFOs. It was a military study about UFOs put together by very credible, high-level people. I read this 90-page report and it was like oh my God, this is a huge story because they studied all these cases and concluded that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was the most valid, logical, and rational way to explain these cases. They couldn’t explain them any other way.

I was a freelancer at the time, and I’d published a number of freelance stories and was able to get a story about this report into the Boston Globe, which came out in May of 2000. I was completely hooked at that point. Eventually, I stopped working at the public radio station and gave my full attention to reporting on UFOs. I did a whole series of print articles as a freelancer and I did press conferences. I also filed a lawsuit against NASA at one point because they were withholding information on a case.

People didn’t really accept that they were even real in those days. It was very different than it is today. In 2010 I wrote a New York Times bestselling book about the subject called UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record and that helped a lot because it was a bestseller and it got a lot of mainstream coverage. Then in 2017 I had a meeting with Mr. Luis Elizondo, who had just resigned from his position as the head of the secret Pentagon program studying UFOs. That led to the 2017 story in the New York Times which changed everything.

Reporting on UFOs was obviously very risky for your career as a journalist. How did you handle the embarrassment and sometimes ridicule?

I was very secretive about it during the time I was working on the story for the Boston Globe which was about a nine-month period because I had to familiarize myself with the background on UFOs, and had to learn what to trust and what not to trust.

I was very concerned at that point about the ridicule, especially from colleagues at the radio station. I just didn’t talk about it. Once the Boston Globe story came out in the Sunday newspaper, I felt a level of confidence because the story was so factually based and non-sensationalistic. In those days for a mainstream journalist to write serious stories about UFOs, it was kind of unheard of. I made sure that there was nothing in that story that could be picked out and ridiculed as being inaccurate or silly. I didn’t have other journalists ridiculing me or debunkers trying to come out, at least not any way that really impacted me.

In National Geographic’s new docuseries “UFOs: Investigating the Unknown,” you state the goal in writing about UFOs is to motivate the official world to pay attention. Have you seen much progress being made?

A lot since 2017. I was always advocating, especially in my book that came out in 2010 for a government agency to be set up to investigate UFOs, it seemed like the most rational thing in the world to me. And little did I know that there was one hiding in the Pentagon secretly that nobody knew about.

Now that we know since 2017 that there was this program, all these things have changed — legislation being passed to protect whistleblowers, demanding reports on various aspects of the phenomenon, an investigative body set up within the DOD, Navy pilots being asked to report all their events, and a lot of officials making public statements. I never thought that would ever happen. It’s just been amazing to sit and watch this snowball effect.

What were some profound moments in the various archival materials you sourced?

I spent years going back and studying the history of this phenomenon, and a lot of the documents that were released through the Freedom of Information Act in the ’70s were astonishing. A lot of them went back to the early ’50s. The documents showed how there were factions within the Air Force that were convinced that these were interplanetary at that time. They were very puzzled about it, even though they told the public otherwise. There were a lot of interesting archival materials in Project Blue Book.

There are documents in the CIA panel called the Robertson Panel which established that ridicule was a very useful tool that should be employed to deal with this topic. There were also a lot of great videos and photographs that I studied and some of those were used in the docuseries. It’s a big part of getting grounded in reality, and seeing how long it’s been since we’ve known about something up there that we can’t explain.

The other interesting point about going back in time is that the technology demonstrated by these objects in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s is exactly the same as it is today. There is no way that anybody on Earth had that technology back in those days. You could argue that maybe we do now, or maybe some of the things people see now is technology that belongs to China, Russia, or America. But back in the ’50s and ’60s, it would’ve been impossible for any country to have the technology that we are observing.

Dr. Richard Haines, former Chief Scientist of NARCAP stated that if you can make it a practical benefit and focus on aviation safety, the needle can be pushed further? What are some other ways you suppose we can accelerate the interest in verifying UFO phenomenon?

I think what’s really become the buzzword since 2017 is national security. The fact that there are objects operating with impunity in restricted airspace, and sometimes coming dangerously close to pilots who are on training missions is a cause for concern. So it really becomes an issue of national security, which is a bigger concept than aviation safety.

What’s really motivating people now is the question of whether we have retrieved any of these crafts that have crashed or debris and whether these are being studied in secret. And the larger question would be if those should be made public. And if they were made public, would that establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that these are not terrestrial objects.

On Stephen Colbert’s show you were clear to point out that the generals you met are not speculating the existence of aliens, but rather simply stating they just don’t know what they are. How do you suppose we can come together and have a more rational conversation on the subject matter?

The scientific community has a big role to play in that discussion because the military have their own approach to it. They’re focused on national security. They keep most of what they know secret. And a lot of that is for good reason to protect it from our adversaries. But when you get the scientists involved, they’re doing research in a rational scientific way. They’re using the scientific method to gather data and they’re sharing that data to the whole scientific world through rational inquiry so that it can then be made public.

We have Avi Loeb, theoretical physicist at Harvard University who has been leading the way by setting up this project called the Galileo Project where he is going to collect data himself if he can raise the money to do so to get the most advanced equipment possible. Forget the government, they’re not going to give it to us. That’s very rational, and has a sense of opening the conversation because it includes everyone and it’s not holding back and classifying information that makes everybody suspicious. The scientists have a rational, clean approach that everybody can participate in.

Former White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta, was quoted as saying, “There is fear that if the government tipped their hand to say we have some phenomena and don’t know what it is, the public would freak out. I think the contrary; the public can handle the truth.” What are your thoughts? Do you think the public is ready?

That’s a really complicated and very important question. I suspect there would be some people that might have trouble with this, but to the extent that we can roll this out in a gradual way which is what we’ve been doing, it kind of prepares people. It’s the media’s job. It’s people like you who are writing about this and all of us in the journalistic world to get the word out to people that there is really something here. I think it’s inevitable.

Even if there are some people that have trouble with it, they’ll get through it because this is such an important fundamental truth of who we are as a civilization. I think everyone deserves to know that. I don’t think that should be withheld from people, even if there’s a fear that it’s going to cause some turmoil for a while. The truth has to always prevail.

So my sense is that people can handle it. And I know that in some countries I’ve been to, especially in South America, everyone accepts the reality of this. They already know it. They don’t need any more proof. It wouldn’t phase them. I’ve talked to very deeply involved people who believe that this will be a problem within our society, that there will be ramifications that will not be positive. When the news comes out, I think we’ll be in a better place. Maybe it’ll even help unify the planet. Some people have proposed that. Some people think that’s naive. I agree with John Podesta. I think once this comes out, after people have a certain level of preparedness for it, the public can handle the truth.

Are there any misconceptions about UFOs that you would like to dispel?

One of the misconceptions people have is that they think a UFO by definition, means a spaceship that comes from another planet with an alien at the wheel. That’s why people say they don’t believe in them, or that’s why people think it’s a joke. We’ve even changed the language to try to deal with this problem. We now call them UAP, which is Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, but by definition, they’re simply objects or phenomena of some sort. We just don’t know what they are yet.

People have this misconception that if you’re studying UFOs, you believe in aliens, but they’re not equivalent. You’re just studying something that’s there and you want to understand what it is that our conventional arsenal of explanations doesn’t account for. I get so annoyed when people interpret an article that I’ve co-written for the New York Times as being some statement about aliens when it has absolutely no reference to aliens or anything to do with aliens. People have to understand what we’re dealing with here. We’re not dealing with an assumption that we’re being visited by spaceships from somewhere else that have aliens driving them.

As a journalist covering UFOs for most of your career, what would be the ultimate question you would ask if an unidentified craft landed on our shores?

I’d like to know where they are from and why they are here. Can they help us with the problems we’re facing on this planet? Are they friends or are they enemies?

How can our readers further follow the docuseries and your work online?

The docuseries UFOs: Investigating the Unknown premieres on NatGeo TV on February 13, 2023. The next day on the 14th, it appears it’s on Hulu.

I have a website called LeslieKean.com which shows a lot of what I’ve done and all my interviews. I also have a Facebook author page under my name Leslie Kean. I’m sure we’ll have lots of discussions on the Facebook page about the series, so I encourage everyone to come on and join the conversation.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise, Leslie

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor