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Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, discussing UAP incidents at George Mason University (staff photo by James Jarvis)

The head of the U.S. intelligence agency tasked with investigating alleged alien spacecraft sightings says it found no evidence of extraterrestrial life on Earth.

But that’s not necessarily good news, says Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO).

Instead, Kirkpatrick fears the handful of the agency’s unresolved cases might be examples of unidentified, advanced earthly technologies instead of alien spacecraft, which poses a “big national security risk.”

“The best thing that could have happened in this job is to find the aliens because the alternative… is not a good thing,” Kirkpatrick said during a George Mason University panel on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, or UAP, last week.

The event — a few months after a memorable Congressional hearing on potential extraterrestrials this summer — focused on AARO’s findings from some 800 reported sightings and their implications for national security. While the vast majority of objects are benign, a small handful give Kirkpatrick pause.

“There was only about 2-4%, I think was around the number, that we have enough data for that are truly something we want to go dig in and go figure out what that is, and most everything else we can readily identify,” he said.

Most of the time, sightings wind up being everyday items, such as balloons, often misreported due to “training problems.”

“We have a number of pilots who will see these off in the distance, and there is an optical illusion that they will often see it’s called parallax,” he said.

“But they see it. They don’t understand it. They report it, and they write down in their report this is a UAP… they will clearly say, however, it looks like a balloon. It’s got a tether on it. It looks like it’s flying with the wind. But it because they mark it as a UAP it comes to us,” Kirkpatrick continued.

Before AARO’s inception in July 2022, there was very little serious analysis of UAP sightings, says Kirkpatrick, who is retiring next month.

His job, and that of AARO, has been to resolve reported sightings and develop a framework for evaluating sightings to use going forward.

First, Kirkpatrick says, scientists have to determine what the sensors that sensed a UAP are intended to detect, he says. Then, analysts compare these findings with information from the intelligence community on known entities or individuals who may be “doing something that matches those signatures.”

If the two groups disagree, Kirkpatrick says they try and get to a solution in what he affectionately called a “cage match.”

So far, no evidence of extraterrestrial life has been found. The unexplained 2-4% of cases — often resembling state-of-the-art earthly technologies, such as spherical drones — give him pause, however.

“We did a commercial drone survey and did some research going on out there and do you know what then the next biggest wave of drone technology is? Spherical drones,” he said. “Do you know why? Because they’re safe to use inside, so if they crash into people that, you don’t get hit in the head with a propeller.”

Kirkpatrick says AARO is working on ways to differentiate between earthly and alien tech signatures, though he believes the latter is far less likely.

“Now I know out in the universe, because of the vastness of the universe, it is — and I think most of the scientific community would agree with this — statistically impossible that there’s no life out there,” Kirkpatrick said. “Whether or not that’s intelligent life, whether or not they’ve traveled here, that is a diminishing probability as you go down that train.”

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Arlington National Cemetery Confederate Memorial (via Arlington National Cemetery/Twitter)

Arlington National Cemetery is seeking public input on its proposal to remove the Confederate Memorial from its grounds.

Atop a 32-foot-tall pedestal in the cemetery stands a bronze statue of a woman depicting Confederate soldiers and Southern civilians, according to the cemetery website. The figures include an enslaved woman holding the infant child of a white officer and an enslaved man following his owner to war.

“The elaborately designed monument offers a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery,” the website says.

The statue is set to be removed nearly 110 years after its unveiling and placement in a section of the cemetery where Confederate soldiers were buried starting in the 1900s — decades after the war ended. The memorial’s sculptor, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, was also buried there.

The proposal is part of a broader effort by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to remove all references, displays and paraphernalia that commemorate the Confederate States of America and its soldiers from each of the Dept. of Defense’s assets. This includes renaming several military bases and removing statues from the West Point Military Academy, among other recommended changes.

Plans to remove the Confederate Memorial have already been challenged in court, the Washington Post reports. The federal government is seeking to dismiss a suit filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and descendants of Confederate soldiers in March. The plaintiffs argue it would be a “disgrace” and illegal to remove the statue because it serves as a grave marker for Confederates buried at the site.

The Arlington National Cemetery website disagrees with this interpretation of the Confederate Memorial. It says the statue perpetuates the narrative that Southern secession was a noble “Lost Cause.”

“This narrative of the Lost Cause, which romanticized the pre-Civil War South and denied the horrors of slavery, fueled white backlash against Reconstruction and the rights that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (1865-1870) had granted to African Americans,” the website said.

While the cemetery says the government has already started preparing “for the careful removal and relocation of the memorial,” the public is invited to provide feedback on “alternatives that will avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects of the monument’s removal.”

The Army is seeking its first round of public feedback now through the beginning of September. There will be a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

“The removal of the Confederate Memorial must be conducted in a manner that ensures the safety of the people who work at and visit ANC and that protects surrounding graves and monuments,” the website said. “The entire process, including disposition, must occur according to applicable laws, policies, and regulations.”

Two years ago, Congress directed the establishment of a naming commission tasked with assessing how much it would cost to remove Confederacy references and recommending renaming procedures.

The commission developed recommendations that informed a plan approved by the Dept. of Defense last October.

The public engagement process for removing the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (via Arlington National Cemetery)
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The federal government says it will direct helicopters to fly higher and on new paths to spare residents of Arlington and neighboring locales from excessive noise.

These changes respond to years of noise complaints about helicopters buzzing overhead, many of which are going to and from the Pentagon.

The new measures were announced yesterday (Tuesday) morning at a press conference at the Fairlington Community Center. The event featured remarks from elected officials, federal agency representatives and the helicopter industry, which were later included in a press release from U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

“Since I took office over eight years ago, helicopter noise has been a constant source of complaints from constituents across Northern Virginia,” Beyer said in a statement. “Here in the nation’s capital with military, medical, commercial and other aviation, aircraft noise will always be with us — but there are things we can do to help reduce the impact on residents.”

He said the actions taken yesterday directly respond to community input.

“I thank the many people whose efforts helped inform the actions we are announcing today, as well as our partners across levels of government who are acting to reduce helicopter noise in Northern Virginia,” he said.

Meanwhile, a system for logging complaints — developed last year from recommendations in a 2021 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report — will be sticking around so residents can continue filing complaints.

Arlington County and neighboring jurisdictions will jointly pay to keep the complaint system operating.

Local elected officials in attendance included Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol, Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis and Vice-Chair Libby Garvey, who gave a speech.

“We are especially pleased that our residents could participate meaningfully in this process, and now will continue to,” she said. “In a democracy it is crucial that people have a voice in how their government affects them.”

Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey speaks at a press conference announcing new flight patterns to mitigate noise on Tuesday, April 25, 2023 (courtesy photo)

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said the system is “far more than a nicety to assuage frustrated residents.”

“This tool gathered data that was used by the [Federal Aviation Association] to make important changes that will mitigate helicopter noise across our region,” he said. “Our residents weren’t just listened to — they were heard.”

The FAA reviewed data the system collected last year as well as studied by the GAO, Arlington and Montgomery counties, and the Dept. of Defense, which suggested helicopters could fly higher.

After studying this body of work, the FAA and the Helicopter Association International decided to draft new, higher flight patterns.

“It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we’re all in the same room with the same access to information and working toward the same goal,” Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Policy, International Affairs and Environment Peter Hearding said in a statement.

Jeff Smith, Chair of the Helicopter Association International Board of Directors, agreed.

“Best practices from this program, along with the data collected from this new initiative, can and will make a noticeable difference in this community,” he said. “This pilot program is a perfect case study for how government and industry can work together to address issues and deliver tangible results.”

In his remarks, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Real Property, Ronald Tickle, said the Pentagon is committed to being a good neighbor.

“The Department looks forward to further collaboration to mitigate helicopter noise in the National Capital Region, while continuing to meet mission requirements,” Tickle said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

New federal security requirements continue to boost a local Arlington-based IT company.

C3 Integrated Solutions announced last week it is merging with Massachusetts-based Steel Root to provide defense contractors, including its 70 clients headquartered in Arlington, an “end-to-end solution” for reaching and maintaining compliance with new standards from the Department of Defense.

In a statement, C3 complimented Steel Root, saying the compliance product it launched in 2021 “frankly, fills key gaps in our offering,” which includes IT services such as software, email and cybersecurity.

For its part, C3 says it will “bring a breadth of experience and close relationship with Microsoft that will only accelerate their already impressive growth.”

The new company will continue operating under C3’s name and its headquarters will be in Arlington, C3 Marketing Director Karen M. Vasquez tells ARLnow. As a result of the merger, the new C3 will keep its current staffing levels of about 60 people and plot an expansion.

“Both teams feel very strongly about the white glove, boutique service we’re able to apply to clients,” she said. “In order for us to maintain that approach, we need to bring in more people.”

It will also get a new CEO, Marc Pantoni.

“He’s done this before,” C3 cofounder Bill Wootton, who will now be the Chief Revenue Officer, said in a video discussing the merger. “He knows how to build to the scale I think we’re going to need as we try to meet this market demand.”

This is the latest sign of growth for C3, which this year placed No. 25 in the Washington Business Journal’s recent ranking of the region’s fastest-growing companies and on the Inc. 5000 list, ranks 1,544th in the U.S, 63rd in Virginia and 88th among IT Management companies.

Both C3, founded in 2008, and Steel Root, founded in 2016, attribute their individual growth to the new regulations, announced in late 2020. Among other things, they require companies to have access entirely U.S.-based help desks and introduces auditors to ensure compliance, where before companies could self-report this.

“This merger opportunity was really a situation where one plus one equals three,” co-founder Ryan Heidorn, who will be the new Chief Technology Officer, said in the video.

Funding from the merger, provided by private equity company M/C Partners, will cover the cost of the merger as well as new hiring. That could go toward standing up a U.S.-based call center, Vasquez said.

Regarding staffing, which won’t change in the short term, Wootton said in the same video that the company’s leaders did not want to “mess with” the company’s culture.

“Your employees, your team, are your most important people,” he said. “If you take care of them, they’ll take care of your customers.”

The companies declined to disclose the finances of the merger to the Washington Business Journal, which first reported the news.

The executive team of C3 and Steel Root (courtesy of C3)
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Reducing local helicopter noise while conducting missions safely may be difficult, the Pentagon says, but the military is willing to try, according to a new report.

The commitment and the recommendations conclude a Dept. of Defense report on the causes and effects of helicopter noise in the D.C. area. This document was completed as a result of Rep. Don Beyer’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which included noise mitigation recommendations that Beyer and other regional lawmakers have sought for years in response to constituent complaints.

“The recommendations in this report reflect priorities my constituents have sought for years to reduce helicopter noise in Northern Virginia, and would make a real difference across the region,” Beyer said. “In particular, the commitment from DoD to study the possibility of increasing altitudes of helicopter routes would be a real game changer.”

The other action items would help reduce noise and improve transparency and engagement with the community, he said.

“I thank the Department of Defense for undertaking and releasing this report, and urge the rapid implementation of these recommendations,” Beyer said.

Residents of certain Arlington neighborhoods have lived with helicopter noise for many years, and it is a thorny issue among them. Previous discussions around noise mitigation ended in a stalemate, as officials say agencies have to also consider safety, which includes avoiding the abundance of commercial airplanes in the region.

There are more than 50 helicopter operators in the area and the biggest contributor is the Army, followed by the Marine Corps. The Army, Marine Corps and Air Force combined conducted 21,863 operations — although that does not translate to 21,863 flights. About eight flights per day used the Pentagon helipad, which is limited to only DoD-directed exercises and three- and four-star executive –and civilian equivalent — travel.

This new report finds that the flights currently occurring at levels “considered acceptable” based on Army, DoD, and federal land use compatibility recommendations. It did acknowledge, however, that studies find helicopter noise is “much more variable and complex” than airplane noise.

The DoD pledged to take four broad steps toward possibly reducing noise.

One notable recommendation is that DoD will discuss the possibility of increasing altitudes of helicopter routes with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Currently, FAA assigns helicopters to lower airspace because the airways are dominated by large commercial passenger jets, namely those landing at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.

“The airspace within the [National Capital Region] is one of the busiest and most restrictive in the United States,” the report said. “The military helicopters that operate within the NCR are sharing airspace with three major commercial airports and are required to follow the helicopter routes and altitude restrictions established and enforced by FAA.”

And a majority of helicopter operators have expressed concern that changing the altitude could reduce safety for all aircrafts, saying that “establishing quiet or restricted zones would negatively affect their mission.”

Other recommendations include continuing to track and analyze helicopter noise complaints to identify potential trends as well as adjustments that the Army Aviation Brigade, 1st Helicopter Squadron and Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron 1 could make.

DoD said it will also work with FAA to obtain flight track data trends to look at compliance with local flight procedures and helicopter routes, and address any potential corrective actions. Finally, DoD said it will work with the Army and Marine Corps to ensure “fly neighborly” and “fly friendly” procedures are being reinforced and examine the procedures currently being used.

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The number of known coronavirus cases in Arlington has jumped from 17 on Friday to 26 on Sunday.

That’s according to new numbers from the Virginia Dept. of Health, which is now reporting 219 cases statewide and 3,337 people tested. Arlington has the third-highest number of positive COVID-19 tests in the state, after Fairfax County (31) and James City (32).

As of Friday afternoon, 173 people had been tested at Arlington’s new drive-through testing site, which opened on Wednesday on N. Quincy Street near Washington-Liberty High School. Officials from Virginia Hospital Center expected to conduct another 60 tests on Monday, having received a new shipment of tests on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Sunday that a Defense Security Cooperation Agency worker has passed away after contracting COVID-19. As reported on March 9, the worker had spent time at the agency’s offices in Crystal City, leading to tenants in a pair of buildings being notified of the possible coronavirus exposure.

Also today (Sunday), Arlington Transit announced that it would be temporarily increasing service on one of its routes due to an unexpected rise in ridership.

“The ART 41 is seeing an increase in ridership this afternoon,” the local transit agency said. “We encourage social distancing on buses, so there will be an increase in frequency this afternoon to accommodate our passengers and keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) A portion of S. Clark Street in Crystal City remains closed by police due to a bomb threat.

Clark Street is currently closed between 23rd Street and 26th Street while Pentagon and Arlington County bomb squads investigate a reported threat at a Department of Defense facility. Bomb-sniffing dogs are searching the building to ensure there are no explosives inside.

Pedestrians were moved away from the area as a precaution.

“Avoid the area and follow police direction,” said an Arlington Alert about the incident.

Update at 11:35 a.m. — The “all-clear” has been given and first responders are preparing to leave the scene.

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Morning Notes

Police Investigating Shooting in DoD Office Building — Arlington County police are investigating a fatal shooting in the Defense Department’s Taylor building, at 2530 Crystal Drive in Crystal City. The shooting happened this morning and initial reports suggest it was self-inflicted.

Lyon Village Profiled by WaPo — “Close to both the Clarendon and Court House Metro stops on the Orange and Silver lines, Lyon Village is the kind of neighborhood where families know their neighbors, children play and parents can walk almost everywhere.” [Washington Post]

ACPD Recruiting for Citizen’s Police Academy — Applications are currently being accepted for the Arlington County Citizen’s Police Academy. The academy “was designed to create a better understanding and communication between citizens and the police through education.” Applicants are subject to background checks before acceptance into the program, which shows the “inner workings” of the police department. [Arlington County]

Arlington Hosts Travel Trade Show Attendees — Arlington County hopes to get a big tourism and economic boost from its promotional efforts during this year’s U.S. Travel Association IPW trade show, which was held in D.C. for the first time. The county, in partnership with the Rosslyn BID, JBG Companies, and Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, also hosted 150 trade show attendees in Rosslyn on Monday. [Arlington County]

Crystal City Startup Gets Big Funding Boost — Arlington-based private detective booking startup Trustify has raised more than $6.5 million as part of its latest fundraising round. The company recently opened a new office in Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal]

Letter to the Editor: Kids Over Dogs — The writer of a letter to the editor of the Sun Gazette newspaper doesn’t understand why, in county government, there seems to be more urgency over proposed changes to a dog park than making sure there is enough land to build new schools to keep up with rising enrollment. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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July 19 County Board meeting screenshotThe County Board has given the go-ahead to a plan from the U.S. Department of Defense to install equipment around Arlington that could detect explosions and provide forensic data to investigators after an attack.

The board’s members voted unanimously last night to approve a license agreement between the County Board and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to install the equipment on county property.

According to a county staff report, the nature and location of the equipment will be kept secret and exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, a fact that worried ACLU of Virginia’s executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. Speaking before the board, Gastañaga argued that it was “important that the capabilities of the equipment be public.”

“We don’t think think that… those capabilities of this kind of equipment are any real secret,” she said. Additionally, Gastañaga urged the board to ask the Defense Department to agree not to install listening devices or other active monitoring equipment.

County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac replied that the board has some of the same concerns as the ACLU, and added that its members have had an opportunity to examine the plans to assure “that the nature of the equipment is not the kind of thing that can record audio or visual activities.”

“It is dormant equipment that is only activated when an event occurs and it does not record audio or video,” MacIsaac said. “You can have a high level of confidence that the equipment they’re putting out there is not capable of doing the sorts of things that there is concern about.”

Board member John Vihstadt agreed with McIsaac and said that “the county has a high degree of control over exactly what DTRA is doing and what they’re putting out on county property.”

“I think a big distinction here is that we’re not turning over any part of our county’s infrastructure or geography or territory to DTRA, we’re simply entering into a licensing agreement to deploy the kind of sensors that they have described,” added board member Christian Dorsey. “That gives me great comfort that many of the civil liberties issues that Ms. Gastanaga have brought up are not going to be ongoing issues here.”

Furthermore, board chair Libby Garvey said the county could choose to cancel the agreement if it ever became concerned with the new equipment.

Screenshot via County Board video

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Military helicopter landing at the PentagonRep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is continuing his fight against helicopter noise in the D.C. area.

Following up on frequent resident complaints, last month Beyer added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act “to study changes to the region’s helicopter flight routes, operating procedures, and even the types of helicopters flown in the national capital airspace to mitigate the effect of noise on the region’s neighborhoods.”

A letter sent today to Defense Secretary Ash Carter by Beyer and other local members of Congress notes that the bill directs the Defense Department to work with the FAA “to develop recommendations for the reduction of military helicopter noise, taking into account the operational needs of the military while offering residents a much-needed reprieve.”

The letter expresses concern about the noise while offering “to support your outreach to communities to ensure the DOD and the FAA receive the most comprehensive information regarding the effects of military helicopter noise.”

The full letter, after the jump.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Bird on a bridge (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

Arlington Inmate Dies — A 48-year-old convict died early Saturday morning in the Arlington County Detention Facility in Courthouse. The man, who had a “history of medical issues,” was found unresponsive in his cell and rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. [Arlington County]

More Sequestration Could Hit Virginia Hard — Virginia, and in particular Northern Virginia, is bracing for more sequestration cuts to the Defense Department, which are set to take effect in five weeks. Virginia’s two U.S. Senators are pushing for new budget legislation to replace the sequester. [Washington Post]

Cemetery Superintendent Removed — One year after taking the position, Arlington National Cemetery superintendent Jack E. Lechner has been given the boot. The Army says Lechner’s job performance was unsatisfactory. [Washington Post]

DAK Chicken Opens in Shirlington — DAK Chicken, a Korean-style chicken restaurant, welcomed customers on Friday for its soft opening. In addition to chicken wings the new Shirlington eatery offers other Korean and Asian-fusion dishes like kimchi, bulgogi and ramen. [Northern Virginia Magazine, Facebook]

Arlington Company Makes Fortune List — Courthouse-based Opower has made Fortune Magazine’s inaugural “Change The World” list. Opower is ranked No. 45 on the list of 51 companies “that have made a sizable impact on major global social or environmental problems as part of their competitive strategy.” How long Opower remains in Arlington remains a question: the company is currently considering a move to the District. [Fortune]

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