The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was created, in large part, to inspect nuclear facilities for safety and security. Over time, succumbing to a bad case of mission creep, it became a de facto detective agency stuck with the job of determining whether states such as Iran were developing nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, other bodies verify compliance with the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and would perform the same service for the prospective Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

But another entity, one that’s neither party to any treaties nor reports back to the UN Security Council like the IAEA, may also be monitoring nuclear facilities. While it has enforcement capabilities the IAEA can only dream of, it has yet to be inclined to use them.

In 2010 an eye-opening book titled UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record was published with the surprising support of John Podesta and the Center for American Progress. It was written by Leslie Kean, a founder of the Coalition for Freedom of Information, launched in 2001 to obtain documents from the United States government about UFOs through the Freedom of Information Act.

UFOs serves two purposes. First, it’s the authoritative record of ironclad sightings as witnessed or assembled by those enumerated in the subtitle, who narrate their stories in their own chapters. Second, author Kean analyzes the U.S. government policy of reflexively debunking UFO sightings, which has the insidious effect of filtering down to all serious commentators. Writing about UFOs has become almost as lethal to a writer’s credibility as if he or she lent credence to those who subscribe to alternate histories of 9/11.

Before continuing, allow me to mention the reason — ostensible, anyway — that the United States debunks UFO sightings. In the early 1950s, Kean writes:

Authorities were … saturated by hundreds of UFO reports. … Even though the UFOs had demonstrated no threat to national security, false alarms could be dangerous. … Officials were concerned that the Soviets might take advantage of this situation by simulating or staging a UFO wave, and then attack.

How the United States government deals with UFO reports stands in stark contrast to how they’re handled in other countries, notably Britain, France, and Belgium, as well as those of South America. As one of the sub-authors writes,

… the 1989-90 UFO wave in Belgium was handled rationally, openly, and responsibly by the government. The Belgian Air Force was called into action immediately, and other agencies, such as the Gendarmerie Nationale (a combination of police and army) and the Belgian equivalent of our FAA, also cooperated in the mobilization to identify the objects.

In other words, stigmatizing those investigating UFO sightings is a distinctly American phenomenon.

Returning to the auxiliary monitoring agency alluded to above, Kean writes about Jean-Jacques Velasco, an engineer in satellite development for CNES, the French equivalent of NASA, who later served as head of the French government’s UFO agency for over 20 years. In his section, Velasco reminds us of a famous incident in 1967 when UFOs were spotted by military personnel near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana when, simultaneously, the launch capacity of almost 20 nuclear missiles was shut down. One of the few officials to actually hypothesize about why extraterrestrials seem to be visiting us, Velasco writes.

I would like to propose an intriguing hypothesis that. … has required some research … into the United States. I believe that there is a connection between strategic nuclear power [by which he means] the atomic bomb, and the presence of unidentified artificial objects in the sky. This is suggested by data collected over several decade.

During the Cold War, he continues, “Air Force intelligence noted that many sightings occurred over ‘sensitive installations.'”

Most explicit was part of a report by George E. Valley, MIT physicist and radiation. (Emphasis added.)

Such a civilization [as might visit the earth] might observe that on Earth we now have atomic bombs and are fast developing rockets. In view of the past history of mankind, they should be alarmed. We should, therefore, expect at this time above all to behold such visitations.

Since the acts of mankind most easily observed from a distance are A-bomb explosions, we should expect some relation to obtain between the time of A-bomb explosions, the time at which the space ships are seen, and the time required for such ships to arrive from and return to the home base.

Velasco further writes:

We have on record the number of explosions worldwide and tests … a total of just over 2,400 explosions. … By comparing nuclear tests to some 150 visual/radar UFO cases collected since 1947, we note that the curves are practically superimposed in time and they coincide, with not more than a few months appearing between the number of explosions and one of the UFO appearances. … We can see on a graph the relationship between atomic explosions and visual/radar sightings. … This similarity in the two curves would suggest that the proven presence of UFOs is related to the nuclear strategic activity in the world.

Those inclined to attribute benevolence to extraterrestrials might think they monitor our nuclear weapons to keep us from harming ourselves. But they would be advised not to hold their breath waiting for extraterrestrials to become disarmament advocates of last resort who will decommission nuclear stockpiles on earth via electromagnetic pulse or something. This kind of thinking is just as much a symptom of our earth-centricity as the failure to perceive that what we do on earth spills over the borders of the planet. We’ve demonstrated little inclination to make sure that what happens on earth stays on earth.

In fact, extraterrestrials’ main concern may be how nuclear weapons on earth affect them. More likely, though, since recent developments in science suggest life elsewhere is untold light years away, extraterrestrials are too far from us to be directly affected by radiation emanating from earth. Instead, their overarching concern might be the ecology of the universe, if you can believe not only that, in its immensity, the universe needs tending like a planet but that extraterrestrials actually care enough to see to its well-being.

Whether they’re concerned about themselves or the state of the universe, it’s certainly a measure of how dangerous nuclear weapons are that beings from points unimaginably far distant are monitoring them out of apparent concern that, if used, they’d spill over the borders of the earth and into the universe commons.