SpyCast 4.30.24
Ep 631 | 4.30.24

“Interstellar Intelligence” – with Harvard Astrophysicist Avi Loeb


Dr. Andrew Hammond: Welcome to SpyCast, the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. My name is Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Please support the show for free in 30 seconds by leaving us a five-star review and recommending the show to a friend. Coming up next on SpyCast.

Avi Loeb: The Copernican revolution that Nicolas Copernicus came with was to recognize that we are not at the physical center of the universe. And I think the next one would be to realize that we are not at the intellectual center of the universe.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: In this week's episode, we explore phenomena beyond our own piece of planetary driftwood, Mother Earth, to look at interstellar intelligence. This week's guest is Avi Loeb, a professor in the Department of Astrophysics at Harvard. He gained his PhD in plasma physics at 24 from Hebrew University, and he heads the Galileo Project and is the founding director of the Black Hole Initiative. He's also the author of a book, Interstellar, which I can highly recommend. In this week's episode, you'll learn about the search for life beyond planet Earth; the intelligence community and the interstellar region; the intelligence community and UFOs, or UAPs; the sheer number of possible life worlds out there in space; and David Bowie's song, Starman. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are SpyCast. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. So thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to me, Avi. I really enjoyed reading your book, and I'm looking forward to speaking to you about some of the links between interstellar exploration and science and the intelligence community.

Avi Loeb: Thank you so much for having me. And I would be delighted to answer any question you have.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: The first thing that came to mind was, I was just looking at some of the history of this. So, in 1952, the Assistant Director of the CIA for the Office of Scientific intelligence sends a memo to the Director of the CIA. The Azure is flying saucers, whether or not there are security implications and the problem of unidentified flying objects and what further investigation and research should be instituted and by whom. So that actually made me think of your book because, in your book, you discuss that, quite often, interstellar issues or relations are viewed through the lens of security or by the military. And also you say that the research should be something that's done almost as a species rather than through the lens of a particular nation. I just wanted to briefly get a primer on what led you to start exploring interstellar intelligence? I know that you were at. This is your area of research. But tell us what -- what led you to write this book, and we can maybe pick up on some of the connections between the intelligence agencies and your field of research.

Avi Loeb: Yes. So I'm an astrophysicist. And I'm pretty much interested in everything that the cosmos has to offer. And then with respect to the first thing you said, that I'm usually thinking about an analogy with the North Sentinel Island. That's within the Indian chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal. And the islanders constitute one of the few remaining hunter gatherer tribes on Earth. They have no contact with the more advanced culture that we live in. And, in fact, India forbids visit to this island. And the Sentinelese resist attempts for contact by outsiders. In 2004, there was a major earthquake that generated a devastating tsunami. And the Indian Coast Guard flew a reconnaissance mission to the island, and the Sentinelese emerged from the forest and shot arrows at the incoming helicopter. And what I'm worried about is that this is a metaphor for the way we behave. We think that, you know, we are attacked every time there might be a hint for a neighbor in our cosmic environment and that the suspicion that we may be attacked brings the subject to the realm of the Director of National Intelligence, the military. And, instead, it should be the focus of scientists because anything that lies outside the solar system is my day job. It's not the government's day job. Their day job is to worry about national security. But anything to do with the universe at large is not a matter of national security for several reasons. You know, the way we split the land on this rock that we were born on, which is a relic from the formation of the Sun, is completely irrelevant to these visitors from far away. They started their journey probably billions of years ago. Time is measured in billions of years in the universe. And we existed only for a few million years as the human species. So, you know, the border between Russia and Ukraine is invisible when you get to the distance of the moon. And not to speak about wherever anything came to the solar system from far away, they didn't have us in mind. They don't care about our local affairs. It has nothing to do with a particular government or national security concerns. It has to be knowledge that is shared by all humans the way science is handled. And that's my main point, that if the government has any information, has any materials, I would very much encourage them to share it with scientists like myself, for two reasons. One, they are not really geared to doing scientific research. I mean, they might think that it perhaps would bring some benefits to national security. But that's a very narrow-minded view. And the second, you know, scientists like myself, you know, I -- I've been working in astronomy for 40 years. I have a perspective on everything the cosmos has to offer that we know about, and I can help them figure out the nature of these objects or materials. Now, I'm not naive. I don't expect the government to come forward if they have anything. Maybe they don't have anything. Maybe they just saw unusual things that adversarial countries launched based on technologies that we are not aware of. But -- so I'm not waiting for the government to figure it out or tell me what they have. Instead, I have started the Galileo Project at Harvard University two and a half years ago where we monitor the sky 24/7, all -- at all times with the NOAA observatory. You have to understand that astronomers look at the small region of the sky, usually with existing observatories. And they train the telescope on very distant sources of light. They ignore anything that flies overhead. And we had to build from scratch a completely new concept, a new design of an observatory that looks at the entire sky at all times. We have machine learning software that analyzes all objects and tries to figure out whether it's a bird, natural object; or maybe an airplane, a balloon, satellite, or perhaps a drone that humans made. And the key question is whether one out of a thousand, one out of a million, you know, perhaps came from somewhere else. The government really cares about 99.9999% of all the objects. If they figure them out, they are happy, as long as it's not any national security risk. I care about the very rare object that has nothing to do with humans here on Earth. And, therefore, my job is complementary to that of government. And the second part of the Galileo Project is aimed at finding materials from interstellar meteors. These are objects that collide with Earth. And based on their high speed, before the impact, we can tell that they came from outside the solar system, that they were not bound to the Sun. And the first such object was discovered by US government satellites a decade ago, exactly a decade ago on January 8, 2014. And we actually -- I led an expedition to the Pacific Ocean where this meteor exploded 20 kilometers above the ocean surface. And then we went there to scoop any related materials left over from the meteor, any molten droplets from it that landed on the ocean floor. This is roughly a mile deep. And we went across the region that is seven miles long with a ship that we're 28 people on the expedition team, the best people in the world and navigators, engineers, scientists. And we came back with 850 molten droplets, out of which a few percent, up to 10% of those molten droplets have a composition that was never reported before for materials from the solar system. We analyzed 60 elements from the periodic table, and they appeared to have concentrations that are not resembling what you find either on the surface of Earth, the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids. So we say, well, maybe we have evidence that this object indeed, aside from its high speed, came from outside the solar system. And it was moving really fast. So, altogether, what I'm saying is this is a subject that can be examined scientifically. It has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. It has nothing to do with people reporting about their personal experiences. It has to do with using instruments to measure the properties of objects that arrive to the solar system from outside. And, you know, maybe among the rocks that we are used to in our backyard, we will find a tennis ball that was thrown by a neighbor. That's my hope.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: Just a couple of quick follow-up questions just for our listeners who may be a little rusty on some of the terms. So what's the difference between a meteor and an asteroid?

Avi Loeb: Ah. Okay. So a meteor is an object that happens to collide with Earth. It just has a trajectory that crosses the Earth's trajectory. They happen to arrive at the same point and the same time. It's just like you are running in the street and bumping into another person. Okay. And then, of course, the smaller the object is, the more common it is. So we have many more, like a sandy meter size, the objects collide with Earth, you know, every 15 seconds or so. Very big objects, like the size of Manhattan Island, a giant rock of this type collided with Earth 66 million years ago. And that's why the dinosaurs are not around anymore. So when something giant like that collides, it's -- it has devastating consequences. It triggers -- it raises a lot of dust and creates a nuclear winter, similar to global atomic war. And then that's what the dinosaurs suffered from, and they didn't have telescopes to monitor the skies. And then asteroids are just rocks that are floating in space that do not collide with Earth. They are left over. They're sort of like Lego pieces that were left over from the construction process of the planets, you know. So the solar system started this cloud of gas and dust. And it was rotating, spinning around the Sun. And the debris left from the formation of the Sun ended up making the planets. So it started this dust that settled to the plane of this disc that was rotating around the Sun, and then dust particles coagulated and made bigger particles. And those particles made even bigger particles and so forth. And, eventually, we ended up with rocks and boulders and -- and rocky planets like the Earth is. And -- but the process was not entirely efficient. And there were some rocks left behind, sort of like unused Lego pieces. And also there were some objects that were destroyed as a result of collisions. And so you end up with rocks in the solar system. There is the asteroid belt that may very well be a result of collisions between bigger objects. And those rocks are all around us. And every now and then, you know, one of them collides with Earth, becomes a meteor. But others are mostly floating freely in space.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: There's -- so I'm just thinking about the way that the intelligence community makes sense of phenomena that's out there in the world. So we're thinking mainly about Planet Earth. So there's measurements and signature intelligence where they look at things like energy, the motion, reflection, radiation, all of these other types of features that you can pick up from phenomena in the universe. There's imagery intelligence where they're capturing imagery of things that exist. Or they're doing signals intelligence. They're trying to intercept communications. Sometimes that can be human to human; sometimes it can be machine to machine. So all of those types of things from what I read in your book are -- that's analogous to what astrophysicists are doing, as well, just thinking about the meteors and so forth. So that just led me to the question, should the intelligence community be looking out into the universe and into space to do more of the stuff? Because, at the minute is very terrestrially confined or even the National Reconnaissance Office or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, they're looking at, you know, satellites, low-Earth orbit and near-Earth orbit, all those types of things. So should their gaze be wider? Should they be, rather than focusing on national security, should they be focusing on planetary security? Or would your advice be just leave it alone? Whenever you guys get involved, that always gets a bit weird. Let the scientists do their work, and we'll try to figure out eventually what. Yeah. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on that.

Avi Loeb: Right. So I met Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence in the green room of the Washington National Cathedral at the public gathering that included Bill Nelson, the head of NASA, and Jeff Bezos. And I asked Avril, since she has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Chicago, I approached her as a physicist and I said, Avril, you just reported the US Congress -- that was back in 2021 -- you reported about those unidentified objects. What is your gut feeling? What are they? And she said, I don't know. And I believe her. I think we need more data. We need to examine it more carefully. And then I do think that scientists can help the government figure out what is out there. And it's to the benefit of both communities. Scientists, of course, have a broader knowledge of what lies beyond the Earth. For matters of national security, I'm not so worried about the visitors from far away, the interstellar space because my view is that we are not that important. They -- if they arrive here, it's for other reasons. And the benefit is all ours because they arrived at our doorstep before we managed to arrive at their doorstep. And that means they're far more advanced than we are. We just had the benefit of about a century of modern science and technology. Quantum mechanics was discovered just a century ago. And the gadgets that the two of us are using to communicate right now, they're all based on this understanding of quantum mechanics, electronics that resulted over the past century. Now, imagine another civilization that existed with more than science and technology for more than 1000 years, a million years, maybe even a billion years. They would be so much more advanced than we are. You know, we are thinking about ChatGPT 5 as exceeding the number of synapses in the human brain with its number of connections. So we will develop an artificial intelligence system that -- that will be more capable than the human brain on some tasks. But this is just within a century of studying modern science and technology. And I just -- it's hard to -- to imagine what the next century will bring and the next thousand years with bring. But if we encounter a more advanced neighbor, we could get a glimpse at our future technologies. And we will greatly benefit from that. That will provide us with a quantum leap in -- if we are able to understand how things work. We will get a better sense of physics and a better sense of questions that we have no answer to as of now, how to unify quantum mechanics and gravity perhaps. And that would be, of course, of benefit to anything to do with national security. But, more importantly, it will give us a new perspective about our place in the universe and then perhaps convince us that, you know, fighting with each other here on Earth -- you know, currently there are two wars going on, and we spend worldwide $2 trillion a year on military budgets. If we were to invest those funds in space exploration instead of wasting them on killing each other, we could reach or we could send a probe towards every star in the Milky Way galaxy, tens of billions of them, within one century. It's just a matter of priorities. And my hope is that, realizing that we have a smart neighbor that we can learn from would convince us to change our priorities from fighting over territories on this small piece of rock, trying to kill each other to something more noble, just looking up and having bigger aspirations because there is so much more real estate out there than you find here on Earth.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: To help you digest the material, here's a short interlude on Copernicus and Galileo whom Avi mentions in this episode. Essentially, the Copernican revolution changed how we thought about the universe and, more importantly, our space within that universe. Previously, geocentrism was the order of the day. You may have heard the joke, how many narcissists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One. They stand still and let the Earth revolve around them. Well, geocentrism was the idea that the Earth is at the center of the universe, and the Sun revolves around the Earth. Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer and mathematician working in the 16th century, changed this. He theorized that the Sun was at the center and Earth with the other planets revolving around them. Now, as you can imagine, if you thought the world revolved around you and someone told you that this was actually not the case, then maybe he'd be a tad displeased. And this would turn out to be the case in the following century. And Galileo provided empirical evidence through his scientific observations to prove and popularize Copernicus' theory. The powers that be in the Catholic Church found Galileo guilty of heresy. And he would be forced to recant his views and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Eppur si muove, and yet, it moves, he is rumored to have said. There was a nice phrase that I took out of the book. You call it the parochial practice of industrialized murder. When you think -- when you think about the nature of what's out there in the broader sense, it really brings home the insignificance of this piece of planetary driftwood swirling around in space. It's quite humbling reading about the research that you're doing.

Avi Loeb: It is very humbling. I mean, and that should be the perspective we take because, you know, I've been invited to give the keynote speech at the celebration of 550 years to the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus in two weeks. The government of Poland invited -- invited me. And then I decided to speak about the next Copernican revolution. The first Copernican revolution that Nicholas Copernicus came with was to recognize that we are not at the physical center of the universe. And I think the next one would be to realize that we are not at the intellectual center of the universe. And, you know, it will just fill us with, oh, towards a much more sophisticated neighbor that we might have and can bring us together. That's my hope. Actually, it's ironic that the day before I go to Poland I will be in Munich at the Munich Security Conference, which is a gathering of heads of states and senior officials, including from the White House and many other countries. And there I will be speaking about unidentified objects, the Galileo Project to people who are mostly occupied with national security concerns. And, a day later, I will go to Poland to speak about the next Copernican revolution, which is really what I hope for in the coming years. And, of course, you know, to -- to gain new knowledge, we have to work hard at it. We have to invest funds in the research. You know, people say extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And I say extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: Just for our listeners, what's the -- I know this is a very difficult question to summarize. But what's the existing theoretical take on what's out there? Is there a scientific consensus or a power thing just now, or is it still being resolved and struggled over?

Avi Loeb: Well, it depends who you ask. I mean, so the scientific community that makes the official statement that we should not include the search for intelligence as part of the mainstream research in astronomy. And that's because it may be speculative. Perhaps we are alone. We didn't get yet any evidence that we are not alone. We didn't detect any radio signal. Enrico Fermi said, Where is everybody? Therefore, that should be regarded as speculation. So the mainstream view that you will hear is that it's very possible and likely that there is nobody like us. And that was obviously the view before Copernicus, before Galileo, that we are at the center of the universe, the physical center. So we are extremely important. Here it comes again. Okay. We are not at the center, the physical center, /but we are still unique and special. And I can understand where it's coming from because, when my two daughters were young, they thought that the world centers on them. And they did it because they have limited experience. They only saw their immediate environment and all that attention that is given only to them. But as soon as they went to the kindergarten and met other kids, they realized -- they had a psychological shock, that they are not the only ones and that there are others very similar to them. Now, to me, this sounds like common sense, that you should start from the assumption that you are not unique and special. But, instead, the mainstream of astronomy starts from the opposite assumption. And you may ask why. It doesn't make sense to argue that we are unique and special when we see stars like the Sun having planets like the Earth, roughly, its similar separations. You know, there was just a new story today about a super Earth that was detected in the habitable zone of another star. And so we know that there are plenty of systems of planets in the habitable zone of stars, maybe tens of billions of them in the Milky Way galaxy alone. There are trillion of galaxies in the observable volume of the universe and many more beyond the horizon of the cosmos. So all together, you know, the numbers are huge. And it's really arrogant to believe that we are unique and special given those circumstances. And, nevertheless, the argument is made. We haven't seen them yet. But, of course, it's -- I mean, this is a circular argument. If you don't search, you don't invest the effort, you will never find the evidence that you're not -- I mean, it's just like a single person standing at home and saying, there is no partner for me. But then, obviously, to find a partner, you really need to go to dating sites. You need at very -- at the very least to look through your windows and search for partners. You can't just say there is nobody next to me, the way Enrico Fermi argued in Los Alamos 73 years ago. We don't know if they exist. Nevertheless, the mainstream prefers to hang on to these notions just in order not to even consider the possibility of an artificial object. And -- and I say that is not, you know, the beginner's mind that one should have.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: You've put yourself out on a limb a little bit by saying, Listen. The scientific consensus is not what it should be. The dating analogy, like, at least brush your teeth and have a shower and go out to a bar or something and -- and see what happens. So I'm just wondering, do you feel like you're out on a limb? Are your arguments getting traction? Or how is that all panning out within the field?

Avi Loeb: Important element of science, and that is really key, is paying attention to evidence, not to opinions. Now, what happens very often is people are not seeking the evidence because they have an opinion. And then you have a consensus. I asked my research group, what makes theoretical physicists happy? And there was silence in the room. And then I gave the answer: lack of evidence. Why? Because then they can maintain their opinions. The whole beauty of science is that you can have theoretical ideas, but then you put them to a test. And the guillotine of experiments very often chops the head of ideas that do not describe reality. That's the way science makes progress. So it's not about consensus because consensus can be maintained forever if you're not seeking evidence. Very often what happens is they are so convinced of the idea that, if someone else tries to collect evidence and it doesn't conform with the idea, they will brush the evidence aside, ridicule it, step on it so nobody would notice. If you are a scientist, you recognize that how often this happens where you have bubbles, basically, group of people, that their divorces its set of beliefs from experimental testing. And, in some cases, it could be for your entire life, your entire career. If you consider string theories, for example, string theorists, for example, they have been promoting ideas about additional spatial dimensions. For -- by now, it's 40 years. We haven't had a test of that that demonstrates it. We might not have a test of that during their lifetime. And -- and that's what makes them happy because they can continue to go to conferences and do intellectual gymnastics. And you would argue that's -- that's the mainstream view in theoretical physics right now. But is that really what describes reality? We don't know. We haven't made any significant advance at developing a theory that unifies quantum mechanics and gravity that makes predictions that can explain how the universe started.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: I'm also just thinking about analogies with the intelligence community because, obviously, empirical evidence is an important part of that. But sometimes you don't have all of the information. So people that have a hypothesis or a theory about what's going on and so forth and --

Avi Loeb: Yeah. Because it motivates you to get more evidence. So that's extremely important. So someday, as you say, most of the time, you don't know the answer. And you have a variety. So you come up with alternative explanations, alternative interpretations. You have to put all of them in -- on the table. And you know, as Sher -- it's just like a detective story. Sherlock Holmes used to say in the fictional book that you need to eliminate all possibilities, and whatever remains must be the truth.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: I have this quote from John Radcliffe that you mentioned in the book so former director of national intelligence. And he says, Frank, there are a lot -- there are a lot more sightings than have been made public. Some of those have been declassified. So what -- what I'm asking, and I don't know if you know this, but how much attention do the intelligence agencies play towards the stuff other than, you know, The X Files or stuff that we see in culture like that, like the intelligence community, Avril Haines, John Ratcliffe. Is this something that's peripheral -- peripheral to the intelligence community? Are their views being changed by legislation coming out of Congress? So you mentioned Harry Reid in the book and so forth. Help me understand how much this is within the wheelhouse of, say, American intelligence.

Avi Loeb: Right. So this is really interesting because there are two possibilities, only two possibilities. When you hear the Director of National Intelligence, either Radcliffe or Haines, speaking about unidentified objects, there are two possibilities. One is that they are not doing their job, that these objects are made by adversarial nations and represent technologies that we have no idea about because if they represent -- if these objects were representing technologies that, you know, are obvious for us to interpret, then they wouldn't talk about them as unidentified. So it's possible they don't have enough data to figure it out. But that's very alarming because it means that they're not doing their job. They're supposed to figure out any threat to national security. And here are a class of objects, maybe a few percent of those, you know, there is the old domain anomaly resolution office that was established by Congress as a result of the reports from Avril Haines. And then the bottom line as of now is they identified 97% of these objects, but 3% remain unidentified. And I would be very alarmed if I was in Congress or in the intelligence agencies because, a few percent, you know, they -- this could be a large population of objects that we just don't understand. So -- so someone has to figure it out if it's a matter of national security. The second possibility is even more alarming. It's something that was not made on this Earth. Okay. And then, of course, it's an issue that should be studied by scientists. So I think this subject should get a much higher priority than it gets because, in the first case, you start worrying about -- I mean, there was the Chinese balloon that was shut down a year ago. And perhaps there are more objects that are spying on the US and that we are not aware of. We need to find out. But if that's not the case and that was the hint that was given by Radcliffe, he said that there are satellite images that show objects that are quite puzzling. Avril Haines reported in three separate instances about the objects that the intelligence agencies cannot identify. So, you know, I say that, if this is not national security related, then please tell me more because, as of now, I don't know what the data shows; and I will be happy to help government figure it out. And, of course, we're trying to do the work through the Galileo Project. But it would be far more efficient if we were to partner with those who have access to this data and recognize that it's not a matter of national security.

Karen Epstein: Hi. My name is Karen Epstein. I'm a volunteer with guest services here at the Spy Museum. I work here because I feel valued and appreciated. First, I love curating experiences for guests based on their needs and interests that go from the collections and putting things together at the Spy Museum for them to helping them out with how are they going to navigate their way around DC and the larger metropolitan area. I also love to connect across departments. Volunteering here gives me that opportunity. I've worked with education, development, and memberships so far; and I get to work with special events and different aspects of each department. Cory, our volunteer coordinator, enables this. She always puts messages out to us when other departments need special things. And that's one of the things I really love here is that this is a real community. It is not just me showing up a couple of times a week or month to stand somewhere and not connect. I feel very connected. There are special volunteer perks for those of you who choose to work here. Number one for me is the education, the continuing education. It's like I'm a kid in a candy store. So there are so many things I get to do, so many opportunities to watch podcasts, go to special events, read books. We have a book club. We have special field trips for volunteers. We went to the Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, which was pretty cool. We have the ability because we're volunteers to make our own hours, which I never got to do when I was a teacher. And there's free admission and a volunteer appreciation dinner once a year. What makes us exciting, that's the second big reason I work here. Number one, our collections are expansive; and our stories are powerful. And every time I walk in here, I take a stroll through the fourth and fifth floors, and I find something new and different. Finally, I feel like I'm a part of something bigger. The leaders, our board or even some of our guests, some of our volunteers, staff, visitors have been or are currently part of the intelligence community. They freely make themselves available to us, and it's pretty cool. It's exciting. And I feel like I am giving back to so many people who gave so much to our country and the global community. So that's my story. Have a good day.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: I realize that this there's no way to give a firm answer to this question, but do you get the sense that the -- the American government or governments around the world are sitting on information, biological entities from another planet or that we can't explain and so forth? Do you think they're sitting on information? Or -- so the other week I was speaking to a former CIA historian. And he said, what the public don't understand is that things are more or less as they happen, what people know. It's just some of the details that they don't know. There's no -- there's no big reveals. There's no green curtain where the Wizard of Oz was behind it. Is that your sense with this issue?

Avi Loeb: Well, there was a testimony under oath by David Grusch to the US Congress arguing that there are retrieval and reverse engineering programs within the US government in crash sites so extraterrestrial objects. And I -- frankly, I -- he didn't show any new evidence that is not in the public domain to that effect. And I had the conversation over Zoom with him for more than an hour trying to get the hint of any related evidence. He did not -- he basically said, I cannot reveal it because, legally speaking, I would be put in jail, given my contract with government, the NDAs that he signed. But to me as a scientist, that leaves the subject undecided because, as a scientist, I only respond to evidence, not to what people tell me, not to stories. And then he did not provide that evidence. And it's possible that he was describing something real because, you know, I had the visit by a number of people from Washington, DC, a month ago. And one of them used to work in Lockheed Martin. And I asked him, you know, what -- is what David Grusch said, that -- does that make any sense to you? Is it possible there are materials that were shared with corporations that the government, you know, gave it to corporations to examine so that the -- they will not have to report about it because it's not in their hands? I assumed that he would say no, that's all nonsense. But he said, No. That actually might not be wrong. And so I don't know who to believe. There is also the director of the old domain anomaly resolution of his former director, Sean Kirkpatrick, who argued that there is no evidence for anything beyond what the public already knows. And it may, you know, it may be that he's not aware of and some other parts of government are aware of it. You know, it's a complicated system. It's an opaque system. But, if you think about the subject as a whole, you know, it should be -- there should be more transparency. If the government has something, they should involve scientists. But, to me, at this point in time, it's unclear who to believe. It's possible they have nothing. It's possible they have something. And if they do, I think it's inappropriate for them to hide it. So I don't believe in conspiracies. I think -- you know, my fundamental belief is the government is most likely incompetent. They don't --

Dr. Andrew Hammond: Never rule that out.

Avi Loeb: They don't have the ability to analyze scientifically what -- if they found something unusual what it means, so they -- perhaps they gave it to someone else. And then this someone else gets funded by the Department of Defense, so they will never figure it out. It's just like the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient. You don't want to solve the problem of the patient because then you will not get paid after that. I don't know who to believe. And until I see the evidence, and if the government has evidence, I really want to see it. If not, I'll try to find it myself.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: I mean, some of the questions that stuff brings up are the deepest questions that we've been asking since we come down out of the trees. What's the nature of the world? What exists? How can we acquire knowledge of what exists? What does this mean for us? Where do we come from? All -- these are all really important questions. And I think for the intelligence community, as well, it's like, what exists? What, like, what can we photograph? What can we -- what can we capture in the atmosphere? Can we detect radiation and so forth.

Avi Loeb: And it's like a detective story. We want to figure out if we have a neighbor, and we need to look out for that. And, you know, my wife keeps saying, you know, you have maybe two more decades to continue to work as an active scientist. Make the best out of it. That's the way I think about it. It's not -- it's not about me, it's more about the future of humanity. And I personally believe that, right now, our priorities are screwed up. You know, we're focusing on -- on wars and suspicion, rather than working together as equal members of the human species. And perhaps, you know, finding a letter in our mailbox from someone else will change our perspective. That's my hope. That, you know, that in both the Christian and Jewish religions that there is this hope for the Messiah to arrive. I don't think the Messiah will arrive from Brooklyn. I believe the Messiah will probably arrive from another star and give us a new perspective of how to live peacefully because we would realize that there is something bigger out there that we should all work together towards and instead of fighting each other.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: And just them as we get towards the end of the interview, I just want to give our listeners a sense of looking out to the star. So we're also busy going through life, just looking at our day to day or looking at this -- this planet that we inhabit. Give them a sense of the scale of this. Like, how -- would you bet money that -- I mean, it seems to me after reading your book that it would almost be strange if there wasn't another life form somewhere within the vastness of the universe then.

Avi Loeb: Oh, sure, sure. I mean, there are hundreds of billions of stars like the Sun in the Milky Way galaxy alone and trillions of galaxies in the observable volume of the universe. So the size of the observable universe is a quadrillion times bigger than the Earth-Sun separation. Quadrillion is 10 to the power of 15. So it's 1 with 15 zeros after. And that's how much bigger is the size of the observable volume of the universe. Now, as far as we can tell, there is no cliff near the cosmic horizon that we can see. So, in fact, we -- based on the data that we have on the universe, we can tell that the same conditions persist at least 4000 times farther than we can see. So, in fact, you have a volume that is 4000 cubed times bigger, at least, that contains even more galaxies then we can see with the Webb telescope, for example. So it's just such a VAST, ocean of space. And you know, we are in this tiny boat sailing in this ocean of space. We think that we are unique and special on this boat. And I say just look out, you know, with telescopes. You know, you might find other boats around eventually. It's the natural thing to expect. And most of the stars formed billions of years before the Sun. And it takes less than a billion years to cross the Milky Way galaxy from one side to the other side with the chemical rockets that we launched already, with the spacecraft like Voyager, Pioneer, or New Horizon, you know. It will take a billion years for those to cross the entire Milky Way from one side to the other. And given that other civilizations may have preceded us by more than that, they had enough time to reach to the solar system by now, and we should just search for them.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: Wow. This is pretty incredible. Whenever I think about this, I always think of the David Bowie song, Starman. He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds. It always -- always makes me think about what the implications were be -- would be for us as a species if we had that conclusive evidence. I mean, what if that image was vastly upended by some kind of contact or how would it completely dethrone our understanding and the stories that we've made to try to make sense of the existence of our own species and so forth. That could really, to me, either has a potential to be completely revolutionary, or it has the potential to be like evolution. For a lot of people, it's, Okay. We hear that, but we're just going to somehow rationalize it within the existing frameworks that we have.

Avi Loeb: My point is that a very advanced technological civilization could be a good approximation to God. And, you know, when we encounter technologies that are far superior to what we possess, we might -- might be filled with the same sense of, Oh. It's sort of what, if you imagine a cave dweller, a prehistoric cave dweller coming to Washington, DC and looking at all the gadgets around. There would be some sense of, Oh. And so that's the way we would feel with someone superior to us. But it's also an opportunity for us to grow.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: There's -- there's so much I would like to speak to you about, but I think we're run out of time. But thanks ever so much for speaking to me. It's really been a pleasure.

Avi Loeb: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of SpyCast. Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you want to dig deeper into the content, you can find episode notes, full transcripts, and further resources at thecyberwire.com/podcast /spycast. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spymuseum.org or on Twitter at INTLSpyCast. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond. And my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Rens, Ariel Samuel, Afua Anokwa, Elliott Peltzman, Tr Hester, and Jen Eiben. The show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.