Coming soon: Our second scientific paper – UAP and the demarcation problem

The Great (Strategic) Silence

22 July 2023    12 minute read


This paper presents a novel solution to the Fermi Paradox by establishing a connection between science, covert intelligence, and the investigation of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP). 

The Fermi Paradox, often referred to as “The Great Silence,” presents a puzzling observation: despite the predicted high probability for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence within the universe, no tangible evidence or communications have yet been in detected. In endeavors such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a prevailing assumption is that potential ETIs, should they exist, are likely to be indifferent about being detected or are non-existent. Here, we propose a new perspective: Interstellar Covert Intelligence (ICI), which postulates that ETIs could be strategically silent while observing us, a concept analogous to the terrestrial practice of covert intelligence. Despite the strategic silence, we argue that ICI should be detectable. However, this may require an expanded investigatory framework to address the challenges posed by a potential strategic adversary actively manipulating investigations aimed at uncovering it. This new framework may need to include both scientific methods, and also intelligence methods traditionally outside the realm of conventional scientific inquiry. Additionally, we speculate that some UAP could potentially represent evidence of ICI. This perspective, while speculative, offers a potential solution to the Fermi Paradox that bridges astronomy, sociology, history, and intelligence studies in a broad interdisciplinary approach.



The Fermi Paradox – the puzzling discrepancy between the high statistical likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) existence and the conspicuous absence of its evidence – has dominated astrobiological discourse since its conceptualization (1). Today, Enrico Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?” remains unanswered (2).

Current research on the subject, such as that conducted by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), generally assumes an ambivalence on the part of ETI towards our detection efforts (3). However, given that even our rudimentary understanding of space travel suggests the possibility of galactic colonization within a few million years, the absence of such overt evidence of an advanced civilization is puzzling (4).

We question the basis for the favoring of ambivalence over deliberate concealment in interpreting ETI behavior. Using historical patterns of secrecy and espionage in terrestrial societies and game theory, we put forward the novel concept of Interstellar Covert Intelligence (ICI). This theory posits that ETIs might actively avoid detection, deliberately maintaining strategic silence while observing other civilizations.

In this study, we build on the theoretical foundations of the ICI concept, discuss its implications for our understanding of the Fermi Paradox, and discuss a framework for its investigation that combines conventional scientific methodologies with intelligence methods. We also discuss the potential relation of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) to ICI and explore the philosophical implications of this perspective on the nature and limitations of scientific inquiry.


Literature Review

The Fermi Paradox has yielded a plethora of proposed solutions, with varying degrees of acceptance within the scientific community. The Rare Earth Hypothesis, for instance, suggests that the conditions for complex life are exceptionally unusual, making intelligent lifeforms an extreme rarity in the Universe (5). Conversely, the Great Filter Hypothesis posits the existence of an insurmountable barrier in the development of advanced civilizations, thereby curtailing the probability of contact (6).

Similarly, the idea of Galactic Panspermia, which proposes widespread dissemination of life throughout the cosmos, represents a counter-argument to the Rare Earth Hypothesis, implying a high likelihood of ETIs (7). However, the predictions of widespread life from theories like these starkly contrast with our lack of contact, perpetuating the Paradox.

Several theories have previously considered the idea of ETIs deliberately avoiding contact with us. The ‘Zoo Hypothesis’ proposes that advanced civilizations are aware of humanity but consciously avoid interfering, treating us much like animals in a conservation park (8). The ‘Dark Forest’ theory, inspired by the work of science fiction author Liu Cixin, paints a darker image of the cosmos as a predatory arena, where every civilization remains silent and hidden to avoid detection and possible annihilation (9).

Nevertheless, most scientific study typically assumes ambivalence of ETIs towards our detection efforts, a stance that SETI and other similar research initiatives have generally favored (3). In this context, we propose the Interstellar Covert Intelligence (ICI) concept, suggesting that ETIs may be strategically secretive, thus resolving the Fermi Paradox via the medium of widespread interstellar covert intelligence.



Our methodology involved synthesizing an extensive literature review, incorporating perspectives from history, game theory, astrophysics, and sociology to develop the Interstellar Covert Intelligence (ICI) hypothesis. We systematically analyzed historical examples of secrecy and espionage (11, 12, 16) to identify patterns and extrapolated them to an interstellar context. We analyzed methods, investigatory frameworks and approaches used in covert intelligence (16) and other situations involving strategic adversaries (29, 30). Additionally, we scrutinized existing game theory models (25-28) for relevance and potential application to ICI.

Drawing upon principles of game theory, we developed conceptual models to assess the strategic advantage ETIs might gain from observing other civilizations covertly while remaining undetected. Finally, all of our methods and models were constrained to align with current understanding of key aspects of the Drake Equation (2, 31).


Historical Perspective: Espionage, Secrecy, and Game Theory

Espionage and intelligence gathering are recurrent behaviours in human history, forming an integral part of the strategic fabric of societies. From ancient dictums by Sun Tzu emphasizing the importance of information warfare (10), to modern-day intelligence agencies operating on a global scale (11), the strategic value of information and the manipulation of perceived data are deeply rooted in human society.

Terrestrial intelligence history provides a rich dataset of the ubiquity of spying and secrecy as a survival and strategic advantage mechanism. It has arisen independently in different cultures and epochs (12), implying it might be a universal behavior pattern amongst technologically advanced societies. In various game-theoretic contexts, from straightforward card games to complex business negotiations, the principles of secrecy and information gathering emerge as widely advantageous strategies. This extensive applicability underlines their intrinsic value. Even children, in the simplest of card games, can easily and intuitively understand the merit of concealing their own positions while striving to reveal those of others. (13).

Arguably, this propensity for covert intelligence gathering and secrecy amongst human societies may extend to advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). As the only known example of a technologically advanced civilization, human behavior could potentially offer insights into the actions of ETIs. If intelligence gathering and secrecy are indeed common strategies, we might expect similar behaviours from ETIs – remaining covert, manipulating data, and maintaining strategic advantages. Consequently, the silence observed in the cosmos may not imply the absence of ETIs, but instead signify their strategic silence.



In the scholarly literature, Andrew and Omand argue that a pervasive misinterpretation of covert intelligence is prevalent among the general public. Predominantly shaped by fictional narratives rather than factual accounts, this misapprehension can result in fundamental misconceptions regarding intelligence operations and their mechanisms (12, 16). Scientists, despite their precise reasoning in their respective fields, are not immune to these biases, largely due to the disparity between their typical frames of reference and the distinctive paradigms inherent in intelligence analysis. 

For instance, it is natural to think that Earth may be deemed too primitive or uninteresting for advanced extraterrestrial intelligences (ETIs) to engage in covert observation. However, it is crucial to recognize the strategic value of comprehensive knowledge in strategic games. An analogy can be drawn from the game of chess, where even seemingly insignificant pieces like pawns play essential roles within the larger strategic framework (14). This parallels present-day intelligence paradigms, where nearly every nation participates in reciprocal surveillance activities, not confining their operations merely to the most influential nations (12, 16). Similarly, in the context of potential interactions with ETIs, it is possible that our planet, with its unique attributes and complexities, holds significant value for advanced intelligences engaged in covert observation. By acknowledging the strategic significance of comprehensive understanding, we can better grasp the potential motivations and actions of ETIs within a broader strategic perspective.

It is also natural to question the rationale behind extraterrestrial intelligences preserving secrecy. As previously discussed, maintaining information asymmetry offers extensive advantages in strategic situations, and emerges in a wide range of simple strategic contexts (13). Similarly, in the context of potential interactions with ETIs, it is plausible to consider that they might employ similar tactics to safeguard their strategic interests. By keeping their activities and capabilities concealed, ETIs can potentially gain an upper hand in resource management, conflict, or even in understanding the motives and intentions of other intelligent species.

Additionally, despite its typically negative associations, espionage, or covert intelligence, serves significant roles, including the maintenance of international stability and preemptive resolution of potential conflicts. It should not be assumed that extraterrestrial intelligence, if engaged in covert surveillance, harbours hostile intentions. As with human intelligence practices, such activity could be oriented towards various ends, that could be negative, neutral or positive.


Falsifiability and Testability

The ICI hypothesis, while posing challenges for conventional scientific methods, is rooted in the principles of falsifiability and testability.

The concept of ETIs so advanced they are undetectable contributes minimally to scientific discourse due to its unfalsifiability. Instead, the ICI hypothesis posits the existence of detectable ETIs justified by several key observations.

First, modern intelligence agencies, despite their technological prowess, are not immune to mistakes – a trend that has remained constant throughout history (12). This suggests that covert intelligence may inherently be prone to errors, irrespective of technological advancements.

Moreover, in a universe abundant with life, we might reasonably expect to find diverse ETI groups, all potentially engaging in covert activities on Earth, in pursuit of preserving informational asymmetries and enhancing holistic intelligence knowledge. This implies a spectrum of ETI sophistication and, consequently, an increased probability of detectability.

Therefore, the ICI hypothesis posits that ETIs, operating under similar constraints as observed in terrestrial intelligence, should be detectable using current technology, especially when errors or technological failures occur, provided a suitable investigative framework is adopted. If comprehensive investigation under this framework yields no evidence, the hypothesis can be considered likely to be falsified. 

To be clear, we propose that supported by above logic, evidence of ICI should be detectable using at least some current technology (e.g. potentially the naked eye, radar, video, satellite imagery, etc.). We do not claim that it will necessarily be identifiable as ICI. As we discuss in the following section, even if genuine evidence of ICI is detected, correctly identifying it as ICI may hold specific challenges for the scientific method. For example, when dealing with a strategic adversary, it is possible and perhaps likely that any detected evidence may have been intentionally manipulated to facilitate its dismissal, such as making it appear unscientific or absurd. 

The ICI hypothesis can also face falsification from another perspective. A central assumption of ICI is the prevalence of intelligent life in the cosmos, which is influenced by unknown variables in the Drake equation. If these variables indicate that sophisticated life capable of interstellar expansion is exceedingly rare, as suggested by theories like the rare earth hypothesis or the great filter, this would challenge the validity of the ICI hypothesis.

By establishing clear criteria for falsifiability and testability, we lay the groundwork for future research to critically assess the validity of the ICI hypothesis. The prospect of falsifying this hypothesis using current technology and investigative methods enhances its scientific legitimacy, reinforcing the relevance of studying interstellar covert intelligence in the context of the Fermi Paradox.


Epistemological Complications with ICI

While there is a possibility that ICI may be detectable, its investigation and detection presents unique challenges for the traditional scientific method.

The hypothesis suggests the presence of a strategic adversary who can comprehend and adapt to the investigative strategies used against them, potentially manipulating evidence. This diverges greatly from typical scientific subjects, which are often natural or physical phenomena that lack the ability and motivation to respond strategically. 

Existing scientific paradigms generally dismiss the concept of a strategic adversary, often terming it as a form of “conspiracy theory”. Such dismissals are, in most cases, eminently appropriate given that the conventional objects of scientific inquiry – ranging from elementary particles and biological organisms to celestial bodies – are highly unlikely to possess both the capability and intention to strategically manipulate investigations into them (15, 21). Therefore, disregarding such possibilities streamlines the scientific process by avoiding unnecessary diversions in most research inquiries.

However, addressing the Fermi Paradox, a unique boundary case interfacing science, politics, and intelligence studies, calls our traditional assumptions into question. The wide-ranging spectrum of potential extraterrestrial intelligence, from non-technological organisms to technologically advanced civilizations, spans domains where the dismissal of a strategic adversary is reasonable (e.g., extraterrestrial microbes) and others where it may not be (e.g., sophisticated extraterrestrial intelligence groups). For instance, consider the scenario in which we embark on an investigation that is likely to uncover highly classified information from an terrestrial intelligence agency. It would be unwise and counterproductive to prematurely dismiss strategic interference as mere ‘conspiracy theory’. In such intelligence investigations, the existence of a strategic adversary is often an underlying assumption, and the investigation methods employed are specifically designed to handle such a situation (16,22).

This does not suggest a repudiation of the principles of scientific investigation, but rather posits that the investigation of potential advanced extraterrestrial intelligence might require an expanded investigatory framework. This framework should incorporate methods capable of grappling with the potential complexities introduced by an intelligence-engaged adversary, possibly borrowing from investigative methodologies employed in intelligence and law enforcement agencies (16, 22).


Detecting Evidence of Interstellar Covert Intelligence ICI

The philosophical issues of the potential existence of a strategic adversary opposing our investigation also presents challenges with detecting evidence of ICI. With a strategic adversary present, typical scientific assumptions, such as replicable experiments giving consistent outcomes, disregarding outliers, and promoting openness in investigation, may not hold. Evidence could appear non-repeatable, inconsistent, manipulated or even absurd, which would typically lead to its dismissal as unscientific (15). But the evidence could appear this way, not due to a lack of scientific validity, but because a sophisticated intelligence actively manipulates it to appear so.

This paradigm yields a paradoxical scenario: the key to the Fermi Paradox – itself a scientific question – could lie in evidence that conventional scientific norms would deem unscientific, making it systematically unsolvable with science. This insight underscores the need for a paradigm shift towards a strategic context, where evidence is anticipated, deciphered, and contextualized within a broader strategic framework (16).


UAP Phenomena as Potential Evidence of ICI

Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), or UFOs, could serve as an application of this expanded investigatory methodology. Traditionally dismissed by the scientific community, the UAP phenomenon is increasingly seen as deserving of serious study (17, 18).

Some UAP evidence, while anecdotal, sporadic, and often dismissed due to its non-reproducible nature, does share characteristics with what we might expect from ICI evidence. Its intermittent nature, seeming obfuscation, and apparent technological disparity (19, 20) and at times absurdity (23) could be explained by ICI. Hence, the dismissal of UAP phenomena as fringe science or conspiracy, while typically justified, might in this case be premature.

Additionally, long-term covert intelligence operations often exhibit distinct patterns and causes of evidence emergence. These can be categorized into several types, including: genuine accidents; unauthorized disclosures (e.g. Snowden-like leaks); deliberate misinformation (which may contain contradictory or nonsensical elements to undermine authentic leaks); and unanticipated improvements in the target’s detection capabilities (11, 12, 16). Intriguingly, our analysis suggests the history of UAP evidence may include a similar classification pattern of events (e.g. 17, 20, 23).

These arguments do not provide definitive answers, but rather proposes an expanded scientific exploration of UAPs and similar unexplained phenomena as potential ICI evidence. This perspective might offer a new lens through which to interpret these enigmatic events.


A Solution to the Demarcation Problem

The Fermi Paradox is a boundary case in scientific investigation. Its exploration through the lens of ICI reveals a spectrum of possible answers, ranging from scenarios where strategic adversaries are highly unlikely (for instance, extraterrestrial microbes) and therefore the scientific method holds true, to situations where strategic adversaries are plausible (such as extraterrestrial intelligence agencies), where it may not. This framework could therefore offer a valuable perspective on the demarcation problem—the challenge of defining what constitutes ‘science’, and what does not, because it neatly traverses both cases. We explore this possibility in an accompanying paper (24), and find it implies a novel solution to the demarcation problem that unifies science with other investigatory frameworks (e.g. critical analysis) into a higher level framework. Our findings also imply that the scientific community’s systematic rejection of UAP as covert ET could indeed be premature, and reflect a misapplication of the scientific method to a possibility outside of its domain of effectiveness, underscoring the need for a better understanding of the applicability of its assumptions.



In conclusion, the “Great Silence” that pervades our universe may not be indicative of the absence of ETI, but rather, the existence of a strategic silence maintained by advanced civilizations. The possibility of ICI fundamentally challenges our current understanding of the Fermi Paradox and pushes the boundaries of scientific inquiry. The paradigmatic shift proposed by ICI necessitates the evolution of scientific methodology to deal with strategic, intelligence-engaged adversaries potentially involved in generating the evidence we seek to understand. This intersection of astronomy, sociology, game theory, and intelligence studies offers a tantalizing approach to the enduring conundrum that is the Fermi Paradox, and opens the door to a future where our understanding of the cosmos might be fundamentally transformed.



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