“Leaked” Photo of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) / UFO, Release by The Debrief, December 3, 2020

Case File Status: Likely Explainable (see below); Still Ongoing


The attached photograph was allegedly “leaked” to the public, and represents an example of a photo within an official Department of Defense (DOD) report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. It was obtained by anonymous sources, and published by TheDebrief on December 3, 2020.

The full story can be viewed at the below presentation by The Black Vault.

The Photograph

Below, you will find the metadata of the photograph. It was surprising what appeared to be the “original” copy of the photo was used, holding the metadata that the photograph was taken in 2019, rather than the reported 2018. It was explained by the author of the piece, Tim McMillan, that it represented a “photo of a photo” and was not the original photograph. However, that seems to be in dispute.

However, after publication, the original version with the metadata was altered and scaled up, thus removing the metadata. Therefore, since the photograph is allegedly from a U.S. military document, it is believe to have no copyright, so the original is archived here for safe-keeping.

Technical Breakdown of the Original

The original was first published on a CDN at this URL and embedded into The Debrief’s article. This version was used as the top representation of the photo when the article was first published. Sometime thereafter, but prior to December 7, the photo was upscaled and the original is no longer embedded in the article.  It still appears on “Stack Path” as of the writing of this, last checked on December 7, but is not currently located on The Debrief anymore.

This can be verified via a second source at: Wayback Machine. You will note now the appendage of “-scaled” is added to the file name, thus indicating an edit and subsequent stripping of the metadata from the original.

The ORIGINAL of that one, which also holds metadata, is found at this URLThis was an even larger size than the one embedded. This is also in the .zip file below. (Thank you to Reddit user pomegranatemagnate for pointing out the original to the original.)

In order to download the original photos, unaltered the way TheDebrief published it with metadata attached, you need to download the following .zip file which contains the original “photo-2-1.jpg” and photo-2-1-2048×1536.jpg” images as posted by The Debrief.

DOWNLOAD [.zip, 1MB]

The Mystery

To add to the mystery, the photo in question was actually published actually MONTHS earlier, by Blake S. Taylor, on Twitter.

The Black Vault reached out to Blake, and he stated he simply recalls downloading it from a site on the internet. He is unable to recall which one. He also posted a public comment explaining the same, wherein he said the following:

“Hey man, I’m pretty sure I found it while rummaging around in one of those sites where we find government documents etc. I’ve been trying to remember it’s been a while. I just remember seeing it saving it and sharing it.”

The Explanation?

Very quickly, an explanation circulated the social media channels where stories like this are possible. The shape of the object, and a subsequent style of balloon, are strikingly similar.

The debate has commenced on whether this was too high for a mylar balloon, but it appears that with the “rough” estimate of altitude of the object in the article, combined with multiple sources outlining how high a mylar balloon can go, it is definitely in the ballpark and possible.

The Source

With permission, I’ve added here a likely source of the photo, regardless of if the object is a balloon or not. The identity of the source may play a future role in uncovering more about this story, and if any true UAP connections exist.

Researcher Roger Glassel painstakingly sought out the identity of the helmet reflected in the canopy. I reached out to Roger, who submitted the following:

“As everyone was focusing on the object, I tried to look at other things. I believe that others have done that as well. The reflection of the helmet was something that caught my attention. Knowing that all the fighter squadrons have their own insignia I started looking for a match. The yellow part of the insignia seem to match VFA-15 – with the lion riding on a rocket – but it wasn’t a perfect match, so I found that VFA-32 was using a yellow lion as well. I looked up VFA-32’s Facebook page and found a perfect match with a lion, blue stripe ribbon, on an white helmet, and thought, hey, this is it. I now hope this will move the discussion forward.”

Here is a screen shot of where Roger found the comparison photo:

Here is the full photograph used for comparison (click to enlarge):

This really is excellent work by Roger, and should be commended! More updates will be posted as they are available.


The Metadata

Conclusion (thus far)

Although it seems incredibly likely this is a balloon, the story (and the case) is potentially still ongoing. It is unclear if additional stories are on the way, so although The Black Vault won’t label this a completely “case closed” case, additional data is certainly welcome should it ever be presented.

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