The non-explanation, combined with the virtual silence of the national media for most of Tuesday, suggests that the incident is far more serious than its treatment by both the government and the media would suggest.
On Monday at 5:30 p.m. local time, a Los Angeles news helicopter crew filmed what appeared to be a large missile rising into the sky, with a billowing vapor trail in its wake. (See video)
More than 24 hours later, no explanation had been given by any government agency, civilian or military.
The media on Tuesday cited unnamed Pentagon sources as saying they had "no clue" about the "bizarre" and "unexplained" sighting. A Navy spokesman had earlier ruled out that his branch of the military had any role in the object videotaped, and a local Air Force base said it had not launched any missiles since November 5, when a rocket carried an Italian satellite into space.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claimed they had detected no missile or any other large and fast-moving object in the area.
There was no comment from the White House. The unexplained event came with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates all out of the country.
Even as it denied having any information on the unidentified object, the military asserted that it posed no threat to the US population. NORAD issued a joint statement with the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) confirming that the "contrail" -- the object's vapor trail -- was not the result of a foreign military having launched a missile. "We can confirm that there is no threat to our nation, and from all indications this was not a launch by a foreign military," the statement said.
No explanation was given as to how the military could assert something was not a threat while claiming it had no idea what it was.
Until Tuesday evening, the national media largely ignored the event. Notably, the New York Times produced nothing on the sighting until the late afternoon on Tuesday, when it reposted an article from the Associated Press on its web site.
The lack of any official explanation and the downplaying of the issue by the media suggest the possibility that the government or elements within the military/intelligence apparatus were, with the collaboration of major media outlets, buying time to come up with a credible story for public consumption.
Robert Ellsworth, former US Ambassador to NATO in the Nixon administration and deputy secretary of defense in the Ford administration, on Tuesday morning speculated that the object was indeed a missile fired by the US military to coincide with President Obama's Asia trip.
"It could be a test firing of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from a submarine, underwater submarine, to demonstrate, mainly to Asia, that we can do that," Ellsworth said, adding that similar firings had taken place over the Atlantic during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, but never previously over the Pacific.
A retired Russian rocket scientist who looked at the video told the World Socialist Web Site that the object could only have been a ballistic missile or a rocket destined for outer space.
Later in the day, reports circulated that the object was an optical illusion, created by the particular vantage point of the helicopter in relationship to an airplane flying directly toward it in the evening sky.
However, the intelligence web site Stratfor quickly challenged such explanations, noting that "the video footage available on open source appears to capture a flame emanating from the contrail's source," making such theories "unlikely."