The New York Times reports that the Department of Defense spent $22 million on a mysterious project known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The main purpose of this program was to research unidentified flying objects (U.F.O.) and their interaction with planet earth.
This program, while not completely hidden from the public, was very difficult to find in the $600 billion D.O.D. budget. In fact, the D.O.D. had never acknowledged the existence of this project until now. The government claims to have stopped funding it in 2012. But that does not necessarily mean the program stopped all together, according to the man who was in charge of it.
Luis Elizondo is the military intelligence official who operated the program. He retired earlier this year, but claims that it still responds to reports of U.F.O.s made by service members from around the world.
To make matters more interesting, the NYT reports that this project was largely a pet project of retired Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The U.F.O. investigation project funding began in 2007 and tax dollars went mostly to an aerospace research company operated by Sen. Reid’s friend.
That friend is Robert Bigelow, a multi-billionaire who works in the space industry. In May, Bigelow told 60 minutes that he is "absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.
Incidents reported by the United States Navy and Air Force seem to confirm Bigelow’s suspicion that unknown objects, possibly extraterrestrial life, have visited Earth and have come very close to our military. Dozens of pilots throughout the years have reported strange objects whizzing by at a dangerously close pace, seemingly not manmade and without a reasonable explanation.
While U.F.O.s have long been studied by the military and fantasized in Hollywood, the reports of this program is without a doubt the most concrete example that the United States’ government seriously believes it is possible alien life has visited Earth. But for Sen. Reid, this project was more personal.
Mr. Reid said his interest in U.F.O.s came from Mr. Bigelow. In 2007, Mr. Reid said in the interview, Mr. Bigelow told him that an official with the Defense Intelligence Agency had approached him wanting to visit Mr. Bigelow’s ranch in Utah, where he conducted research.
Mr. Reid said he met with agency officials shortly after his meeting with Mr. Bigelow and learned that they wanted to start a research program on U.F.O.s. Mr. Reid then summoned Mr. Stevens and Mr. Inouye to a secure room in the Capitol.
“I had talked to John Glenn a number of years before,” Mr. Reid said, referring to the astronaut and former senator from Ohio, who died in 2016. Mr. Glenn, Mr. Reid said, had told him he thought that the federal government should be looking seriously into U.F.O.s, and should be talking to military service members, particularly pilots, who had reported seeing aircraft they could not identify or explain."
Reid also added that,
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional servicee. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Reid is not alone. He also worked on this effort with Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-AK) and Sen. Inouyue (D-HI).
However, there are skeptics who warn that many of these sightings may be hallucinated.
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at M.I.T., cautioned that not knowing the origin of an object does not mean that it is from another planet or galaxy. “When people claim to observe truly unusual phenomena, sometimes it’s worth investigating seriously,” she said. But, she added, “what people sometimes don’t get about science is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.”
James E. Oberg, a former NASA space shuttle engineer and the author of 10 books on spaceflight who often debunks U.F.O. sightings, was also doubtful. “There are plenty of prosaic events and human perceptual traits that can account for these stories,” Mr. Oberg said. “Lots of people are active in the air and don’t want others to know about it. They are happy to lurk unrecognized in the noise, or even to stir it up as camouflage.”
Yet, Elizondo says that the work is important for the government.
Mr. Elizondo, in his resignation letter of Oct. 4, said there was a need for more serious attention to “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities.” He expressed his frustration with the limitations placed on the program, telling Mr. Mattis that “there remains a vital need to ascertain capability and intent of these phenomena for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation.”
Elizondo continues, saying that he believes that government funding of U.F.O investigation should not remain classified.
"Mr. Elizondo said he and his government colleagues had determined that the phenomena they had studied did not seem to originate from any country. “That fact is not something any government or institution should classify in order to keep secret from the people,” he said.
This brings up a curious point, at what point should the U.S. government release classified information regarding U.F.Os and alien life?