UFOs have captivated the American public since 1947, when two highly publicized sightings occurred and were made public. The first was reported by Kenneth Arnold on June 24, who saw nine glowing objects flying in a V-shape over Mount Rainier in Washington State. The second is the more well-known Roswell incident, in which an unidentified flying object crashed in the desert in Roswell, New Mexico. While the Air Force has said that the object was a weather balloon, and the Army later said that the object was debris from Project Mogul (a project designed to test ways to eavesdrop on Soviet nuclear tests), many people still believe that the objects, which were quickly cleaned up by those at the Roswell Army Air Force base, are not of this world, fueling over sixty years of conspiracy theories that claim that the government is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial life. There have been government programs in the past that have investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects, such as Project Blue Book, which ended in 1969, having found no evidence of extraterrestrial life or that any of the flying objects (identified or not) posed any threat to national security. That did little to quell the public interest and belief in extraterrestrial life, however, with many still believing that the government is hiding programs to investigate UFOs and evidence of extraterrestrial
life from the general public. These beliefs have traditionally been given little credibility–until now. - M. LIND
The idea of the government having a secret project to investigate aliens and UFOs is nothing new. It’s been the focus of many a TV show and movie over the years, with one notable example being Fox’s The X Files, which followed two FBI agents in their missions to uncover the truth about extraterrestrial and paranormal activity. The show’s tag line? The truth is out there. And now, in real life, it is. In December 2017, the Pentagon confirmed that they at one point had a program, called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, that investigated evidence of alien life and UFOs.
The program began in 2007 when, according to the New York Times, a Defense Intelligence Agency official reached out to billionaire entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, wanting to visit a ranch of his in Utah used to conduct research. Bigelow proceeded to speak to his friend, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who then met with agency officials and learned that they were interested in starting a program to research UFOs. Reid, who retired this year from the Senate, then met with fellow senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), where he spoke of a meeting he had years earlier with John Glenn, an astronaut and former senator from Ohio, where he had expressed the need for the federal government to investigate UFOs and claims from military service members who had seen aircraft that they couldn’t explain or identify. According to the New York Times, Reid said that this “was one of the easiest meetings I ever had,” with both Stevens and Inouye also agreeing that this should not be made public and brought to the Senate floor for a debate about the project’s funding.
The $22 million in what Reid referred to as “so-called black money” went mostly to Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, which, according to the New York Times, “hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.” Former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo, who ran the program, sent materials that had been recovered from “unidentified aerial phenomena” to Bigelow’s modified buildings in Las Vegas, where they were studied and stored. Researchers with the project spoke to people who claimed to have experienced physical effects from supposed encounters with said objects and “examined them for any physiological changes.” They also spoke to military service members who had seen strange, unidentifiable flying objects and aircraft.
While the $22 million in funding dried up in 2012, Elizondo insists that the project continued, with members of the team investigating reports that service members brought to them, in addition to completing their regular defense department duties. He has also said in interviews that, following the end of the funding, he worked with the Navy and CIA on the project. And when Elizondo resigned in October 2017, citing, according to the New York Times, “excessive secrecy and internal opposition,” he left someone else in charge, though he is not saying who. Elizondo now works for a commercial venture (founded by former Blink-182 member Tom DeLonge) called To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he, along with others, including former CIA engineer and contractor on the Pentagon project Harold E. Puthoff and former Defense Department official Christopher K. Mellon, are raising money for UFO research and speaking about their collective research efforts.
So what conclusions have these efforts drawn? Do aliens exist? According to Elizondo, it’s very likely. “My personal belief,” he said on CNN’s Erin Burnett Out Front, “is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.” He added that “these aircraft–we’ll call them aircraft–are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the US inventory or any foreign inventory that we are aware of,” also saying that they are “seemingly defying the laws of aerodynamics” and “maneuvering in ways that include extreme maneuverability beyond, I would submit, the healthy G-forces of a human or anything biological.” However, others aren’t so sure. Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist Sara Seager cautioned to the New York Times that just because an object’s origin is unknown, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not of this world, saying that, in science, “we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.” Former NASA space shuttle engineer and author James E. Oberg is doubtful as well, mentioning that “there are plenty of prosaic events and human perceptual traits that can account for these stories,” and that there are also “lots of people active in the air [that] don’t want others to know about it.” But he, according to the New York Times, welcomes this kind of research, saying that “there could well be a pearl there.”