No aliens here, nothing to see, move along

Pentagon spent $22m a year investigating UFOs

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The Pentagon has finally acknowledged the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification (AATI) Program, a government-funded programme tasked with investigating UFOs and their potential threat.

The US government finally cut off funding in 2012 - having spent $22m a year over five years from 2008-2011 - although the programme was not officially shut down until the military intelligence official in charge quit his post in October 2017, the New York Times reported. The $22m was part of the Pentagon’s vast $600bn annual budget.

The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was created as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2007, following a request by Harry Reid, the Nevada Senator at the time. When government funding was stopped in 2012, the programme continued, led by Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official. Elizondo resigned from the position in October, frustrated by the lack of funding and the Pentagon's diminished interest in his work.   

In his resignation letter, Elizondo said the government should start taking “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities” more seriously.

“I was honoured to serve at the DoD [Department of Defense] and took my mission of exploring unexplained aerial phenomena quite seriously,” Elizondo said. “In the end, however, I couldn’t carry out that mission because the department - which was understandably overstretched - couldn’t give it the resources that the mounting evidence deserved.”

Elizondo said the effort to investigate reported sightings continued and told the media that he had a successor but declined to name them.

The AATI Program authored documents describing the sightings of UFOs that apparently moved very fast with no visible sign of propulsion or hovered with no apparent means of lift. These sightings were reported by US Navy pilots, who on one occasion stated that the unknown object – by definition, an Unidentified Flying Object – easily outflew their advanced fighter aircraft.

 

 

Shortly before leaving his post, Elizondo pushed for the public release of three key videos from the Pentagon’s secret vaults. These videos include raw footage of encounters between US fighter jets and what the Pentagon calls “anomalous aerial vehicles”.

One video shows two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets chasing an unidentified object off the coast of San Diego during a routine training mission in 2004. The footage was taken from cockpit cameras and shows the US fighter pilots struggling to lock their radar on to the small oval-shaped white object.

“Look at that thing!” one pilot can be heard saying. “It’s rotating,” replies another pilot. “There’s a whole fleet of them.”

The objects, which the pilots initially suspected as being drones of some sort, appear to hover briefly before zipping away at speeds that elicit gasps from the pilots, the Washington Post reported.

Trying to explain the encounter, one of the pilots said at the time, “I have no idea what I saw. It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s.”

In the early years of the AATI programme, much of the $22m was directed to an aerospace company owned by Robert Bigelow, a billionaire businessman who has publicly declared that he is “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist. Bigelow and Reid have a close professional relationship, Bigelow having donated to Reid’s election campaigns.

The Department of Defense said in an official statement that the UFO programme was now over.

“The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 time frame. It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” a department spokesperson said.

“The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”

In response, Reid tweeted over the weekend, saying: “If anyone says they have the answers, they’re fooling themselves.

“We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions.

“This is about science and national security. If America doesn’t take the lead in answering these questions, others will”.

The US government’s interest in UFOs famously goes back to 1947 and the Roswell incident, in which a flying disc-shaped object crashed on a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. The US military has always maintained that it was a standard weather balloon, but UFO enthusiasts continue to allege a government cover-up as to what really happened. 

In 1947, the US Air Force launched Project Sign to “collect, collate,  evaluate, and distribute within the government all information relating to such sightings, on the premise that UFOs might be real and of national security concern,” according to CIA analysis. This study was followed by Projects Grudge and Blue Book, both of which had similar objectives of collecting UFO data and analysing potential security threats. Both projects were ultimately cancelled.

Speaking to the New York Times about the AATI programme, Bigelow said,  “Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue. Our scientists are scared of being ostracised and our media is scared of the stigma. [Other countries] are proactive and willing to discuss this topic, rather than being held back by a juvenile taboo.”

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