If the truth is out there, at least the government briefly cared enough to find it.
In a welcome distraction from everything else, the New York Times and Politico reported on Saturday that the Department of Defense ran a shadowy program whose purpose was to conduct research and analysis into UFOs. (Note to readers under 30: America was obsessed with aliens in the ’90s, before the horror of the real world surpassed them in the public imagination. So this feels like a nice throwback.)
The initiative, under the sinister-sounding label Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, began in 2007 at the behest of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, with support from two now-deceased senators, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Ted Stevens of Alaska. It was run out of the Pentagon by Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official, before officially winding down in 2012. Elizondo and others maintain that despite the absence of government funding, the program has continued its research, with help from the Navy and CIA. But Elizondo quit his Pentagon post earlier this year, complaining in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis that his research was not being taken seriously. (He is now involved with To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences, a company founded by ex-Blink 182 guitarist and noted UFO aficionado Tom Delonge — which feels like another nice throwback.)
In the program’s heyday, it was allotted about $22 million to study an array of space-related phenomena that could not easily be explained, usually involving the appearance of high-speed, unidentified aircraft, which often “maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics,” as Politico put it.
One of the reasons the Pentagon funded the program, according to a congressional staffer who spoke with the outlet, was that officials believed the aircraft might actually be ultra-high-tech products of China or Russia that warranted further examination.
Of course, there’s no proof of that assertion, nor proof of … anything. But where’s the fun in proof?
Reid, the Times notes, “has long had an interest in space phenomena.” But the program’s real godfather was Robert Bigelow, a major Reid campaign contributor, prominent aerospace executive, and true believer in alien visitation. Reid earmarked most of the money for the program to Bigelow, who, through his company Bigelow Aerospace, used it to study material said to have come from “unidentified aerial phenomena,” to interview people who claimed physical after-effects from their encounters with UFOs, and to talk to members of the military about their close encounters.
Bigelow told the Times, “Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue. Our scientists are scared of being ostracized, and our media is scared of the stigma.”
One thing that might have lessened the stigma: the election of one Hillary Clinton. John Podesta, her chief of staff during the 2016 campaign, is well-known for his UFO obsession, and Clinton has acknowledged her interest in the subject plenty of times.
Instead, if aliens happen to land in America and open communications with the well-worn ice-breaker “take me to your leader,” they’ll end up meeting a very poor representation of humanity.