The truth is out there — albeit buried, in obscure terms, in a Department of Defense budget documents.
A New York Times report out today documents the obscure history of the “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program,” a project of the Defense Department tasked with investigating unidentified flying object reports — or UFOs, in pop culture parlance.
The program, which investigated reports of UFOs that military personnel — largely pilots — brought to the Pentagon’s attention, was supposedly started in 2007 with support from former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., then the majority leader of the Senate. Working with an outside contractors, the Times describes how "the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift."
The in-depth report even has a video (!) of an “encounter” between a UFO and a Navy F/A-18F fighter jet.
Before you buy a tinfoil hat and start worshipping these saucer-dwellers as our new gods, be aware: The Times report is an inconclusive mish-mash of he-said she-said: “The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012,” the Times writes. Yet the Times goes on to note that some insiders say that though the Pentagon stopped funding the effort formally in 2012, the program has continued to exist clandestinely, its functions carried out by officials spread across departments. And its details are still classified.
In any discussion of Pentagon budgets, it is worth mentioning how difficult they are to formally track. The Department of Defense spends $600 billion in a given year; the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program cost $22 million, or less than 0.004 percent of its annual budget. In 2016, the US Army, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Defense, suffered an accounting error that resulted in $6.5 trillion being misreported. Last year, the Post reported on evidence of $125 billion in “bureaucratic waste” suffered by the Pentagon.
The federal government’s official interest in UFOs waxes and wanes over the years. Famously, President Bill Clinton was in favor of investigating the “truth” about alien visitors. Hillary Clinton was deemed the “pro-disclosure” candidate by some UFO buffs (or, as they like to be called, “ufologists”). John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s ex-campaign chairman and a former advisor to Barack Obama, has a long history of being in favor of disclosing the government’s UFO studies. ““Rather than being embarrassed and ashamed about [UFO research] . . . I say let’s open it up to the public,” Podesta told Ezra Klein in an interview in 2016.
The revelations in today’s Times report are certainly eyebrow-raising. Yet if you’ve followed the history of the government’s relationship to UFOs, you have reason to be skeptical. In Adam Curtis's 2016 documentary “HyperNormalisation,” the renowned British cultural critic pointed to reports that the government may have encouraged, even stoked UFO conspiracy theorists in the 1980s in an attempt to mask their many advanced weapons testing projects. Through interviews, Curtis paints a picture of a counter-intelligence attempt to trick Soviet intelligence into dismissing American civilian reports of UFO sightings — of what were actually experimental military projects — as mere conspiracy theorist chatter. “In the 1980s, more and more people in the United States reported seeing unexplained objects and lights in the sky,” Curtis said. “At the same time, investigators who believed in UFOs revealed that they had discovered top secret government documents that stated that alien craft had visited Earth.” Curtis continued:
“The reality was stranger: the American government might have been making it all up, that they had created a fake conspiracy to deliberately mislead the population. The lights that people imagined were UFOs may in reality have been new high technology weapons that the US government were testing…. The government wanted to keep the weapons secret, but they couldn’t always hide their appearance in the skies, so it is alleged that they chose a number of people to use to spread the rumors that they were really alien visitations.”
“If true, it’s a truly bizarre case of a government creating a red herring to distract the public from some agenda,” the BBC wrote of Curtis’s documentary in 2016.
And just in case it wasn't clear from the subtext: there has never been any credible physical evidence for intelligent extraterrestrial life having visited Earth. But for the measly annual price the Pentagon was paying for its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, it certainly can't hurt to keep looking.