by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal, and Leslie Kean December 16, 2017 (nytimes.com)
• Hidden in a $600 billion Pentagon budget in 2007 was $22 million set aside for the “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program”. The program, run by military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, was ‘defunded’ in 2012. But officials say that the program has secretly continued through the US Navy and the CIA.
• The UFO research program was initiated by Nevada Democrat, Harry Reid, who tapped long-time friend, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, to run the program. In May 2017, Bigelow said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist, and that UFOs have visited Earth. But Reid said that UFO sightings were not often reported because military service members were afraid they would be laughed at or stigmatized.
• In 1947, the Air Force began to study UFOs, and in 1951 initiated the now infamous ‘Project Blue Book’ which ended in 1969, concluding that most sightings involved stars, clouds, conventional aircraft or spy planes, although 701 reports remained unexplained.
• “Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue,” Mr. Bigelow said in the CBS interview. Harold E. Puthoff, an engineer who also worked on the Pentegon program and has researched extrasensory perception for the CIA, agreed with Bigelow saying, “Our scientists are scared of being ostracized, and our media is scared of the stigma. China and Russia are much more open and work on this with huge organizations within their countries. Smaller countries like Belgium, France, England and South American countries like Chile are more open, too. They are proactive and willing to discuss this topic, rather than being held back by a juvenile taboo.”
• Both Elizondo and Puthoff have now quit the government and joined Tom DeLonge’s new UFO disclosure initiative ‘To the Stars Academy’, speaking publicly about their efforts and raising funding for UFO research. Elizondo said that the UFO phenomena does 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.”
WASHINGTON — In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find.
Which was how the Pentagon wanted it.
For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times. It was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze.
The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.
The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.
Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, 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.
Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.
Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “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 service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Two other former senators and top members of a defense spending subcommittee — Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat — also supported the program. Mr. Stevens died in 2010, and Mr. Inouye in 2012.
While not addressing the merits of the program, 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.”
Still, Mr. Oberg said he welcomed research. “There could well be a pearl there,” he said.
In response to questions from The Times, Pentagon officials this month acknowledged the existence of the program, which began as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Officials insisted that the effort had ended after five years, in 2012.
“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 Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, said in an email, referring to the Department of Defense.
But Mr. Elizondo said the only thing that had ended was the effort’s government funding, which dried up in 2012. From then on, Mr. Elizondo said in an interview, he worked with officials from the Navy and the C.I.A. He continued to work out of his Pentagon office until this past October, when he resigned to protest what he characterized as excessive secrecy and internal opposition.
“Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?” Mr. Elizondo wrote in a resignation letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
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