by Keith Kloor September 20, 2018 (newsweek.com)
• On July 29th, Luis Elizondo, the former career military intelligence official in charge of the Pentagon’s UFO research program from 2007 to 2012 and current member of rock star Tom DeLonge’s ‘To The Stars Academy’, spoke at the annual Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) Symposium at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
• Elizondo’s background is typical of a straight-arrow military officer with a distinguished career. He is the son of a Cuban exile who participated in the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Elizondo worked as a bouncer while attending the University of Miami. After graduating in 1995, he joined the Army and trained to be a military spy. Later, at the Pentagon, Elizondo showed no sign of being a disgruntled employee, spending much of his career chasing militants in South America and the Middle East.
• In 2010, Elizondo was made the head of a small group within the Pentagon charged with investigating reports of “unexplained aerial phenomena” – a less controversial term for UFOs. It was an ¬obscure, low-budget initiative created in 2007 at the behest of then-Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and operated jointly by Elizondo and Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace. But the results of their UFO investigations made Elizondo a true believer. Although the Pentagon program was officially shut down in 2012, Elizondo insists it remains ongoing.
• Elizondo resigned from the Pentagon in October 2017 protesting what he considered lackluster support and unnecessary secrecy. “Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this (UFO) issue?” Elizondo wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis in his resignation letter, “Despite overwhelming evidence at both the classified and unclassified levels, certain individuals in the Department (of Defense) remain staunchly opposed to further research on what could be a tactical threat to our pilots, sailors, and soldiers, and perhaps even an existential threat to our national security.”
• When Tom DeLonge launched ‘To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science’ in October 2017, Elizondo joined and quickly became its public face. Its mission: to advance UFO research, produce science-fiction-themed entertainment about UFOs and, with luck, glean some insight into the super-advanced technology displayed by UFOs (such as spaceships that can seemingly defy gravity) that the Pentagon keeps ignoring. Over the past year, the Academy claims to have attracted more than 2,000 investors and raised roughly $2.5 million.
• ‘To The Stars Academy’ also boasts such heavy-hitters as Chris Mellon, the former deputy ¬assistant secretary of defense for intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations who had oversight of the Pentagon’s super-¬secret ‘special access programs’ and highly classified ‘black operations’; Jim Semivan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service; and Hal Puthoff an electrical engineer who conducted controversial research on psychic abilities for the CIA and the DIA.
• The $22 million Pentagon UFO project marked the first time that the U.S. government admitted to studying UFOs since the Air Force’s ‘Project Blue Book’ was shut down in 1968. Despite Senator Reid’s assertion in an interview with New York magazine that “we have hundreds and ¬hundreds of papers… 80 percent at least, is public,” and Mellon’s statement in Washington Post op-ed, that referred to a “growing body of empirical data,” Elizondo says that much of these “large volumes” of academic studies and data are “FOIA-exempt,” meaning the public is not given access to them.
• There are those in the UFO community who are skeptical of DeLonge’s motives. They believe he simply wants to profit off his UFO-related books, websites and merchandise, and that his antics are part of the business plan.
• As the Academy’s head of Global Security and Special Programs, Elizondo serves as a liaison to the government, including Congress, the Pentagon and the intelligence services. Elizondo thinks that the next six months or so will be pivotal to the success of ‘To the Stars’ when he expects to be able to present more data on UFO sightings. “I’m not worried about credibility,” Elizondo says. “I’m worried about facts.” Reminded that the only facts the public has now are grainy videos, he insists, “There is data. It’s not out yet.”
• Elizondo understands why many remain dubious. “I get it. I’m a career spy,” he says.” “No, I am not running a government disinformation campaign.” “I took a huge risk in leaving a safe job to do this. If this doesn’t pan out, I’ll be working at Walmart.” “But…as crazy as it sounds, this is real.”
“I know what I saw.”
It was late July, and Teresa Tindal, a 39-year-old administrator for a consulting firm, was describing the incident that made her a believer: a round, golden object hovering in the evening sky over Tucson, Arizona. Weather balloon? No way. It could only be one thing: a UFO.
This kind of certainty had brought her—and 400 other people—to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) Symposium, the “premiere UFO event of the year,” according to its literature. They had gathered to talk about extraterrestrials, UFOs and how to avoid being abducted by an alien mothership (hint: yelling at it doesn’t work). “There are too many people that have seen things,” Christine Thisse, 44, a soft-spoken mother from Michigan, told Newsweek.
There were the typical guest speakers giving talks with titles like “Unexplained Disappearances in Rural Areas” and “Report From Mars,” in which a physicist lays out his theory that 75,000 years ago an intergalactic nuclear war wiped out a Martian civilization. And there were famous abductees, like Travis Walton, a former logger whose story of alien captivity became the 1993 movie Fire in the Sky.
But this year offered another attraction—a new, and extremely unlikely, superstar: Luis Elizondo. Seven months earlier, The New York Times had published a front-page story on the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, a “shadowy” initiative at the Pentagon that “investigated reports of unidentified flying objects.” Elizondo, a burly Miami native with a billy-goat beard and colorful tattoos, was the career military intelligence official put in charge of the program a few years after it formed in 2007, until, according to the Pentagon’s press office, it was discontinued in 2012. (Elizondo insists the work is ongoing.) Last year, he resigned from the Pentagon, protesting what he considered lackluster support and unnecessary secrecy—red meat for the X-Files crowd. “Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?” he wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis in his resignation letter.
In the private sector, Elizondo soon found an unlikely ally in his quest for the truth: Tom DeLonge, the former frontman for the pop/punk band Blink-182, the group behind a song called “Aliens Exist.” Turns out DeLonge actually believed it. In 2017, he launched To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, and Elizondo quickly became its public face. The mission: to advance UFO research, produce science-fiction-themed entertainment about UFOs and, with luck, glean some insight into the super-advanced technology displayed by UFOs (such as spaceships that can seemingly defy gravity) that the Pentagon keeps ignoring.
The academy claims to have attracted more than 2,000 investors and raised roughly $2.5 million, and Elizondo found a mostly enthusiastic crowd in Cherry Hill. “Sometimes people may have associated you with being fringe—being out there,” he told the MUFON audience over a buffet dinner. “All along, you were right.” Not everyone was convinced: Some cited a lack of evidence in his presentation. Tindal was suspicious of the Pentagon connection. “It could be a cover for something else,” she said.
But if Elizondo is trying to lend credibility to research on unexplained sightings, why would he partner with a guy whose band had a hit album titled Enema of the State? And why would he choose as a venue a UFO conference teeming with conspiracy theorists?
“We have to start somewhere,” he told Newsweek that day. “I don’t get invited to Stanford or MIT.”
Super Hornets and Tic Tacs
Each year, thousands of people report UFO sightings to various authorities—the police, the Pentagon, radio talk show hosts. By one count, more than 100,000 sightings have been reported since 1905. Nearly all can be explained away as clouds, meteors, birds, weather balloons or some other quotidian phenomenon. Efforts at rational debunking serve only to harden the conviction of the true believers, who are convinced that abundant evidence of alien visitations is hidden in secret military documents—literal X-files—locked away in the bowels of the so-called deep state.
The X-files conspiracy theory is the beating heart of the UFO community—an article of faith among enthusiasts and the basis of almost every call to action on social media (#Disclosure). It is also encouraged by some prominent people, including John ¬Podesta, who lamented on Twitter a few years ago that he’d failed to secure the #disclosure of the UFO files, “despite being President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.
When Elizondo went public, it gave a sheen of credibility to the conspiracy crowd. His background is typical of a straight-arrow military officer with a distinguished career. He is the son of a Cuban exile who participated in the Bay of Pigs—the failed CIA-¬sponsored plot to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961. Elizondo worked as a bouncer while attending the University of Miami. After graduating in 1995, he joined the Army and trained to be a military spy. Later, at the Pentagon, Elizondo showed no sign of being a disgruntled employee or a loon, spending much of his career in the shadows, chasing militants in South America and the Middle East.
In 2010, he started to run a small group charged with investigating reports of “unexplained aerial phenomena”—a less controversial term for UFOs. It was an ¬obscure, low-budget initiative created three years before at the behest of then-Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. Details are murky, but the $22 million program seems to have been operated jointly by Elizondo and Bigelow Aerospace, a Nevada-based defense contractor whose billionaire owner, Robert Bigelow, is an avid believer in UFOs.
Two months before the Times published its front-page story, Elizondo retired from the Pentagon. He shows Newsweek what he says is a copy of his resignation letter, dated October 4, 2017, and addressed to Mattis. The letter expresses some frustration about the lack of attention his program was getting. And it suggests that something he learned at the Pentagon turned him into a true believer. “Despite overwhelming evidence at both the classified and unclassified levels,” he wrote, “certain individuals in the Department remain staunchly opposed to further research on what could be a tactical threat to our pilots, sailors, and soldiers, and perhaps even an existential threat to our national security.”
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