For once, there is some truth in conspiracy theories. On December 16, a New York Times investigation revealed the existence of a secret Pentagon UFO program surveying civilian and military pilots encounters with unexplained phenomena.
With a budget of around $22 million (part of the $600 million attributed to the US defense department), the investigation unit, named "Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program", was active for at least five years, from 2007 to 2012.
Set up by retired Nevada Democrat Senator Harry Reid (a great fan of the unexplained) the unit doesn't actually appear in the Pentagon books and the bulk of its findings is still classified as secret.
Financing for this unit took place through Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, who was recently contracted by NASA to develop Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the ISS.
The New York Times states that Bigelow Aerospace was in charge of the investigation, interviewing people who allegedly had been in contact with aliens, scrutinizing video "evidence" and studying debris from unknown spacecraft.
Very few documents have been made available to the general public but, nonetheless, three videos were released online. Taken straight from USAF planes' cockpit, they show encounters between pilots and UFOs.
One of these three videos, infrared footage from 20004, shows David Fravor and Jim Slaight, two F/A F-18 jet pilots deployed near San Diego, face to face with a white oval object the size of a commercial airplane hovering in the air.
Neither of them could figure out what it is and couldn't quite pinpoint it on the radar. The encounter lasted less than a minute, and then it "accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen", according to Fravor.
Is the unit still active?
The Pentagon-appointed military intelligence agent Luis Elizondo to head the unit. He left his post last October, protesting against the excessive security surrounding the process and his superiors' lack of interest in his work.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, seen by The New York Times, Elizondo asks "Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue? There remains a vital need to ascertain capability and intent of these phenomena for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation.”
The financing of the program is still shadowy, as another New York Times article shows. When they contacted the Pentagon, it admitted such a unit existed, but that it was receiving no more funding. Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said:
"The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 timeframe. 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."
Although there is no more money, that doesn't mean the unit is actually inoperative, since Elizondo affirms someone has been nominated to replace him without actually naming them.
The Washington Post thinks that Elizondo was behind the leaks to The New York Times. Just before quitting, he asked his superiors to make these videos available to the public, in the hope they had an educational value.
Elizondo himself said that the pretext he gave for the leak was rather deceptive and that he wanted to show the results of the unit's investigation, result that he found too sensitive to remain secret.
After leaving the Pentagon, Elizondo and two of his colleagues joined the start-up To The Stars, whose aim is to gather funds for UFO research and founded by none other than Tom DeLonge, ex-Blink 182 singer and guitarist.
No real answer, but a ton of questions
The Pentagon's refusal to deny such opaque activities might look surprising, but we must remember that the USA has a long story of investigating UFOs. Between 1947 and 1969, USAF built more than 12 000 case files, 701 of them remaining unexplained so far.
Although Luis Elizondo didn't actually share all his findings, he is exhorting his superiors to take “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities” seriously.
In a way, it doesn't really matter if we don't know much about such inquiries linked to aliens. As MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager reminds us that: “what people sometimes don’t get about science is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.” Such rigorous initiatives allow us to get a proper look at things.
Harry Reid said it nicely in his tweet: "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."
So, no scoop yet, sorry: as far as we know, and until we have absolute proof otherwise, there are no such things as UFO. It is good however that many countries treat this subject seriously though.