On Saturday, a news story broke that should appeal to the conspiracy theorist in you. The US Government really has been investigating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) – or unexplained aerial phenomenon (UAPs) – and they've been doing it all in secret.
This is according to reports from The New York Times and POLITICO, which reveal details of a five-year-long project rather ambiguously named the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The program, backed and funded by Democrat Senator and ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, received just shy of $22 million between 2008 and 2011 – a tiny fraction of the Defense Department's annual budget ($600 billion).
The majority of the $22 million went to Bigelow Aerospace, a space technology startup based in Las Vegas and owned by hotel mogul Bob Bigelow. The company renovated buildings in Sin City to store materials that had been "recovered" from UFOs. Meanwhile, researchers examined civilians and military personnel who claimed to have seen and interacted with mysterious aerial phenomena for signs of physiological changes.
The program also amassed video and audio recordings of potential UFOs, including one of a Navy aircraft surrounded by a glowing light. In the clip, a pilot can be heard saying, “there’s a whole fleet of them”.
Despite efforts to keep the work hush-hush and the funding a secret, Reid is proud of the program. “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,” he told The New York Times.
The official story is that efforts proved fruitless and the program was shut down 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,” added Thomas Crosson, a Pentagon spokesperson.
Another member of staff told POLITICO, “After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance.
"They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find.
"There was really nothing there that we could justify using taxpayer money."
But according to other sources – including Luis Elizondo, who headed the program before resigning earlier this year – the project is still ongoing. Elizondo told The New York Times the program no longer receives funding from the Pentagon, but staff continue to investigate UFO reports in tandem with their other departmental duties.
So, what should we make of all this?
“There are plenty of prosaic events and human perceptual traits that can account for these stories,” said former NASA space shuttle engineer, James E. Oberg. “Lots of people are active in the air and don’t want others to know about it."
However, he added, “there could well be a pearl there.”