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Aerial encounter
A video shows what’s said to be an encounter between a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and an unknown object. (Department of Defense via New York Times)

The U.S. Department of Defense funded a program to investigate unidentified flying objects until 2012, and the program may well be continuing with alternate funding, The New York Times reported today.

The Times says its report is based on a range of interviews with people familiar with the program — including the military intelligence official who ran it until a couple of months ago, Luis Elizondo; and the now-retired U.S. senator who helped get $22 million in funding for the program, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid.

“This was so-called ‘black money,'” Reid told the Times.

The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program is also discussed today in a report published by Politico.

A share of the federal funding reportedly went to a company headed by Robert Bigelow, the Nevada billionaire who has long held that aliens were visiting Earth in UFOs. Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, is currently involved in a NASA-backed program to develop expandable space modules, and one of its modules is being tested on the International Space Station.

“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” the Times quoted Reid as saying. “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.”

The Times published a video clip that was recorded by a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and retained by the Pentagon’s UFO program.

The black-and-white video clip, which dates back to 2004, appears to show an object moving against a cloudy background and zooming away at high speed, off California’s coast near San Diego. In an accompanying story, the Times provides retired Navy pilot David Fravor’s account of the encounter with what he said was a whitish oval object.

Defense Department officials are quoted as saying that the program was funded until 2012, and Elizondo told the Times that he continued to work with the Navy and the CIA after that time.

Elizondo left his Pentagon post in October and is now director of global security and special programs for a company called To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science. In a news release issued today, Elizondo said he was “honored to serve at the DOD and took my mission of exploring unexplained aerial phenomena quite seriously.”

“In the end, however, I couldn’t carry out that mission, because the department — which was understandably overstretched — couldn’t give it the resources that the mounting evidence deserved,” he said.

Elizondo said he left the Pentagon “under very good terms” to join To The Stars, where the investigation would be “priority number one.” Toward that end, To The Stars has set up a “Community of Interest” website to serve as a central database and online hub for information related to unidentified aerial phenomena.

The Times quoted Elizondo as saying that his successor at the Pentagon was continuing with investigative efforts.

One of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s most provocative — and most derided — campaign pledges was her vow to “get to the bottom” of the UFO controversy. That pledge reportedly came at the urging of her campaign chairman, John Podesta, a longtime advocate for UFO disclosure.

At the time, the UFO comments were lost in the press of other campaign issues, including Wikileaks’ release of purloined emails from Podesta’s personal Gmail account.

The Trump administration hasn’t said much about UFO investigations, but current Pentagon officials acknowledged that the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was in existence between 2007 and 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,” the Times quoted Pentagon spokesman Thomas Crosson as saying in an email. Politico published an identical comment attributed to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

Some aspects of the program remain classified, the Times said.

One of the authors of the Times article, investigative reporter Leslie Kean, has been looking into UFO reports for years — and is the author of a 2010 book on the subject, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record.”

This has more potential to create change than anything I have done before

Posted by Leslie Kean on Saturday, December 16, 2017

Today’s articles are likely to return the decades-old debate to the spotlight. However, the fact that the federal government continues to investigate anomalous aerial encounters doesn’t prove that extraterrestrial forces are at work.

An unnamed former congressional staffer told Politico the UFOs may have been experimental aircraft incorporating technologies that could threaten the United States. “Was this China or Russia trying to do something or has some propulsion system we are not familiar with?” the staffer said.

James Oberg, a former NASA engineer who has long looked at UFO controversies with a critical eye, noted that seemingly out-of-this-world observations usually have a more down-to-Earth explanation.

“There are plenty of prosaic events and human perceptual traits that can account for these stories,” Oberg told the Times. “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.”

Update for 8 p.m. PT Dec. 16: Oberg, a former colleague of mine at MSNBC, provided further perspective in a text:

“UFOs not having placed themselves under scientific scrutiny, all that can be studied are UFO reports — and there is at least one excellent reason why the Pentagon ought to be studying such reports.

“Whatever else may be causing them, many have for decades been caused by Soviet/Russian top secret missile/space activities badly misinterpreted by startled witnesses.

“Ranging from tests of space-to-ground nuclear strike weapons, to nationwide space-war simulations, to U.S. missile defense evasion techniques, legitimate military intelligence targets have made their greatest public mark as UFO reports — providing any alert intelligence analysts with significant performance parameters.”

Read the full stories from The New York Times and Politico.

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