“Disclosure has already occurred. Disclosure is not an event, it’s a process,” said Luis Elizondo, former head of a hitherto unknown government operation called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP). “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.”
On the northern edge of the Las Vegas sprawl where city meets desert, a vast building resembling a giant hangar, the headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace, a company that plans to launch and sell its own space stations and, more ambitiously, build a space hotel and a lunar base, occupies a 50-acre city block . This is the headquarters of Bigelow Aerospace, a company that plans to launch and sell its own space stations and, more ambitiously, build a space hotel and a lunar base. Today, the hangar doors are closed and tumbleweed now blows across the car parks.
The perimeter is secured with razor wire and concrete barriers, and the only staff visible from outside are armed guards, hiding inside what’s speculated to be salvage of a crashed extraterrestrial object –commonly known as a UFO.
Residents of the neat residential streets say security was tightened at Bigelow Aerospace late last year when it was revealed by the New York Times and Washington post that the company was paid by the Pentagon to store parts recovered from crashed “unidentified aerial phenomena” — military-speak for UFOs — exotic materials believed to be alloys that defied scientific analysis and physically affected those who came into contact with them.
Not since 1947, when the US army said it had found a crashed UFO near Roswell, New Mexico, but in fact proved to be a weather balloon had the government come so close to admitting we are not alone in the vast reaches of the Milky Way.
But to date, there has been no retraction of the latest story of Pentagon UFO intrigue. Questioned about the events, the Pentagon has maintained an information blackout, as has Bigelow Aerospace. With no new leads, websites normally regarded as outlets for conspiracy theorists have turned up intriguing new evidence and stolen a march on America’s mainstream media.
The strange story of the salvaged UFOs began with the abrupt resignation last autumn of a senior Pentagon official, reports Nick Rufford for The Times of London. Luis Elizondo was the head of a hitherto unknown government operation called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), run by a team of 12, based on the fifth floor of the Pentagon called C-ring.
In a parting letter to Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, Elizondo said the government was not taking sightings of unidentified craft by American warplanes seriously enough.
“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.” Elizondo’s leaked letter blew the lid off what was, in effect, a clandestine government UFO-watching unit, infuriating the Pentagon’s top brass. In a terse statement, the Pentagon admitted the existence of AATIP without mentioning the UFO connection: the program, it said, was set up “to assess far-term, foreign advanced aerospace threats to the United States”, it said, and was discontinued in 2012 to make way for “other higher priority issues”.
Since then, Elizondo, whose impeccable credentials were confirmed by The Washington Post, has remained largely silent on the subject. But in an interview with The Sunday Times, he reports that the program was never wound up and continued to monitor UFO sightings until as recently as last October, when he quit. In the fascinating video below emphatically states that “disclosure has already occurred. Disclosure is not an event, it’s a process.
“What’s important to understand is that the initial tranche of money that came from Congress ended in 2012,” he told Rufford. “Then there was another tranche that came out in 2013. In the Department of Defense there’s an old soldiers’ saying: you guard your post until you’re relieved of that responsibility. Well, that order never came for us. We were never formally disestablished. In fact, I was providing briefings to seniors up until the week I departed.”
With the official title of director for the national programs, special management staff, Elizondo’s explains that his role included maintaining files on all unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), defined as anything seen by military aircrews that was not recognizable. According to Elizondo, that meant “images captured by radar or gun-sight cameras that didn’t resemble any known craft or projectile, friendly or hostile”.
Most of the sightings were easily explainable, he told Rufford, but some were not. “There were times we were able to very quickly rule out that this was something extraterrestrial. But there are, absolutely, some cases that defy anything we can definitively look at and say, that is an aircraft, that is a drone, that is a missile, because the performance parameters are so way off the charts.”
In one sense, Elizondo’s duties merely continued a longstanding military practice of documenting unexplained aerial sightings that began in the 1940s. Where AATIP departed from past operations was that a private contractor was recruited to assist with the top-secret work. In the four years from 2007 to 2011, Bigelow Aerospace, a company founded by Robert Bigelow, 73, an entrepreneur and self-avowed ufologist, was paid $22m by the Department of Defense.
The Pentagon won’t say how it was spent, and Elizondo won’t discuss it, on the grounds of a continuing duty of confidentiality. But according to The New York Times: “Under Mr Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena. Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes.”
Elizondo now says these claims were misleading, according to his interview with Rufford but only in as much as they wrongly identified the materials derived from unidentified craft. They were not alloys, he said, but “metamaterials” — synthetic materials with composite structures that exhibit properties not found naturally — that had defied scientific analysis. “To engineer these materials with that degree of precision is something that we, so far, do not believe we have the technical capability to reproduce.” Asked where the materials came from, Elizondo says: “I can’t answer that question.”
The program collected video and audio recordings of reported U.F.O. incidents, including footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves. The Navy pilots can be heard trying to understand what they are seeing. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one exclaims. Defense officials declined to release the location and date of the incident.
With a personal fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars made in Nevada real estate, Bigelow he founded Bigelow Aerospace in 1999 with the aim of breaking into a growing market for commercial space flight. But Bigelow had another reason to embrace the space age. He wanted to search for extraterrestrial life. In his youth, Rufford reports, his grandparents had told him about an encounter with a UFO on a highway outside Las Vegas: “It really sped up and came right into their face and filled up the entire windshield of the car,” he said. “And it took off at a right angle and shot off into the distance.”
By 2007, he had gathered enough evidence to persuade three members of the defense subcommittee, Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, and Harry Reid, the then leader of the Senate Democrats, who shared his interest in the paranormal, that the government should be involved in the search. It could be justified on the grounds that the unidentified craft represented a potential threat to national security. The subcommittee agreed to use money from the federal budget for AATIP — a deliberately opaque title.
Reid has since said: “This was so-called black money,” he told The New York Times. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.”
He added, “Ted Stevens said, ‘I’ve been waiting to do this since I was in the Air Force.’” (The Alaska senator had been a pilot in the Army’s air force, flying transport missions over China during World War II.)
During the meeting, Mr. Reid said, Mr. Stevens recounted being tailed by a strange aircraft with no known origin, which he said had followed his plane for miles.
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in an 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.”
“I had talked to John Glenn a number of years before,” Mr. Reid said, referring to the astronaut and former senator from Ohio, who died in 2016. Mr. Glenn, Mr. Reid said, had told him he thought that the federal government should be looking seriously into U.F.O.s, and should be talking to military service members, particularly pilots, who had reported seeing aircraft they could not identify or explain.
Reid said he did not know where the objects had come from. “If anyone says they have the answers now, they’re fooling themselves,” he said. “We do not know.” But, he said, “we have to start someplace.”
Until Elizondo’s resignation, the story stayed under wraps, a secret known only to a handful of senior Pentagon staff — and Bigelow. When the existence of the UFO unit was released by the Pentagon late last year, the secret was out. Most questions, such as where the money went, and what Bigelow is closely guarding in Las Vegas, have remained unanswered.
“It’s just downright intriguing, right?” says John Greenewald, a longtime critic of the US military establishment who runs an online database of more than 1.4m declassified former top-secret documents called the Black Vault. He has badgered the Pentagon for answers about AATIP, and about the whereabouts of parts from crashed UFOs. “I mean, captured alloys and material from UFOs — that has to be alien, right?” he says. “This rivals the Roswell debris going to Hangar 18.”
Recent revelations by Greenewald and others have shone a light not so much on UFOs, but on the way in which taxpayers’ money may have been used. One allegation is that one of Bigelow’s companies channeled government money to Mufon (an acronym for the Mutual UFO Network), a California-based collective of self-styled UFO hunters.
Abovetopsecret.com — a site devoted to “conspiracy theories, UFOs and the paranormal” — reports that Bigelow approached Mufon in 2008 with a business proposal to buy its database of UFO sightings and archive of evidence, including quite possibly alien artifacts: “The contract was offering a total of $672,000 if Mufon delivered. By November 2009, $334,000 of the promised $672,000 had been paid … money that we now know came from US taxpayers.”
It’s not clear whether the metamaterials now being guarded in Las Vegas were among the recovered items. But it seems that Bigelow acquired objects at about this time that convinced him aliens had visited Earth, and stayed.
“There has been and is an existing presence, an ET presence [on Earth],” Bigelow said in a rare interview. Were federal funds spent on creating a storage area for the UFO parts that allegedly had “physical effects” on those who handled them? Certainly, satellite pictures show that Bigelow Aerospace’s buildings were extended in about 2010, halfway through the US government contract, with the addition of a secure covered area, though this modification work could have been for completely different reasons.
Nick Rufford concludes in his Times of London report, Is the US Government Hiding UFOs in a Las Vegas Hangar, that government cover-ups seldom withstand scrutiny, if only for the reason that it’s almost impossible to keep anything secret for long. Anyone with inside knowledge of crashed UFOs would surely have gone public, or been offered a lucrative book contract.
Yet Bigelow, a shrewd and successful businessman, and Elizondo, a distinguished former intelligence officer, haven’t been fooled by exotic tales of flying saucers. So the secrets are still out there.
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.
“Internationally, we are the most backward country in the world on this issue,” Mr. Bigelow said in an interview. “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.”
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