This was no 'exercise accident!'


The Pentagon confirmed to the New York Times over the weekend that it had run a $22 million program to investigate the weird and uncanny, or at the very least to shuffle some money to a good friend and campaign contributor of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid. Did the Pentagon find aliens? Or at least some cool alien tech? Sorry, that's classified. But it's definitely the biggest government research project into unexplained aircraft -- or something -- since the Air Force ended Project Blue Book in 1969.

Yr Dok Zoom tends toward the skeptical side of things, so we're not inclined to believe the Pentagon turned up any little greys or black-oil mind-controlled supersoldiers (especially because the Men In Black told us not to say anything about 'em). But there definitely was a black-budget program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program that ran from 2007 to 2012, dedicated to assessing whether there was anything funny going on in the skies. The program aimed to learn whether strange things being sighted by pilots and radar constituted some kind of security threat, whether from secret Russian or Chinese advanced technology, or maybe Alpha Centauri. Those seeking a more cynical explanation might be forgiven for suggesting it was also at least in part a nice boondoggle:

The shadowy program -- parts of it remain classified -- began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid's, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

The program, which operated out of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tried to document and military air crews' sightings of strange craft that didn't fly like normal planes, moving far too fast or hovering without any apparent wings, rotors, or jet engines. Like this side-story's account of a 2004 incident in which two Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet pilots encountered several bizarre flying objects 100 miles off San Diego. The pilots were directed to check out the objects after radar detected unknown aircraft behaving like normal aircraft shouldn't, appearing out of nowhere at 80,000 feet, then plunging in seconds to 20,000 feet and hovering.

One of the pilots, Commander David Fravor, told the Times what he saw when he got to the intercept location: Nothing in the air at all. But then:

Commander Fravor looked down to the sea. It was calm that day, but the waves were breaking over something that was just below the surface. Whatever it was, it was big enough to cause the sea to churn. Hovering 50 feet above the churn was an aircraft of some kind -- whitish -- that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. The craft was jumping around erratically, staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction, Commander Fravor said. The disturbance looked like frothy waves and foam, as if the water were boiling.

Frothy waves and foam? Clearly a visitor from the planet Santorum. When Fravor descended to get a better look, the thing started ascending, then shot out of sight:

“It accelerated like nothing I've ever seen," he said in the interview. He was, he said, “pretty weirded out."

Video from one of the fighters shows a definite glowing something:

For our money (15 bucks at the cineplex in two years), the best part of the whole story is what Fravor said he told another pilot who asked him what he'd seen:
“I have no idea what I saw," Commander Fravor replied to the pilot. “It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s." But, he added, “I want to fly one."

That's definitely a Navy fighter jockey talking. Fravor didn't speculate about what the object actually was, but it doesn't sound like any swamp gas we've ever heard of.

The program was run by military intelligence official Luis Elizondo, who left the Pentagon in October, and told the Times that after 2012, he'd actually continued to work on a newer iteration of the research in coordination with the Navy and the CIA. He says he resigned in protest of too much secrecy and Pentagon opposition to the work.

Mr. Elizondo, in his resignation letter of Oct. 4, said there was a need for more serious attention to “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities." He expressed his frustration with the limitations placed on the program, telling Mr. Mattis that “there remains a vital need to ascertain capability and intent of these phenomena for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation."

In an interview on NPR this morning, Elizondo emphasized that the investigators weren't just running off after glowing lights like a bunch of starry-eyed Fox Mulders who wanted to believe; their goal was to do rigorous science at it in an effort to figure out what the hell they were looking at. And some of what they looked at remains unexplained, and instead of getting into science-fiction speculation, he's content to say he doesn't know and that's why these things are worth investigating further. Elizondo was a bit more definite in the Times story, telling reporters

he and his government colleagues had determined that the phenomena they had studied did not seem to originate from any country. “That fact is not something any government or institution should classify in order to keep secret from the people," he said.

Elizondo is now working in a private-sector venture called "To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science," an outfit founded by former Blink-182 musician Tom DeLonge.

The Times story also gives us a tantalizing reference to a facility in Nevada run by Bigelow Aerospace, which stores "metal alloys and other materials that [...] had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena." Beyond that brief mention and a reference to a 2009 briefing summary that said the US might not be able to defend itself against some of the technologies the program had discovered, the Times piece is disappointingly short on detail about these "recovered" materials, which sound like the sort of thing that ought to be looked into. Harry Reid had requested a special security designation for the program, but it was denied.

In addition to Reid, the program was supported by Senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Ted Stevens of Alaska, both of whom have since died (or so the Visitors want us to believe). At a 2007 meeting to set up the effort, Stevens told the other two senators about an encounter he had with a foo fighter while he was in the Army Air Corps, flying transport planes over China during WW 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.

The senators agreed they'd rather not bring the topic up on the floor of the Senate, which might result in headlines like "We're Not Saying Harry Reid Is a Space Alien, But..." Instead, Reid told the Times,

This was so-called black money [...] Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that's how we wanted it.

Reid also said he has no regrets about his involvement in getting the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program off the ground, whatever propelled it:

“I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going," Mr. Reid said in a recent 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."

He added that he didn't pretend to know what exactly the program was looking at, but that's the point: You research things you don't have any other explanation for.

“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."

One indication that we live in deeply weird times: The Pentagon has admitted that it had a major effort to investigate UFOs, and it's not getting a hell of a lot of attention with all the strangeness of the Trump era. As one wag on Twitter put it:

But perhaps it's just as well. If Donald Trump finds out about the ET's, he might take to Twitter to antagonize them. That, or he'd ask them for help in his reelection campaign.

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[NYT / NYT / Deadspin / GeekWire/ Image by Friend of Wonkette Pixelkitties]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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