Pentagon admits running secret UFO investigation

Task force that investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects ran from 2007 to 2012 with annual budget of $22m

The truth is finally out there, after the Pentagon admitted it ran a secret UFO investigation programme for five years until 2012.

The US defence department’s own “X-Files” operation, known by the less catchy title of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, was closed after a change in funding priorities, it said.

But the remarkable revelation has raised more questions than answers, including whether the programme has been completely shut down, or just covered up further.

While the Pentagon claims it ended five years ago, it said it continued to take seriously “all threats and potential threats to our people”.

The military intelligence official Luis Elizondo, who ran the programme on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, according to the New York Times, which broke the story, told the paper it was only the government funding that had dried up. He said activities continued under the direction of his successor, whom he declined to name.

Either way the revelation is likely to provide some satisfaction to UFO enthusiasts, often dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

Nick Pope, who used to run the British government’s UFO project, said: “The take-home message here is that there’s probably something out there, but we don’t know what it is. It’s an extraordinary revelation, not least because it directly contradicts the many specific denials that the US government has issued previously when asked about this subject, and their involvement in it.

“It precisely reflects my own experience of this intriguing but frustrating subject with the British government. Like our US colleagues, we too denied – even to parliament – that we were undertaking secret studies into the UFO phenomenon and consistently downplayed the true extent of our interest and activity at the Ministry of Defence.”

The New York Times said the project, parts of which remain classified, received $22m (£18.7m) each year, hidden away in US Department of Defense (DoD) budgets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

It said its initial funding came largely at the request of the former Senate leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat long known for his enthusiasm for space phenomena. He was quoted as saying: “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going. 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.”

Last year, John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, declared that he had convinced her to explore declassifying any government documents related to UFOs should she win the election.

Bill Clinton previously said that, during his time in the White House, he had tried to find out if there were any secret “X-Files”, concluding: “If so, they eluded me.”

In the UK, 209 files and approximately 52,000 pages of information on UFOs were released during a five-year rolling disclosure programme that concluded in 2013, containing details of about 6,000 separate observations reported to the British authorities since 1984.

In 2009, the Ministry of Defence closed down its hotline for UFO sightings, stating: “In over 50 years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom.”

Responding to the revelations about its activities, the Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoas told Reuters: “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.”

She added: “The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”

Pope said: “This isn’t quite the ‘spaceship in a hangar’ smoking gun the UFO lobby was hoping for, but it’s as close as those of us who have looked at this subject from within government will ever go to saying: ‘Yes, this is real.’”

US Senator who set up Pentagon’s secret UFO unit: ‘Now we have scientific evidence’

The US has “scientific evidence” of unidentified flying objects thanks to the Pentagon’s secret UFO unit, the senator who set it up has said.

Harry Reid, a retired former Democratic Senator, succeeded in launching the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Programme (AATIP) in 2007 after requesting initial funding for the project.

The unit, which the Department of Defence (DoD) insists was terminated in 2012, produced documents that described sightings of aircraft that travelled at extremely high speeds with no visible signs of propulsion.

“If this movement took place in anything we now have available to us, it would kill everybody,” Mr Reid told Las Vegas news channel KLAS Channel 8, in reference to reported encounters with UFOs. They couldn’t withstand those g-forces. Something sitting there, ‘whoom’, down it goes.”

Previously classified footage released by the DoD showed US fighter jet pilots as they tracked an unidentified aerial object gliding above the Pacific ocean in 2004. The object had been detected appearing suddenly at 80,000 feet by the USS Princeton, a naval cruiser, which had been tracking mysterious aircraft for two weeks.

Commander David Fravor told The New York Times the object was about 40ft long, had no plumes, wings or rotors, and outpaced their F-18s. It was big enough to churn the sea 50ft below it, he said.

“I have no idea what I saw … It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he added, admitting he was “pretty weirded out”.

Mr Reid said countries including China, Russia and Japan were already taking UFOs seriously, and that it was important the US did the same. Asked if he was glad the revelations had been made public, Mr Reid responded: “I’m very glad, because now we have scientific evidence.”

KLAS Channel 8 reported Mr Reid had told them one factor in the shutting down of AATIP was intelligence officials’ fears the findings would end up on the front page of a newspaper. He also said some officials had religious objections to the unit.

Most of the $22m (£15m) funding for the research went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire and friend of Mr Reid’s, Robert Bigelow. Mr Bigelow has said he is “absolutely convinced” UFOs have visited Earth.

But Mr Reid denied his friend’s company was given preferential treatment. “Even though this was a secure programme, we wanted to make sure people couldn’t complain that it was some sweetheart deal. No, it was put out to bid,” he said.