The Pentagon spent millions quietly investigating reports of unidentified flying objects, according to reports from The New York Times and Politico.
The $22 million Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program began in 2007 after its funding was pushed for by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who has long had an interest in the phenomenon of UFOs, according to The Times.
A large portion of the overall money spent on the endeavor went to an aerospace firm owned by billionaire Robert Bigelow, a longtime friend of Reid, according to The Times. Bigelow told CBS’ 60 Minutes in May that he was absolutely convinced that aliens exist and that UFOs have landed on Earth.
The Times noted that the Defense Department had never before acknowledged the existence of the program, but Defense officials now say it was shut down in 2012.
Politico said that the program is getting attention in 2017 because of the October retirement of Luis Elizondo, a career intelligence official who ran the program and reportedly told Defense Secretary James Mattis in his resignation letter that the Department needed to take the program’s research more seriously.
“We were trying to take the voodoo out of voodoo science,” Elizondo told Politico.
Elizondo told the website about sightings by Navy pilots of aircraft that were able to make maneuvers that should not be aerodynamically possible, but complained that military leaders were not taking the threat seriously.
“If a Russian 'Bear' bomber comes in near California, it is all over the news,” he told Politico. “These are coming in the skies over our facilities. Nothing but crickets.”
Despite funding for the program ending in 2012, Defense officials have continued to research UFOs on top of their other duties during the past five years, according to anonymous officials quoted by The Times.
Reid told the newspaper he was proud of his role in creating the program.
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” he said. “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.”