In 1952, a CIA group called the Psychological Strategy Board concluded that, when it came to UFOs, the American public was dangerously gullible and prone to “hysterical mass behavior.” The group recommended “debunking” campaigns to tamper the public’s interest in unexplained phenomena. But the government seems to have been interested, too: In December, the Pentagon confirmed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Created in 2007 by senators Ted Stevens (who reported being chased by a mysterious object), Daniel Inouye, and then–Majority Leader Harry Reid, and funded with $22 million of “black money” from the Department of Defense’s budget, the program investigated and evaluated reports of UFO sightings, many of which came from American service members.
So much of what the program uncovered remains classified, but what little we know is tantalizing. Based on data it collected, the program identified five observations that showed mysterious objects displaying some level of “advanced physics,” also known as “stuff humans can’t do yet”: The objects would accelerate with g-forces too strong for the human body to withstand, or reach hypersonic speed with no heat trail or sonic boom, or they seemed to resist the effects of Earth’s gravity without any aerodynamic structures to provide thrust or lift. “No one has been able to figure out what these are,” said Luis Elizondo, who ran the program until last October, in a recent interview.
Elizondo has also talked about “metamaterials” that may have been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena and stored in buildings owned by a private aerospace contractor in Las Vegas; they apparently have material compositions that aren’t found naturally on Earth and would be exceptionally expensive to replicate. According to a 2009 Pentagon briefing summarized in the New York Times, “the United States was incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered.” This was a briefing by people trying to get more funding — but still.
Some of the accounts Elizondo and his team analyzed supposedly occurred near nuclear facilities like power plants or battleships. In November 2004, the USS Princeton, a Navy cruiser escorting the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz off the coast of San Diego, ordered two fighter jets to investigate mysterious aircraft the Navy had been tracking for weeks (meaning this was not just a trick of the eye or a momentary failure of perspective, the two things most often blamed for unexplained aerial phenomena). When the jets arrived at the location, one of the pilots, Commander David Fravor, saw a disturbance just below the ocean’s surface causing the water to roil around it. Then, suddenly, he saw a white, 40-foot Tic Tac–shaped craft moving like a Ping-Pong ball above the water. The vehicle began mirroring his plane’s movements, but when Fravor dove directly at the object, the Tic Tac zipped away.
The Pentagon has said funding for the program ran out in 2012 and wasn’t renewed. But Elizondo has claimed the project was alive and well when he resigned in October. —James D. Walsh