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According to a New York Times story, a secretive Pentagon program analyzed reports of UFOs. But the associated videos raise some questions.
On December 17, 2017, a newspaper printed a story titled "Real U.F.O.'s? Pentagon Unit Tried to Know." No, the headline wasn't surrounded by text about post-baby bods and B-listers' secret sorrows. Because it was on the front page of The New York Times.

The article describes a federally funded program that investigated reports of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs, the take-me-seriously acronym that includes UFOs). And within the story, the Times embedded videos of two such UAPs.

Although the article was careful not to say that unidentified meant extraterrestrial, the Department of Defense acknowledged the program, and it was easy enough for readers to draw the conclusion that these videos could show alien aircraft. The Times supplemented one of the clips with a first-hand account of a Navy pilot who was sent to investigate "mysterious aircraft" that appeared - poof! - at 80,000 feet, dropped down to 20,000, and then seemed to hover before either leaving radar range or launching straight up. Weird, right?


The discovery, and federal acknowledgement, of a UFO of non-earthly origin would be revelatory - and the Times' scoop seemed to suggest that such a worldview-shifting scenario is at least not not-true. That the videos came courtesy of the Defense Department made it easier for readers to put faith in their validity.

"The video footage, in this case, is what captures people's imagination and is part of what made this case more compelling," says historian Greg Eghigian, a recent NASA and American Historical Association Fellow in Aerospace History.

But there are a few missing links in this narrative chain, links that need to be forged before anyone has enough information to accurately interpret these videos, let alone conclude they even remotely suggest anything extraterrestrial.


But wait, this story broke the news that the DOD had a secret UFO program and had released secret video! That's huge!

Here's what happened. About a decade ago, the Department of Defense inaugurated a UFO program, budgeted at $22 million according to the Times. It went by AATIP, for Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, though the Times story refers to it as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Its purpose was to investigate flying foreign weapon threats - ones that exist now or could be developed in the next 40 years. The product of legislation cosponsored by senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the program, according to Pentagon spokesperson Audricia Harris, was primarily executed through a contract with Bigelow Aerospace - a company owned by Reid's constituent and donor Robert Bigelow. (The wealthy businessman, who is best known for his inflatable space habitats, still owns a company called Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, which has also researched UFO reports.)

The Pentagon program was run by Luis Elizondo, who told WIRED he took the lead position in 2010. (WIRED was unable to verify that Elizondo worked on AATIP, but Harris does confirm that he worked for the Defense Department.) The AATIP team, Elizondo says, took strange-sighting reports from pilots, as well as associated data like camera footage and radar returns, and tried to match them with known international aircraft signatures. "What we found many times was the fact that the aircraft did not belong to anybody," Elizondo says. Sometimes, he says, the craft displayed behavior the AATIP team couldn't explain.

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