Mainstream news outlets jumped into the deep end of Billy Cox's Great Taboo. The New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post are among those reporting to have confirmed that Luis Elizondo, a career intelligence officer formerly with the Defense Department and currently of Team DeLonge, headed a UFO investigation project as claimed. The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, reportedly operational from no less than 2007 to 2012, was financed through black funding which included money funneled to Bigelow Aerospace, owned by longtime UFO enthusiast and controversial philanthropist Robert Bigelow. The remarkable circumstances published included the claim, "Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena."
If you're interested in UFOs, you are justified in sitting up and taking note. If you've been pulling for DeLonge, congratulations. A little chest beating is in order. The current revelations don't excuse his wild and unsupported claims about an alien presence, but he apparently has, in fact, been in contact with an intelligence community member who actually had something to say, or at least more to say than the average self-proclaimed insider.
That stated, questions involve how and why it was orchestrated. It is imperative to proceed cautiously and critically. I encourage trying to refrain from premature conclusions and confirmation bias.
While some long frustrated ufology activists have indeed succeeded in making some noise, it is important to remember a well executed public relations campaign does not an established fact make. It is imperative the reporters and key players produce materials fully supporting their claims else risk driving yet another stake of cynicism squarely through the heart of open mindedness. In this post let's cautiously explore where these stories lead us, both past and present.
For starters, let's consider the reported UFO hunting initiative was a taxpayer-supported program. I asked Sharon Weinberger via email if she cared to provide comment for this blog post. She is Executive Editor at Foreign Policy and author of the nonfiction book, Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld, as well as the recent bestseller, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World.
"As a long-time advocate of government transparency, I think the only thing I have to say at the moment is that such programs, if pursued, must be able to stand up to public scrutiny," Weinberger explained. "The fact that we didn't know about this program until long after it was over, even though it was unclassified, reflects a more fundamental problem at work here. Taxpayers deserve to know their money is being spent."
The reported distribution of funds under the direction of the Department of Defense potentially opens the circumstances up to FOIA inquiries. The news stories alone offer a substantial number of FOIA opportunities, including requesting for public verification and review the documents and communications provided to the reporters. Obviously, circumstances surrounding the alleged physical evidence stored in modified buildings per Bigelow's oversight should be scrutinized at length, among other items referenced.
It was further reported via the Times, "Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes." I encourage submitting FOIA requests on such research, who specifically did it, the exact funding trail involved, the resulting dissemination of data, and similar details.
For instance, who were the "program contractors" collecting material recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena? With what organization(s), exactly? What were the specific circumstances?
Dr. Tyler Kokjohn holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and is a Professor of Microbiology at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has shown a willingness to address UFO-related topics in reasoned manners, applying his expertise to issues often debated within the community. In response to request for comment on the UFO-Pentagon news, the doctor provided the following:
Helene Cooper et al. have reported a remarkable story about an obscure Defense Department ‘black money’ project, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (1). This 5 year, multi-million dollar effort to investigate UFO reports was funded at the request of Senator Harry Reid supported by two (now deceased) Senate colleagues. Financial support for the earmark program was terminated in 2012 when officials determined these funds should be directed to ‘higher priority issues’ (2). Whether the work still continues somewhere within the Department of Defense is unclear (2).
In 2009 the Mutual UFO Network entered into an ill fated collaboration initiated by the then-newly launched Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. The MUFON-BAASS venture was almost certainly a part of the now revealed Pentagon-funded Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, if not the primary arm of the operation. At the time, MUFON attempted to coordinate widespread training for field investigators described as a rapid response team. The organization soon found itself marred in turmoil which included a large scale exodus of personnel. Public relations were extremely strained as revolving door leadership saw a run of four executive directors in as many years. A lack of organizational transparency was a common complaint, which included the public nonprofit corporation's failure to provide details of funding sources, so before we join the capital-D disclosure celebration, let's consider how the players conducted their affairs up to this point.
James Carrion served as Executive Director of MUFON from 2006 to 2009. He is a former intelligence analyst and UFO writer/researcher who pursues forensic historic analysis. An excerpt from his 2011 blog post titled, Strange Bedfellows:
In response to request for comment for this post, Carrion provided the following contribution:
In the fall of 2008, Robert Bigelow approached MUFON with an extraordinary business proposal – a subcontract from a Bigelow subsidiary called Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, LLC (BAASS) for MUFON UFO investigative services. The MUFON Board signed non-disclosure agreements and the negotiations began.
The MUFON-BAASS train wreck was not the first time activities involving the nonprofit, Bigelow, and cash accountability came under fire. At the turn of the century news leaked of what would become known as the Carpenter Affair. It was soon confirmed that John Carpenter, while serving as MUFON Director of Abduction Research, secretly provided Robert Bigelow data from case files of some 140 "alien abductees" for a reported $14,000.
John Carpenter is among those who confirmed what he termed the discreet sharing of data, which reportedly included copies of recordings of hypnosis sessions conducted with the individuals. Carpenter explained during a 2012 email exchange that he confidentially provided the data to Bigelow for review by Bigelow and colleagues at the now dissolved Bigelow-founded National Institute for Discovery Science. Personnel of the Institute included Col. John Alexander, who, according to John Velez via UFO UpDates List in 2000, confirmed what Velez termed the "file sale," as did MUFON then-Executive Director Walt Andrus and Bigelow himself.
An excerpt from my 2013 blog post, The Carpenter Affair: For the Record:
The 140 people in question, who had sought support from Carpenter and MUFON, were not informed of the arrangement between Carpenter and Bigelow. The specific details of the primary motives and agendas behind the circumstances remain unclear.
"We may never know," Elizabeth Chavez Carpenter, former wife of John Carpenter and one of the 140, reflected during a December, 2013, telephone conversation.
A lack of accountability is disappointingly common within the UFO community. Its members, often eager for new and intriguing information, frequently fail to question the bookkeeping of the messenger if they support the message.
A 1996 AP article which explored Bigelow's interests in the Skinwalker Ranch reported that Bigelow declined to be interviewed, while NIDS employee John Alexander stated details would not be provided of how or why research was being conducted. The article further indicated former ranch owner Terry Sherman, employed by Bigelow to maintain the property, chose not to comment because Bigelow had him sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Public trust of MUFON and its collaborators was substantially diminished due to a lack of accountability for the Ambient Monitoring Project. In 2008, long time MUFON and ufology staple Tom Deuley wrote in the MUFON UFO Journal how the approximately ten year-long effort was coming to fruition. Deuley explained funding was in hand to complete analysis already begun on data obtained from instruments placed in the homes of reported alien abductees. The idea was to monitor the environment and discern what, if anything, was physically taking place during alleged abductions.
Much to the disappointment of a community eager to hear what happened, no conclusions were ever produced. Explanations were offered by a variety of involved parties as to why no final project report or even summary was published, all of which were inadequate, often contradictory to one another, and sorely lacking in professionalism.
The failed project involved a collaboration between some UFO organizations, including the Fund for UFO Research, which Deuley suggested in his 2008 article was a substantial influence. A review of the circumstances revealed, per the FUFOR website circa 1993, "the Fund joined with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) to form the UFO Research Coalition to conduct major projects, at the suggestion of Las Vegas builder Robert Bigelow, who promised major funding." By 1994, it was further reported via the website, "disagreement over control of the UFO Research Coalition lead to a complete break with Robert Bigelow. Laurance Rockefeller appeared on the scene, ready to fund major projects through his intermediary, Mrs. Marie 'Bootsie' Gailbreath."
Further research and communications with men listed as members of boards of directors of the involved nonprofit corporations often produced the same inconsistent statements as made publicly, if not implying worse. A 2008 email inquiry to astrophysicist Dr. Richard Henry, listed at the time as a FUFOR board member on the org's website, resulted in the doctor responding he had not heard from FUFOR "in ages."
"Let me know if you find out anything!" he added.
There is no substitute for an established fact, and facts cannot be established absent evidence available for public review. Some of the material supplied to those reporting on the UFO-Pentagon story, i.e., the DeLonge project, is relevant and offers some value as contributions to the UFO genre. The videos, for example, embody what, by definition, are UFOs. They deserve ample examination by qualified experts.
That stated, the public indeed has a valid complaint when taxpayer funds are used to obtain alleged materials that, as of this writing, are not readily available for review. The public also has a valid complaint when public nonprofit corporations, which enjoy tax benefits and offer tax deductions for donors, fail to adequately report their financial activities and agendas.
What's more, some of the parties involved in the Pentagon saga have not only shown a willingness to avert from disclosing details of their activities, but an outright effort to conceal them. In doing so, the identities of funding entities have been concealed, financial reporting has been inadequate, and notification of the circumstances to involved parties has, at times, been nonexistent.
Just because someone is an intelligence community asset doesn't make them inherently dishonest or nefarious. There are any number of people who assist the U.S. intelligence services in honorable manners. A primary point, as I see it, is that with all the half-truths, lack of accountability, and direct lies within the UFO community, it is impossible to discern the value of someone's claim if they don't produce the beef. Demand it or recognize the situation for what it often is: sizzle and no steak. It might also be unethical at times. The only way to know for sure is to actually find out, and you know what they say about fool me once...