By Eric Vandenbroeck 22 May 2021

Unvarnished overview of the current UFO phenomena

As part of President Donald Trump’s spending and pandemic relief package, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), included a provision calling for the director of national intelligence to help produce an unclassified report on everything government agencies know about UFOs, including scores of unusual sightings reported by military pilots. Thus thanks to the Trump-era covid relief bill, the UFO report is due sometime next month which no doubt will create some more media frenzy, but it already started this week.

Based on an article CNN posted yesterday claiming a mysterious UFO disappears into the water today, 22 May CNN newsroom continues to air an ongoing UFO segment with pictured here the latest segment with Chris Cuomo:

As 'developing tonight' in his latest presentation Chris Cuomo as seen above, reports that it all started with a CBS’s Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes broadcast stories about UFOs, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio sternly intoning about the importance of treating them as a potential national security concern.

This where CBS’s David Pogue literally chuckled during his Sunday Morning UFO report, telling viewers we should “live and let live” and not challenge UFO believers. Ezra Klein in The New York Times and Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New Yorker said they would be sad without a UFO mystery to enjoy, whereby Lewis-Kraus alleged there was good reason for the U.S. government to get back into the business of hunting flying saucers.

The footage in question is the same that is known from the Pentagon program that was created at the behest of former Senator Harry Reid and was run jointly for a time with Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, whose owner, Robert Bigelow, has long been on the hunt for extraterrestrials and poltergeists...

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow in front of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module:

For UFO believers, the current promotion via CBS and CNN is the moment they had been waiting for. UFOs were everywhere, and they were suddenly respectable. With a new intelligence report on UFOs due to be delivered to Congress in June, even the U.S. government seemed poised to take UFOs seriously again.

Behind the creamy pages of high-end magazines and the marble columns of the Capitol, as we shall see, the media elite and Congress are being played by a small, loosely connected group of people with bizarre ideas about science. It’s easy to dismiss UFOs as a fantasy or a fad, but the money, the connections, and the power wielded by a group of UFO believers, and as appears now also embedded in the defense industry, bent on supplanting material science with a pseudoscientific mysticism.

On December 16, 2017, Politico, the New York Times, and The Washington Post published near-simultaneous stories about an obscure $22 million Pentagon project that officially existed between 2008 and 2012.

All three outlets had essentially the same story: The Pentagon program was created at the behest of former Democratic Senator Harry Reid in 2008 and was run jointly for a time with Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, whose owner, Robert Bigelow, has long been on the hunt for extraterrestrials and poltergeists.

Politico and the Washington Post treated the Pentagon program as it appeared to be: A pet project of a senator that didn’t amount to much, other than “reams of paperwork”, and did not provide evidence that alien spaceships were buzzing our skies. Both stories had well-placed sources in the intelligence community that were skeptical of the program’s purpose and deliverables. Absent any salacious details; neither story got a wider pickup.

The New York Times, however, played up dubious tidbits that the Washington Post or Politico either didn’t find credible or simply didn’t know about, namely that the program had found “metal alloys and other materials… recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena,” that got stored in a Bigelow Aerospace warehouse. There is no indication in the Times story that any of these “materials” were seen firsthand by its reporters.

The Times also had something its competitors apparently didn’t: Grainy footage of two Navy F/A-18 fighter jets in 2004 tracking an apparent unknown object “traveling at high speed and rotating” off the coast of San Diego. The 45-second video and the Times front-page article went viral.

But there’s more to the Times story that should’ve given readers pause.

One of the story's authors was Leslie Kean, a journalist with a long-standing interest in UFOs and the paranormal, who published a book in 2010 titled UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. At the time, activists in the UFO community were coalescing around the goal of obtaining official “disclosure” about extraterrestrial sightings. This entailed finding current military and aviation whistleblowers to come forward and share the secrets they knew about UFOs, or in the case of Kean’s book, tell of the strange flying objects they had seen or learned about in the course of their jobs. In numerous articles in the Huffington Post over the past decade, Kean has discussed her participation in several nonprofit groups in UFOs and the “disclosure” movement.

On Oct 10, 2017, Kean published a tantalizing article on the Huffington Post’s contributor platform. (The platform, now closed, allowed people to post their own writing to the site). “Something extraordinary is about to be revealed,” she wrote. “Former high-level officials and scientists with deep black experience who have always remained in the shadows” were preparing to dish “inside knowledge” of UFOs.

Kean described a group of “government insiders” who came together as part of a new for-profit company called To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science (TTSA). Members included Hal Puthoff, a theoretical physicist and former Scientologist who directed the infamous “psychic spy” program for the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) in the 1970s and 1980s, and Chris Mellon, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations.

Of note, the founding of TTSA was set in motion by Tom DeLonge, a former guitarist for Blink-182 who has long nursed a very public obsession with UFOs. Another key player was a former military intelligence officer named Luis Elizondo, who at the launch of TTSA publicly announced that an “aerospace threat identification program” he had recently overseen at the Pentagon had convinced him the UFO “phenomena was indeed real.”

The Times, encouraged by Kean, took a serious look at Elizondo and his claims. Other prominent outlets, it turned out, were doing so, too. Two months later, the Times, Politico, and Washington Post stories hit. But it was the Times piece that reverberated across the media landscape.

ABC News called the Times story and video footage a “bombshell.” MSNBC, in one of its numerous segments on the story, described news of the government’s UFO program as a “remarkable admission by the Pentagon” as a “result of reporting by the New York Times.” Every major television network rolled the video. “You can laugh if you want,” news anchor Bret Baier said on Fox, “but a lot of people are taking this revelation seriously.” Elizondo, who would become a media darling over the months to come, said on CNN: “My personal belief is there is very compelling evidence we may not be alone.”

Amidst the media frenzy, few prominent outlets bothered to look closely at the juicy particulars of the Times piece or at the UFO video that left many awestruck. Notable exceptions included Scientific American, which was deeply skeptical about those metal chunks being stored in a Bigelow warehouse, and New York magazine, which, in a damning critique by writer Jeff Wise, faulted the Times story for “selective omissions” and for “making portentous assertions out of context.” Wise wrote that such techniques “are great for exciting an audience, but they’re better suited to Ancient Aliens,” the aforementioned History Channel series, “than the pages of the New York Times.”

These criticisms hardly registered, though. If anything, the juggernaut grew after Elizondo and TTSA in 2018 rolled out more intriguing videos, obtained from the Pentagon, of supposed UFOs under pursuit by military jets. It launched another news cycle, once again with few skeptical voices in the media.

Meanwhile, TTSA raised over $2 million from investors. The company’s all-stars, particularly Elizondo, continue to generate media coverage. As the Washington Post noted last May in a news story: “UFOs are suddenly a serious story.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it rather well: What the UFO community puts forth as evidence is weak on a level that, in any scientific circle, would be kicked out of the lab room. The basis of this argument boils down to the foundations of the scientific method. Eyewitness testimony is nowhere near enough evidence to support a claim as fantastical as alien visitors. He added: I am not saying didn't see it - I'm simply saying you cannot present that as evidence for something you want all of us to believe.

The alleged evidence Luis Elizondo mentioned is a video shown here and can also be seen on Tom DeLonge's website, along with his commentary. The video is discussed here: Plus, over on Metabunk, Mick West makes a good case that these images show distant jets. In fact, they seem quite similar to the "Groundbreaking UFO video" that Leslie Kean (one of the authors of the New York Times UFO article) obtained from Chile's UFO investigations group early this year, quite conclusively shown to have been a distant jet aircraft whose position had been misjudged.

Or as a recent article stated: "The media" loves this UFO expert who says he worked for an obscure pentagon program, did he?

Even today, People who claim to see UFOs are typically adamant about what they witnessed, though most space experts are unconvinced. “No serious astronomer gives any credence to any of these stories,” astrophysicist Martin Rees notably said in 2012. He’s right. UFO reports can be attributed to commercial or military jets, weather balloons, an odd cloud formation, a comet, or Venus (under certain atmospheric conditions). The planet can appear as a fast-moving, bright halo). Some intrepid photographers have even confused insects flying around a camera lens for alien aircraft.

As we have thus seen, Bigelow leveraged his friendship with Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who thought Bigelow to be “brilliant” and received tens of thousands in campaign donations from him. Reid and two other senators moved to expand the Skinwalker Ranch investigation into a fully-funded government program, despite the Pentagon’s complete lack of interest in UFOs or space spooks, mandating that the military research “aerial threats” at the cost of $22 million over five years. Bigelow, the only bidder, received the contract to research these “threats.”

The only public accounting of the program’s research was a list of its theoretical papers on stargates, wormholes, and other sci-fi topics that “invisible college” members like Puthoff obsessed over, as well as a proprietary 494-page 2009 “ten-month report” from Bigelow’s team in which Puthoff, Vallée, and others wrote about UFOs, “interdimensional phenomena” at Skinwalker Ranch. Alleged technology aliens implanted in a UFO abductee. Pentagon officials quickly concluded that releasing such an absurd report “would be a disaster,” as one unnamed official told The New Yorker. Eventually, Team Space Ghost developed bizarre mythology, imagining that an organized cabal in the Pentagon actively suppressed UFO work because it feared UFOs were demons and that researching them might provoke Satan.

The program’s funding ran out in 2012. But its supporters have continued to labor tirelessly to push its ideas into the mainstream. Ex-official Luis Elizondo says he continued the program’s work through a different office before leaving the Pentagon for reality TV. (The Pentagon denies Elizondo’s account and insists he had no “assigned responsibilities” for the program.) Despite claiming to believe UFOs were an imminent national security threat, he didn’t take his concerns to national security journalists or Congress. He joined up with Puthoff and Team Space Ghost at their new entertainment company, To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, styled TTSA.


How they succeeded in manipulating the media

They were not master manipulators. But they succeeded in manipulating the media anyway. As seen above, joining forces with fading rock star Tom DeLonge of Blink-182. DeLonge reached out to former Obama White House counselor John Podesta in 2016 for help meeting with investigative journalist and paranormal enthusiast Leslie Kean or “somebody else more elevated than her” to help promote his UFO entertainment ventures.

In many ways, Kean was the perfect vehicle for a UFO story. She knew everyone involved. In 2002, Kean joined the Sci-Fi Channel and Podesta to sue the government to release UFO information. A regular at UFO researcher gatherings, Kean had been the last romantic partner of Budd Hopkins. They were together when she published a credulous book on military UFO sightings in 2010 with a foreword by Podesta. (Hopkins died in 2011.) She later joined UFO DATA, a UFO research organization, where she met a scion of the Mellon family, Christopher K. Mellon, a former defense official, and Senate staffer. Mellon had been briefed on Project Stargate when in office and professed love of UFOs. He became an investor in TTSA, staffed by Bigelow veterans like Puthoff. When Elizondo brought his story to TTSA, Mellon knew whom to call.

The TTSA team met with Kean on October 4, 2017, and she gushed over them in the Huffington Post six days later. The Huffington Post was exactly the kind of second-tier pop culture media like Rolling Stone, Politico, and Joe Rogan’s podcast that TTSA courted at first, lacking connections at more elite publications. That’s when dumb luck hit. As seen above, Kean had an idea.

After the meeting, Kean contacted retired New York Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal, whom she knew because of their shared connections in the alien abduction world. Blumenthal was working on a biography of John Mack, a colleague of Hopkins also funded by Bigelow. Blumenthal called the Times and convinced the paper to run the story, and it was a good story, that a billionaire had scored himself a personal military UFO research program. But Blumenthal and Kean framed the story as one of military interest in UFOs, not Bigelow’s, thus shaping media and congressional perceptions of the program.

Kean and Blumenthal’s first Times UFO story ran on December 17, 2017, on page one. Blumenthal had given TTSA something the “invisible college” had tried and failed to gain for years, elite respectability. Major media now ran countless stories, citing the Times as an excuse, with little mention of space ghosts or anything that might make the program seem unserious. This lent it more credibility. TTSA used Mellon’s connections to meet with Senate staffers primed by the Times coverage. Senators, including Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, radicalized by media coverage and lobbying from Mellon’s team, subsequently requested briefings from the Pentagon, allegedly to understand what they were reading in the news. Mellon praised Rubio for using last year’s Intelligence Authorization Act to require that the military and intelligence agencies produce a report about UFOs. “It further legitimizes the issue,” Mellon said. It could also create a rush for new defense contracts.

By this spring, the imminent report, and prodding from Mellon and Kean, prompted another round of uncritical media coverage. Kean and Elizondo were profiled in the aforementioned credulous New Yorker article tied to the congressional report Mellon had lobbied for. Within days, Elizondo and Mellon, who left TTSA for their own unnamed new national security UFO venture, were everywhere in the media, from 60 Minutes to CNN, reinforcing the Pentagon and UFO threat narrative skeptics did not recognize.

The threat narrative was a brilliant bit of framing, turning a story of poltergeist hunters battling a cabal of demon-believers into a national security issue. But this influence campaign masks the deeper transformation its advocates want to bring about: Puthoff and his colleagues seek to delegitimize material science in favor of a magical, neo-medieval view of reality founded on spirit, or, in their terms, security issue. But this influence campaign masks the deeper transformation its advocates want to bring about: Puthoff and his colleagues seek to delegitimize material science in favor of a magical, neo-medieval view of reality founded on spirit, or, in their terms, “consciousness” and psychic powers. Elizondo still speaks of demon cabals, otherworldly beings, and UFOs operating beyond human perception, just not on 60 Minutes. UFOs, newly relevant as a security threat, are only the vanguard of a larger effort to undo the failure of Stargate and elevate spirit over matter. It’s bad science and dangerous as government policy, the kind of magical thinking that leads to lunacy and disaster.

CBS’s David Pogue literally chuckled during his Sunday Morning UFO report, telling viewers we should “live and let live” and not challenge UFO believers. Klein and Lewis-Kraus said they would be sad without a UFO mystery to enjoy. HBO Max announced a valorizing biopic about Kean, 

Elizondo, and Mellon. So long as a compliant media plays along with the “fun” of UFOs, the clumsy effort to use them to break down modern science continues unabated. And Bigelow is prepared: Blumenthal recently gave him a lavish New York Times profile to launch his new think tank for “consciousness science” and afterlife studies. Bigelow appointed Hal Puthoff, members of the “invisible college,” and Leslie Kean.


From esotericism to alleged Science

So far the story is clear when we follow the footsteps of Ufology we see how it has evolved from esoteric and borderline religious ideas all the way into the hallways of Washington DC.

Looking at the history of these ideas, we have a good idea of what will happen, and we shouldn’t let enthusiasts of space ghosts have the run of Washington to steer money and policy in the direction they want. If they insist UFOs are a national security threat, then the national media must take them at their word. No more chuckles. No more rhapsodies about mystery. We must hold Team Space Poltergeist to the levels of skepticism, seriousness, and scrutiny it pretends to demand. 



The May 17e reporting on CNN (from which the above snapshot was taken) and the 60 Minutes segment of Sunday, May 16, 2021 (available on YouTube), was no doubt for many people a startling revelation that the US Government has admitted that UFOs are “real” and the military is investigating them. But for many, it was a walk down memory lane, a recap of the curious events as listed above.

The segment opens with an interview with Luis Elizondo, the former head of the above mentioned $22 million program instigated by Senator Harry Reid called AATIP: the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Ostensibly this was created to study possible future developments in aerospace. Elizondo claims the program was actually created to study UFOs (or, as they prefer to call them now, UAPs, or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.) Put out to tender in 2008, the budget was awarded to (pictured below) Robert Bigelow, a paranormal enthusiast.

Elizondo opens with the startling claim that “the Government has already stated for the record that [UFOs] are real.” Startling, that is, until you remember that “UFO” does not necessarily mean alien visitors, but rather something unidentified in the sky, something about which the observer lacks sufficient information to identify. Obviously, the government would admit such things are “real.” A mylar balloon floating into the range of a Navy jet’s camera is “real”, but the U in UFO and UAP does not mean extraterrestrial, or even necessarily an aerial technology beyond any known physics and aerodynamics.

Elizondo then goes on to describe craft exhibiting startling technologies, the ability to accelerate at a physics-defying 600g, reaching speeds of 17,000 mph in the atmosphere, or even through water. These are things that the government very much has not admitted are real.

We then are shown a series of familiar videos as evidence of this amazing technology, all of which have been in the public domain for some time (over a decade in one case) and all of which have been analyzed by several people, and found to almost certainly not represent objects exhibiting incredible abilities, and instead more likely signify very ordinary human technology.

First, we see “Go Fast”, a video presented as showing an incredibly fast craft skimming low over the ocean. But if you do the very simple trigonometry invited by the numbers on screen, it turns out to be something far above the surface and moving at a speed that matches the wind at that altitude, making it almost certainly just a balloon. Yet the 60 Minutes host, the highly respected journalist Bill Whitaker, repeats Elizondo’s baseless claim that it’s “fast moving.”

Next we see a more recent video, the green flashing triangle. Initially very impressive, it shows a triangular shaped object moving across the sky, filmed with a night vision device from a Navy ship. But then you notice the flashing light that perfectly matches the pattern of blinking lights on a commercial plane like a Boeing 737. A little research reveals that some night-vision devices have a triangular aperture (the analysis at Metabunk). When the device is slightly out of focus then a plane flying overhead looks exactly like this flying triangle. The case was effectively closed when other triangles in the scene were identified as stars. Yet we are told “the Pentagon admits it doesn’t know what in the world it is.” It’s pretty obvious what it is once you match the UAP blinking triangle to that of commercial airliners.

In fact, the only thing the Pentagon has admitted is that the videos are “real,” in that they were taken by US Navy personnel (and not, therefore, fake CGI-generated videos or whatever), and that they were included in studies by the UAP task force, meaning they were at least unidentified at one point.

We are then shown two other videos. “FLIR1” is claimed to show physics-defying acceleration, but careful study has shown that the supposed sudden moves are actually the result of the camera moving or changing mode. “GIMBAL” shows an impressive looking flying saucer, but again the reality seems more mundane, an infrared glare of a distant plane and a rotating gimbal mechanism explain both the rotating saucer shape, and why it was named “gimbal” in the first place.

Later we hear about the 2004 USS Nimitz aircraft carrier incident, which gave us the FLIR1 video. Two pilots, David Fravor and Alex Dietrich, repeat a story they (mostly Fravor) have been telling for over a decade. Lauded as the greatest UFO encounter of all time, it has remarkably little in terms of actual evidence. The one blurry video has been consistently misinterpreted (including by Fravor) as showing rapid motion. There are accounts of unusual radar returns showing rapid motion, but unfortunately there’s no solid evidence for these, and the account has changed somewhat since it first appeared in a bizarre short science-fiction story written by the chief radar operator in 2008.

Dietrich and Fravor describe an encounter and short dog-fight with a “Tic-Tac” shaped craft. This is perhaps the most compelling story, and one that’s difficult to explain. But their accounts don’t exactly line up, and I suspect that they saw the same thing, but both had different illusions of motion based on parallax. Unfortunately, the passage of time might mean we will never know what they saw.

We then meet Elizondo’s partner in this enterprise, Christopher Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Mellon seemingly shares Elizondo’s suspicion that we are being visited by some kind of non-human entity, and in 2017 worked with him to secure the release of the videos, which they then gave to the New York Times for a piece of well-timed publicity for their then employer, the To The Stars Academy, founded by rock star Tom DeLonge.

The 60 Minutes segment is capped by Senator Marco Rubio, who has somehow become embroiled in the UAP saga, presenting himself as the voice of reason, just trying to get the military to look into “this.”

But the military is not ignoring things that fly into their airspace just because they can’t identify them. Procedures exist for reporting and investigating such things, not the least of which being that incursion into sensitive airspace would be aggressively intercepted. And the supposed rationale for AATIP (exploiting UFO technology) has already been covered by a variety of Foreign Material Exploitation Program, likely with vastly higher budgets.

Ultimately this story has gone on for far too long because the wall of military secrecy allows rampant speculation and claims based on supposed classified knowledge. The unwillingness of the military to clear this up is perhaps understandable, as they have more important things to do. But it’s becoming a big story now, with large segments of the public thinking that there’s something to these accounts and these videos, and it’s a short path from “unidentified” to “extraterrestrial” or “foreign assets”. I do not have great expectations for the story going away, but I wish that someone high up will eventually say enough is enough, and explain exactly what is going on, what these videos show, and what the military really thinks about UFOs.


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