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'AATIP' explored: A brief look inside the government's top-secret UFO program
Agent Fox Mulder was right all along: The truth is out there and the government doesn't want you to know about. Humanity would have remained in blissful ignorance had it not been for a 2017 New York Times article that blew the whole story wide open. The U.S. defense establishment, the Times revealed, was investigating UFOs under a top-secret undertaking known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (or AATIP for short because everyone loves a good acronym).
Showtime takes a closer look at AATIP in its new limited docu-series — appropriately titled UFO — executive-produced by J.J. Abrams under his Bad Robot banner.
"When you look at the investigations, you realize that a civilian UFO research organization can only do so much," Leslie Kean, one of the journalists who co-wrote the NYT exposé, says in the penultimate UFO episode, which aired on Showtime earlier this evening. "That's why I've always advocated that we need a government agency in order to do proper investigations. Little did I know that there was this project going on in the Defense Department."
Per the article, AATIP kicked off in 2007 with $22 million in funding approved by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). A good portion of the money went to — you guessed it — billionaire Robert T. Bigelow, who was friends with Reid. However, one would be hard-pressed to find the highly classified AATIP among the $600 billion the Department of Defense spends every single year. That's why the words "Black Money" (a term that refers to shadowy appropriations) were part of the overall headline.
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going," Reid told the newspaper. “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.”
The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was headed by Luiz Elizondo, a former member of the U.S. Army with a specialty in counterintelligence and plenty of field experience from assignments in Asia and the Middle East.
"Our mission was to conduct scientific-based, intelligence investigations of incursions by Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) into controlled U.S. airspace," he told The Washington Post in June of this year. "In 2017, with a heavy heart, I resigned from my position inside the Pentagon in an effort to raise awareness of the UAP issue. The decision to resign was based on my sense of loyalty to the Secretary and my beloved Department, in order to dismantle the bureaucratic silos and stovepipes hindering the conversation about this important topic."
As part of its mission, AATIP investigated and collected evidence of eyewitness accounts of mysterious aircraft, including the "Tic Tac" incident captured by jets dispatched from the USS Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004. The entire purpose was to classify the crafts and determine if they posed a threat to national security.
It was not tasked with finding out if aliens exist. "We found a lot," Elizondo admitted to CNN during an on-air interview in 2017. "We have deliberately stayed away from going down the rabbit hole of: 'Who's behind the wheel and what are their intentions?' Because a lot of people have a lot of feelings towards that and are very emotional about that. What I wanted to do is allow the data to speak for itself and then use that data to inform senior DoD leadership about the potential threat that these type of technologies pose to national security."
Even the Navy shied away from the idea of big-headed invaders from Mars. When the maritime branch of America's defense system declassified UFO videos last year, it concluded that they were most likely "Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)," which is just a fancy term for drones. "People have conflated the concept of a UFO with whether we're visited by aliens," said Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2017. "This is a highly non-specific term. It is so non-specific, it admits you don't know what you're looking at. The universe brims with mysteries. Just because you don't know what it is you're looking at, doesn't mean it's intelligent aliens visiting from another planet."
If you subscribe to the official government story, the program only lasted for five years between 2007 and 2012. “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change," a Pentagon spokesperson alleged in a statement to The New York Times.
Elizondo, on the other hand, claimed that the only thing that came to an end in 2012 was congressional funding. Once that money was gone, he purportedly started to investigate UFOs alongside the CIA and Navy out of the Pentagon offices until the fall of 2017 when he decided to resign his post.
"There's still a lot we really don't know," Elizondo added during his aforementioned conversation with CNN. "I think what's important is that we have identified some very, very interesting [and] anomalous type of aircraft ... I will tell you unequivocally that through the observations, the scientific methodologies that were applied to look at this phenomena, these aircraft are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the U.S. inventory nor in any foreign inventory that we are aware of ... My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone. Whatever that means."
Showtime subscribers with access to the network's official app can stream all four episodes of UFO right now. If you'd prefer to pace yourself, the fourth and final episode airs next Sunday, Aug. 29, at 9 p.m. EST. The premiere is currently free to watch on YouTube, Showtime.com, and Sho.com.