Foreign Relations with the Final Frontier
American foreign policy has at long last surpassed the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere. On December 16, 2017, the Pentagon confirmed the existence of a black-budget Pentagon initiative called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Its purpose was investigating reports of unidentified flying objects seen by military pilots and other servicemembers.
The story begins in 2007, when then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid requested the creation and funding of the program. The Nevada Senator worked with long-time friend Robert Bigelow, the billionaire founder of Bigelow Aerospace, to begin the initiative, with most of the $22 million budget going to Bigelow Aerospace. The Pentagon worked in tandem with Bigelow to document UFO sightings by servicemembers. The documentation includes reports of Tic Tac-shaped objects that seemed to defy the laws of physics, hovering and moving at high speeds with no apparent means of propulsion.
AATIP, run by Luis Elizondo, was reportedly shut down in 2012. However, other reports claim that while funding ceased in 2012, the program remains active – just as Mr. Reid wants it. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed that I got this thing going,” he said in a recent interview. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my Congressional service.” Ted Stevens (R) and Daniel K. Inouye (D) also supported the program.
According to former-Senator Reid, conversations with John Glenn sparked his interest in outer space activity. Glenn reportedly thought the government should be making an active effort to speak with pilots and other members of the military who saw UFOs, but were afraid to report them to higher-ups for fear of being laughed at or stigmatized.
The stigmatization of alien-belief remains alive and well in the Senate, apparently, because neither Reid, Stevens, or Inouye wanted open debate about the program on the Senate floor. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it,” Reid said in a recent New York Times article. “But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.”
Like Reid, Bigelow has an intense interest in extraterrestrial activity and said that he is confident that aliens are real and have visited Earth in a “60 Minutes” interview.
Others are less sure. In a recent appearance on CNN’s “New Day,” Neil deGrasse Tyson expressed concern about the conflation of alien activity and the sighting of UFOs, which, he stressed, are by their very nature unidentifiable. “The evidence is so paltry for aliens to visit Earth,” Dr. Tyson said. “I have no further interest.”
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, echoed this sentiment in a statement to the New York Times. “What people sometimes don’t get about science,” she said, “is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.”
It seems that these UFO sightings will remain unexplained. The Department of Defense appears to have no intentions to begin funding the program again. However, the former head of the program Luis Elizando has joined several former Defense Department officials in creating the To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, a commercial research initiative intent on finding and explaining UFOs. According to its website, the program’s mission is “to be a powerful vehicle for change by creating a consortium among science, aerospace and entertainment that will work collectively to allow gifted researchers the freedom to explore exotic science and technologies.”
Despite frustrations expressed in his resignation letter to Jim Mattis, it seems that Mr. Elizando, like E.T., has found home.