The Pentagon ran a secretive five year program to investigate UFO sightings, spending $22 million before it was shut down due to cost, it has been revealed.
For the first time, the Department of Defense has acknowledged the existence of the mysterious Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program run from an office in a quiet corner of its sprawling headquarters.
There, between 2007 and 2012, a team of researchers working with experts in Nevada probed reports of alien life form and strange sightings over the US skies - a real life versions of the hit TV show The X Files.
The enterprise was the passion project of Harry Reid, the retired Senate Majority leader.
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in an interview with the New York Times who first reported the story. “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.”
However, although some of the unit's work remains classified, it is not thought any convincing evidence of extraterristrials was discovered.
“If anyone says they have the answers now, they’re fooling themselves, Mr Reid said We do not know.” But, he added: “we have to start someplace.”
Documents show how the unit, working with a Las Vegas aerospace company run by Mr Reid's long time friend Robert Bigelow, investigated sightings of aircraft moving at high speeds with no signs of propulsion or that hovered mysteriously.
Officials with the program also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft including one released in August of a white oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two US Navy fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.
Yet in 2012, the program was seemingly wound up to the frustration of many.
Thomas Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman said:“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD (Department of Defence) to make a change.”
Some say the shadowy work continues despite the funding being cut off.
Fornmer military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, who led the unit, claims he continued his research and continued to work from his office in teh Pentagon until October when he resigned in protest at what he descirbed as excessive secrecy and internal opposition.
In his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, he reportedly wrote: “Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?”
U.F.O.s have been repeatedly investigated over the decades in the United States, including by the American military. In 1947, the Air Force began a series of studies that investigated more than 12,000 claimed U.F.O. sightings before it was officially ended in 1969.
The project, which included a study code-named Project Blue Book, started in 1952, concluded that most sightings involved stars, clouds, conventional aircraft or spy planes, although 701 remained unexplained.
Robert C. Seamans Jr., the secretary of the Air Force at the time, said in a memorandum announcing the end of Project Blue Book that it “no longer can be justified either on the ground of national security or in the interest of science.”