The US Department of Defense has admitted that it used to fund a covert programme to investigate sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), according to multiple media reports.
The so-called Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ran from 2007 to 2012, with $22m in annual funding, according to a New York Times report published on Saturday.
It was initially funded at the request of Harry Reid, a retired politician who was the majority leader of the US Senate at the time. Most of the money went to Bigelow Aerospace, a Nevada-based research company owned by Reid’s close friend and billionaire, Robert Bigelow, the Times said.
The paper’s report said researchers with the programme reviewed sightings of UFOs and assessed threats posed by the objects.
They also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and US military aircraft, including one released in August of US navy pilots chasing a mysterious whitish oval object.
After the publication of the report, Reid said on Twitter: “We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions. This is about science and national security.”
In another post, he wrote: “The truth is out there. Seriously.”
If anyone says they have the answers, they’re fooling themselves.
We don’t know the answers but we have plenty of evidence to support asking the questions. This is about science and national security. If America doesn’t take the lead in answering these questions, others will.
— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) December 16, 2017
The Department of Defense said it ended funding the project in 2012 when it “determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding”.
But The Times, citing a military intelligence official who ran the programme, Luis Elizondo, said that defence officials continued to investigate UFO episodes alongside their daily duties even after the money dried up.
Leroy Chiao, a former US astronaut and ex-commander at the International Space Station, told Al Jazeera that he was “surprised” by the money spent by the Pentagon at an “age of fiscal responsibility and belt tightening”.
“My issue with it is that I don’t think we’ve been visited. I think the distances are way too vast,” he said on Sunday.
The US has a long history of apparent mysterious aircraft sightings, including the discovery of strange metal debris in 1947 by a rancher in Roswell, New Mexico.
News reports at the time said it was a “flying saucer”, but the military maintains it was just a crashed weather balloon.