On December 16, 2017, the New York Times published “Glowing Auras and Black Money—The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” a now-famous article about the previously unknown Pentagon UFO study program, as reported by To The Stars Academy (TTSA). It was founded by a rock musician named Tom DeLonge, formerly of the band Blink-182, who describes TTSA as an “independent multimedia entertainment company.” This set off a media UFO frenzy that still continues.
To show how little TTSA’s people understand about what they are doing, the so-called “glowing auras” surrounding the objects in the widely circulated video shot by a military jet represent nothing more than a processing artifact of the infrared image. But TTSA’s “experts,” as well as those who look up to them, don’t realize that obvious fact and think instead that it represents something deeply mysterious.
Most people didn’t notice that Leslie Kean, one of the authors of this piece, is a dedicated UFO promoter who has written a popular UFO book. She is also very gullible, at one point promoting a video of a fly buzzing around as if it were some great proof of high-performance UFOs. (And she still has not admitted that she was fooled by the fly.) Another author of the article, Ralph Blumenthal, has also been a UFO believer for years. So this was not the customary news article written by New York Times journalists assigned to investigate a mystery and write an objective story. Instead, it was crafted by UFO believers to appear neutral and objective when it is anything but.
Now the other shoe has dropped. On May 26, 2019 the New York Times carried another article by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean—the same three authors as the earlier piece—headlined “Wow, what is that?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects.” They write:
The strange objects, one of them like a spinning top moving against the wind, appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds. “These things would be out there all day,” said Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years.
One seriously wonders why, if unknown objects were supposedly seen “almost daily” for nearly a year, and hung around “all day,” we don’t have overwhelming video, photographic, and instrumental evidence of them, removing all doubt about their appearance and behavior? In reality, all we see are the same three blurry infrared videos promoted by TTSA, over and over again. This makes no sense at all. Doesn’t the Navy have any cameras, radar and other surveillance equipment?
As for the so-called “Tic Tac” video of 2004 (see image below), serious fault lines are starting to appear in the differing accounts of various persons involved. David Fravor is the pilot who was vectored to the supposed location of the Tic Tac UFO but didn’t see anything in the air at that location. Looking down, he saw a disturbance in the water, which he presumed was caused by the object that apparently had just been airborne. Of course, it is a big assumption that the two must necessarily be the same.
Fravor spoke at the recent UFO Fest in McMinnville, Oregon (held annually to honor the famous Trent UFO Photos, taken just outside that town). Reporter George Knapp and documentary filmmaker Jeremy Corbell were also on the panel. Fravor sharply criticized the accounts of certain other people who were involved and have been speaking about the incident. He seemed to be singling out the account of the radar operator, Kevin Day, as being non-factual. He dismissed claims of Air Force personnel coming on board the Nimitz and confiscating evidence as being untrue. Fravor also referred to Dave Beaty’s “Nimitz UFO Encounters” documentary as a “cartoon.” This prompted Knapp to say to Fravor, “I guess you’re being diplomatic, but some of the stories and claims that have been made by people, who may have been on those ships, are just bullshit.” When people began commenting about these remarkable disagreements, Corbell pulled the video off YouTube.
There was little that was new or unexpected in the long-anticipated May 31 premiere of the series “Unidentified” on the History Channel. Produced by Tom DeLonge, whose efforts have more or less dominated UFO news for the past two years, it repeated the same claims that I and others have have already written about many times. Sandwiched between episodes of “Ancient Aliens,” the first of six episodes of “Unidentified” concentrated on the “Tic Tac” UFO. Here are a few things about that episode that I found to be misleading or incorrect:
- Much is made of the fact that reports were generated by highly trained military pilots, some with combat experience. The implication is that their observations are far more credible than those of just ordinary folks. But longtime UFO researchers recall that Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the former U. S. Air Force Project Blue Book scientific consultant, wrote “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses” (The Hynek UFO Report, 1977, p. 271). The pilot is, and must be, focused on keeping the aircraft safely aloft, and not on watching some strange-looking object.
- The Pentagon did not “disclose” or “release” anything about UFOs. This whole “disclosure” line came about from statements by TTSA’s Luis Elizondo and others, and not from any internal Pentagon activity. The Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) came about because multimillionaire investor (and longtime UFO believer) Robert Bigelow, a frequent campaign contributor to Sen. Harry Reid, prevailed upon Reid, then the Democratic leader in the Senate, to set up the AATIP program. AATIP then funneled $22 million in contracts to Bigelow’s company (because that’s how things are done in Washington). The only thing that AATIP is known to have produced are 38 papers in weird physics, like anti-gravity, wormholes, and negative mass propulsion.
- TTSA has claimed from its inception that the Pentagon released the three blurry infrared videos that they ceaselessly show us. They claim to have “chain of custody” documentation for the videos, but nobody has ever seen this documentation. Elizondo recently released to George Knapp, a reporter friendly to TTSA (and it seems to anybody else making UFO claims) a copy of a document purporting to show the videos’ release. But a careful analysis by John Greenewald of The Black Vault shows beyond any doubt that the document does not prove what Elizondo claims it does. Greenewald notes,
we have no proof of any [official Pentagon] release, let alone what is being touted [the videos] is even the same evidence connected to this DD Form 1910. If we see a blatant disregard for the truth by Mr. Elizondo on display with this DD Form 1910, and we see the same disregard for the truth by To The Stars Academy as they have touted documents proving a public release—how can we believe everything or anything else from the same sources?
In the first episode, Luis Elizondo spoke again about his “five observables”, which I wrote about September of 2018. One of them was “Instantaneous acceleration,” supposedly shown by the Tic Tac UFO’s rapid disappearance from the IR video. In a preview segment from “Unidentified” shown on Fox News, TTSA’s Chris Cooke attributes this movement to the object itself. Elizondo has made this claim in his lectures many times. In reality, back in December, 2017 Mick West of the excellent site Metabunk showed that the “sudden acceleration” of the object was, in fact, due to a change in the zoom factor of the camera at that point. Surprisingly, Cooke’s comment about “acceleration” was cut from the final show; instead, Cooke is heard to say “Somebody changed the zoom.” But Elizondo repeated the ‘instantaneous acceleration’ claim on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox news just a few hours before the series premiere. As for the other four “observables,” they are more accurately called “assumables” than “observables”.
One recent development that is significant, and is not mentioned on the program or by TTSA: According to an article in The Drive by Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway:
the Times’ story doesn’t mention that between 2014 and 2015, Graves and Accoin, and all the other personnel assigned to Carrier Air Wing One (CVW-1) and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, as well as everyone else in the associated carrier strike group, or CSG, were taking part in series of particularly significant exercises. The carrier had only returned to the fleet after major four-year-long overhaul, also known as a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH), in August 2013. This process included installing various upgrades, such as systems associated with the latest operational iteration of the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and its embedded Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture. This is a critical detail. When the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group encountered the Tic Tac in 2004, it was in the midst of the first ever CSG-level operations of the initial iteration of the CEC.
In other words, in 2004 the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group got its radar upgrade, and soon was reporting “unidentified objects”, including the Tic Tac. In 2014-15, Carrier Air Wing One got its radar upgrade, and soon they, too, were reporting UFOs galore. One could interpret this to mean that the radars had finally gotten powerful enough to detect the UFOs that had long been knocking about. But a more prudent interpretation is that the radars had gotten powerful enough to begin detecting birds, small balloons, insect clouds, ice crystals, windborne debris, and various other things found in the atmosphere. Arguing in favor of the latter interpretation is that these radars are apparently no longer detecting anomalous objects, which itself is extremely significant. It suggests that, in all likelihood, after being puzzled by anomalous objects appearing on the new radar, the operators finally figured out what was happening, and no longer are troubled by anomalies.
And in a last-minute bombshell, reporter Keith Kloor finally did what reporters are supposed to do, and ask tough questions about persons in the news making claims. Writing in The Intercept on June 1, Kloor’s piece is headlined “The Media loves the UFO expert who says he worked for an obscure Pentagon program. Did he?” Kloor writes…
there is one crucial detail missing from “Unidentified,” as well as from all the many stories that have quoted Elizondo since he outed himself nearly two years ago to a wide-eyed news media: There is no discernible evidence that he ever worked for a government UFO program, much less led one.
Yes, AATIP existed, and it “did pursue research and investigation into unidentified aerial phenomena,” Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told me. However, he added: “Mr. Elizondo had no responsibilities with regard to the AATIP program while he worked in OUSDI [the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence], up until the time he resigned effective 10/4/2017.”
That directly contradicts an email sent by a spokesperson for To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, a UFO research and entertainment company that Elizondo joined after he left the Defense Department.
Kloor adds that the only supposed confirmation of Elizondo’s involvement with AATIP comes from Bryan Bender of Politico:
“Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White confirmed to Politico that the program existed and was run by Elizondo,” Bryan Bender wrote in December 2017. (Earlier this year, White, a Trump administration political appointee, resigned amid an internal probe into charges of misconduct.) But Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told me that he “cannot confirm” White’s statement.
As it happens, Bender, who is Politico’s defense editor, had a recurring role in the first episode of “Unidentified.” He appeared on camera numerous times as a kind of authoritative character witness for Elizondo, Mellon, and their UFO investigations.
So Bender cannot be considered an objective reporter on TTSA, and Elzondo’s supposed involvement with AATIP is supported only on his own word. Kloor further notes that Elizondo will not respond to his inquiries, but obviously has no difficulty being interviewed by other reporters who give him softball questions. I have seen this behavior time and again among UFOlogists who are peddling dubious claims.
Not everyone is happy about Kloor’s expose. “Disclosure” advocate Stephen Basset of the Paradigm Research Group writes:
It is the most egregious hit piece directed at the extraterrestrial presence issue and Disclosure I have ever read in 22 years. It measures up to some of the worst such articles written by Phil Klass, the most vicious debunker on record. Stanton Friedman presented a cogent case that Klass was in the direct employ of the CIA during his disgraceful career.
Note that Basset does not point out anything wrong in what Kloor has written, but he just knows it’s got to be wrong. Clearly the piece has hit a nerve with E.T. proponents. As for Phil Klass, I knew him well, and what Basset says about Klass is Loony Tunes.
About the Author
Robert Sheaffer is a writer with a lifelong interest in astronomy and the question of life on other worlds. He is one of the leading skeptical investigators of UFOs, and wrote the “Psychic Vibrations” column in the Skeptical Inquirer for almost 40 years. His book Psychic Vibrations reprints some of those columns. His most recent book is Bad UFOs (2016), which is also the name of his Blog that casts a skeptical eye on claims about UFOs. He is also the author of “UFO Sightings” (1998), and has appeared on many radio and TV programs. His writings and reviews have appeared in such diverse publications as OMNI, Scientific American, Spaceflight, Astronomy, The Humanist, Free Inquiry, Reason, and others. He is also a founding director and past Chairman of the Bay Area Skeptics, a local skeptics’ group in the San Francisco Bay area. Mr. Sheaffer lives near San Diego, California. He has worked as a data communications engineer in the Silicon Valley, and sings in professional opera productions.