Senators Look to Continue Government-Led Research into Strange UFO Sightings


There appears to be a nexus between unidentified aerial phenomena-aligned activity and U.S. nuclear technology sites, a former fed said.

Provisions included in the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2022, which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently passed via a unanimous bipartisan vote, would direct members of the intelligence community to further explore unidentified aerial phenomena, or the modern term for UFOs. 

The work would build on efforts led by the Defense Department’s UAP Task Force, a group formed to study unexplainable happenings in the sky registered by military members or sensors. Those involved produced a preliminary assessment of such occurrences for U.S. IC and other government leaders earlier this year. 

Two long-time advocates for more transparency in federal UAP pursuits said the IAA inclusions mark some of many elements needed to ensure America is on top of these sky-based national security concerns.  

“I'm glad that Congress is doing something. My only hope is that it won't be a ‘once and it's over with.’ There must be an ongoing spending of taxpayer dollars to scientifically look and determine what these things are. Because right now, we don't know. The more we learn, the more we don't know,” former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Nextgov. “Now the American people can handle this. I’m not worried about that—what I'm worried about is the government trying to hide the information they get. We must be transparent.”

During his time as a top lawmaker, Reid secured millions in funding to back the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP. An unclassified but unpublicized precursor to the UAPTF, AATIP operated for less than a decade conducting UFO sighting-aligned research before it was disbanded in the mid-aughts. 

Reid and former AATIP Director Luis Elizondo discussed those prior and existing programs during Nextgov’s Emerging Tech Summit last week, and pointed to the directions they’d like to see feds move on this going forward. 

More to Know

Representing a state that’s home to many UFO sightings, Reid became interested in this topic years ago out of curiosity and leaned into it during his time in the Senate. “I wanted to find out if there was anything to this,” he explained. The lawmaker worked with Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii—who he said “controlled dark money in the Defense budget”—to put funds toward government-led scientific studies into the reported sightings. 

When Reid expressed his aims, Stevens immediately brought up an experience he had as a pilot in World War II. An unidentifiable object flew to his left, followed him, and his aircraft got low on fuel. Stevens landed and asked the air traffic controller what was flying alongside him, and they had no idea anything had been there. Based on that experience, Reid said the AATIP ask was “such an easy sell.”

Ultimately, the lawmakers were looking to put a hard number to exactly how many people had witnessed the “unusual sightings,” Reid noted. As it turned out, there were thousands of them. 

“We have counts going for 70 years of people seeing these phenomena. Now, it's becoming even more apparent that these unidentified flying phenomena exist—but what they are, we don't know,” Reid explained. “The more we study, the less we know what they are. But what we do know is that things are developing.” 

Observations often included air and watercraft moving at remarkable speeds. Reid said at a military base in the Dakotas, personnel reported communications systems being shut off when UAPs were observed in the area. “The same thing happened on a Navy ship off the coast of San Diego,” Reid noted, “so it's something we better stay to hell on top of, because to let it go is not good for the security of this nation.”

Offering another example, the former Senate leader said on the Pacific Ocean-based USS Omaha, officials saw a football field-sized object that was shaped like a football hover around the massive cruiser and then suddenly disappear into the water. 

“There were people who saw this with their eyes—and for the first time—through radar, sonar and other new equipment, we have pictures that are scientifically saved,” Reid said. 

The short, unclassified version of a larger intelligence document released by the Pentagon’s UAPTF this summer confirmed more than 100 reports of such phenomena originating from government sources—80 of which involved observations with multiple sensors. Still, the review also noted that data and collection capabilities were limited.

Reid said he was happy to see further proof through technology and that the government was still looking into this. At the same time, he wants feds to ensure that the public continues to get information about the results of their work in this space. He and Elizondo noted France, China, Russia, among others, are likely investing in this space. 

“Someone asked me, ‘what if it shows it's coming from someplace else?’ So what? They asked the same question to President Obama and he said, ‘look, we are just this small speck in this great universe.’ And I wouldn't be surprised if there's something else from someplace else,” Reid noted. “So that's where we are. I'm glad I got to start this—but it's not gonna end by the fact that we got something started. Something must be ongoing, and transparent to the American people.”

Elizondo over the last few years has also been pushing for more openness about the government’s knowledge of UAPs. Previously, he was a career intelligence officer and counterintelligence special agent, who worked to “hunt and catch terrorists and spies.” He spent much of that time abroad, and then the last 10 or so years of that work at the Pentagon. There, he was put in charge of the AATIP.

“I had no idea what the effort was about until once I was in. It was one of those, I guess, Hollywood moments where you watch a movie and they say, ‘hey, we want you to be part of something—but it's so secret we can't tell you what it is. Sign here,” Elizondo said. “So, wisely or foolishly I went ahead and signed, and it turned out that that effort was looking at UFOs.”

He was asked to steer the work in 2010 and did so until around 2017, when he resigned. 

“A lot of people will say, ‘you resigned out of disloyalty to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community.’ That's not at all the case,” Elizondo said. “I actually resigned out of loyalty. We were receiving information that needed to be reported to senior leadership, but there was no mechanism in place. The bureaucracy wouldn't allow this information, because of the topic, to be reported.”

Drawing on his time in the program and the latest task force report, he reflected on some notable features of spotted UAPs.

“There does indeed seem to be some sort of nexus between UAP activity and our critical nuclear technology—whether it's propulsion, or weapons systems and whatnot,” Elizondo said. “It's not just our observations, other countries have observed this as well.”

The former defense official added there also “seems to be some sort of weird nexus between UAP activity and large bodies of water.” 

He further elaborated on how technology is used by government officials during and in the aftermath of sightings, to make sense of them. Witnesses are often well-trained pilots, and their testimonies are vital. There are also electro-optical devices like gun cameras and infrared footage, smartphones and radar data to track such happenings. 

“We've never been in such a golden era of technology and capabilities,” Elizondo said. He noted that with camera-enabled mobile phones, “every human being is a potential information collector.” There’s also now ground-, sea- and space-based capabilities and radar to capture information.

“In the ‘50s, we hadn't really made it into the upper limits of our atmosphere. Now, we have geosynchronous satellites, we have low-Earth orbit satellites, we've got mid-orbit satellites,” Elizondo explained, “all looking at the same spots on Earth through a different lens.”

‘As Important as a New Military Aircraft’

The 345th section of the intelligence authorization act for the next fiscal year is titled “Support for and Oversight of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.” Specifically, the legislation would mandate the Defense secretary and national intelligence director to “require each element of the intelligence community and the Department of Defense with data relating to unidentified aerial phenomena to make such data available immediately to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.”

This bill would expand the task force’s and Air Force’s data and information collection regarding such incidents. If passed, it would also direct quarterly reports to Congress on the unfolding efforts. 

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced the bill. 

The legislation awaits action on the Senate floor, a spokesperson from Warner’s office confirmed. Generally, the recurring act is attached to another piece of relevant legislation, like the National Defense Authorization Agreement. 

New, forward-looking Congressional language such as this could further affirm and reinforce the task force’s establishment, according to Elizondo. Looking ahead, he said a Pentagon Inspector General-led look into the hiccups DOD has had with UAP reporting and transparency might also make sense. He mentioned knowing of people on the Hill who are also pushing for public hearings on the topic.

“I think that's part of transparency—I'm certainly not against it. And if I'm asked to testify, you better believe I'm going to testify,” Elizondo said. “But that's not the only way to do it. I’d be concerned about creating some sort of spectacle or circus. My effort is not to blame anybody.”

He agreed with Reid that the government should continue to fund work to figure out this perplexing phenomena. 

“We spend more on a new military airplane than we are spending on this—and we’ve got to realize that this is just as important as a new military aircraft,” Reid noted.

Despite hearing “all the arguments against this,” and naysayers, the Nevadan remains firm in his aims. 

“My own staff told me to stay away from this. People would think I was a little demented—looking into flying saucers, so to speak. But frankly, I can go here in Las Vegas on the strip, and somebody will say, ‘are you Harry Reid? Yeah? Thank you for doing the work’ on,  well they usually say flying saucers, but I know what they're talking about,” Reid said. “So I'm glad that I got it started. I'm really convinced that it was the right thing to do.”