The truth is out there, but it’s not here, at least not yet.
In sworn testimony before Congress, a former US intelligence officer named David Grusch said that the US government operated “a multi-decade [unknown anomalous phenomena] crash retrieval and reverse engineering program” that worked on “non-human technology.”
Grusch said that despite being authorized to investigate this program, he was denied access to further information. He reported the existence of the programs to independent government auditors and became a whistleblower, only to suffer undetailed retaliation from his superiors.
These claims attracted global attention, building upon several years of new transparency around US military pilots who have reported seeing objects with inexplicable maneuvering capabilities, some of which have been recorded by various sensors on fighter jets and Navy ships. Some of the videos may be misleading—an object in a video dubbed “GOFAST” was only going about 40 mph, according to NASA analysts, while UAP skeptic Mick West argues that another, called “GIMBAL,” in fact reflects glare on the sensor in question.
Sean Kirkpatrick, the head of the Pentagon office collecting these claims, says there have been 800 reports since 1996, and just 5% can’t be explained, mostly due to a lack of information.
That organization, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), issued a statement saying that, to date, it has “not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of any extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently. AARO is committed to following the data and its investigation wherever it leads.”
Kirkpatrick’s role was created by Congress after another whistleblower came forward in 2017 in a blockbuster New York Times report. We’ll get into more of that in a minute, but a former Defense official named Luis Elizondo revealed that then-senate majority leader Harry Reid funded a small military effort to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), mainly through a contract with a company run by Bob Bigelow, a Nevada real estate magnate, Reid donor, and UFO enthusiast.
Under public pressure and Congressional demand, the Department of Defense released videos and images from some of these sightings, and started the AARO. NASA and other agencies are also studying the issue. The official line from the Pentagon is that reporting these sightings is encouraged, investigation continues, and that there are things in US airspace that simply can’t be explained.
That’s not the most satisfying answer. The US government has investigated UFO sightings before, mostly inconclusively, and also used them to help conceal secret weapons development programs, notably the creation of the SR-71 spy plane. Lawmakers worry about the national security implications of these objects, which are as likely to be spy vehicles from rival nations as anything else. And then there are the people who are convinced that UAPs must be examples of extra-terrestrial life.
It’s worth noting that, so far, no one has presented evidence that these vehicles came from space or have been detected in space. The extra-terrestrial assumption comes from the apparently physics-defying behavior of the objects, and dark hints from whistleblowers and former government officials about other, hidden knowledge.
That’s what Grusch is alleging here: that there is an extra-terrestrial connection, and that the government is hiding it. He doesn’t have any firsthand knowledge of this activity, but says it was reported to him by credible sources. Grusch’s attorney, Charles McCullough, has not responded to multiple requests to speak to Grusch or view the unclassified version of his whistleblower report.
But here’s one theory: Grusch is simply talking to the same people that Elizondo did, because these claims have been made before. The government-funded research Bob Bigelow’s company was performing reportedly included the examination of “metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.” In a 2020 story, the Times quoted Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked on UAP programs for the Pentagon, saying of the objects that “we couldn’t make it ourselves.”
But other material scientists, including those that work on spacecraft, are dubious that such a thing as an unidentifiable alloy exists. There are standard approaches to determining the composition of metals, such as those being used by Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb as he seeks to prove the recovery of material from an interstellar object here on Earth. Grusch also suggested that unidentified biological material was recovered, but again there are scientific techniques for analyzing such material’s provenance.
Davis, who is now affiliated with the Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded research institution, has long been associated with claims of non-human technology. A 2002 memo he purportedly wrote outlining a conversation with a retiring US Navy admiral that makes similarly explosive claims about UAPs has long been shared among UFO enthusiasts; the unconfirmed document was entered into the Congressional record last year by Rep. Mike Gallagher.
At the hearing yesterday, Grusch also discussed how the programs he referred to were funded through contractor over-payments that weren’t disclosed to Congress, in violation of federal law. That could be a description of something we don’t yet understand, or of the Bigelow contracts, which, according to declassified documents, ostensibly produced a bunch of papers about far-out physics theories.
Leslie Kean, a reporter who has covered the UAP story extensively and first reported Grusch’s claims, has said in an interview that what Grusch is describing is “completely separate from the program that Elizondo was involved with, nothing to do with it.” The allegation, then, is that there are enough crashed UAPs in government hands that some could be shared with Bigelow’s research program, while other more secret programs had access to them as well.
To bolster Grusch’s story, Kean quotes Christopher Mellon, a former intelligence official who retired in 2004 and has become another frequent commentator on UAP issues. Mellon, who co-founded a UAP-focused business called To The Stars Academy with Elizondo, has an interesting record in this area. In 2016, he told Kean that “I highly doubt DoD or any other government agency is concealing UFO information...I’d love to believe we have a crashed saucer somewhere, but I’ve never seen anything remotely supportive of such incredible claims.” But in a 2020 documentary, he claimed to be the source of the leaked UAP videos, filmed in 2004 and 2015, that kicked off recent interest in the phenomena.
Another source in Kean’s story on Grusch is a pseudonymous US Air Force intelligence official referred to as Jonathan Grey. Grey is quoted saying “the majority of retrieved, foreign exotic materials have a prosaic terrestrial explanation and origin—but not all, and any number higher than zero in this category represents an undeniably significant statistical percentage.”
That assessment lines up with the experience of UAPs: There are unexplainable sightings, like the strange metallic ball spotted flying over a US military base in the Middle East in video shared publicly by Kirkpatrick. But that doesn’t mean, as Grey also says, that “we are not alone.” It means we don’t have answers. More transparency from the government and more reporting of these strange phenomena should be encouraged, and the DOD’s plan to orient more sensors to finding them is a good idea. Senators led by Chuck Schumer are introducing a bill to shine light on more UAP records, modeled on similar legislation around documents connected to the assassination of president John F. Kennedy.
But the claims we’re hearing today, as the Atlantic’s Marina Koren explains, aren’t new: For years, government figures have come forward to claim that, while they didn’t see it themselves, they heard about a secret program involving crashed extra-terrestrial vehicles. It’s the story we got in 1947, 2017, 2020, and today. That doesn’t mean the story is wrong. But it’s not unprecedented.
Kean, Grey, and Grusch have also asserted that other nations have recovered UAP wreckage and performed similar research, creating a virtual Cold War over extra-terrestrial technology. Another witness at this week’s hearing, a former US Navy pilot named Ryan Graves who now leads a UAP tracking organization called Americans for Safe Aerospace, said he believed that 95% of UAP sightings don’t get reported. Given the 800 sightings since 1996 that AARO has documented, that implies 16,000 incidents—more than one a day for the last 27 years.
All this raises the familiar question of why hard evidence of recovered UAPs still eludes us, and why there has not been an Edward Snowden for extra-terrestrial technology in the US or any other country. Grusch said in his testimony that he hopes his revelations will “act as an ontological (earth-shattering) shock, a catalyst for a global reassessment of our priorities.” An earth-shattering shock requires earth-shattering evidence.