It has now been two years since publication of the much discussed New York Times article, Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program. The piece appeared online Dec. 16, 2017, was circulated in print a day later, and was written by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean. The writers were soon asked to provide supporting evidence for a number of assertions. Researchers and the public continue to await adequate justification for several key points reported in the story which remain unverified 24 months later. Let's explore a few of the issues that neither the writers nor the Times appear inclined to either sufficiently address or retract.
Reported: "For years, the [Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP] investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times."
Fact-check: There have indeed been a number of statements pertaining to secret UFO programs attributed to various spokespeople and what we might assume to be informed individuals. However, none of them have provided conclusive evidence such as authenticated documents to verify the claims. Moreover, the current Pentagon stance unequivocally denies that either the AATIP or Advanced Aerospace Weapons Systems Applications Program (AAWSAP) had anything to do with UFOs.
John Greenewald obtained clarification from the Pentagon. He wrote, "'Neither AATIP nor AAWSAP were UAP related,' said Pentagon spokesperson Susan Gough in an e-mail to The Black Vault. 'The purpose of AATIP was to investigate foreign advanced aerospace weapons system applications with future technology projections over the next 40 years, and to create a center of expertise on advanced aerospace technologies.'"
The AATIP was identified by Sarah Scoles as the Advanced Aviation (not Aerospace) Threat Identification Program.
Reported: "[The AATIP] was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze."
Fact-check: The Pentagon has repeatedly clarified its current position that Luis Elizondo had no assigned responsibilities in the AATIP. This was independently reported by Keith Kloor and John Greenewald, among others, via statements obtained from official spokespersons. To date, no authenticated documents or similar such information has been presented that conclusively establishes Elizondo ran the AATIP.
Reported: "Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, [Bigelow Aerospace] modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena."
Fact-check: Several researchers await final responses on many FOIA requests, but at this time, details of the reported modified buildings in Las Vegas remain unknown. The implied mysterious nature of the alleged "metal alloys and other materials" seems dubious at best.
To The Stars Academy has since shown a substantial interest in "Art's Parts," alleged UFO debris presented to the late Art Bell by an anonymous listener to his popular paranormal-themed radio show. In spite of the public being aware of the story for years, as well as claims of varying outcomes of research conducted on the debris, coherent and transparent explanations of the tests and their results are not readily available.
The material was obtained by Tom DeLonge, and subsequently To The Stars Academy, from Linda Moulton Howe. The transaction, as reported on TTSA financial statements, involved a $35,000 sale from DeLonge to TTSA. The organization entered into a cooperative research agreement with the U.S. Army that many suspect and Moulton Howe claims, essentially, had more than a little to do with Art's Parts.
MJ Banias obtained comment from Moulton Howe, but some details of the story remain unclear. Perhaps most relevant is that details of the alleged alloys and material as described in the NYT article, particularly as it specifically relates to being in possession of and stored by a government-funded AATIP, were and continue to be inadequately addressed by the Times writers.
Reported: "Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes."
Fact-check: As with much of this story, and has been the case for the previous two years, no authenticated documents have yet been obtained or presented that establish accuracy or details of the above assertion. A statement attributed to an unnamed senior manager at Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) was posted at Channel 8 in Las Vegas, George Knapp's stomping grounds. The statement claimed BAASS used the human body as a readout system to study UFOs, among other items of note, but did not provide adequate information to facilitate follow-up or deeper understandings.
It is not clear with either the apparent BAASS claim or the Times story how the research was proposed, its objectives, how progress was measured, or if any significant outcomes were documented. To date, we are left to wonder if Institutional Review Boards were properly consulted, and what notes or reports, if any, resulted.
Reported: "The program collected video and audio recordings of reported U.F.O. incidents, including footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves."
Fact-check: In actuality, it has yet to be verified if the "program," or AATIP, collected video and such material as described at all. Sarah Scoles reported how there is currently no conclusive link between the videos published and the AATIP. This might be considered particularly eyebrow-raising given it was the premise of the entire NYT article.
Moreover, the Department of Defense told Scoles it did not release the videos, a claim TTSA made and was largely echoed without question by media outlets and TTSA supporters, which, by the way, were often one and the same. The DOD emphasized its position to other writers and researchers, as well. At best, the issue remains unresolved.
The "glowing aura" reported, which made it into the title of the Dec. 16 article, was quite likely an image processing artifact. Robert Sheaffer consulted with John Lester Miller, an infrared imaging expert who previously provided Sheaffer qualified opinion.
Miller explained he knew exactly what the "aura" was, an artifact resulting from something known as "ringing". It very commonly happens when a hot object (like a jet engine) is filmed over a cold background (like clouds). Sheaffer observed that when UFO proponents talk about a glowing aura on infrared film, they are actually suggesting they don't know anything about the filming process and didn't consult with anyone who does.
Since the story broke, writers and researchers contributed a great deal of interesting material in somewhat of an open source investigation. Contributions offer a variety of potential explanations for at least some of the reports highlighted by the Times and subsequently connected to the AATIP, aptly or otherwise.
The War Zone published interesting reading, including an article referencing technological advances growing out of Project Palladium, and how related circumstances might account for at least some of the currently discussed UFO reports. We might also consider a 2014 news report that circulated about Iranian nuclear facilities menaced by luminous spheres with advanced flight capabilities. The events happened during the same time frame and were similar to some of the UFO reports highlighted by the Times and TTSA. While several news outlets framed the Iranian incidents in a UFO context, apparently Iranian officials actually suspected the flying objects to be CIA drones. There is a substantial amount of such material worthy of deeper consideration, and perhaps a main point here is that we obviously cannot rely on the authors of the Times article to find and present it.
When outlets we should expect to be trustworthy fail to follow up on or hold their writers accountable for unverified claims, it harms the search for truth much more than moves it forward. There may be some pilots, service personnel and civilians with interesting stories to tell. There are clearly some intriguing potential explanations for some of those stories. Unfortunately, it becomes nearly impossible to sort fact from fiction when, for whatever reasons, unconditional UFO advocacy is thinly disguised as professional journalism and enabled by major media outlets.
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