Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wicked Webs: Media Portrayal of Tall Tales, TTSA and Luis Elizondo

Leslie Kean
In the much celebrated Dec. 16, 2017 story at the New York Times, authors Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean wrote about the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). Many of the assertions published in the article remain unconfirmed. "It 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," they reported.

Frank Warren attempted to learn more about what led Kean and Blumenthal to report Elizondo ran the AATIP. In an Aug. 5 post at The UFO Chronicles, Warren explored the AATIP saga and explained how he specifically asked the two if they would at the least describe the nature of the evidence and how it was authenticated. They did not. 

"So after a couple of weeks and 5 attempts I received a five-word, one-sentence reply, sending me back to the article whose omissions precipitated my query to begin with," Warren wrote.

After several emails, Kean told Frank Warren to ask Blumenthal. Blumenthal eventually stated the two stand by their reporting. Neither remotely addressed Warren's original questions pertaining to what evidence was reviewed that indicated Elizondo ran the AATIP.

Warren concluded:
Above I asked the proverbial question, "does any of this matter?" The short answer is yes, of course it does. This is research 101; thorough investigation and due diligence performed by sober researchers should be commended, not criticized. Facts don’t lie. Moreover, and particularly in this instance, when contradictory information to this degree, i.e., divergent statements from the Pentagon re Elizondo’s claimed credentials are uncovered, then this must be resolved.
All the same, I can’t for the life of me understand why Luis Elizondo has not got in front of this. If everything is as he says, then certainly he can provide evidence to put this controversy to bed once and for all, unless…. 

Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean were each offered an opportunity to comment for this blog post. None responded.

Nearly two years now since the initial Times article, many important details remain unverified. Not only have the initial assertions received little to no follow up, but more articles were published about TTSA while ignoring mounting discrepancies.

Tom DeLonge
In a June 4 piece at Rolling Stone, Tom DeLonge was asked how it felt to see the latest story on TTSA in the Times. He replied, "This is the third New York Times article that we organized and put together at To the Stars." 

It's entirely reasonable to ask, exactly, what that means. Public trust in media objectivity surrounding TTSA continues to plummet while concerns of false narratives seem more justified with each successive question. In addition to a credulous (if not blatantly deceptive) network of reporters, a small army of self-described journalists and so-called persons of knowledge emerged on blogs, podcasts, and social media to uncritically - painfully so, at times - promote TTSA. Many would argue the organization and its high profile supporters have not earned such unconditional loyalty. 

Credulous or Complicit?

Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal's work has previously been called into question, and Kean has a rather well documented history of jumping the shark. It is yet to be understood why the New York Times does not take this into account and more carefully require evidence for assertions prior to publication. 

In 2012 Kean and Blumenthal co-authored a quite sensational piece on a now infamous 2010 Chilean airshow in which they reported jets were stalked by a UFO - that no one actually saw until viewing film later. The article included suggesting this was the UFO case skeptics had been dreading. Before long the hyped case fell apart under circumstances which called motives and competency into question. 

Researchers pointed out many areas of concern, such as Kean's claims the UFO was captured on some seven different videos from differing angles, yet she failed to produce the alleged corroborating videos. Additional film footage was indeed located by an independent researcher, which significantly contradicted Kean's stance, rather than supported it. The footage showed what were obviously insects and birds to be prevalent throughout the newly located film, circumstances which could not be seen in the arguably misleading and much more limited film samples previously released. Many in the UFO community eventually questioned how Kean, Blumenthal and Chilean authorities could have been oblivious to the likely explanation of insects, while rather inexplicably silent about additional and extended footage that so clearly established an abundant presence of airborne wildlife throughout the event. 

Prior to going overboard on the airshow, it was documented in 2011 how Kean rejected and completely ignored evidence contradicting her preferred narrative of an alleged cover-up of the JAL 1628 UFO case. Kean was provided witness testimony of two people, both who attended a meeting in which the cover-up was supposedly discussed, yet each person indicated no such statements were made. As a matter of fact, one of them stated they were provided information for publication during the meeting. Kean completely omitted the circumstances from her description of the events while opting to continue to promote the cover-up version of the story, among other reported questionable actions.

Amateur hypnotist and alien abduction
investigator Budd Hopkins conducting
regressive hypnosis
Going back even further, as documented by Carol Rainey and later explored in The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community, Kean endorsed Budd Hopkins in his promotion of alleged alien abductee James S. Mortellaro, Jr. The sensational case was destined to be identified as a hoax. 

The absurd and unverified claims of Mortellaro - in addition to his baseless stories of being celebrated for heroic action as a police officer - included his assertions he was examined by medical doctors who substantiated his tales of alien abduction. He also claimed witnesses could verify his abductions. The evidence was perpetually promised to be forthcoming but chronically never produced, as seems to be a recurring theme.

Without personally interviewing or ever even speaking with any of the alleged witnesses or medical staff who could purportedly substantiate the case, Kean and Hopkins were on board with Mortellaro's story. It unraveled in whole when Rainey, a writer, filmmaker, and then-wife of Hopkins, along with members of an advisory committee of the Hopkins-founded Intruders Foundation, refused to entertain the empty claims of medical documentation any further until substantiated. 

An alleged medical document handed over by Mortellaro, along with other supposed evidence, was identified as fraudulent. A statement was subsequently published on the Intruders Foundation website which clarified the case was not worthy of further investigation. The statement established the purported credible evidence long promised to be forthcoming was never produced and that alleged official medical documentation was fabricated.

It could be argued if select UFO researchers can hold credulous investigators and those with mile-high tales responsible for providing evidence to support their assertions, then we should expect the same from other researchers. We might particularly require such standards from journalists and, certainly, the "Paper of Record."

How We Got Here

Luis Elizondo
Bryan Bender of Politico also reported Luis Elizondo formerly ran the AATIP in an article published virtually simultaneously with the piece by Cooper, Blumenthal and Kean. Bender wrote that Pentagon spokesperson Dana White confirmed the program existed and was run by Elizondo. White could not say how long Elizondo was in charge, Bender added, and that she declined to answer detailed questions. 

Journalist Keith Kloor raised substantial doubts about Elizondo, AATIP leadership, and those promoting the story in his June 1 article published at The Intercept. Kloor pointed out Bender's source, Dana White, was a Trump administration political appointee who resigned amid an internal probe into charges of misconduct.

Moreover, Kloor quoted a current Pentagon spokesperson, Christopher Sherwood, as stating, "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." 

The relevance of Elizondo's lack of AATIP responsibilities while specifically working in OUSDI is significant because Sherwood's statement directly contradicts information provided on the record by TTSA spokesperson and Tom Delonge sister Kari DeLonge. She stated it was out of that office that Elizondo ran the program starting in 2010.

Christopher Sherwood further clarified his statement for Kloor, explaining how he arrived at his conclusion. Sherwood spoke with OUSDI leadership, Kloor reported, which included individuals who are still there from the time Elizondo started working in the office.

Kloor covered statements made during a podcast by Helene Cooper, the Pentagon correspondent for the Times and co-author of Kean and Blumenthal. Kloor wrote, "Later on, after she left [a meeting with Elizondo], Cooper acknowledged that doubts crept in. In the end, though, she decided that what mattered most was whether the Pentagon’s UFO program was real. That, she said, was the focus of the story."

Politico defense editor
Bryan Bender
Sherwood's statement and the current DoD position on Elizondo's employment history obviously came in contradiction to the narrative held by Bryan Bender. He asserted on Twitter he could provide documents to support Elizondo's claims of running the AATIP. However, when encouraged to do so, Bender presented no such documents and later deleted the tweet.

Bender deleted another tweet, as reported by John Greenewald at The Black Vault, in which he assured Twitter the Pentagon would soon revise its position on Elizondo's lack of AATIP involvement. However, the opposite proved true when the Pentagon actually reiterated its stance that Elizondo did not, in fact, have any assigned responsibilities for the AATIP while working in the OUSDI.

In an interview published July 9 with TTSA loyalist Alejandro Rojas, Bender stated Elizondo's role in the AATIP has been difficult to confirm because "you can't really do that." The Politico editor once again spoke of unspecified documents and knowledgeable staffers but provided listeners with no answers to lingering and valid questions. Bender explained that he suspected a substantial amount of Elizondo's UFO investigations were in unofficial capacities and subsequently cannot be verified. 

"[T]here really wasn't an AATIP, officially," Bender added, which does not seem entirely accurate, according to Pentagon statements and a great deal of research conducted by various bloggers. 

"I mean, that's just not how the intelligence business works," Bender stated about difficulty following paper trails and identifying project personnel.

Part of letter DIA issued to BAASS
concerning the AAWSAP
Many would challenge Bender's portrayal of Pentagon programs. As part of a recent FOIA response, the DIA provided The UFO Trail a letter it issued to Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS). The letter further established what many researchers already knew: Pentagon programs contracted to private corporations are not exempt from either paper trails or the FOIA process. 

The FOIA request was pertaining to a 2008 contract awarded for the Advanced Aerospace Weapons System Application Program, or AAWSAP. The letter demonstrated BAASS was notified of an FOIA request concerning its contract, as is required by executive order, and offered a standard opportunity to suggest portions of the contract be withheld, pending justifications.

Early in the interview with Rojas, Bender suggested he perceived a lot of early statements from TTSA panned out so he began giving its personnel benefit of the doubt. It could be considered interesting that many came to form the exact opposite assessment.

It is reasonable to question why the initial stories at the NYT and Politico reported Elizondo ran the AATIP. Bender's rationalizing about the difficulty of confirming Elizondo's claims does not justify publishing his and TTSA statements as fact. It arguably makes it all the more apparent not to report the statements as facts.

Adding to the controversy was a May 22 article written by Steven Greenstreet for the New York Post. We previously explored the piece and that it was Greenstreet who initially received Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood's statement about Elizondo having no AATIP responsibilities, and Greenstreet opted to omit it from his article. Instead, he framed the piece as a pro-UFO read while later declining to reveal the contents of Sherwood's full statement when requested to do so. The irony of such actions by journalists advocating government disclosure of UFO information should be self evident.

The Videos

Sherwood's full statement, when obtained independently and able to be viewed in its entirety, further called into question the already controversial chain of custody of the videos published by TTSA. The videos became the cornerstone of TTSA claims of being a leading and significant group. Also omitted from Greenstreet's article, along with the comment about Elizondo, was Sherwood's statement, "The video[s] you reference in the NY Times article was made releasable for research and analysis purposes by U.S. government agencies and industry partners, and not for general public release." The remark is significant to the DD1910 issue and deteriorating credibility of TTSA, which long claimed to have "chain of custody documentation" but has yet to produce it. 

George Knapp, a longtime prominent UFO reporter who uncritically promotes the Skinwalker Ranch legend and holds steadfast to the legitimacy of claims surrounding Robert Bigelow and Bob Lazar, "obtained" and published the DD1910 on April 29. A DD Form 1910 is used to request review and clearance of material, in this case the videos later framed as evidence of UFOs by TTSA. Knapp proclaimed the DD1910 established provenance of the film clips. It actually did not, which is particularly ironic, given the fact Knapp had no provenance for the form itself.

DD1910 posted by Knapp
While the Pentagon later confirmed to John Greenewald the DD1910 in question was authentic, spokesperson Sue Gough further explained the videos were never authorized for public release. It remains unclear how the film footage came to be published.

Additional areas of concern surrounding the DD1910 published by Knapp included redacted sections, apparently done by parties other than the DoD, which obstructed the name of the requester. It was also questioned why the subject of the videos were listed on the form as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), balloons, and UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System). In other words, the DoD labeled the objects filmed as drones and balloons.

It was reported by Sarah Scoles at Wired on Feb. 17, 2018 (and known by people familiar with UFO forums), that some of the TTSA footage was posted online years earlier. Scoles raised several interesting questions about the original purposes of the videos, such as the doubt they were ever classified.

"It looks very strongly like these weren’t released through any proper DOD declassification channels that I’ve ever seen," Nate Jones, director of the Freedom of Information Act Project at the National Security Archive, told Scoles. "I’ve seen a lot of DOD declassification in response to FOIA, in response to mandatory declassification review, in response to proactive disclosure. And it doesn’t look like this."

Scoles went on to aptly observe there is no definitive connection between the video footage showcased by TTSA and the AATIP. It indeed might be competently argued that the unconditionally loyal UFO reporters are the lone reason the TTSA videos - and Luis Elizondo - were ever associated with the project at all. 

Knapp soon posted a screen shot of another document lacking provenance when he offered it in support of Elizondo following Kloor's June 1 article at The Intercept. Knapp's document seemed to raise more questions than it answered and, once again, actually resolved nothing. As a matter of fact, it remains unresolved as of this writing as to whether or not Luis Elizondo ran the AATIP or ever had any official responsibilities in it. 

While evidence may eventually be presented that indeed establishes the specific relevance of the videos to the AATIP and Elizondo's involvement in the project, the fact of the matter is that is not currently the case, and two Pentagon spokespersons definitively stated he had no responsibilities in it at all, much less ran it. To claim otherwise at this point is simply wrong.

Elizondo, TTSA, History Channel (which aired a TTSA series), and affiliates have largely remained quiet about his unverified credentials, a silence of particular concern among many researchers and journalists. If the videos were released through proper channels and if Elizondo ran the AATIP as repeatedly asserted, why wouldn't he and those who reported it just provide documentation? Wouldn't they have such documentation in hand before ever making the assertions? One might be inclined to think so, but, to state the obvious, it is becoming increasingly doubtful. That might particularly be considered the case the more time that passes without TTSA and its fraternity of writers resolving what have become many issues of baseless claims.

In a June 7 interview with Martin Willis, the first public statement Elizondo offered on his credentials since Kloor's article at The Intercept, Elizondo told Willis, "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion." It is just such ambiguity that draws criticism to TTSA and deeply alarms researchers who respect standards of evidence. In order to give Elizondo the benefit of the doubt for such a statement, he would have to genuinely fail to identify a significant difference between substantiating a claim of directing a Pentagon UFO program and choosing a flavor of ice cream.

Bottom Line

It is reasonable for people to be interested in reports of UFOs and related phenomena. They are entitled to believe as they want and loyally follow researchers as they choose. It is understandable they are excited about their topic of interest receiving increased coverage.

Similarly, those who prioritize accuracy are entitled to respect professionally recognized standards of evidence when forming their beliefs. They are free to reject or suspend judgement on claims which fall short of such standards, pending further, more conclusive information. That might particularly be considered justified when such claims are prematurely and falsely published as facts.

It should go without saying, but seems to constantly need reiterating, that extra skepticism is warranted towards reporters who have documented histories of sensationalizing UFO stories and being shown to be wrong upon further investigation. If this stuff is worth following, it's worth getting right, or perhaps it's not worth following at all.  

Thursday, August 1, 2019

DIA Withheld AAWSAP Contract Awarded to BAASS in 2011 FOIA Response

An FOIA request filed in 2009 did not obtain significant details that sought documents pertaining to a 2008 Defense Intelligence Agency Advanced Aerospace Weapons System Application Program contract, according to a more recent DIA FOIA response. However, enough information was released to further clarify the contract was awarded to Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. The recent DIA response also established that such projects awarded to private contractors are not outside the scope of the FOIA as has been incorrectly suggested on numerous occasions about Pentagon UFO programs.

A DIA response to the 2009 request obtained by The UFO Trail via a much more recent FOIA request indicates all substantive portions of a ten-page document were withheld in full. Reasons cited for withholding the information included standard exemptions the DIA cited as protecting "the identity of DIA employees and organizational structure of the agency," as well as an exemption applying to "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person on a privileged or confidential basis."

Researcher Keith Basterfield identified the decade-old FOIA request in a May 17, 2018 blog post. He found it while searching the 2010 DIA FOIA log. The request was submitted by Quincy Wilkins, pertaining to a contract number Basterfield knew to be related to the AAWSAP and strongly suspected to have been awarded to Bigelow.  

An FOIA request was subsequently filed seeking copies of the DIA response and all materials issued to Wilkins. In a letter dated July 19, 2019, the DIA replied that some responsive documents would be withheld in part and some would be withheld in full. Enough information was released to further confirm the contract was awarded to BAASS, while indicating all substantive parts were initially withheld from Wilkins.

A portion of the 2019 DIA response to the request for all materials issued in response to the 2009 FOIA request:

From the partially withheld DIA response, apparently to Wilkins, for information concerning the AAWSAP contract number in question:

Below is a letter issued from DIA to BAASS, informing BAASS an FOIA request was received pertaining to its contract award. The letter was an effort to coordinate proper classification of the contract, and was apparently reviewed for release in 2011. 

Researchers continue to await responses to multiple pending FOIA requests pertaining to the AAWSAP, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program and related material.