Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Department of Defense An image from one of the AATIP videos.

From 2007 to 2012, the Department of Defense spent millions funding the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a secret program that studied possible UFO encounters. Luis Elizondo, who ran then-Sen. Harry Reid’s secretive program, has said that some of the phenomena could not be explained, even after being cross-referenced with all the aircraft and drones known to be operated by the U.S. government. Some officials insist the program never really ended in 2012, and material belonging to UFOs has been stored and studied in Las Vegas — just a few hours away from Area 51. Here’s what you need to know about the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.

1. The Pentagon Spent $22 Million Researching UFOs from 2007 to 2012, But Elizondo Actually Studied Them for 10 Years

Luis Elizondo

To the Stars AcademyLuis Elizondo introducing To the Stars Academy.

It seems like a small amount for such a big project, but the Pentagon has admitted that $22 million was spent funding the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which investigated reports of UFOs. (This is $22 million total, not per year.) This program was run by intelligence officer Luis Elizondo and initiated by then Senator Harry Reid. The program began at the request of Harry Reid, who was the Democrat Senate majority leader at the time. Most of the $22 million went to Robert Bigelow, a billionaire entrepreneur currently working with NASA to produce craft for space use. At the time the program began, some analysts were also interested because they were concerned about systems developed by the Russians or Chinese. From 1998 to 2008, over the course of 10 years, Bigelow contributed $10,000 to Reid’s reelection campaigns — not a huge amount in light of how much Senators typically fundraise.

At least one report was issued by the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program: a 490-page report documenting alleged UFO sightings around the world over the course of several decades. That report has not yet been publicly released.

AATIP officially ran from 2007 to 2012, but Elizondo kept the research going for an additional five years. Back in October, before Politico and The New York Times released stories about AATIP, Elizondo spoke at the launch of To the Stars Academy. He said he ran “a sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies” for almost a decade.

“By far the most interesting effort I was involved with was the topic of advanced aerial threats. For nearly the last decade, I ran a sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technology. It was in this position I learned that the phenomena is indeed real. And now as a member of To the Stars Academy, we will bring our observations to you.”

If this is confusing to you because AATIP officially existed from 2007 to 2012, it only takes a deeper look to understand the discrepancy. Elizondo has officially said that even after funding ended, he still worked with the program for an additional five years. He told The New York Times that only the funding ended, but he continued to work with Navy and CIA officials out of his Pentagon office until he resigned on October 4 to protest the secrecy. You can watch his comments in the video below, starting with his introduction at 19:13:

2. Some of the UFO Encounters Happened Near Nuclear Facilities

Many of the unexplained sightings that Elizondo studied at the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program happened near nuclear facilities, he told Politico. “We had never seen anything like it.”

But not all of them were reported there. AATIP collected video and audio recordings of UFO encounters, including two encounters recorded by F/A-18 jets. (A third video is also supposed to be released, but has not been made public yet.) The video above includes dialogue as pilots try to decipher what they’re seeing. Interestingly, the location and date of this video has not been disclosed.

The second of the two publicly released videos was near the USS Nimitz in 2004:

Cmdr. David Fravor and Cmdr. Jim Slaight were the pilots who encountered the object in the video above. Fravor shared his experience with The New York Times recently, but he also discussed it over a year ago with The object was described as being at 80,000 feet at some points, and being able to quickly fall to a mere 50 feet within seconds. Favor was asked to investigate the objects. But as they approached, they couldn’t see anything on radar at first. Fravor noticed something was causing the sea to churn beneath it. That’s when he saw a white, oblong object — about 40 feet long — hovering 50 feet above the water. As he neared the object, it began ascending toward him and then it “accelerated (away) like nothing I’ve ever seen.” He said he was “pretty weirded out” by the whole thing. To this day, Fravor says he had no idea what it was that he saw. “It had no plumes, wings, or rotors and outran our F-18s.” He said it hovered like a Harrier at first, was uniformly white, and had a “discernible midline horizontal axis” similar to as fuselage, but no windows, nacelles, wings, or propulsion that he could discern.

Each video that AATIP studied, including the two above, was rigorously researched, compiling data and cross-referencing the sightings with every aircraft in the U.S. inventory, from drones to commercial planes to military craft, Elizondo told NPR. They also drafted QUEU reports where pilots and other related personnel were interviewed. QUEU stands for “Queried Unverified Event Under Evaluation.” Despite all the research, a number of sightings could not be explained.

Reid told The New York Times he’s proud of the program. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service.”

Read more about the videos in Heavy’s story below:

3. Two out of Three Senators Who Helped Create the Program Are No Longer Alive

GettyU.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) waves to cameras in 2008.

The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program originated after Reid had a discussion with Ted Stevens, a Republican Senator from Alaska, and Daniel K, Inouye, a Democrat Senator from Hawaii. His discussion was prompted by a conversation he had with space entrepreneur and UFO enthiast, Robert Bigelow. Reid first became interested in starting AATIP after Bigelow told him in 2007 that defense officials had wanted to visit Bigelow’s ranch where he did research. Reid then met with the officials and learned about their interest in starting a UFO research program. That was when Reid had a private meeting with Stevens and Inouye about the idea. Both Senators agreed that the program was important.

Reid said that Stevens had always been interested in the topic ever since he was tailed by an aircraft with no known origin, that followed him for miles. The three senators didn’t want a public debate in the Senate about the project, so it became a “black money” project that only they knew about.

Stevens died in 2010 and Inouye died in 2012.

Stevens was Senator from 1968 to 2009. At the time he left office, he was the longest-serving Republican Senator in history. He was President pro tempore from 2003 to 2007 (third in line to the presidency.) His public service began when he served in World War II. In 2008, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for failing to properly report gifts related to renovating his home and receiving gifts from VECO Corporation. He was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements and faced five years per charge. He claimed his innocence, however, and lost the Senate race in 2008. An FBI agent filed a whistleblower affidavit in 2009, alleging that FBI agents had conspired to withhold evidence that would have found Stevens not guilty. His conviction was vacated in 2009 and the indictment was thrown out.

In 2010, Stevens died when his plane crashed in Alaska. Seven other passengers were on board, including NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, who survived the crash.

GettyU.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) (L) gestures as he poses for photographers with Vice President Dick Cheney (R) during the reenactment of a swearing-in ceremony in 2005.

Inouye was Senator in Hawaii from 1963 to 2012 and was President pro tempore of the Senate (third in line to the presidency) from 2010 to 2012. Inouye had fought in World War II and lost his right arm to a grenade wound. Inouye died at the age of 88, the second-oldest sitting U.S. senator. He had planned to run for Senate again at the age of 92. In 2012, before his death, he was given an oxygen concentrator to help with his breathing. He was hospitalized on December 6, 2012, to further regulate his oxygen and died of respiratory complications on December 17.

4. Material Was Recovered from the UFOs and Stored in Las Vegas, Bigelow Said

GettyNASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (L) and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow talk while standing next to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during a media briefing.

According to Bigelow, his company modified buildings in Las Vegas that were used to store metal alloys and other materials recovered from UFOs, the NYT reportedThey also studied people who claimed to have physical effects after encountering strange objects. And they spoke to military service members who sighted the aircraft. MSNBC interviewed Ralph Blumenthal, who wrote the New York Times story. And he confirmed that yes, material was recovered.

“They have confirmed for the first time that these things exist. …They have established a kind of reality to these objects … that the government is standing behind. They have … some material from these objects that is being studied so that scientists can try to figure out what accounts for their amazing properties… It’s some kind of compound that they don’t recognize.

This isn’t the first time Nevada has come under the close inspection of UFO enthusiasts. Area 51, also in Nevada, has been under suspicion since it was approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. It was used to test top-secret aircraft and was located near the Atomic Energy Commission’s proving grounds. Since the 1950s, some people have believed that Area 51 was being used to store aliens and spacecraft, including debris discovered by William “Mac” Brazel in Roswell in 1947.

Interestingly, Area 51 is about a six hour drive away from Las Vegas, where Bigelow has said that UFO material was (or is) stored.

Elizondo said that he and other government colleagues believed that at least some of the phenomena they researched “did not seem to originate from any country.” And Blumenthal, when interviewed by MSNBC in the video from the previous section, agreed. “No one knows what they are to this day. [objects] that have been seen by Navy planes … [that] have been reported by witnesses. … Their phenomenal aerodynamics … represent nothing on the face of this earth by any country.”

Reid said that by 2009, the discoveries were so incredible that he asked for heightened security to protect the project. He wrote a letter noting the “identification of several highly sensitive, unconventional aerospace-related findings” and only wanted a few officials to be given access to it, The New York Times reported. A 2009 Pentagon briefing even said that what was once science fiction is now science fact

Dave Fravor, one of the pilots who witnessed the strange Nimitz phenomena, told ABC News: “I can tell you, I think it was not from this world. I’m not crazy, haven’t been drinking. It was — after 18 years of flying, I’ve seen pretty much about everything that I can see in that realm, and this was nothing close.”

Elizondo, who ran AATIP, has since joined To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, where they raise money for UFO research. He has joined Christopher K. Mellon, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, and Harold E. Puthoff, an engineer who researched ESP for the CIA, in the venture. Tom Delonge, former guitarist and co-lead vocalist for Blink-182, founded To the Stars.

Delonge has said that The New York Times story was just the “tip of the spear” and we should expect “confirmation” soon. Delonge said: “I know that it’s fun to make snarky comments, but this isn’t the kind of thing to joke about. This is going to really affect a lot of people and a lot of peoples’ belief systems.”

5. When Bigelow Hired People for the Project, He Was Looking for Experts in Biological Cognitive Interaction, Electromagnetic Fields, and Forensic Pathology

GettyFormer U.S. Senator Harry Reid started AATIP.

Robert Bigelow is the billionaire entrepreneur who was paid millions of dollars to research UFOs for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. He’s currently working with NASA to create expandable crafts for humans to use in space. His company, Bigelow Aerospace, received the $22 million funding to run AATIP, the NYT reported. They hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program. Bigelow has always been interested in alien research and owns a ranch called Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. It’s about as mysterious as the name sounds. The ranch has been a source of interest to UFO enthusiasts for years, Politico reported.

Nonfiction author Ben Mezrich mentioned Bigelow during a UFO Tedx Talk in 2016 (which you can watch at the 4:30 mark below.) He talked about a sheriff’s deputy who became a UFO hunter, looking for UFOs in the Midwest while traveling in an RV. The majority of UFO sightings, the deputy found, occurred around the 37th parallel of the U.S., which was also where most cattle mutilations happened and where most underground military bases were located, including Area 51. The deputy was having run-ins with Bigelow’s corporation, Bigelow Aerospace while investigating UFOs. Mezrich’s knowledge of Bigelow’s work, a year prior to its being officially announced by Elizondo, lends some credibility to his talk. In the video, he said Bigelow Aerospace was investigating UFOs in conjunction with government agencies. But he said the partnership had been happening for the last 20 years, not just for five. He noted that in FAA manuals for civilian pilots, if a pilot sees something in the air, they aren’t supposed to report it to the FAA but to Bigelow. Watch the video below for the story, at the 4:30 mark.

Mezrich was right about the FAA recommendation. Here’s an example of an FAA manual from 2010. Under Section 8, Unidentified Flying Object Reports, it reads:

9-8-1. GENERAL

a. Persons wanting to report UFO/unexplained phenomena activity should contact a UFO/ unexplained phenomena reporting data collection center, such as Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) (voice: 1-877-979-7444 or e-mail:, the National UFO Reporting Center, etc.

b. If concern is expressed that life or property might be endangered, report the activity to the local law enforcement department.

Here’s a screenshot:


A Gizmodo article from 2009 references this UFO directive too and indicates that the change recommending Bigelow’s company for all UFO sightings had just happened that year. AATIP was officially started in 2007, so references from 2007 forward would match the timeframe.

In 2013, after funding ended for AATIP, Mike Gold from Bigelow was asked about the FAA’s recommending UFO reports be sent to Bigelow, and this is what he said:

The Gizmodo article, along with a dive into the Internet archive, seems to indicate that a sister company of Bigelow Aerospace, called Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, was the company that handled the Department of Defense’s UFO research. Their description from 2009 reads:

Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), a sister company to Bigelow Aerospace, is a newly formed research organization that focuses on the identification, evaluation, and acquisition of novel and emerging future technologies worldwide as they specifically relate to spacecraft. BAASS is headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are seeking experienced scientists to join our research teams. If you are an inquisitive outside of the circle thinker, who is detail oriented and who is looking for a challenge, this is a unique and exciting opportunity to advance your career and to be a part of cutting edge research.

At the time they were hiring astrophysicists, biochemists, microbiologists, nanotechnologists, physicists, stealth tech experts, and propulsion experts. They stated that applicants with a Masters or PhD were a plus, and they must qualify for secret and top secret clearance, along with submitting to a background check. National and international travel might be required.

We looked back at the Internet Archive to see what previous career pages looked like. The first archived career page is from 2007 (the same year that AATIP began.) But the first archived reference to BAASS is found a year later, on September 13, 2008.

Bigelow Aerospace

This job reference also seeks research scientists who are experts in psychology, social psychology, sociology, and “biological cognitive interaction,” along with electromagnetic fields and forensic pathology.

One has to wonder what the Pentagon research expected to find if their contractor was looking for people who were experts in EM fields, biological cognitive interaction, and forensic pathology. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.