Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada had led the covert mission which first began its operations in 2009, the Pentagon confirmed Friday, with the support of senators, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), also World War II veterans, who expressed concern over the potential security concern, Politico reported.
Reid retired from Congress earlier this year, told the New York Times, he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going," Reid said. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
The program collected video and audio recordings of reported U.F.O. incidents, including footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet which shows an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves. In the video, the Navy pilots can be heard trying to understand what they are seeing. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” one exclaims. Defense officials have declined to release the location and the date of the incident, New York Times reported.
Defense officials who had never confirmed that the program existed up until now, said it was shut down in 2012.
"It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change," a Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, told the New York Times in an email, referring to the Department of Defense.
But some sources say the program still exists. According to the New York Times-led investigation, the Defense Department, interviews with participants in the program along with other records confirm the existence of the program which monitored "unidentified aerial phenomena."
"It (The program) 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," the New York Times reported.
UFOs have piqued U.S.' military's curiosity for several decades now. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force initiated a series of studies investigating over 12,000 claimed U.F.O. sightings before the investigations were finally put to an end in 1969. Another project, named Blue Book, helped debunk some of these "sightings" but nearly 701 remained unexplained.
James E. Oberg, a former NASA space shuttle engineer and an author known for debunking UFO sightings, also cast his doubts.
"There are plenty of prosaic events and human perceptual traits that can account for these stories," Oberg told the New York Times. "Lots of people are active in the air and don’t want others to know about it. They are happy to lurk unrecognized in the noise, or even to stir it up as camouflage."
However, some documents procured by the New York Times revealed that a large portion of the contracts for the program went to a billionaire entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, a close friend of the program's chieftain Reid, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
In May, on CBS’s “60 Minutes," Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.
A congressional appropriation of a little under US$22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011 has been reported as the three senators involved in the project also wanted to abstain from a public debate on the Senate floor about the funding for the program, according to Reid, the New York Times reported.
Referring to the Pentagon budget for classified programs, "This was so-called black money," he said. "Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it."