Science Photo Library illustration via AP
Sun, May 9, 2021
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has long advocated for the serious study of UFOs. Those calls have finally come to fruition.
The Defense Department in August 2020 established — and publicly revealed — the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. Last month, the Pentagon confirmed the veracity of video and images of UFOs taken by U.S. Navy personnel and leaked to MysteryWire.com.
This month, The New Yorker published a long-form article titled “How The Pentagon Started Taking UFOs Seriously.” Next month, the government is scheduled to publish a report detailing its findings on UFOs, as part of the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act.
“All of the stuff that is happening right now, all of these stories that are breaking about UFOs in major media, trace their roots to Las Vegas. And it’s because of Senator Reid and Robert Bigelow,” said George Knapp, a Las Vegas journalist and UFO investigator. “It’s astounding. I never thought I would see this moment. I’ve been working at it for more than 30 years, plugging away on the UFO story, and it’s been a really long, lonely slog.”
The speed of discovery has increased since 2017, when The New York Times reported about the “Pentagon’s Mysterious UFO program,” which was instigated by Reid. The mainstream media attention eased the stigma of the unexplained, as did subsequent government authentications of UFO sightings.
“Whatever is in the (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) task force report that comes out in June, it’s a milestone,” said Knapp, the chief reporter for KLAS Channel 8’s I-Team investigative unit and who has weathered decades of ridicule for taking UFOs seriously.
“The fact that it even exists, that Congress asked for it, that the Department of Defense produced it — it’s astonishing,” he said. “And it’s all being done in public.”
Reid expects the findings will reiterate what he’s already found to be true: “That there’s been observations of these aerial phenomena, and they don’t know what they are,” he told the Sun.
Most Americans — whether they’re regular citizens, service members or high-ranking government officials — would rather that UFOs remain the province of pop culture. And yet, credible sightings persist.
“We thought there would be a score of people who had seen these unidentified flying objects,” said Reid, who earmarked $22 million toward the study of UFOs while he was in office. “We found that it’s not hundreds, but thousands of people seeing them. And it wasn’t just a bunch of oddballs.”
There are many ways that people have discredited sightings. Perhaps they are secret military black-ops that most people don’t know about, or a ruse to hide classified weapons. Perhaps they are unknown technology by our terrestrial adversaries, such as China or Russia. Reid said this was not the case.
“The science tells us that we have unidentified flying objects,” he said. “Some can be identified because of weather and different things. But generally speaking, all these sightings are not explainable by credible evidence that we have. Where they exist, what they are — we don’t know yet.”
Reid’s program — the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) — was led by the Bigelow Aerospace, which is based in North Las Vegas and led by Robert Bigelow, whom The New York Times described as “a maverick Las Vegas real estate and aerospace mogul with billionaire allure and the resources to fund his restless curiosity embracing outer and inner space, UFOs and the spirit realm.”
The program began in 2007 and officially lost funding in 2012. Still, it laid the foundations for serious future study.
“That was the beginning of showing people that we have these aerial phenomena we don’t understand,” Reid said.
Thanks in part to Reid’s work, the government’s policy on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena reporting has reversed through the years. “For decades, the Pentagon had admonished their pilots and sea captains not to report any of these — keep it quiet,” Reid said. “Now the Pentagon is very good. They are requiring pilots, when they see something that is unusual, to report it, and same with those sea captains. We’ve come a long way.”
The Navy officially drafted new UFO reporting guidelines in 2019, Politico reported.
A question of national security
Could UFOs be a national security threat? Certainly, the government is taking them seriously.
When announcing the establishment of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, the Pentagon released this statement: “The Department of Defense and the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously and examine each report. This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as UAP when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”
Knapp said it made “absolute sense” to consider the national security implications of UFOs. “They’re not attacking our cities and blasting us with the laser beams. But … there are well-documented cases where they disable nuclear missiles. They appear over nuclear carriers and sensitive facilities and make these displays in a provocative way,” Knapp said. “They violate our airspace; they demonstrate their technological superiority over us. The U.S. military knows this very well.”
“We got an event by flying objects over one of our missile bases, in the Dakotas, shut down the whole base,” Reid said.
Reid however won’t issue an opinion on whether UFOs pose a threat without basing it on more evidence. “We have no knowledge at this stage that they do,” he said. “But I assume they could. We (need to) find out what they are. Right now, we don’t know.”
Knapp said that Reid was smart to not commit to an answer that doesn’t yet exist. Besides, Knapp predicts that the near future could bring new revelations.
“In the next year or two, we’re going to learn a heck of a lot about what our military knows,” Knapp said. “We have a military that is global in scope. It has the best sensors in the world. It has eyes and ears and satellites, and data collection capabilities that no one else on the planet has. So if there’s any evidence, that’s who has it.”
An unlikely advocate
Reid is a somewhat unlikely advocate of the mysterious. He’s never personally seen a UFO, nor does he have any desire to see one. The closest he’s ever gotten to a space sighting is watching shooting stars from his home when he lived in Searchlight.
He has no problem writing off the more dubious claims of extraterrestrials; he called the former Israeli space chief’s claims about alien interactions “garbage.”
And yet, Reid possesses a seemingly unquenchable intellectual curiosity. He is a voracious reader of nonfiction and a fan of scientific inquiry. He hails the new book by Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.”
“Whether he’s right or not, I can’t venture an opinion with that,” Reid said about Loebs claims in the book that the first known object known to have come from beyond our solar system, Oumuamua, is likely alien technology rather than say an asteroid fragment.
“But I think that it’s important that we keep looking into this. Because, I repeat, there are unidentified flying objects,” Reid said “… I have been very forthright in saying that it’s something that we cannot ignore. I’m convinced that Russia, France, China are certainly taking a look at these unidentified flying objects.”
For naysayers who complain that the study of UFOs is a waste of taxpayer money, Reid has a simple answer: “I think anything that we do that’s based upon science is credible. And we should spend the money to learn more.”
Reid would like to leave the question of his legacy to future historians. Still, the political powerhouse has gained attention for his UFO inquiries. “During the week, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get calls from someone relating to this subject,” Reid said.
Knapp has asked Reid about his legacy many times over the years. “After all this media attention, all the changes that have happened in the last three or four years, he’s become, I think, more comfortable with the idea that this is going to be part of his legacy,” Knapp said. “And I’m glad it is because it’s gigantic.”
Working toward transparency
Decades of government secrets and obfuscation have led to wild speculation.
“Some people would like to believe that the government has all this inside information; they’re hiding it,” Reid said. “I don’t think they know any more than what has been made public. I believe that sincerely.”
Reid hopes that future government transparency will calm the rumor mill. It’s also part and parcel of civic duty. “Transparency is key to a democracy,” Reid said. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with our national security.”
As to why the government opted for secrecy in the first place, there are many theories. The New Yorker suggests that secrecy was one of the byproducts of the Cold War, and a desire to not let “genuine incursions … be lost in a maelstrom of kooky hallucination.” Reid thinks that, dating to the incidents in 1940s New Mexico, the government chose natural explanations such as “cloud formations” because “they just didn’t know.”
But for a generation raised on TV shows like “The X Files” and “Ancient Aliens,” the dissatisfying incompleteness of the truth may be difficult to accept.
“Now have we, as a result of the work that’s been done on this, do we know what they are? The answer’s no. I don’t know,” Reid said. “But I do know they’re occurring. And we should stay on top of it.”
As with any scientific experiment, the truth is just a stepping stone to ever more questions.
“Sure, I wish suddenly someone would come up with concrete evidence as to what they are. Right now, we don’t know,” Reid said. “The one thing we do know, we’ve learned is that there are the sightings by credible sources, military pilots or sea captains.”
For years, Reid had heard rumors of Lockheed Martin possessing remnants of a crashed UFO. He sought clearance to access these remnants but was denied. A slew of national publications recently reported that Reid believes that the defense contractor possessed remnants. He corrects the record by saying, “I’ve never believed Lockheed had anything in that regard, even though a lot of people believe that — I don’t.”
As to whether any UFO fragments are stored away in some other government or contractor’s warehouse, Reid is doubtful: “I never heard of anything, other than some conspiratorialists. So I don’t think that they’re credible that they’re things from outer space.”
UFOs in Nevada
While Nevada has famously turned alien lore into a tourist attraction, Reid knows of no particular connection between his home state and UFOs. He also debunks any connection between Area 51 and UFOs.
“I’ve been to Area 51 several times. I know what they have there,” Reid said. “Other than some conspiratorialists, I don’t think that there’s any foundation for thinking that Nevada should know more than any other state.”
Knapp agrees with Reid on the basis that UFOs have no particular affinity for Nevada because “they’re everywhere.” He said that Nevada may have more sightings due to the military activity surrounding Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site, but those are the kind of sightings that can be explained.
Granted, Reid’s initial interest in UFOs was sparked in the 1980s by Knapp. After discussing the topic, Knapp invited Reid to a meeting of the National Institute for Discovery Science advisory board organized by Bigelow in 1996. It was the beginnings of a decadeslong working friendship that exists to this day.
“I went to it and I found it interesting,” Reid said. “There were academics. There were people like me just kind of wondering what was going on. There were also some oddballs there.”
Reid said he became impressed that the issues were being studied. He told himself that if he ever had the ability to do something about it, he would. “Before too long, I became one of the leaders in the Senate,” Reid said. “I had the ability to look more deeply into this, and that’s what I did.”
Knapp lauds the senator’s steadfast dedication to the cause of knowledge. “It took amazing courage for Harry Reid to go ahead and embrace it,” Knapp said. “I mean, he wasn’t coming out and pounding on the desk and demanding UFO transparency. But he operated in a very Harry Reid kind of way: behind the scenes, carefully evaluating information, investigating. asking his staff to help him.”
The search continues
It’s maddening to learn that UFOs exist without also learning what or who they are. If the government’s revelations serve to whet your appetite for knowledge, Reid said you can take action. He encourages any Nevadans interested in the topic to let their congressional representatives know of their interest so that it is not “swept under the rug.”
Thanks to the work of Reid and Bigelow, Knapp said that we’re at a unique time in American history. Their work “gave a cover to Congress to go ahead and make inquiries and authorize this task force.” In order for research to continue — say in the form of a transparent permanent study program — Knapp echoes Reid’s sentiment, that the general public needs to keep pressuring Congress. “Let’s find out. Let’s authorize a study,” Knapp said. “We can’t explain the uninvestigated, we need to investigate the unexplained.”
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