Major U.S. media and Congressional leadership swallow new unverified stories of alien visitations.
Allegations of fraud filed with the SEC against conspiracy-promoting former DOD officials, rocker Tom DeLonge and the company they fronted for peddling false UFO-related claims.
Growth in UFO cults and cult-like behavior, violence and cyber-stalking by UFO zealots raise new concerns.
By Art Levine
Behind every conspiracy theory lies a golden opportunity for companies and hucksters to make money. UFOs are no exception. That’s becoming clear once again as a former intelligence agency official, and self-identified “whistleblower,” David Grusch, came forward last month with startling and increasingly bizarre new claims.
Buoyed by largely uncritical media hype, he’s asserted that the government has been hiding a secret alien crash retrieval program; the pope tipped off the United States to a UFO retrieved by Mussolini (a long discredited hoax); alien corpses have been recovered by U.S. officials; and humans have been killed by aliens. Grusch’s UFO craft recovery tales spurred calls for yet more congressional hearings on UFOs, with the next one scheduled before a House Oversight subcommittee on July 26. Expect documentary films, a book deal, and lucrative offers on the lecture circuit to follow.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN), co-chair of the new UFO hearings, has proclaimed, “There are UFOs in the Bible.”
We’ve been here before. Two former Defense Department officials, Luis “Lue” Elizondo and Christopher Mellon, came forward a few years ago to expose what they deemed a government cover-up of UFOs.
Now the Securities and Exchange Commission is apparently poised to initiate a fraud investigation of the company they helped launch in 2017, To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences (TTSA), following its multimillion-dollar pleas for investment. The potential for an investigation is also driven by concerns raised in an extensive whistleblower complaint by a skeptic, as well as the substance of a previous SEC lawsuit against the company that was aborted in 2019. (Documents relating to this lawsuit have been obtained by The Washington Spectator.)
TTSA made a host of pseudoscientific claims following its public launch with a news conference in October 2017—while seeking $50 million in investment. Among them: executives promised to build a Star Trek–style spaceship to travel “instantly” through the cosmos. This project was based in part, they claimed in solicitations to investors, on (nonexistent) warp-drive technology—“reverse-engineered” from likely alien materials recovered from crashed UFOs. The company’s CEO, Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge, even declared: “I have alien artifacts.”
Prominent among the proponents of such far-fetched claims were those former influential DOD officials, Elizondo and Mellon, both of whom had joined DeLonge’s company. These same individuals laid the groundwork for the UFO media firestorm that began at the end of 2017, new defense legislation that was passed in December 2021, and Senate hearings held this past April. These developments in turn effectively nurtured the bonanza of publicity and congressional interest that have greeted David Grusch’s purported revelations.
All of this furor was originally sparked by an error-filled article about a secret $22 million UFO program at the Pentagon published in The New York Times back in 2017. That article was co-written by two Times freelancers, Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal, and a Times staff writer Helene Cooper. As documented by several critics, their story misrepresented the true scope of the program, the leadership of the program, the actual name of the program itself, and the years it was funded. The article also contended that the program had modified buildings in Las Vegas to store “materials” purportedly recovered from “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
More recently in June of this year, the two freelancers, Kean and Blumenthal, broke their new story based on David Grusch’s claims in the relatively obscure pro-UFO online site The Debrief—after The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico didn’t run with their new unverified article. As with their earlier pieces in the Times, this new Debrief article as well as Grusch’s follow-up interviews with other media outlets were greeted with vigorous critiques by skeptics over the apparent “red flags” in his story.
Despite this persuasive debunking, the UFO-obsessed Congress is “doubling down” on pursuing his claims, based in large measure on The Debrief article that burnished Grusch’s credibility, Conveniently, that article omitted any of Grusch’s tales of murderous ETs or dead aliens. Leslie Kean herself later acknowledged: “We want[ed] to stay away from [alien] bodies. That’s not something we talked to him about and it’s not something we would ever put in our story.“ (Emphasis added.)
Blumenthal and Kean issued near-identical statements on Twitter and Facebook to explain why the Post didn’t print what could be—if true– among the biggest scoops in history. As Blumenthal posted on Twitter: “The Washington Post did not pass on our UAP story (UFOs are also known now as “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena,” or UAPs – Ed.). Leslie and I took it to The Debrief because we were under growing pressure to publish it very quickly. The Post needed more time, and we couldn’t wait.”
Vanity Fair reported, however, that the Post held the article for weeks because editors thought it wasn’t ready yet and needed further reporting. Blumenthal provided the magazine a nobler take. After Grusch’s identity was leaked online, the authors moved to publish quickly in The Debrief. “If there had been no leaks, it might’ve been different,” Blumenthal said. But “people on the internet were spreading stories, Dave was getting harassing phone calls and we felt the only way to protect him was to get the story out.”
Ironically, Grusch, when seeking to go public with his UFO claims (which he also broadcast on NewsNation), says his interest in UFOs was sparked by that first New York Times article co-written by Kean—creating a seemingly self-reinforcing circle of misinformation and undocumented assertions.
In the wake of the original Times article, what’s especially remarkable is the underlying consensus among politicians of both parties and polar opposites in the media landscape. Fox News and–with the exception of a few articles–The New York Times both assert that we’ve likely been visited by alien craft that may pose a potential threat to national security.
To be sure, it’s reasonable to believe that intelligent life of some kind may exist elsewhere in the universe. Indeed, for many the further belief in the idea that advanced alien beings have visited us offers a quasi-religious yet “scientific” sense of meaning, as faith in traditional religions falls away. So far, though, no definitive proof has yet been produced in support of the wide variety of dramatic and often well-meaning claims that link all manner of mysterious and unexplained phenomena to extraterrestrial origins.
Compounding matters, the 2017 Times piece hid from the public that much of the Pentagon research was actually devoted to chasing down werewolf-type creatures and ghosts on a ranch owned by the contractor identified in the article. That was real estate mogul Robert Bigelow, a dogged UFO proponent and donor pal of then–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the program’s congressional patron. Now, perhaps sensing a new opportunity to generate more funding for paranormal research, Bigelow has become Ron DeSantis’s biggest donor—$30 million so far—to both his 2022 gubernatorial race and his recently launched presidential campaign.
The influential Times article—never retracted—led to new federal UFO-related legislation, spurred in large part by its reporting on the sensational if dubious Navy “UFO” videos that seemed to show flying objects moving in unexplained ways. Elizondo had obtained these videos while still at the Pentagon; Mellon later claimed that he leaked them to the Times, presumably through freelancer Leslie Kean.
Astonishingly, the concerted publicity and lobbying blitz by Mellon and Elizondo culminated in President Biden attaching his signature last December to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included a provision to investigate a possible government cover-up of crashed alien vehicles and bodies.
This bipartisan consensus was built in part by the persistence of the executives at TTSA. Even while DeLonge holds among the kookiest beliefs of any UFO advocate—malevolent extraterrestrials walk among us!—his energy and money have pulled together a formidable lobbying force. He is in the public eye again because his rock group, Blink-182, reunited at the latest Coachella festival before embarking on a world tour, drawing over four million views on YouTube to video clips of him playing music while wearing a T-shirt promoting his UFO-friendly company.
In 2017, DeLonge’s company claimed it was engaging in rigorous research led by Elizondo and the TTSA co-founder, physicist Hal Puthoff, gathering alien “metamaterial” they asserted could be genuine. These findings were touted as coming from the Roswell, N.M., “alien” crash site that has long been considered foundational to modern UFO mythology but which the U.S Air Force reports was actually the location of a 1947 crash of a high-altitude spy balloon. In any case, part of the metamaterial was exposed as industrial slag in the 1990s. Some of the metal scraps were then passed off to the Army as part of its nearly $1 million 2019 contract with TTSA.
Puthoff may not be as well known to the general public as today’s other UFO influencers, but he is the Zelig of unproven supernatural and UFO speculation. An ex-Scientologist involved in over 40 years of fruitless research, he led the failed $20 million, 23-year CIA psychic “remote viewing” project. One viewer he tested was fellow Scientologist Ingo Swann, who claimed to provide a detailed view of Mars and Jupiter with his mind. Puthoff also endorsed the powers of spoon-bending “psychic” Uri Geller; Geller’s mind over matter powers were called into question in a cringe-inducing segment in 1973 on The Johnny Carson Show.
Last year, DeLonge offered a new, crowdsourced $30 million stock offering for To the Stars, Inc., a relaunched company he first created in 2011 that had now absorbed TTSA. The Washington Spectator has obtained fundraising emails sent to potential investors by DeLonge seeking support for his reinvented company, which, when it was first created in 2011, had only promoted his rock music and book projects—without any “science” divisions. It is now returning to its roots, focusing solely on entertainment projects: “Join us as we reinvent the entertainment industry,” he promised, dropping all references to the “scientific” pursuits that originally lured investors in 2017.
Most investors, though, haven’t seen any apparent returns, as illustrated in part by the consolidated SEC filing for TTSA and To the Stars, Inc., which shows the two companies as money losers. Indeed, they reported losses of a total of $4.7 million in 2020 and 2021.
“There was no way that investors could ever recoup their money,” Kal Korff says of TTSA. “It would literally require aliens to cooperate, crash, and make their bodies available.”
One early TTSA investor, Ryan Mangini, a 42-year-old West Coast–based computer technician, commented to this reporter on the latest fundraising appeal: “I just laughed. They must really be hurting.”
The SEC has received a complaint, filed by investigative skeptic and intelligence analyst Kal Korff, alleging deceptive practices and possible criminal fraud by TTSA. Controversies over UFOs have ebbed and flowed since the 1940s, but Korff’s multiple whistleblower complaints—accompanied by thousands of pages of evidentiary slides and countless documents—are the first major effort to hold the purveyors of alleged UFO-related fraud and waste accountable.
For example, Korff has also filed an overview complaint with the federal Council of the Inspectors General that included allegations of wrongdoing mostly by contractors and staff members at DOD, the Justice Department, and a few other federal agencies. These allegations contend government fraud and taxpayer waste by several contractor scientists in their paranormal research. (Korff updated his SEC complaint last November, and it’s excerpted here.)
While The Washington Spectator has not confirmed each allegation in the nearly 2,000 pages in Korff’s SEC complaint against TTSA, it has confirmed the thrust of Korff’s wider complaints to the SEC and other agencies concerning waste and fraud. The well-documented allegations are based both on insider documents he obtained and open-source records. With respect to the TTSA complaint, lawyers on behalf of DeLonge, the company and Elizondo deny any wrongdoing, as has Mellon, while other leading figures at TTSA haven’t commented on the allegations.
“Corrupt contractors who have fleeced taxpayers for decades are continuing to do this, and now we have a revolving door between private enterprise and Hollywood and politics and government agencies,” notes Korff, who first complained as a whistleblower to the SEC about TTSA in 2018. Korff is an investigative journalist now writing for India’s English-language Daily World, the author of a pioneering book on Roswell, and the president of a small research organization, CriticalThinkers.org. He has worked as a consulting analyst with intelligence agencies here and abroad on anti-terrorism projects, and at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Following rampant speculation about the shoot-downs of strange flying objects by the United States earlier this year, President Biden offered vague reassurances to the nation. He said in February that the three most recently downed unmanned craft were “most likely tied to private companies, recreation or research”—and weren’t connected to the huge Chinese spy balloon shot down on February 4. A few days before Biden spoke, the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre felt the need to declare at a press briefing, “There is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.” (Her hand was forced in part because the Air Force general overseeing U.S. airspace earlier declined to rule out aliens.)
Jean-Pierre’s defensive proclamation to White House reporters—unimaginable in earlier decades—reflects the UFO mania that has gripped the mainstream media and Washington in recent years. The influential messaging has worked: A slim majority of the American public now believes that UFOs spotted by military pilots are likely proof of intelligent extraterrestrial life. Most experts report, however, that pilots make unreliable observers (scroll to the bottom of this article for sidebar on pilot reliability).
The increased public clamor for more UFO disclosure led to congressional hearings in May 2022 and the creation of a new Pentagon office—the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was mandated to research UFOs. The new office issued a report this past January, which found over 360 brand new purported sightings of UAPs by military personnel.
These findings followed an earlier Pentagon report issued in 2021 by the congressionally mandated Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF). At the time, this panel had studied 144 flying objects and concluded that 143 of them were “unexplained.” Significantly, that earlier 2021 report had declined to exclude an alien explanation.
But even though the new 2023 Pentagon report explained about half of the new viewings as balloons, clutter, or drones, it was vague enough to prompt UFO believers to mount wide-ranging attacks on an ongoing “huge cover-up,” as Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) described it. Burchett will be leading the House oversight committee’s new investigation into Grusch’s whistleblower claims, and is the go-to source in the Congress for expert quotes on unexplained phenomena. Burchett is especially concerned about the security threat aliens may pose: “They could turn us into a charcoal briquette,” he said in early July. And as evidence of alien spacecraft, the congressman has proclaimed, “There are UFOs in the Bible.”
These sorts of conspiratorial views were enshrined into law when President Biden last year signed the National Defense Authorization Act. It tasks the DOD’s UFO-hunting office to do a “historical study” of the intelligence and military community’s involvement with purported UFOs—and their sightings—over the decades.
The study will start with a supposed UFO crash in 1945 at the Trinity nuclear site, 210 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Always on the lookout for clickbait headlines, The New York Times leapt at the chance to ask, “Did aliens land on earth in 1945?”
The gullible Times reporter didn’t speak to any skeptics about this debunked tale of tiny aliens, based on the “memories” of now-elderly grade-schoolers as compiled by ufologist Jacques Vallée. Since the Times article appeared, a pro-disclosure researcher, D. Dean Johnson, has thoroughly exposed an elaborate hoax by the main “witnesses” to the Trinity incident. Johnson revealed they lied about virtually all aspects of their careers and the purported alien space crash, showing they were also changing their stories for nearly 20 years while trying to cash in on their tall tales.
Nevertheless, the legislation, coupled with recent hearings in Congress, has fed the view that UFOs piloted by aliens have likely visited us and could pose a threat to national security. That, at least, is the narrative the public has been sold by most major media outlets, the Pentagon, cable TV shows, companies exploiting gullible investors—and leading politicians in Washington. (One modest exception: a UFO-friendly NASA panel recently signaled it hasn’t yet seen “convincing evidence” of alien involvement.)
“Members of Congress are working with proven liars to create special-interest, paranoid legislation reflecting UFOlogical conspiracy theories and fantasies more than real life,” observed skeptic author Jason Colavito in his influential blog last year, denouncing an early version of the new defense act.
The explosion of these and related fantastical ideas, buoyed by mainstream coverage across the ideological spectrum, are helping inspire dangerous and threatening cultlike behavior by certain followers of UFO influencers. These improbable beliefs were amplified by Tucker Carlson before he was forced out of Fox, and promoted by other Fox hosts as well as liberal media. Poorly vetted journalism has helped legitimize conspiracy theories that in turn have inspired a culture of fanaticism. In some of the most extreme examples, there have even been cases where a few disturbed zealots were driven to kill their family members.
Even so, prominent UFO advocates, such as the former Defense Department officials Mellon and Elizondo, highlighted the importance of the new UAP report and the sweeping defense law they helped pass. “I’ve spoken with several credible people who claim the U.S. has evidence of alien technology in its possession,” Mellon proclaimed after the report’s release. He and other proponents claimed these revelations were coming soon, thanks to new whistleblower protections in the defense act. Then David Grusch stepped into the limelight last month, helping to reanimate the public frenzy around never-proven UFO tales that had been peddled by earlier discredited “whistleblowers,” including Elizondo, for years, even decades.
False claims and deceptions were among the allegations cited in 2019 by the SEC in the preparation of a potential lawsuit—ultimately abandoned—against TTSA and its officials. All the major players in the company at the time were named on the first page of the SEC’s draft filing for involvement in alleged investor fraud. The agency accused them and TTSA in its preliminary allegations of making “materially fraudulent claims designed to deliberately deceive investors so that they would be compelled to invest in TTSA, even though its public claims were lies,” according to excerpts of the still-confidential document.
SEC officials have declined requests for comment on the agency’s review of both Korff’s latest complaint against the company and the draft 2019 language in the still-unfiled lawsuit. Paul Bowles, the attorney for DeLonge and To the Stars (formerly TTSA) has said that the allegations contained in the SEC draft legal filing were “premised on falsehoods and entirely without merit.” The company has always been, he said, “in compliance with all SEC, federal, and state laws and regulations.”
This original SEC investigation stalled for a few years after the draft lawsuit was prepared. One reason: key attorneys working on the original probe were felled by Covid, and one of them died. On top of that, hundreds of whistleblower complaints on a wide range of issues were allegedly sabotaged by the SEC ombudsman, who resigned in April 2022, according to both the SEC’s Office of Inspector General and a more detailed account in Bloomberg Law in September. Now, with a new ombudsman in charge, the agency has shown renewed interest in taking another look at Korff’s updated allegations against TTSA.
The new ombudsman, Stacey Puente, got back to Korff quickly near the end of last year. Her office encouraged him to file his updated complaint about the TTSA fraud allegations, according to Korff—and as independently verified by this reporter. The ombudsman’s staff told him to file his complaint with the whistleblower office of the enforcement division, so it could decide whether to pursue an investigation. (The SEC has declined to comment on any of its actions or any issues related to TTSA.)
The draft SEC lawsuit, prepared back in 2019 and subsequently abandoned, also raised questions about possible stock schemes at the company. The SEC’s unfiled initial complaint contained speculations that DeLonge and his sister may have engaged in illegal “pump and dump” stock activity.
Robert Warren, a former IRS special agent who reviewed the company’s SEC filings at the request of The Washington Spectator, suggested that the company’s mostly unaudited financial reports show several potential “red flags.” Warren has spent decades investigating fraud and is an accounting professor at Radford University; he is speaking here for himself and not the university.
As filed with the SEC, the TTSA reports reveal a claimed $56 million accumulated deficit by 2021, based on what Warren asserts was wildly overvalued stock paid to DeLonge and a few executives. “What have they done to have stock valued at $56 million?” he asked, pointing to the “cash-starved” corporation that also shifted its stock among related companies. “This looks like they’re trying to inoculate themselves against taxes,” he theorized. “Fraud loves complexity.”
The SEC staff urged Korff to file a separate complaint to the IRS on this issue.
The lawyer for TTSA, Bowles, didn’t reply to questions from this reporter about the company’s tax practices.
Investors in TTSA have become increasingly angry at the company’s lack of response to their years-long requests for information on their old TTSA stocks. That now-disgruntled investor cited earlier, Ryan Mangini, had reached out to volunteer with TTSA and offered a $1,000 investment in 2017. “I was very excited that we could learn from alien technology so we could help benefit our world and humanity,” he said.
Yet even after getting a new stock-buying pitch last July, he still doesn’t know the real value of the original TTSA stock he holds. He says, “It’s not just me—so many people are pissed, and so many folks invested so much more money than I did.”
One concerned investor complained to the SEC, and other investors have been voicing their doubts on social media, including a private Facebook group. A Reddit user wrote: “The only reason to buy shares is if you are a DeLonge fan and want to give him money for his albums and to his dream of having a NASDAQ listed entertainment company.”
The failure of DeLonge’s pseudoscience company, TTSA, is representative of so many of the promises and hype that have characterized the UFO field for decades and that ultimately fall apart. Hazy videos offered as definitive proof of UFOs soon get thoroughly debunked; “UFO Messiahs” like Elizondo foresee the eventual release of alien-based technology or government “disclosure” about UFOs–but somehow the fulfillment of these promises remains just around the corner; and the secret stash of crashed UFOs and dead aliens that’s soon going to be revealed never actually appears.
“There was no way that investors could ever recoup their money,” Korff says of TTSA. “It would literally require aliens to cooperate, crash, and make their bodies available.”
Elizondo and Mellon initially joined TTSA in 2017 but left the firm at the end of 2020, in large part, they claim, because the “scientific” mission was losing out to entertainment.
Mellon replied by email: “I am not and never was an officer or employee of TTSA. I was not on the board, not on a salary and not responsible for any decisions taken by the company. I have no reason to believe I am under investigation by the SEC or anyone else.”
He’s technically correct in terms of his TTSA positions, but Mellon was described by the company as its “National Security Affairs Advisor.” As a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence during the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, Mellon lent credibility by his association. (His prestige has not been dimmed even after the TTSA opening press conference in 2017 where he unveiled photographic evidence of a UFO that turned out to be a party balloon.)
In an email, Puthoff didn’t directly address any substantive criticisms, but he pointed out, “Because of the pandemic, the funding [for TTSA] dried up, so we had to pull back from our planned tech development program.” He now serves on the reformatted company’s advisory board.
The TTSA story is emblematic of the uncritical promotion and wholesale swallowing of entirely unproven UFO claims by many of our nation’s leading media and government establishments — and their leaders.
As we’ve seen, TTSA, the company once led by ex-Defense Department officials and rocker Tom DeLonge, is facing scrutiny by the SEC and may be fading from the UFO gold rush it helped create. Still, the Pentagon with its formidable media presence has contributed significantly to the ongoing UFO frenzy by its often ambivalent and opaque comments in testimony, reports, and press statements.
The three controversial Navy videos of supposed UFOs originally obtained by Luis Elizondo and TTSA, and subsequently publicized by the Times in 2017 and 2018, were not officially acknowledged by the Pentagon at the time. More than two years after the Times stories, the Pentagon declared the videos “real.” Not surprisingly, that language reinforced the notion that aliens were involved.
Then, as mentioned above, in 2021 the Pentagon released its original UAP Task Force report that didn’t rule out aliens. But that obviously unbalanced finding has recently faced new scrutiny, after oddball Ph.D. Travis Taylor came forward to announce that he was, in fact, the “chief scientist” of the task force. Physicist Taylor is a self-styled “alien invasion” expert who welcomes the arrival of extraterrestrials and has appeared regularly on the History Channel’s Secret of the Skinwalker Ranch and Ancient Aliens.
It should come as little surprise that the latest self-styled truth-teller, David Grusch, was a colleague of Taylor’s on that UAP task force from 2019 to 2021. In fact, it is a central feature of Grusch’s “whistleblower” complaint to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and in several interviews that the UAP task force and Congress were kept in the dark about secret alien craft retrieval programs.
Earlier this year, in yet another addition to the dizzying parade of government officials with extraterrestrial tales, Jay Stratton, a former Naval Intelligence officer who led that same UAP task force, went public with his own faith in the likely alien origins of UFOs.
Stratton has been outed by a debunking New York Post video reporter, Steven Greenstreet, as the anonymous Pentagon official in a new book, Skinwalkers at the Pentagon. The Stratton character (whose name in the book is Jonathan Axelrod) claims that he and his family were “infected” and terrorized by a poltergeist-like “hitchhiker” and other creatures, which followed him to his home in Northern Virginia from the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. (Stratton himself hasn’t disputed the portrayal of him in the book as “Axelrod.”)
In addition, in March of this year the seemingly objective scientist heading the new Pentagon UAP office, Sean Kirkpatrick, co-authored a draft paper with Harvard’s former Astronomy Department chairman, Avi Loeb, with arguably the most striking finding yet: “Alien mothership lurking in our solar system could be watching us with tiny probes, Pentagon official suggests,” according to the headline at Space.com, the space-oriented news site.
Kirkpatrick appeared this April before a Senate armed services subcommittee chaired by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It’s interesting to note that at the April 19 hearing, Kirkpatrick said under oath that his office had found “no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity.” This testimony is illustrative of a maddening pattern of sometimes contradictory statements by Pentagon officials.
Gillibrand, along with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is a staunch UFO believer who is gaining bipartisan support for more investigations of UAPs in the wake of the Chinese balloon and other shoot-downs. For his part, Rubio is keeping pace with Gillibrand in the race for UFO headlines. After Grusch surfaced in June, Rubio told NewsNation that he’d spoken with other high-ranking government officials who say they are confirming the thrust of Grusch’s claims.
Advancing “disclosure” and full funding for more chimerical pursuits remain the driving imperatives of Congress. At the April hearing, Gillibrand continued her grilling of Pentagon officials on why the UAP office hasn’t been fully funded. Nowhere reflected in over a year of these proceedings did Gillibrand or any other member of Congress cite the legacy of waste and bogus “sightings” in previous government paranormal research.
That the UFO melodrama is taken very seriously at the highest levels of government is demonstrated by the new bill Gillibrand helped pushed through the Senate Intelligence Committee in late June. This legislation, adopted unanimously, requires all public and private sector officials and scientists with knowledge of alien reverse-engineering programs and other secret projects to come forward in the next six months.
UFO advocacy in the Congress got yet another boost this July when Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, introduced bipartisan legislation (co-sponsored by Gillibrand) to review all UAP-related information and force their timely declassification and release. Under the same bill, the government would also take ownership of any “biological evidence of non-human intelligence” currently under private control.
“Members of Congress are working with proven liars to create special-interest, paranoid legislation reflecting UFOlogical conspiracy theories and fantasies more than real life,” observed skeptic author Jason Colavito in his influential blog last year, denouncing an early version of the new defense act.
However, Kal Korff, the skeptic investigator, is seeking to thwart this rush towards “wasteful” new searches for recovered alien spacecraft and bodies. He is filing ethics complaints this week against leading Congressional UFO advocates—including Senators Schumer, Gillibrand and Rubio—charging them with spending taxpayer funds based on lies and myths.
(Gillibrand’s office didn’t reply to this reporter’s email and phone inquiries on alleged fraud and waste in previous government UFO-related programs.)
Even as Congress was hot on the trail of UFOs, leading figures in the academy and their colleagues in government agencies are continuing their own investigations of unproven alien visitations.
The Harvard draft paper co-authored by Sean Kirkpatrick gave the imprimatur of a top Pentagon researcher to Loeb’s long-standing claims that a large comet-like object known as ‘Oumuamua was actually an alien spaceship. Loeb’s paper, written with Kirkpatrick and not yet peer-reviewed, also speculates that the mysterious space object is sending out tiny “dandelion seed” probes.
These general assertions were disputed by an international team of experts as far back as 2019 assembled by the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) that concluded this first interstellar celestial body seen in our solar system has “natural origins.”
This critique was underscored again a few months ago in Nature by two astronomers who found that its strange propulsion was best explained by hydrogen expelled from its core.
Thanks in large part to the political, military, and media momentum around UFOs already underway, the ongoing hunt for UFOs was granted an added sheen of respectability when Avi Loeb entered the field in 2021. With nearly $2 million in private funding and a network of observatories, Loeb’s new Harvard-based Galileo Project plans to use high-powered telescopes and artificial intelligence software potentially to capture high-definition photos of alien craft and filter out images of more prosaic airborne objects.
Loeb’s claims to bring new scientific rigor, though, have been undermined since he began this project. He has brought on as “research affiliates” Luis Elizondo and a bevy of controversial UFO proponents (plus at least one skeptic).
The proponents include the pioneering mystic and UFO researcher Jacques Vallée, an honored member of Loeb’s official research team who believes aliens are “interdimensional beings”—and who helped get defense legislation passed to pursue his now-discredited claim that the United States has already captured a spacecraft with tiny aliens, at the Trinity site in 1945. Loeb has also welcomed on board the alleged U.K. hoaxer Nick Pope, who despite being only a former low-level clerk at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), claimed that he headed the MoD’s UFO program—one that the ministry says never existed. He is nonetheless regularly booked on Fox News as a “UFO expert.”
In an email reply to The Washington Spectator, Pope insists that assertions that he wasn’t MoD’s top investigator on UFOs are “lies” coming from “internet trolls.” He argues—without any concrete evidence—that most of the official MoD documents going as far back as the 1990s describing his role as a mere clerk answering public letters are “forged, doctored or out-of-the context.”
The documents, however, are readily displayed on such skeptic sites as NickPopeWatch.com. For instance, in 1999, in response to a query from ufologist James Easton questioning Pope’s assertion that he “ran the British government’s UFO project,” the MoD responded that he was in the “Secretariat” office and only a small portion of his administrative duties involved answering public inquiries about UFOs.
“The Ministry of Defense has not investigated a case of alien abduction, crop circle formations or animal mutilation,” a department spokesman wrote Easton. Over the years, the MoD has periodically sought to bat down the investigative claims in Pope’s books and interviews from this widely hailed “UFO expert.”
Indeed, there’s one MoD letter Pope can’t dismiss as a forgery: it’s by Nick Pope himself to ufologist Philip Mantle, a leading UFO proponent and author: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the existence of extraterrestrial life,” Pope wrote. Nevertheless, he’s so uncritically well publicized as MoD’s former chief UFO investigator, he’s apparently fooled even the U.K.’s National Archives, which asked him to promote the release of its declassified UFO files.
Even as challenges to Pope’s oft-touted credentials mount, he still draws the attention of the media and true believers. For example, Pope is one of four keynote speakers in the Ancient Aliens Live tour, which is promoting the theory that aliens have visited earth for millions of years. The ninety-minute “live experience” is scheduled for at least ten states in the fall, with standard ticket prices as high as $100 a pop.
The controversy over Pope’s government role could well end up in court. At the end of June, Korff filed a series of complaints with local law enforcement against Pope in Arizona and California, where Pope lives, for such alleged crimes as “consumer fraud.” He’s also filing complaints this month with the SEC against major cable networks that have featured Pope, and have promoted his allegedly fraudulent UK government credentials as a top UFO investigator. In an email exchange, this reporter reviewed the new allegations with Mr. Pope, who again denied all charges. (For more on this exchange, click here.)
Loeb overlooked such concerns about his advisers and is especially admiring of the expertise former government officials bring to his project. “They have been thinking about these subjects and have plenty of experience. Once you have good enough scientific evidence, their interpretations become important,” he says. And now he’s joining anew the stampede for UFO funding, twisting Carl Sagan’s dictum to proclaim: “Extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding.”
In fact, he’s looking for fresh ways to bring in UFO dollars, all for the public good: he co-founded a new company, Copernicus Space Corporation, that aims to build tiny A.I.-based “swarms” of drones that can track the objects—possibly UFOs — in the skies above us. Among his “visionary” scientific advisers is the Stanford University immunologist and UFO barnstormer, Gary Nolan, who has lent his academic credentials to a variety of UFO disclosure crusades and projects, including a documentary on definitive evidence of alien technology by the disgraced Australian journalist Ross Coulthart. Most recently, Coulthart conducted the interview with David Grusch for NewsNation.
Whatever actions federal officials ultimately take against TTSA or other alleged fraudsters, the recent credibility granted UFOs by Congress, the Pentagon, some influential scientists, and the media also feeds fanaticism in both New Age movements and the far right. Cults are promoting a QAnon-like “Event” that forecasts alien “disclosure” and mass arrests, now being echoed by Donald Trump, according to the eminent New America Foundation disinformation researcher and Washington Spectator columnist Dave Troy.
Meanwhile, skeptics face growing threats from UFO zealots, as unconstrained media outlets and self-serving public figures have exploited UFO narratives that help fuel anti-government paranoia. For instance, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has reached out beyond his embrace of the anti-vax conspiracy movement to climb on board the UFO bandwagon, promising on “Day One” to open up all “alien and UFO intelligence.”
As with other once-fringe conspiracies that seemed too far-fetched to gain traction, from QAnon to “Stop the Steal” and the anti-vax movement, untrammeled social media algorithms joined with clickbait mainstream media coverage can serve to radicalize millions, turning some to violence.
Promoting UFO conspiracy theories for Fox has an added appeal moving forward: aliens can’t sue. So on the same day that Tucker Carlson was kicked out, the then-7 p.m. host, Jesse Watters, asked: “Could UFOs be behind Texas’ cow mutilations?”—ignoring that such mutilation incidents have been debunked for 50 years with natural explanations.
Although several modern conspiracy theories, such as the anti-vax movement, draw from progressives and New Agers as well as the right wing, the UFO conspiracy belief appears to be the only one fed not just by Fox News but by pillars of the liberal political and media establishments, including The New York Times.
For example, in another article they published in the Times, Blumenthal and Kean indicated that a still-ongoing classified Pentagon UFO program was studying possible extraterrestrial materials. For an on-the-record confirmation, the reporters cited the outer-edge astrophysicist Eric Davis, a Pentagon contractor and an ally of Hal Puthoff (one of the founders of TTSA).
Davis told Blumenthal and Kean he gave classified briefings to the Pentagon and Senate Armed Services Committee about retrievals from “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.” As noted skeptic Robert Sheaffer has suggested, “Davis might as well have briefed them about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, for which he has an equal amount of proof — none.”
It’s concerning that the reporters didn’t provide relevant details and context about Davis’s background. This omission is apparently consistent with their pattern of excluding information that could undermine their key sources. Davis for instance claimed a “poltergeist” chased him from Skinwalker Ranch, and in multiple “scientific” papers he promoted the notions of time-travel through wormholes, one of which was funded by the Pentagon’s $22 million program for paranormal research. He has recently been providing information to David Grusch, who has echoed some of Davis’s earlier alien craft retrieval claims.
Equally troubling, the mainstreaming of UFO conspiracy claims creates an opening for even more outlandish tales and wild hoaxes. For instance, in the wake of the Grusch coverage, consider the publicity grab by Dr. Steven Greer, a former emergency room physician. He is an earnest-seeming “disclosure” advocate who for decades has never produced verifiable evidence but has crowd-funded huge sums for documentary films (including one in which a mummified fetus is paraded as a dead alien); falsely claimed to have personally briefed—as opposed to sending unsolicited documents to—every American president since Reagan on UFOs; and charges acolytes up to $5,000 in “tuition” to contact aliens on “expeditions.”
Greer went to the National Press Club on June 12 to proclaim his explosive findings: based on 700 still-anonymous whistleblowers who he says are too scared to go public, he “reported” that there were roughly 150 secret alien underground bases being covered up by the government—and hidden from the president of the United States.
The cultish mania around UFOs can poison vulnerable people, leading one crazed believer active on #UFOTwitter down a rabbit hole: his existing paranoid schizophrenia was apparently amplified by the wild claims of UFO influencers he communicated with on Twitter—leading him ultimately to stab his father 110 times. He came to believe that his father was the Antichrist, while he invoked both the “Ashtar Command” myth and a prominent UFO “experiencer” he followed, Christopher Blesdoe Sr., who claimed contact with angelic beings. (Far from being seen as some isolated kook, Blesdoe is the author of a well-received new book, UFO of God, with a foreword by Jim Semivan, a former CIA official who co-founded TTSA and is still the vice president for operations of the current company.)
Similarly, a bizarre theory about aliens cross-breeding to create evil “lizard people,” promoted by Britain’s David Icke, was a core belief of a California surf-shop owner, Matthew Coleman, who killed his two children in 2021 because he thought they’d inherited their mother’s reptilian DNA.
Not everyone gives the creators and messengers of these harmful mythologies a free pass. The skeptic Steven Cambian, host of Truthseekers, a video podcast that has showcased these murder incidents, asks, “If people are feeding the public a stream of mostly fake stories, do they have a responsibility?”
TTSA, it turns out, not only capitalized on the hype surrounding UFOs—the company also worked to generate it in the first place.
The New York Times helped launch the new UFO mania over five years ago with its bombshell report about a $22 million secret UFO research program. The Times article was part of a series, first published in December 2017, that featured mysterious “alloys” and the three Navy videos purporting to show UFOs, including one of a “Tic Tac”–shaped object. All three videos were first obtained by TTSA through Elizondo and Mellon.
The videos were later thoroughly debunked. Visual expert and noted skeptic Mick West for years has offered commonsense visual explanations of rotating cameras and other visual effects for all three videos featured in the Times—explanations that the Pentagon ultimately accepted for most of its released military videos. The Tic-Tac, West said, was more plausibly a faraway jet.
Those videos were reportedly released to the Times by TTSA through Leslie Kean, the journalist who has long promoted UFO theories in the press, lobbied for UFO transparency, and has a history of being friendly with TTSA.
According to The New Yorker, in October 2017, Kean met with Mellon, the former Pentagon official, as well as Puthoff and Elizondo, in the bar of an upscale hotel near the Pentagon, for a confidential briefing on the government’s UFO program. Looking back, this discrete encounter led to the mainstreaming of UFO mania at the highest levels of American institutional life, from Congress and the Pentagon to the elite media and the academy. It is no surprise that with all this near-hysteria there is a rise in increasingly fervent conspiracy beliefs and behavior by UFO fanatics.
The present-day UFO obsession traces back to Lue Elizondo who, as a Pentagon employee, deceptively requested the three Navy UFO videos for internal use only. They were then leaked by Christopher Mellon to TTSA as they both joined the company—and ultimately to The New York Times.
Kean was one of the few cheerleaders blessing TTSA with publicity when it launched in October 2017, including a puff piece in HuffPost on TTSA ushering in potential “world-changing technology”—published a day before DeLonge’s TTSA went public.
Well before all her 2017 UFO puffery, Kean first hailed in HuffPost and at UFO conferences as arguably the best UAP proof yet a UFO video released by Chilean government officials that turned out to be a fly buzzing too close to a camera lens. Kean insists that the Chilean fly-as-UFO case is still unsolved, pointing to conflicting image analyses.
In an interview with this reporter, she declined to answer questions about possible bias in her Times reporting. Throughout her career, she proclaims, “I’ve always tried to bring forward credible information by publishing stories. It’s facts, not opinions.”
Kean’s 2017 Times article left out information about a key priority of that $22 million Pentagon program: researching werewolves, poltergeists, and other strange creatures on a Utah ranch. That research was fully revealed in the 2021 book Skinwalkers at the Pentagon, co-authored by the project’s research director, Colm Kelleher, and the Pentagon’s program manager, James Lacatski of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). While investigating reports of “Bigfoot creatures” and “poltergeist-phenomena,” the co-authors claimed to have discovered a “freakish hybrid of small dinosaur and large beaver” as large as a 150-pound pig and a seven-foot-tall “wolf-like creature . . . standing on two legs.”
That supernatural hunt was conducted primarily on the supposedly spooky Skinwalker Ranch, in Utah. It was then owned by Robert Bigelow, the Pentagon contractor and close friend of of Harry Reid. The Senator had arranged the secret $22 million Pentagon program that was funded from 2008 through 2010. The project’s lead researcher, Kelleher, says that program should serve as a “template” for future research. In fact, it seemed to produce little more than 38 speculative “research” papers on such fringe topics as “invisibility cloaking”—and some unverified “sightings.” Even Kelleher admitted in an another co-authored book, Hunt for the Skywalker, the ranch hadn’t produced any solid evidence for decades.
Indeed, Ronald Pandolfi, a researcher with the CIA’s Science and Technology Directorate and an influential, close observer of UFO and paranormal research for decades, has called the Pentagon-funded UFO research a “technoscam,” as captured on hours of audio recordings obtained by Kal Korff that emerged as part of an unrelated lawsuit. Pandolfi and the CIA have declined to comment.
No matter the weirdness afoot at Skinwalker Ranch, Leslie Kean has admitted to knowing full well the strange scope of the Pentagon program but chose not to reveal it. “The angle I was taking in my reporting was to try get credibility for the subject,” she proclaimed in a Showtime documentary, U.F.O. As Kean told this reporter, “You’ve got to roll out this information in stages. People have to acclimate to this very gradually.”
The UFO coverage has clearly been a boon to the Times’s bottom line, with the original December 2017 scoops drawing at least an estimated billion views through worldwide coverage. “The New York Times’s deliberately misleading AATIP Pentagon UFO story helped earn unprecedented global exposure and much needed revenues for The New York Times for the next two years,” Korff says. Ralph Blumenthal, the co-author of several Times UFO stories, boasted during a joint interview with Kean: “Those [Navy] videos are still the most watched, most emailed , most Facebooked images that the Times has ever put out. There’s no end to the appetite of the public to see those images.”
Not only have the major media exploited the UFO fascination, but the highly publicized former DOD official Lue Elizondo appears to have prospered as well. He became the breakout star of the History Channel’s Unidentified series that ran two seasons. He and Kean have garnered book contracts, an HBO biopic, and a new National Geographic series lionizing them both as crusading truth-tellers.
Elizondo’s credibility however, is subject to question. In addition to concerns about his résumé (scroll to the bottom of this article for sidebar on Elizondo’s resume), an ex-collaborator on an aborted documentary, Jeremy McGowan, has called Elizondo out for alleged fabrications on several matters.
But he was most upset, however, about Elizondo’s attempt to manipulate him by claiming “remote viewing” powers that foresaw an unnamed personal disaster facing McGowan a few years in the future. “It was brain rape,” he has said, while telling me, “It was cultlike behavior.”
Meanwhile, Elizondo has become a lightning rod for a dangerous new rage that is overtaking some conspiracy-oriented UFO believers and influencers, who are demanding “disclosure now” by the government about its purported encounters with aliens. Helping to fuel this rage, broadcaster George Knapp and filmmaker Jeremy Corbell, whose Netflix movie promoted hoax “scientist” Bob Lazar, claim the government has a live alien and crashed vehicles it hasn’t told us about.
All this adds to the fury being stoked by some UFO zealots demanding information in incendiary terms. In videos declaring, “Let the bodies hit the floor” (since removed) and “Kick the door down,” Corbell aims to inflame true believers with violent rhetoric. Even some of the top scientists on the NASA panel mentioned earlier, and Sean Kirkpatrick, chief of the Pentagon UFO research office, complained in May they were being targeted with harassment resembling the ugly attacks and threats already facing online skeptics.
“The parallel here is with Pizzagate,” said Damé Lackaff, the host of the skeptical Area 503 YouTube podcast, who goes by the stage name “Manny.” Lackaff did a critical documentary on Lue Elizondo, and both he and his girlfriend faced doxxing and threats from rabid pro-Elizondo fans and podcasters after Lue sent a not-so-veiled signal: “Karma has a tendency to pay back.”
“How long before one of Lue’s followers guns someone down?” Lackaff asks. (Elizondo’s attorney, Danny Sheehan, told this reporter he personally was unaware of these attacks, but offered no rebuttal to the allegations.)
Kal Korff, among others, has tried to halt the delusional pursuit of, and spending on, UFO research. But he’s hopeful that his wide-ranging complaints filed with inspectors general and law enforcement might finally bring accountability. This is part of a broader plan he calls “Operation Pandora’s Box” to expose and bring to justice several high-profile alleged paranormal hucksters. “Consumer fraud is a crime,” says Korff, who is also developing evidence for local and state prosecutors. In addition, he’s buying stock in the companies that own Lue Elizondo’s book publisher, William Morrow, and the leading UFO propaganda network, the History Channel, with the aim of filing fraud complaints against them.
He remains alarmed that the media continues to portray UFO promoters like Elizondo as noble whistleblowers: “The American people are not only deliberately being misled, taxpayer dollars are wasted.”
Deriding what he calls the “UFOlitics” still warping the government and media, Korff contends, “This is about a much bigger topic than aliens: It’s about the conspiracy nonsense that is destroying America.”
Art Levine is a prize-winning investigative reporter and contributing editor of The Washington Monthly. He has written for Newsweek, The American Prospect, Salon, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Mother Jones, Truthout, In These Times, AlterNet and numerous other publications. He is also the author of Mental Health, Inc: How Corruption, Lax Oversight, and Failed Reforms Endanger Our Most Vulnerable Citizens.
Should Pilots Be Trusted As Observers of UFOs?
Many UFO advocates often point to pilot sightings to support their claims. Yet commercial and military pilot observations are notoriously unreliable, as the respected pioneering UFO researcher, J. Allen Hynek of Northwestern University, concluded in his authoritative Hynek UFO Report, published in 1977.
Hynek found that pilots had far higher rates of “misperception ” than average civilians: close to ninety percent. Leslie Kean relied heavily on their views in her influential 2010 book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On The Record.
In contrast, former astronaut Scott Kelley, a supporter of investigating UAPs and a member of the May 31, 2023 NASA public panel (referenced in the body of this article) recounted at that meeting how easy it was to make visual mistakes. For example, while flying an F-14 fighter jet, he doubled back to see what his radar operator was convinced was a likely UFO, only to discover that it was a Bart Simpson balloon.
As Space.com reported in a follow-up article after the panel: Kelly said that the kinds of extraordinary claims associated with some of the reported UAP sightings popularized in the media in recent years……are largely due to the fact that when flying over water or in space, it can be difficult to gauge objects’ speed and size due to the lack of reference points.
“If you see something that you know is an airplane, and you know generally how big airplanes are, you can tell relative distance,” Kelly said. “But when you have no reference points, whether it’s in space, or flying over the water, it just is really an environment that’s really prone to optical illusions.” Kelly added that it’s not just human eyeballs that are subject to misperceptions, but that many of the sensors aboard fighter jets and other aircraft have the same issues.
Who is Luis “Lue” Elizondo and what was his real UFO Pentagon role?
In a landscape that is saturated with unverified and unproven claims, it has also been difficult to pin down the facts in the biographies of several of the more outspoken UFO adherents. Most journalists have touted Lue Elizondo as the former director of a Pentagon UFO research program. But Elizondo’s claim to have been the director of a secret program known as AATIP (Advanced Aerial Threat Identification Program) has never been verified, as The Intercept first reported in 2019. Yet critics observe that this assertion by Elizondo, first printed by the Times in 2017, has been endlessly repeated by news outlets uncritically quoting the original story through “cut-and-paste journalism,” a practice that is unusually prevalent in the coverage of the UFO field.
To complicate matters, the 2017 Times article mistakenly conflated AATIP (which in reality was a tiny, unofficial and unfunded “activity”) with AAWSAP (Advanced Aerospace Weapon Systems Application Program), the actual $22 million Pentagon program run by the Pengagon’s James Lacatski, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official; the real name and scope of this latter program wasn’t known until May 2018.
To this day, the exact name of the program, its dates and functions, and what–and when– was Elizondo’s precise role, if any, in researching UFOs for the government has changed with different tellings by the Pentagon and especially by Elizondo. In fact, as a new trove of internal DOD memoranda obtained by UFO researcher John Greenewald shows, even Elizondo’s immediate supervisors at the Pentagon were baffled after the 2017 Times story broke by his claims that he ran the AATIP UFO program.
Garry Reid, then director of Defense Intelligence at the USDI office, wrote in a memo that Elizondo had “aggrandized his role” and “to the best of my knowledge, he had no job responsibilities related to the AATIP.” (Apparently, AAWSAP was such a can of supernatural worms they didn’t even refer to the program by its correct name internally.) The Reid memo also said Elizondo claimed that for several years he had been tasked on a super-secret project (see 4th page) on UFOs directly for Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that “nobody at USDI was cleared for this program and would not discuss it further.” Reid noted, “I discussed his claims with senior officials who would likely have known of such an arrangement, but was unable to substantiate them.”
After the new revelations about AAWSAP broke in 2018, Elizondo at first said he had no role in AAWSAP, but then later started claiming that he held an array of leadership posts with AAWSAP, too. These assertions have been contradicted by the actual leaders of that program, who have indicated he never worked there. As one former Pentagon official familiar with AAWSAP bluntly told this reporter: “Lue Elizondo played no role in AAWSAP.”