In the wake of the July 26 congressional hearings on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (formerly UFOs), the claims of alien visitations and secret government crash retrieval programs remain unproven —while questions about the credibility of the witnesses and the political motives of their patrons in Congress have fueled increasing public skepticism.
There was little in the way of skeptical mainstream coverage either in the run-up to the late July House congressional oversight hearings on UFOs – or afterwards by such outlets as CBS News and The New York Times. The ballyhooed hearings before credulous members of Congress from both parties featured unverified tales of a football field-sized flying object—along with testimony indicating dead aliens were hidden as part of a purported “multi-decade” government cover-up of retrieved “non-human” crashed spacecraft.
Both before and after the hearings, The Washington Spectator and such prominent skeptics as former UFO advocate Steven Greenstreet of The New York Post raised alarms about the legacy of unproven and wild claims marking the entire UFO field — and those told by the three ex-military witnesses who came forward.
None of the criticism mattered, as it turned out. The witnesses – two former Navy pilots and an ex-Pentagon intelligence officer — were ritually thanked for their service and uniformly treated as brave truth-tellers confronting a nefarious plot by the government and military contractors to hide the truth about alien visitations. As Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), taking the lead role for malleable Democrats at the hearing, declared in his opening statement: “The American public has a right to learn about technologies of unknown origins, non-human intelligence and unexplainable phenomena.”
Indeed, it felt while watching the hearings as if my months of reporting and years of skeptics’ analyses puncturing the dominant pro-UFO narrative had been expunged from the public record. Among these findings: two of the leading ex-DOD officials, Christopher Mellon and Luis Elizondo, who successfully promoted UFO “disclosure” legislation, face a potential SEC investigation for alleged investor fraud in a UFO-hyping company they helped lead; and none of the military witnesses at the hearing have ever offered verifiable evidence to back their claims.
Equally important, many of the key findings in the ground-breaking 2017 New York Times article on the Pentagon’s $22 million secret UFO “research” program that helped launch today’s alien mania in Washington have been discredited.
(The otherworldly claims made for the three Navy “UFO” videos published by The Times starting in 2017 that augmented the UFO frenzy have also been thoroughly debunked by visual expert Mick West, and in large part recently by the Pentagon and a NASA panel for having prosaic explanations, including camera artifacts.)
As documented by several critics, including Greenstreet, that original bombshell Times article notably hid the program’s real paranormal agenda from the public. Most of the Pentagon research was actually devoted to chasing down werewolf-type creatures, poltergeists and ghosts on the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, owned by the Pentagon contractor Robert Bigelow. I spoke in confidence with a congressional aide before the recent hearings who indicated that all this eminently available information was unknown to members of the committee. (Pro tip: add “skeptic” to your google search).
The new hearings were sparked by David Grusch, the former military intelligence officer who came forward in June with startling and increasingly bizarre new claims. He was widely and uncritically publicized after his claims –including stashed alien bodies and their retrieved crafts — were aired in a comparatively obscure pro-UFO publication The Debrief and a struggling cable news network, NewsNation.
NewsNation, in turn, has been riding UFOs hard since snaring exclusive interviews with Grusch. The ratings boost for NewsNation has been so great it even beat CNN during its special on Grusch, as noted recently by The Washington Post. The broadcast stories on Grusch have been led by Ross Coulthart, a disgraced Australian journalist. Along with hyping other repudiated stories, Coulthart once relied on discredited witnesses to make bogus pedophile accusations against members of the UK parliament, leading to a fruitless $4 million police investigation. So, despite that questionable background, he remains a leading UFO conspiracist.
Still, in the weeks since the hearings, Grusch’s credibility has eroded on several fronts — even as most media outlets and members of Congress have paid little attention to the details undermining his shocking tales. As The Washington Spectator recapped last month, he has 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.
The only fresh example with specifics that Grusch has cited since June is the purported 1933 alien landing in Magenta, Italy. This alleged visitation has been shown to be based on forged documents and an evolving hoax featuring Nordic-type aliens. Alex Chionetti, an UFO researcher and TV producer who gave the first US talk on the original documents in 2001 (sans Nordic aliens), soon discovered the crash story almost certainly was a hoax when he looked in vain for any references to the incident in Italian government archives. The story was later seized on by the dubious Lue Elizondo after a visit in 2018 to Italy. “It’s being pushed to create a myth that this is vital to natural security,” Chionetti told The Washington Spectator. “That’s bullshit.”
Grusch hasn’t supported any of these assertions with a shred of hard evidence — now more than three months after his initial revelations. His reputation as a public-spirited truth-teller has also taken a hit, since he’s become the COO of a new foundation launched by alien mythologist and Stanford professor Garry Nolan, as first reported by The New York Post’s Steven Greenstreet. Nolan initially helped promote a dead alien documentary before eventually debunking it, and is openly seeking to cash in on the “goldmine” of federal UFO research money. Regardless of Grusch’s current spotlight, all his secondhand claims are based on what he was purportedly told by dozens of people who had supposedly worked on the mysterious programs. While he has admitted never having seen an alien spacecraft or a dead alien, he insists that others have.
UFO acolytes and influential propagandists such as hoax–promoter Jeremy Corbell claim that all of Grusch’s best evidence has been presented behind closed doors and is being blocked by an evil cover-up. But there are solid reasons to challenge that wishful thinking, and it’s far more likely just another “disclosure” delaying tactic that’s marked scams in the field since the 1950s.
It’s becoming clearer that some politicians and congressional staffers are having doubts about his astounding claims. When Grusch turned over what he claimed were his classified interviews with his sources about alien crafts and bodies to the House intelligence committee in a secret briefing last December, they weren’t found credible, a conclusion reportedly conveyed by congressional aides to Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN). Burchett, who has claimed that proof of UFOs is found in the Bible, is the leading member of Congress charging a government cover-up and championing Grusch. In response to those staff concerns, Burchett suggested that these aides and other House members who have raised doubts about Grusch (a group that includes most prominently House intelligence committee chair Mike Turner (R-OH)) may have been seduced and blackmailed into lying by “honeypot” vixens from Russia, the Deep State or military contractors.
Grusch has also made his alien claims to the Intelligence Community Inspector General as part of a retaliation complaint filed last year, but he declined to repeat the details of his most controversial claims when under oath during the July hearings.
At the hearings, however, Grusch continued to claim that he and other whistleblowers have been victimized with death and other threats. “It was very brutal and very unfortunate, some of the tactics they used to hurt me both professionally and personally,” he declared.
Indeed, he indicated some insiders may already have been murdered by the cabal of unnamed officials seeking to get them to clam up. When asked at the hearing about that assertion, he responded ominously, “I have to be careful answering that question. I have directed people with that knowledge to the appropriate authorities.”
Such Deep State victim claims, no matter how improbable, serve two related goals: a) they help advance far-right, paranoid, anti-government conspiracy beliefs that can potentially be harnessed by aspiring GOP authoritarians and b) they fuel the notion among UFO acolytes that if the whistleblowers are in such danger, then their alien tales must be true.
Unfortunately, the mainstreaming of UFO conspiracy theories gripping Washington also left House Democrats on the committee reluctant to challenge any of the witnesses’ alien spaceship tales. Perhaps they’re still feeling bruised from seventy years of Republicans accusing Democrats since the Adlai Stevenson era of “hating our troops,” so they didn’t want to look like they were browbeating military veterans. Yet in giving this particular conspiracy theory a free pass, they’re allowing it to fester and to add to the paranoiac world view that animates the Republican base.
Grusch, who has not publicly produced the name of a single official, US site or any hard evidence, told committee members of both parties asking about such issues as dead aliens: “The specific documentation I would have to talk to you in a SCIF about.” (SCIF is a Pentagon acronym for an electronically secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility.)
But this appears to be a ruse for several reasons, and seems more likely to be a continuation of the pattern of never-fulfilled assurances of UFO evidence promised by decades of ex-military whistleblowers, most or all of which have ultimately been debunked. Indeed, there’s always some excuse offered by UFO proponents as to why verifiable evidence is never produced. This pathology has been brilliantly lampooned by Michael Shermer, with a nod to Carl Sagan, in his article “There’s a UFO in my garage.”
In fact, contrary to his ominous posturing, Grusch has actually been cleared by the Pentagon to go public with even his wildest assertions. Therefore, as DOD spokesperson Susan Gough explained in a statement to The Washington Spectator, his claims are NOT classified nor do they pose any security risk. She also pointed out: “Approval [for release] does not imply DOD endorsement or factual accuracy of the material.”
In other words, as critics such as UFO researcher John Greenewald have detailed, he’s free to make this stuff up. The DOD clearance also permits him just to relay the fabrications or delusions that those working on compartmentalized, secret US technology projects may have told him — and which he seems genuinely to believe involve alien craft. He can’t be prosecuted for perjury in his testimony before congress if he believes what he said; he’s only open to prosecution for knowingly making false statements (think Trump).
In contrast, at the hearings Grusch and his compliant supporters have asserted his evidence is so “classified” he can only discuss it behind closed doors – or risk prosecution. Pardon all he jargon, but as DOD’s Gough noted in her written statement to this reporter, “Approval for release by the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR) means the material submitted by an individual does not contain classified information, controlled unclassified information (CUI), or other sensitive information such as that protected for operations security (OPSEC) reasons…” Translation: nothing he has said in any setting is classified and none of it risks exposing any sensitive information.
As skeptic video podcaster Steven Cambian speculated about the supposed “classified” secrets Grusch so sparingly rationed to officials behind closed doors: ”This is a purposefully constructed grift designed to make sure it couldn’t be debunked.”
Nevertheless, Burchett – without the backing of a single member of the House intelligence committee – wrote a letter last month with a few other committee UFO believers to the Intelligence Community IG, demanding he provide the specifics that Grusch claimed he was barred from discussing publicly (i.e., all the details Grusch has promised he could reveal in secret session). Among other questions, Burchett wants to know, reasonably enough: “Which intelligence community members, positions, facilities, military bases, or other actors are involved with UAP crash retrieval programs, directly or indirectly?”
While waiting for a response by mid-September, Burchett could take an alternative approach to get much of the same information. He could simply ask Rep.Turner to turn over Grusch’s secret briefing materials to him, since as the DOD spokesperson explained, none of it is classified or sensitive. Turner’s coolness towards Grusch’s and Burchett’s extravagant claims seems to have played a role in shutting down the prospect of any future House oversight committee hearings on UFOs, as even the savviest UFO lobbyist, Christopher Mellon, now reluctantly admits. In response, UFO advocates are calling for a new permanent select committee on UAPs that’s nearly as much of a pipe dream as an alien testifying before Congress.
The UFO hearings were a lovefest, the aftermath is mayhem–ethics complaints abound, zealots target critics on #UFOtwitter
Burchett is also the target of an extensive, updated ethics complaint filed last week with the House ethics and oversight committees by skeptic whistleblower Kal Korff, accusing Burchett of promoting false claims that defraud taxpayers. Part of the complaint (excerpted here) charges that Burchett and other members of Congress are wasting government funds by mandating that the Pentagon investigate UFO crash hoaxes or incidents that have already been resolved. Example: they’re ignoring two previous major government investigations of the purported 1947 Roswell alien crash that concluded it was a surveillance balloon from the “Mogul” spy program.
The complaint alleges: “[Burchett] has been and remains engaged in still today, wasteful and fraudulent expenditures of taxpayer time and money through repeated searches for evidence of ‘Roswell and other alien spacecraft recovery’ by the U.S. Government.”
Over the next two weeks, Korff plans to send copies of his ethics complaints to the major House and Senate committees that have looked at UFO issues. This will be followed by letters to every member of the House and Senate, along with officials at such agencies as DOD, the CIA, and the Council of Inspectors General before the end of the month, alerting them to his ethics filings. He previously filed in July complaints against the leading Senate UFO champions, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
An earlier version of the Burchett complaint likely played a key role in leading the oversight committee chairman Rep. James Comer to pull Burchett on the eve of the July 26th UFO hearing from chairing it, although Burchett still played a major role in the hearing. (Burchett’s office didn’t reply to questions about the ethics complaint.)
Even Sen. Gillibrand, who chaired a hearing about UFOs last April in the Senate and is a staunch promoter of further Pentagon research, has begun casting doubt on Grusch’s tales.
She has defended Sean Kirkpatrick, the head of the Pentagon’s current UFO research office she helped establish, and a Grusch critic. Yet even as she wants to uncover more about possible alien encounters, she laughed at Grusch’s stories of dead aliens during a recent speech: “We had some strange testimony…The second guy [Grusch] said, ‘I was in charge of looking at all the existing UAP programs and I talked to a bunch of people who said not only do we have a program but it’s super-secret and we have dead aliens and crashed aircraft.’”
“What?” she scoffed, sparking laughter from the crowd. “We don’t know if it exists.”
As a result, the true believers and UFO proponents like Jeremy Corbell have turned on her, Rep. Turner and Sean Kirkpatrick as part of the cover-up. That’s largely because these angry believers haven’t gotten the answer they want – aliens are real! – from the same Pentagon research offices they pressured Congress to create.
More fury was unleashed recently against the reporter Ken Klippenstein for his article in The Intercept on Grusch’s past struggles with PTSD and related mental health episodes, which led to involuntary hospitalizations. This controversy has only heightened the online War of the Worlds between skeptics and UFO believers, who view the Klippenstein article as part of a government effort to silence Grusch.
His supporters have emphasized Grusch’s personal credibility and military background to compensate for the fact that he hasn’t produced any evidence so far. For the same reasons, Grusch’s allies have expressed considerable rage over the public discussion of his mental health history.
Even though I am obviously a Grusch skeptic, as a journalist who has covered PTSD and how it has been fatally mishandled for veterans, both in articles for Newsweek and in my book Mental Health, Inc., I don’t subscribe to the blanket view that anyone who has had PTSD is either delusional or “crazy.”
The controversy over Grusch’s mental stability unleashed a firestorm of ugly attacks, doxxing of family members and apparent threats targeting Klippenstein. Two particularly vocal acolytes of Lue Elizondo (the controversial UFO promoter) and defenders of Grusch against the “smears” over his PTSD use the provocative handles King MilkFart (KMF) and The Truth is out there, also known as Sawan. The latter confronted Klippenstein, “We are coming after you! You have no idea how fucked you are.”
This is emblematic of the toxic online culture around UFOs that’s produced what one alarmed pro-UFO Twitter account calls a #UFOhategroup. In the furor over Klippenstein, the online rage has been so extreme that it’s led some UFO believers to push back against the harassers. One active member of a popular Reddit subgroup, r/UFO, posted: “DON’T HARASS KLIPPENSTEIN AT HIS F*CKING HOUSE.”
Other targets include a former colleague and ally of Elizondo, Jeremy McGowan. McGowan’s status as an Air Force veteran underscores the hypocrisy of those who proclaim #IstandwithDavidGrusch while at the same time they either provoke or tacitly accept the harassment of those veterans who don’t adhere to their fervent, cult-like views or online conduct.
McGowan has already filed complaints against online harassers with the Las Vegas Police Department. He also told The Washington Spectator: “I am exploring the potential of filing a complaint with the FBI cyber crimes division against a few select people on #ufotwitter who have engaged in constant, targeted attacks of lies and libel,” with some cyberbullies using “photos of my family with my children.”
The outspoken UFO hard-liners defense of veterans in the wake of the criticism of Grusch is conspicuously selective. In one Twitter Spaces exchange, for instance, KMF even called a pro-“disclosure” military veteran with PTSD he’d targeted, Beverly Holmes (Bee), “a crazy bitch” – after doxxing her underage son with postings of his name and picture. His ally Sawan also cited her, along with centrist UFO researcher John Greenewald and The New York Post’s Steven Greenstreet, as one of the “roaches [who] need to be exterminated.” Why? In her case, she had apparently raised questions about the online harassment of critics of Elizondo and others who don’t toe the true believer line.
But concerns that they might be breaking state and federal laws against cyberstalking and harassment haven’t been tested in court, even though some critics know their real names and hometowns. That’s because there’s no sign yet they’ve faced criminal or civil complaints in their states or been reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov)— although that may be about to change with McGowan.
After I submitted to the FBI examples of online UFO harassment by “King Milk Fart” and Sawan on behalf of The Washington Spectator, a spokesperson at the FBI’s IC3.gov responded, “The FBI take all threats seriously and works closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to identify and stop any potential threats targeting individuals or public safety,” but didn’t comment on the specific examples of online hate presented to them for review. The Washington Spectator has not filed a formal complaint with the ICCC.
Pilot testimony starts to crumble under scrutiny. Aliens, where are you now?
The once-fringe conspiratorial and magical thinking underlying online UFO fanaticism also helped drive these latest Congressional hearings. The pliable committee members reacted like children at a magic show to the witnesses’ testimony – even though skeptics outside Congress continued to raise questions about the credibility and accuracy of the two ex-Navy pilots who joined Grusch at the hearing.
Indeed, one witness, Ryan Graves, never even saw a supposed UFO with his own eyes, but was just retelling stories others told him, and describing artifacts he glimpsed on radar screens that were likely created by a new military sensor system. Yet he basically doubled down on his improbable claim to 60 Minutes that he saw UFOs fly over his ship every day “for years.” Other experts, though, note that the updated, complex Aegis system has long caused visual errors during its breaking-in period on these ships – and that could well account for the plethora of UFOs he claimed to observe.
It also turns out that he’s not quite as selfless a whistleblower as he’s been portrayed. As Graves himself pointed out in a filing accompanying his testimony, he has a potential financial conflict because he’s the founder of a new UFO transparency non-profit, Americans for Safe Aerospace, that’s raising money from the public and that could also seek taxpayer funding for further research into pilot sightings. And he’s launched a slick new monetized podcast, Merged, that allows him to further cash in on his fame and UFO stories.
Graves’s headline-seeking reached a new low when he announced recently he would be testifying at a Mexican congressional hearing promoted by arguably the world’s most notorious UFO hoaxer, Jaime Maussan. Maussan’s scams include a pay-per-view Roswell alien corpse photos event – the “Roswell slides” – that was later exposed as an ancient mummy photographed in a museum.
The most apparently credible of the witnesses at the July hearing was former Navy airman David Fravor. He was launched into worldwide fame after talking to The New York Times as a purported eyewitness to an apparent UFO in 2004 that was inexplicably hovering near the water off the West Coast of the US, known as the “Tic-Tac” incident. (At the Congressional hearings, Rep. Burchett helpfully explained: “It’s Tic-Tac, like the candy, not TikTok like the Chinese communist app.”) While The Times featured a Tic-Tac video in that article, it’s important to note that a) the paper did not indicate that Fravor hadn’t filmed it, and b) that the video failed to support his claims of unexplained movement.
Mick West offered a plausible alternative explanation for a mysterious Tic-Tac-looking object — filmed a short while later from another Navy aircraft and featured in the Fravor article in The Times — as possibly a
faraway jet. *West says that whatever “40-foot” airborne item (the Tik-Tac) Fravor claimed he saw was likely misjudged in size and remains unexplained. Also, he points out it didn’t exhibit such unusual movements that only extraterrestrials could account for them. Other analysts and astrophysicists have pointed to everything from radar artifacts and a nearby NASA drone base, to a secret US aircraft under development. Yet the sighting has been been billed repeatedly by journalists, commentators and elected officials as a likely alien-piloted craft.
The likely eventual collapse of Grusch’s tall tales, though, won’t make much of a dent on cult-like #UFOtwitter or among the UFO propagandists like Coulthart hoping to profit more from Grusch’s claims. They are already framing it now as the “UFO pushback,” as Coulthart did on his recent “Need to Know” podcast, ably dissected by skeptic Steven Cambian. Coulthart and other advocates vehemently decry what they insist is a conspiracy of government intelligence agencies, the Pentagon and allegedly compromised journalists like Klippenstein in keeping the world’s longest cover-up going.
In fact, the entire Congressional push for more UFO disclosure is starting to collapse of its own weight — in addition to a series of wounds inflicted by UFO advocates. It’s not just Grusch’s previously hidden mental health history or his wacky tales that nobody else has verified for over three months. Rep. Burchett gave front-row seats and praised at the hearing two notorious advocates who for years have advanced provably false UFO and paranormal tales, journalist George Knapp and filmmaker Jeremy Corbell; they were also friendly with Grusch before he went public. They have hyped the Skinwalker Ranch myths and fake Area 51 “scientist” Bob Lazar who, like Grusch’s supposed eyewitnesses, claimed to have worked on reverse-engineering alien spacecraft. Most recently, Corbell and Knapp released the results of their two-year “investigation” of a huge, hovering triangle-sized UFO near the 29 Palms Marine base in California. But it turned out to be, according to Pentagon records they didn’t request, just a video of flares shot during a training exercise. As Mick West and Steven Greenstreet pointed out in a scathing video commentary, it’s “baffling” and “ridiculous” that Congress takes them seriously.
Although the two UFO hype artists haven’t been accused in any criminal or civil cases of fraud, it’s as if Theranos swindler Elizabeth Holmes was treated as an honored guest at a Congressional hearing on cutting-edge medical research.
On top of all that, they were given an added boost by podcaster Joe Rogan, with his 11 million listeners, who platformed George Knapp and Jeremy Corbell last week to prop up Grusch — and continue their UFO misinformation campaign.
The steady flow of UFO myth-making has helped spur the millions of dollars already spent on the Pentagon’s feverish hunt for UFOs and paranormal phenomena. What was once a carnival side-show has moved into the big tent. If the mainstream media would ever focus on the scams and hype in this field long enough to overcome their hunger for UFO clickbait, it’s possible that the federal government’s alien gravy train might start to slow down.
*(An earlier version of this article incorrectly conflated Mick West’s debunking of the alien explanations for the Tic-Tac video with his analysis of Fravor’s eyewitness account, and a correction has been made in the text.)
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.