What happens when you combine a secret government program to investigate UFOs, funded via “black money” and a host of characters from an influential senator, a well-connected Elon Musk-like eccentric billionaire, a dedicated researcher frustrated by the bureaucrats, and a former rock star obsessed by space?

No, not a B-rated sci-fi flick.

It’s the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), the Pentagon’s partially declassified program to investigate UFOs, which it only acknowledged publicly this month.

AATIP ran from at least 2007-2012, though its former director (the researcher character) claims that it still exists in limited form. It documented unexplained sightings, sometimes by military pilots while on training or other missions, of aircraft that seemed to defy the laws of physics. One recently declassified video shows two fighter pilots tracking a drone-like object. The incredulity of the pilots is obvious.

A screenshot from the first of three declassified videos, taken from military aircraft, of UFOs. 

Started by then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, AATR had a budget of $22 million, most of which was spent in contracts with an aerospace company run by Robert Bigelow, the Elon Musk-esque billionaire with a deep interest in space – and long-time friend of Reid’s.

Bigelow continues to work with NASA. He recently told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he is “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist — and that they are among us.

Meanwhile, the program’s long-time director, a career intelligence officer named Luis Elizondo, resigned from the program from the Pentagon in 2012. In his resignation letter to the Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, he expressed his frustration, asking,“Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?”

According to some sources, it’s because the program just didn’t find enough to justify its continued existence.

“After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” a senior intelligence officer told Politico. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone — and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”

“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” added the Pentagon’s spokesperson, Dana White, said.

Another government official, who spoke to Politico anonymously, said, “I was concerned the money was being funneled through is to somebody else who was an associate of Harry Reid’s. The whole circle was kind of a bizarre piece.”

Despite leaving the Pentagon, Elizondo will still be focusing on UFOs.

And this is where the rockstar comes in. He recently joined start-up To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, which combines research, education, and entertainment arms under one roof and is headed by bona fide rockstar Tom DeLange, the space-obsessed former front-man of 90s band Blink-182.

All of this just proves that truth is stranger than fiction — but if they do ever make a fictional account of the whole saga, we’ll be watching.

Photos via To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences

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