When the New York Times reported Saturday that the Pentagon had spent several years and $22 million researching the possible existence of UFOs, tinfoil hat believers breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of us were surprised, but accepted the news nonetheless because it’s 2017 and nothing makes sense. All that said, an alien hunter-slash-scientist in California tells Inverse that there is something unnerving about this story, but it’s not the UFOs.
“There are a couple examples of really puzzling phenomenon,” SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak tells Inverse. “I mean, I get it, but there’ve always been puzzling cases. There are always plenty of interesting cases, and they make for great television shows. But this doesn’t mean they involve phenomena we’ve never seen before.”
According to the Times, the Pentagon recently confirmed that it had taken part in a partially declassified program to investigate UFOs, called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The project — which was launched primarily at the request of former Nevada Democrat Harry Reid — ran from at least 2007 through 2012, though some involved believe it’s still alive in a less organized form.
Reid had apparently been influenced by his friend Robert Bigelow, a billionaire and aerospace entrepreneur who told CBS’s 60 Minutes back in May that he’s “absolutely convinced” UFOs have visited Earth.
According to Shostak, Bigelow’s obsession with extraterrestrials has gone back much longer.
“I know him a little bit; he’s a nice guy!” Shostak explains. “But he’s thought there’s been evidence of an alien visitation for a very long time, as least as long as I’ve known him, and that’s been about 15 years.”
If Bigelow wanted to spend his own money to fund a real-life X-Files, that’d be one thing. But according to the Times, the $22 million appropriated to AATIP — which came from taxpayer money — went to Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace. With this cash, Bigelow hired people to construct buildings to house items that came from supposed UFOs and brought on researchers to study people who said they’d encountered extraterrestrial objects.
For Shostak, what’s “a little disturbing” about the ordeal is that Bigelow, who has collaborated with NASA despite having no scientific background, has received so much money from the project.
“[Bigelow] doesn’t need more money,” he explains. “He’s a very likeable guy, but he’s been convinced all along that we’re being ‘visited.’ And it doesn’t mean [aliens are visiting us] just because a person of note thinks it’s true. The thing that’s a little disturbing about this is that it seems a lot of the money for this study went to Bob Bigelow. I think that if you really wanted to investigate this stuff, the thing to do is to give this to scientists or experts in the field that don’t have a dog in the fight.”
While some of the AATIP mission remains classified, at this point, a few things remain true. One, Harry Reid is good at campaigning on behalf of his friends’ pipe dreams. Two, Robert Bigelow is seriously invested in finding aliens among us. And three, we haven’t found proof of any extraterrestrial beings, as badly as we all want that to happen.
“If the aliens were actually visiting us since 1947, when they made that navigation error in New Mexico, you’d have really good evidence,” Shostak says. “It wouldn’t all be in the hands of the government — and not just the government, our government. If the aliens had bothered to visit any other countries, wouldn’t they have evidence? I find it hard to believe that everybody’s covering it up.
“The bottom line is somebody spent 20 million dollars of your tax dollars to look into this and they didn’t come up with anything.”