While waiting for the next New York Times UFO bomb to drop: Ahh, to be a fly-sized drone on the wall of the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C ring or wherever it is they’re trying to figure out how to manage whatever comes next. Like, who, exactly, specifically, should own this month-old mess? Is the old guard hoping Trump’s tweetstreams can keep the media preoccupied with meaningless noise? After all, last month’s cookie-cutter headlines — The Guardian (“Pentagon admits running secret UFO program for five years”), USA Today (“Defense Department Confirms They Funded UFO Program”), and the New York Daily News (“Department of Defense admits to running UFO program”), etc. – raised more questions than answers.
After resigning in October as a career intelligence officer, inside man Luis Elizondo told the Times in December what he knew about the DoD’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification program to study UFOs. Although a laconic military flack confirmed the existence of the five-year, $22M initiative that ended in 2012, not a single serious federal acronym or bigwig currently in its employ has since been held to account for the myriad questions this revelation raises. Few investigators are feeling more hamstrung by federal obstinance than Robert Powell.
Founder of a research team called the Scientific Coalition for Ufology, Powell is the investigative point man on two relatively recent and provocative UFO incidents. One left radar tracks and confused military pilots over Stephenville, Texas, before creeping to the very edge of restricted airspace over President Bush’s Crawford ranch in 2008. The other was an ocean-dipping airborne bogey videotaped by U.S. border patrol agents over coastal Puerto Rico in 2013. The latter was documented with the same infrared technology F-18 Navy jets used to acquire the riveting UFO sequences at the center of the Times reporting in December.
Powell, who also co-authored an indispensable history about what happened when honest scientists studying UFOs confronted military roadblocks after World War II, did a very smart thing in July. That’s when he resigned as the Mutual UFO Network’s research director, for reasons too pathetic to waste time with here. Suffice it to say, there aren’t a lot of grant dollars going to an outfit whose leadership includes a prophetess renowned for channeling ancient wisdom and insight from a 35,000-year-old Lemurian warrior named Ramtha. Hello, MUFON? This is the MacArthur Genius Foundation’s board of directors calling, and we’re trying to book Ramtha for a TED talk?
Anyhow, before all that, in 2016, Powell started pounding the military bureaucracy with FOIAs in hopes of authenticating the 2004 F-18 incident, which had slipped quietly into the public domain at an independent naval aviation blog in 2007. At the Open Minds online forum in October, Powell detailed his largely unsuccessful efforts to render an accurate accounting of what happened off the coast of San Diego nearly 18 years ago, and it’s worth a read.
On 11/14/04, the UFO in question obliged military cameras during training exercises. Five naval components were involved, including the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the USS Princeton, a guided missile destroyer. Powell dispatched FOIAs for details about the encounter to the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Marine Corps, the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Naval Air Warfare Center, the Naval Air Facilities Engineering Command, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Naval History and Heritage Command. All he got were goose eggs. Powell was incredulous. “So you’re telling me we have five assets and you don’t have any documents on any of those assets from that day, no deck logs or anything?” he says. “That’s unbelievable.”
Following Powell’s appeal last April, which also copied members of Congress, the Navy managed to produce contemporary anecdotal emails from service members who stated they’d heard about or seen the F-18 video. All told, Powell wound up with nine names of USMC or Navy officers with knowledge, peripheral or otherwise, about the event. He continues to explore those leads. Thanks to the NY Times’ blurb about how the Pentagon’s UFO program was initiated by the Defense Intelligence Agency, Powell is now pumping the DIA for info on F-18 incident, too.
The most important witnesses to step forward are retired Navy pilots David Fravor and Jim Straight, who went on to talk about pursuing a bogey that was painted by surface radar, was invisible to in-flight radar, and pulled maneuvers that appeared to crumple the laws of physics. Unless and until official provenance of that footage is established, says Powell, the pilot testimony is much more convincing than stand-alone video.
“We need more documentation. We need to show a FOIA paper trail that establishes a chain of command,” Powell says. “So much of what I’m hearing doesn’t make sense. The Navy can’t find anything, so how can the DIA or the Defense Department have information the Navy doesn’t?”
The defense bureaucracy is clearly at odds with itself. Again, it’d be great to eavesdrop on the contortions playing out within those privileged circles, because a credible, cogent government narrative ratchets this thing up to a very serious level. Maybe, one day sooner than we think, those of us who’ve long advocated for more transparency will get a sharper understanding of what it means to be careful what you wish for. But if the Times keeps doing decent journalism, turning back is not an option, not anymore. Even if — or especially if — it undercuts our conceits about having the fastest, stealthiest, baddest bells and whistles in the sky.