Discover more from The Intrinsic Perspective
The UFO craze was created by government nepotism and incompetent journalism
Blame Harry Reid, Skinwalker Ranch, "dino-beavers," and The New York Times
In an age of sclerotic institutions, when the arteries of education and media and government are all thickening in front of our eyes, their decline so often captured in hyper-virality on social media, it is inevitable that conspiracy theories thrive.
And you know what? I’m not even sure that’s a bad thing, everything considered—I personally think people can make up their own minds on any number of subjects. But one downside of the conspiratorial turn in public discourse is that actually fake conspiracy theories are now promoted by journalists for clicks. We appear to be in a dearth of skeptics, and those same sclerotic institutions put forth ambiguous but hyping headlines, like this one in The Guardian, published on Tuesday, about how the United States might possess “intact alien vehicles.”
Since there are no images of any of these alien spaceships, The Guardian used a recycled image from years ago: a video captured on a thermal camera that is most likely just a plane, with the engines facing the camera, and the spread you see is just glare. You can literally get similar results filming in your garage. Do you know who has a higher epistemic standard than The Guardian on this? PewDiePie, the YouTube celebrity, who summoned more adult skepticism than the average public intellectual and journalist and walked through a very reasonable debunking of this set of videos when they were released years ago.
Now, I want to be up front: I don’t like dismissing people’s personal beliefs as “crackpot.” Myself, I’m up for a good ghost story, or tales of events not easily explained by science (my favorite are reincarnation stories, like memories from past lives). And at a professional level, I have a book coming out this summer about the fundamental limits of science. I also study consciousness scientifically, which, in some retrograde corners of neuroscience, is itself seen as kooky. In my own beliefs, I’m not a fervent atheist—I’m an agnostic, and I don’t begrudge people putting a bit of magic into the world, into their lives. If you are someone who thinks aliens have visited Earth, I have no urge to jump in front of your face to tell you you’re wrong (even if I think the likelihood is exceedingly low).
What I do have a problem with is wild unfounded claims being parroted by major media organizations and journalists and public intellectuals without any interrogation or skepticism. This current UFO craze has now grown so loud, so public, and the actors so triumphal in their surety, that they’ve gotten significantly over their skis.
The real story behind the ongoing UFO craze is completely different from what dominates on Twitter and in major media outlets.
Just to start, let’s look at the claim about “alien wreckage” that’s been blowing up Twitter for the last few days—which already has House Oversight Committee hearings being scheduled about it. The media ran with it, discussing it almost everywhere, from The Daily Beast to Fox News. Business Insider even called on people to invest in aerospace tech:
The world is on the precipice of changing forever. The truth is out there. Investors, act accordingly.
It turns out the story was passed over by places like The New York Times and The Washington Post until a website called The Debrief was willing to run it. Probably because the guy claiming it, David Grusch, also allegedly said that, beyond wreckage of multiple different craft, the government has in its possession the bodies of the “dead pilots.” And that there’s been a flying saucer spaceship hidden away since 1933, which was found in Italy and kept secret by Mussolini until the US government retrieved it. And Grusch said, in an interview, that he’d be briefed on “malevolent events” that have occurred wherein live aliens have killed or injured humans. If all this sounds fantastical, keep in mind the idea of Grusch’s “disclosure” appears to have come together at a Star Trek convention with people who make their living promoting stories about UFOs, like Jeremy Corbell (who just yesterday was amplifying a story about a Las Vegas couple who reported saw nine-foot tall aliens on their lawn).
David Grusch says he has not seen any craft himself, nor any aliens, but rather that he was supposedly told about some sort of reverse-engineering program (or possibly saw reports from them, it’s unclear to me). Meanwhile, the Pentagon itself, including the recently established All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was put together in 2022 to look into stuff like this, has denied any evidence of an alien craft ever being found (they’ve since reiterated this in response to Grusch’s specific claims). It appears that Grusch himself was on basically the early version of AARO from something like 2019 to 2022. The hype behind Grusch’s account is that, essentially, he submitted an official complaint high up in the intelligence community. But for what? The original breaking story says only that
he filed a complaint alleging that he suffered illegal retaliation for his confidential disclosures.
Later, the complaint is referred to as “Disclosure of Urgent Concern(s); Complaint of Reprisal.” The complaint is mostly classified, as far as I can find, but it being described as about “retaliation and reprisals from his former colleagues within the intelligence community as a result of his efforts to inform members of Congress about the recovery of alien craft” seems, well, possibly just HR-related (update: my conclusion that this was an HR complaint is now supported by the fact that Grusch’s legal team backed out, saying essentially that what was “urgent and credible” in the initial complaint was about HR and paperwork, and “did not speak to the specifics of the alleged classified information”).
Now, the DoD did approve Grusch to do an interview with the press. However, the DoD does not check for factual accuracy when responding to this kind press request. In fact, in their official documentation, they specifically say approval “does not imply DoD endorsement or factual accuracy of the material.” In other words, it was likely just one request in a sea of bureaucratic paperwork the DoD was eager to plow through, and the only purpose of their approval of the press interaction was to solely affirm in the negative whether any classified information is being leaked (I guess they concluded it wasn’t, which, uh, begs the question of why a Mussolini UFO wouldn’t be classified).
The media stories didn’t lead with the more wild parts of his claims, nor accurately describe the submitted whistle being blown as being tied up in a reprisal upon Grusch himself, nor provide the added context of what “DoD approval” really means. Why? Simply because
UFOs have become huge for clicks.
You might have caught the news (after all, it was reported on by NBC), about a UFO from just a few weeks ago, wherein some sort of “structure” was observed during a military training exercise by over 50 witnesses.
The object, captured on iPhones and infrared, is described as a silent triangular-shaped craft, estimated to be between half the size of a football field and a three-bedroom, two-story house.
Here’s what it looked like.
Wow! An Imperial I-class Star Destroyer (don’t ask how I know the classes). Except here’s a set of flares that were fired that night during the large military exercise with lots of moving parts that probably not everyone was aware of, flares that hang in the air for a long time (on the left are the for-sure flares, captured from a different angle, and on the right is the mysterious Star Destroyer).
Confused military personnel took videos on their phones. Guess who reported what is obviously a set of flares, and pushed it enthusiastically? Jeremy Corbell, the same “investigative journalist” who was supposedly consulted with the currently-big “alien wreckage” disclosure. NBC was happy to have him on to talk about it.
If you don’t recall that one, we can rewind to a few months ago, when there were three UFOs the military shot down after everyone saw the big Chinese spy balloon slowly floating over America. No one in the military would explicitly say “these UFOS are not aliens,” so that meant they were “not ruling it out.”
The exact same people on Twitter were in a tizzy about this too. But the conclusions were well-summed up by New York Magazine:
The week after the U.S. downed a Chinese spy balloon, three more unusual objects appeared over North America, causing the head of NORAD to admit on Sunday that the military couldn’t figure out the propulsion systems allowing them to “stay aloft” before they too were shot out of the sky. With a top general refusing to rule anything out, the public speculation began: Could the UFOs be from another planet? On Monday, the White House cut down those hopes when Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed there was “no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.”
In fact, we know what one of those objects likely was: a hobbyist balloon! Here’s from Scientific America:
. . . the object blasted out of the sky over the Yukon might have been what’s called a “pico balloon,” a balloon used for basic atmospheric exploration between altitudes of 20,000 and 50,000 feet.
Purchased for less than $15 and operated by the ham radio hobbyist group Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, a silvery, 32-inch-wide pico balloon called “K9YO-15” was launched from a nature preserve north of Chicago in October 2022. . . Some 123 days later, on February 11, 2023, K9YO-15 was on its seventh circumnavigation of the globe, its hobbyist operators say, when they lost contact with the pico balloon near Alaska’s border with the Yukon. This was the same day that a U.S. F-22 fighter jet shot down a UFO using a nearly half-million-dollar Sidewinder missile in the same general vicinity.
Why did these frightening Sidewinder-worthy objects, like $15 balloons, appear after the Chinese spy balloon was shot down? The obvious answer, that there would now be political ramifications for not shooting down spy balloons and other related drones now that one of them made headline news, and so the US military started blowing up random shit, was at the time somehow thought of as just one possibility among many, instead of being the obvious truth (one of the others was, not kidding, probably a kite—apparently there were still “strings hanging off”).
Carl Sagan would be fuming right now, because
the real story is how UFO enthusiasts infiltrated the US government.
Why do these repetitive UFO stories keep coming up? The answer is Harry Reid—that’s right, the Senate majority leader—who was a UFO enthusiast and reportedly good friends with Robert Bigelow, the owner of “Skinwalker Ranch” where all sorts of goblins, shades, aliens, and “dino-beavers” (I’m serious) are seen. When people talk about a secret military program to study UFOs, they are likely mainly referring to how Bigelow’s company received a grant for 22 million to study wacky stuff at Skinwalker Ranch, including UFOs. According to The Decider:
Reid’s interest in UFOs has been public knowledge for a while, but J.J. Abrams and company got him on camera talking about the government-funded, Pentagon-approved UFO investigation unit that he helped found back in 2007. The agency—Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP—was tasked with investigating reports of unidentified flying objects and other paranormal phenomena.
The New York Post has a good breakdown of this history of infiltration by UFO enthusiasts, almost entirely spearheaded by Harry Reid. These are the key events I can piece together (the following quotes are all from the article):
On December 16, 2017, the New York Times released a bombshell story about a Pentagon “UFO program” called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP).
The Times reported that Nevada Senator Harry Reid spearheaded the creation of AATIP, which was funded with $22 million to study strange unidentified objects flying over America’s skies. . .
Two days after it was published, Lue Elizondo, the former Pentagon official who the Times claimed was the director of AATIP, went on CNN to talk about the otherworldly UFOs that AATIP had allegedly studied.
Except that this program was, according to the Post, basically just a grant given to the owner of Skinwalker Ranch:
As exclusively reported by the Post, the Pentagon didn’t actually have an official UFO program called AATIP and Elizondo was not its director.
In 2019, the Pentagon released a statement saying Elizondo had “no responsibilities” with AATIP, a program which they also said wasn’t created to investigate UFOs.
This official statement contradicted the claims of The New York Times and Elizondo, but hardly any outlets bothered to report it.
Here’s what I think is the best account of what really happened:
The story starts in 2007, when a scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), James Lacatski, says he read a book about Skinwalker Ranch—a supposed paranormal hotspot in Utah that some claim is home to UFOs, ghosts, werewolves and all kinds of monsters. . .
Lacatski then went to the home of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a longtime friend of Bigelow’s and a believer in UFOs.
Lacatski told Reid about his Skinwalker “experience” and shared his theory that UFOs, ghosts and monsters were possibly all part of the same “phenomena.”
According to Reid’s interview with New York Magazine, Lacatski said, “Something should be done about this. Somebody should study it.” Reid agreed.
Incredibly, it appears this effort to connect ghosts, monsters (like werewolfs), and UFOs, somehow received Pentagon funding on a contract basis. Probably because the term UFO is allegedly not mentioned on the proposal. The grant awarded instead looks like an incredibly dry technical grant shorn of details about studying “new aerospace technologies” with no mention of UFOs or anything paranormal. It helped that there was only one bidder: Bigelow’s company.
In August 2008, the Pentagon awarded the program’s $22 million contract to the sole bidder: Bigelow, owner of Skinwalker Ranch and a financial supporter of Reid’s political career.
AAWSAP (nicknamed AATIP) was shut down in 2012. But in 2017, long-time UFO activist Leslie Kean pitched a story to the New York Times about a Pentagon UFO program called “AATIP” and Lue Elizondo, the guy who ran the program.
I can’t stress how much professional journalists fell flat on their faces with this story. When the initial news came out about the AATIP/AAWSAP’s existence, POLITICO and The New York Times literally gave different names and start dates that differed by years to the program—despite having the same sources. The Pentagon has said very clearly that the Lue Elizondo did not have any association with AATIP, and Elizondo himself has reportedly implied his own UFO investigation from seemingly 2012 onward, when AAWSAP was officially shut down, might actually have just been an unfunded “activity” he did (in his free time?) while working for the Pentagon, that he also called AATIP. And yet this is, to my knowledge, uncorrected by The New York Times. In the original article about a government sponsored UFO program, there is no mention of the actual paranormal research that a lot of the money seems to have been spent on—just UFOs.
To sum up the story as far as I understand its convoluted depths: diehard paranormal believers scored 22 million in Defense spending via what looks like nepotism from Harry Reid by submitting a grant to do bland general “aerospace research” and being the “sole bidder” for the contract. They then reportedly used that grant, according to Lacatski himself, the head of the program, to study a myriad of paranormal phenomenon at Skinwalker Ranch including—you may have guessed it by now—dino-beavers. Viola! That’s how there was a “government-funded program to study UFOs.”
Our current journalistic class, unwilling or unable to do the research I can do in my boxers in about five hours, instead did a big media oopsie in The New York Times, running the story and lending credibility to the idea the Pentagon did create a real serious task force to investigate UFO claims. The fervor in response to these “revelations” memed into existence a real agency at the DoD that now does actually study UFOs, simply because everyone “demanded answers”—which is totally understandable, given the journalistic coverage. However, the current UFO task force is staffed by, well, the people willing to be on a UFO task force. According to the Post:
And who was in charge, during the Trump administration, when the Pentagon created a UFO Task Force to investigate incursions of unknown objects over America?
Stratton—who believes the ghosts and creatures of Skinwalker Ranch are real—officially headed up these Pentagon investigations for years.
The “chief scientist” of this Pentagon task force was Travis Taylor, who is and was a co-star of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel. He currently stars on “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” on the same network.
This official embedding makes it difficult to break the veneer of legitimacy unless you know the whole story, simply because there’s likely a lot of coordination by professional UFO enthusiasts behind the scenes, which is why you’ll occasionally read stuff about how anonymous sources from other insiders confirm the accounts. Here is a piece by Michael Shellenberger at Public from Wednesday, in which he says that the David Grusch account is supported by insiders:
The Pentagon says there's no credible evidence of alien spacecraft, but several military and intelligence contractors with inside information say there is.
I can’t possibly know, but a good question is whether these ah, anonymous contractors, were, by any chance, just anyone marginally associated with the original AATIP/AAWSAP? Or those currently in AARO? To make this point in another way: since a bunch of people who investigated spooky stuff at Skinwalker Ranch got government money, and the original bad reporting on that memed into existence an actual program at the DoD who now do study UFOs (a slightly more sober group but one that still contains some long in-the-scene characters), as well as likely triggered a lot of interest in the subject within the intelligence community, in theory there are now a bunch of people who are basically Ancient Aliens extras or enthusiasts who might reasonably count as former or current “insiders” at the DoD, and they can go around supporting one another’s accounts about rumors of secret programs because they all believe those very same rumors, which are mostly just decades-long popular UFO theories. This cycle of back rubbing, which just so happens to guarantee funding and attention, is everywhere. When Fox News brought on an investigative journalist to discuss the David Grusch story, who did they bring on? None other than Jeremy Corbell to vouch for Grusch (there was no mention of Star Trek conventions.)
And if you think that there’s no coordination here, ask yourself why you’re suddenly seeing UAP (“Unidentified Anomalous Phenomenon) rather than UFO as the abbreviation. That’s a longtime attempted rebranding by “ufologists” because UFO had too many negative associations.
As I’ve said: at a personal level, people can believe what they want, because they can decide what standard of evidence is meaningful to them, and choose to lower that standard if they wish for a subject they have strong feelings about. If you personally want to believe in aliens visiting Earth, that’s fine. I think the chances are slim to none, but it’s fine. What’s not fine is major media organizations and normally sensible public figures lowering standards for reporting and hyping extraordinary claims in order to get clicks.
There are rumors the Times will do a story about the David Grusch claims this weekend. I’m not sure what they’ll say. For they’ve proven to not be above playing for clicks—their credence to the original story about Bigelow’s grant, and their verbiage in reporting on the topic, has led to the current situation. They have a responsibility to correct it and apply some actual skepticism. Maybe even some actual reportage, too. Which way, Times?
I have my own conspiracy theory. UFO crazes always peak in early summer. Events, like the great nothing-burger of the initial UFO craze of summer 2020, are then quick to fade. But the cycle repeats—memetic parasites lie dormant, then spawn again in their buzzing legions, planting their eggs in the canals of ears and the mucous membranes of throats, into which the next generation will bloom. Always in summer. Because that’s when the news cycle slows to a crawl, and everyone is looking desperately for clicks, and the whole online world must adjust to a diminished schedule of attention. If early spring is the time for lovers, then early summer is the time of conspirators. Crime begins to climb and the benches in the city grow discomfortingly hot, and this new omnipresent heat nudges at psychologies unadapted to it, and even the pressure of the air begins to change as wildfires and storms brew in the distance, and it is the time of year that you can drive past the farmlands of America growing into their wild fullness and catch a whiff of summer air, on which floats an earthy smell.
Oh wait, that’s manure.
To support my work and receive the full content, consider becoming a paid subscriber