'I Don't Know Where It's From': Former UFO Program Head On Navy Jet Footage

Dec 19, 2017
Originally published on December 20, 2017 11:49 am

As head of the Pentagon's Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, Luis Elizondo spent years trying to learn about UFOs.

The secret program collected information from members of the military — mostly pilots — when they spotted unidentified flying objects. Some of those findings, first reported over the weekend by The New York Times and Politico, have been released to the public. According to reports, the program began in 2007 and ended in 2012. Elizondo took over the program in 2010.

Elizondo tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep that Pentagon staff didn't always understand what they saw. Among the mysteries was recently released footage recorded from the cockpit of a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet. In it, the pilots can be heard marveling at an object, astonished at its speed and how it seems to rotate, inexplicably, in the air.

"If you're asking my personal opinion from here, look, I've got to be honest with you, I don't know where it's from. But we're pretty sure it's not here," Elizondo says. "Now does that mean it's 'out there'? Whether or not it's Russian or Chinese inside or little green men from Mars or frankly your neighbor's dog, I wanted to purposely steer away from that because I wanted to focus on truly the raw science: What were we seeing and did it pose a threat to national security?"


Interview Highlights

On who was on the Pentagon team he led

We had Ph.D.s, we had CI people, we had trained intelligence officers and human case officers — pretty much a full range of talent. Most of us tend to be, by nature, skeptical, because we are in the field of intelligence and national security. But I think once you get into the data itself and the specifics regarding what we're actually seeing, we begin to realize that there may be something here, a little bit more than just what people think are drones or whatever people may chalk it up to be.

On how the program examined information it was given

First of all, we looked at it and wanted to make sure if this was authentic. Is this video coming from a true [Department of Defense] platform? Then what we do is apply some analytics that allow us to look at range, altitude, what was the aircraft doing that we were flying, who's flying it, under what conditions, sea states. So there's a lot of things at play into what we're looking at.

And then at that point, we try to look at what we're seeing at the video and cross-reference it to anything that we may know that is currently in our inventory — so whether they be drones, commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles — whatever they may be. There is a great deal of effort by the department to make sure that we always can identify what is flying — whether it is in our airspace or any other airspace.

There's a lot of rigor and diligence that's placed in looking at these, and there is some real talent in the department and in other agencies within the U.S. government that have just an incredible battery of tools to apply toward these things to make sure we know what we're looking at. Truth be told, sometimes we do. ... But unfortunately there are some other incidents that can't be explained, and what our job is to do is to figure out, really it's very simple: What is it, and how does it work?

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's meet a man who has spent years trying to learn about UFOs. Luis Elizondo ran a Pentagon office that investigated sightings by the United States military. It had millions of dollars in funding up until 2012. Though the funding was cut, the work continued and the office was still operating when Elizondo left the Pentagon earlier this year. He's now talking about his experiences. He says American pilots and others reported UFO sightings despite the fear that they'd be laughed at, and a sophisticated group of analysts tried to understand what was being seen.

LUIS ELIZONDO: We had Ph.D.s, we had CI people, we had trained intelligence officers and human case officers - pretty much a full range of talent. Most of us tend to be, by nature, skeptical because we are in the field of intelligence and, of course, national security. But I think once you get into the data itself and the specifics regarding what we're actually seeing, we begin to realize that there may be something here a little bit more than just, you know, what people think are drones or whatever people may chalk it up to be.

INSKEEP: So let's hear one of the videos that your office has examined. And this is taken at an undisclosed time and location, but it appears to have been taken by the gun cameras, the cameras onboard a U.S. military F-18 fighter plane. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's a whole fleet of them. Look on the (unintelligible). My gosh, they're all going against the wind. The wind's 120 miles to the west.

INSKEEP: There's some kind of object. It's above the cloud cover. It's moving in an unusual way for an aircraft. It seems to be some kind of oval, and it even starts to rotate at some point. And there's a mystery about how it could even fly. So when you receive a video like that, what did you do?

ELIZONDO: Well, first of all, we looked at it and we wanted to make sure that it was authentic. Is this video coming from a true DOD platform? Then what we do is we apply some analytics that allow us to look at range, altitude. What was the aircraft doing that we were flying? You know, who's flying it under what conditions, see states? So there's a lot of things that play into what we're looking at. And then at that point, we try to look at what we were seeing on the video and cross reference that to anything that we may know that is currently in our inventory.

So whether they be drones, commercial aircraft, military aircraft, missiles, whatever they may be, there is a great deal of effort by the department to make sure that we always can identify what is flying, whether it's in our airspace or any other airspace. So that's very important.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about with football, if there's a controversial play, you can get the instant replay and look at it from different angles. I guess if you have a video like that from a pilot, you can ask, what did radar see? What did a satellite see? What did other forms of sensors see?

ELIZONDO: Absolutely, right. So it's really cross-referenced. There's a lot of rigor and diligence that's placed in looking at these. And there are some - I'll tell you, there's some real talent in the department and in other agencies within the U.S. government that have just an absolute incredible battery of tools to apply towards these things to make sure that we know what we're looking at. And truth be told, sometimes we do. We look and say, oh, that's X, Y, Z and the reason why it looks this way is because of A, B, C. But unfortunately, there are other incidents that can't be explained. And our job is to do is figure out - really it's very simple - what is it and how does it work?

INSKEEP: So I'm thinking that even if you apply all the science and come up with an object that is still unexplained, unidentified, it could be something other than from outer space, so to speak. It could be part of the air force of another country. It could be an atmospheric phenomenon. For all I know, it could be something done by a part of the U.S. government that's so secret, other parts of the government don't know. But then again, it could be something from another planet, from somewhere else. Do you believe that some of these objects have come from somewhere other than Earth?

ELIZONDO: Look, we can say all day long that it could be an atmosphere condition. We can say all day long that it could be an advanced aerospace test from another part of the government. But you're not just going to go ahead and test something willy-nilly in the vicinity of other major DOD muscle movements. So if you're asking my personal opinion, is it from here? OK, I've got to be honest with you. I don't know where it's from but we're pretty sure it's not here. Now, does that mean it's out there or, you know, whether or not it's Russian or Chinese inside or little green men from Mars or, frankly, your neighbor's dog, I wanted to purposely steer away from that because I wanted to focus on truly the raw science.

What were we seeing and did it pose a threat to national security?

INSKEEP: Luis Elizondo is the former head of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program at the Pentagon. Thank you, Sir.

ELIZONDO: Yes, Sir. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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