Alejandro Rojas = AR
Bryan Bender = BB
AR: I am very happy to welcome to the show, Bryan Bender. Thanks for being here.
BB: Thanks for having me.
AR: And this is fun. We’re live in the studio. And you have your cool NASA shirt on there. Old school.
BB: I do. These t-shirts you can buy at Old Navy. They look like you’ve had for thirty years. They’re brand new and probably made in China.
AR: So, I guess to start off with, I’ve been following your articles for a while and was excited when Politico started doing more space stuff. And one of the things that you put together was a space kind of forum. And you, in the forum, you are interviewing a couple of Congressmen and someone who’s on the like, space committee that advises Trump, that he invoked when he started his presidency. And you ask them about UFOs. Why were you, I guess, prompted to do that?
BB: Well, this was back in 2018. So, about a year ago, maybe a little more. And it was just a couple of months after we reported and the New York Times reported the existence of this Pentagon office, Pentagon program, AATIP, that was researching these unexplained aerial phenomenon. UAPs, as the Pentagon calls them. And we had launched our space newsletter. And this was an event where we had a couple of members of Congress who have oversight of NASA, oversight of the space program and I thought it was a relevant question. You have Navy pilots, other military personnel, who were reporting these unexplained sightings. You had a Pentagon office that was set up or a Pentagon program. I think program is more of an accurate description. An office kind of makes it sound like there was some big operation. But I think it was a couple of people in the Pentagon doing UFO research at the request of Congress, back in the 2007-2008 timeframe, for about five or six years. And that had just come to light. And here I had sort of a captive audience. Two members of Congress who have oversight of the military oversight of space programs.
And so I asked them what they thought of this. And, you know, I think the fact that they did not dodge the question…the fact that this was Congressman Bera, a Democrat from California, Congressman Hultgen, a Republican. They both seem to think that this was a legitimate issue to look into. If you had reports of military personnel who were seeing things in the night sky that they couldn’t explain, that were exhibiting characteristics that they hadn’t seen before, maybe we should look into this more deeply. In fact, I think it was Congressman Holtgren who had joked that the chairman, at the time, of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith, who was getting ready to retire, should hold a hearing, a public hearing on UFOs as his, you know, swan song before leaving Congress. And obviously, that didn’t happen. But I think it demonstrates that Congress, at least some members of Congress, are interested in this issue in a way that, at least publicly, we haven’t seen before. They take some of these reports as credible reports and they feel that the government should do more to try and explain them if they don’t know what they are.
AR: Were you nervous at all asking that question?
BB: I don’t think I was nervous at the time. But, I mean, there’s no doubt having covered the military for…I’m dating myself, but for about twenty-five years now…covering the Pentagon covering military operations. I think I was a little reluctant to dive into this issue when I first got a tip about some Pentagon UFO research that had been going on. As you know better than most, you know, there’s a stigma associated with this issue. The mainstream media has not covered it in a serious way, at least in recent decades, in any sustained way. So yeah, I mean, I think professionally, I worried a little bit. You know, do I become the UFO guy if I start writing a bunch of UFO stories? But I’m not so worried about that anymore. because number one, as I said, members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, a whole host of you know, credible people, are talking about this, are interested in this…want to know more.
I think the issue is less stigmatized than it once was. The fact that you have active-duty, Navy pilots willing to come forward and talk about this and not be afraid their career’s gonna be over as a result, I think shows that it’s an issue that’s entering the more mainstream discussion. Again, I mean, it’s not like, as you know, this issue is all of a sudden popped up out of nowhere. I mean, it’s been discussed, hashed over by researchers, by government agencies for decades and decades. But I think we have a moment here where people are paying attention, government officials are paying attention in a way that maybe they haven’t before, at least publicly, you know. Having a discussion that the public can be engaged in as well. And not just one that happens in secret behind closed doors.
AR: I was most shocked…I guess I was surprised how open they were to it. And not only that, Bera, who is a ranking member of the House Subcommittee on space. I was surprised…he was very enthusiastic about the topic. He said he had even brought it up and said we need to do some more research into this. That was pretty cool.
BB: Yeah, well, I mean I think it demonstrates that there’s also, I think, a generational shift here. I think younger people are the newer generation of government officials. Lawmakers are just more open minded. I mean, let’s face it. I mean, there’s been a lot of policies that have nothing to do with this subject. Whether it’s, you know, the fact that gays can now serve openly in the military.
You know, the fact that an openly gay man is running for president, in the United States, is running for the Democratic nomination. I mean, we live in an era where there is broader acceptance of things that, not that long ago, you know, were pretty controversial. And it’s not like they’re not controversial now. Of course they are. But there’s a willingness to be open minded about things that I think we’re seeing in someone like Congressman Bera, who is not just, you know, burying his head in the sand and saying, this is just kooky stuff, forget about it. And so it’ll be interesting to see how much Congress really does take an interest in this. I mean, clearly, they’ve been briefed about some of the research the Pentagon has done. But as far as I know, they haven’t taken any action. In other words, they’re not appropriating more money for research. They’re not creating new programs to try and look into this. So, you know, I think it remains to be seen whether this will really move the ball or not. But clearly, there’s a conversation going on that I think is new and interesting.
And getting back to what you mentioned before about, you know, being nervous about asking a question like that in that kind of forum. You know, this is a huge story, potentially. I mean, if you cover the Pentagon like I do…I’ve covered the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the defense budget, sort of the the bureaucratic machinations that go on there. If the military is puzzled about unidentified aircraft, spacecraft, undersea craft, whatever you want to call them, that they can’t explain and they’re concerned about, I mean, that’s a huge story, no matter how it plays out. No matter what it is, how it is, where it came from. If they’re being spoofed in some high tech spoofing operation. I mean, that’s a huge story, too, Because whoever’s doing it, is getting the whole military up, spot up over it. And so, I think my job, the way I see it, is to continue to follow the paper trail. What is the Congress doing? What is the Pentagon doing? What can we we learn publicly that’s not secret, that lends maybe a little more understanding to what’s going on, what these things are. And you know, if we can figure out what they are, and it’s what some people have been predicting for many, many, many hundreds of years, that we may be contacted by some extraterrestrials or, you know, a race that lives on another planet or another galaxy. I mean, that would change the course of human history. So like, how could you not cover this story?
AR: Now, we’ll get more into that. But as far as covering AATIP, in particular, the Pentagon program, what can you share about how you first came across that it existed?
BB: Well, this was probably middle of 2017, I guess, when
I got a tip from a source in the Pentagon that there had been
an effort – I don’t know if it was referred to as a program or an office – but that the Pentagon had been researching some of these unexplained sightings and that it had been funded by Congress. It had sort of, in fact, originated in Congress. And at the time, the source was not willing to say a whole lot about details: who, what, when, where, how. But obviously, it intrigued me. You know, if you could prove that there was such an office or such an effort. I mean, Politico covers Congress, politics, policy. And if this was something that Congress had sort of foisted on the Pentagon, or sort of directed the Pentagon to do that, in some ways, made it even more interesting for our audience.
And so that got me sort of starting to dig around, starting to reset, reach out to other sources, both in the government, outside the government, but also in Congress to see whether or not there was anything to this. I mean, it’s no secret to anybody that the “To The Stars Academy” folks like Chris Melon, Tom DeLonge, were very active in this area and were clearly trying to get more of a conversation going, trying to get the government to do more, say more. So that group of people was very helpful. And then, of course, there was Lue Elizondo, who it turns out, was was heavily involved in this research in the Pentagon. It sounded like he was getting frustrated that people weren’t taking it seriously enough. And he was planning to get out of the government, and, as we now know, associate himself also with the “To The Stars Academy. And so I’ll admit, at first, when I heard about this, I was, I was intrigued but at the same time, I was like, you know, are you serious? Pentagon searching for UFOs. Like, is this real? But what really convinced me quite frankly was not the To The Stars Academy’s folks. I mean, obviously, they were helpful. They had an interest in getting this story out. They had a relationship with Mr. Elizondo. But going to the Hill, and going to congressional sources. And, you know, figuring out that it was Harry Reid who was behind this earmark, as it was called. This $25 million or so that was set aside for this program. Reaching some of the congressional staff who had worked on that with him. Not everybody, in fact, most people were not, at the time, willing to go public about it, but they were willing to talk about it. At least convince me that there really was something to this.
And that there was a paper trail that you could follow. Or at least somewhat of a paper trail to prove that this office had existed. There were other officials and who, at the time, were out of government, but had been aware of AATIP at the time…that they were helpful. Again, a lot of these sort of ex-government people did not want to talk publicly but eventually, I think I built up enough of a head of steam to know that this was real…that this had gone on. And that’s when I kind of was ready to go officially to the Pentagon and say, “Hey, here’s what I know. And here’s why I think I know it. Tell me about AATIP.” And the Pentagon was not officially very, you know, willing to say a whole lot, but they were at least in a position to confirm that the offices where the program had existed that it was at the time, now defunct. Because we know by 2012, the money ran out. Harry Reid left the Senate. They didn’t really have a sort of a champion for it, I guess, to keep funding it. The other two senators who were crucial in getting that money originally put into a defense bill: Daniel Inouye and Ted Stevens, had passed away. So they were gone.
But again, I mean, I think…at first I was a little bit puzzled by it all. But you know, the more you peeled back the onion, the more it became clear that this was a real program. I also came to believe that it was one program, but probably just one of a number in the government. I mean, this was one where you had people involved with it willing to talk about it publicly. The “To The stars Academy” people. Particularly Lue Elizondo. Clearly, Harry Reid was willing to talk about it publicly. But you know, what I’m thinking in my mind is, there’s no way, if there’s all these reports and all these potential sightings over the course of many years, that AATIP was the only thing the Pentagon was doing. I mean, in some ways, it’s malpractice, if that’s the only thing they were doing, I just think it’s the only thing in recent years that we know about, because of the way it sort of came together. The way there, you know, there were parties involved that really did think that this should be part of a larger public conversation. And, you know, I think Mr. Elizondo, probably very shrewdly in some ways, plotted while he was still in the Pentagon, how he was going to get out of the government and talk about this. And talk about it in a way that he wouldn’t be violating his security clearance. So this was kind of a perfect storm, I think, where this program got out into the public domain, sparked a huge conversation that, you know, quite frankly, is healthy, in my view. But what I wonder is, what else is there in the military and intelligence agencies, that is still going on in terms of research that we just don’t know about? And, you know, it’ll be very difficult to get information about that, as you know, because a lot of it is secret or classified.
AR: So you have a lot of sources and you were able to verify through several sources, it seems, that the program existed. Did you get a sense, talking to any of those sources, then about these potential other programs?
BB: Not really. I mean, some of these sources were pretty open about how, at least in their view, there was more to this. In other words, AATIP wasn’t the only thing that, you know, fits into that category of a government program or government effort to try and learn more about some of these unexplained sightings. But either they didn’t, the sources didn’t have direct knowledge of those programs or they, you know, weren’t at liberty to talk about them because they were classified in a way that AATIP was not. And that’s what’s interesting about this AATIP effort as well. The earmark, the name of the program, you know, Advanced Aerospace Threat Intelligence Program, I think I got that right.
AR: Identification Program.
BB: Identification Program. Umm, you know, was kind of hiding in plain sight. I mean and they did that purposely. They created this program with a sort of generic sounding name that which could just as easily be about studying Chinese, you know, hypersonic missile development, that, you know, as it could be anything else. And so it was obviously, by definition, easier to talk about. Some of the work that AATIP did was was unclassified. Some of the studies were…at least some of the basic sort of details of what they were looking into, what they were researching. We’ve seen the titles of, you know…hosted these studies that they ordered up. Theoretical studies about what, you know, what these unexplained aircraft might be. But, you know, this gets to an interesting point. You know, what else is there? And did sources talk about other programs around the government?
I’ve come to believe that one of the reasons why, either sources familiar with AATIP, like Chris Mellon, who’s come out publicly and its associated with the “To The Stars Academy.” Lue Elizondo, who oversaw some of this research in the Pentagon. The reason why I think they are constantly saying, “We need to know more, we need to do more research, we need to figure this out,” is because I think whatever the government is doing in other agencies, it’s very decentralized. And it’s very siloed, if you will. In other words, if the CIA has a program that’s looking into this stuff, or the Air Force does, or the Defense Intelligence Agency, or you name it…I’ve come to believe over all these years of covering the Pentagon, that unless you need to know this stuff, unless you are actively brought into a program, you don’t know anything about it. And so, I think even people that have done some work on this issue in the government – either research or collecting data on some of these unexplained sightings – I don’t think a lot of them are necessarily aware of everything else the rest of the organization is doing. And I think that’s one of the things that would be helpful going forward. If Congress was going to do something about this, force the Pentagon, to sweep up all that stuff that it might have elsewhere, and put it in one place. And create sort of a reporting process so that it goes to some central database, or some central office that collects it. Because otherwise, we’re never going to really get a good sense of…we the public is not going to get a good sense. But even the government itself is not going to get a good sense of what it already might know.
AR: If there was a branch of the service, or an agency that didn’t want to give up their secrets, and they didn’t want the others to know, would it be difficult for them, then to hide it and not share it to…let’s say, the Congress, if they were asking?
BB: It would make it harder. But you know, I’m under no illusion that there are parts of the government that might have some relevant information that doesn’t wanna cough it up and doesn’t wanna share it. And there’s a lot of reasons why they wouldn’t necessarily want to share it. I mean, one could just simply be protecting their turf, which is, you know, is a constant game battle that goes on in the government…where agencies and components within agencies are always jockeying for position and authority and control and power. But if you had Congress, mandating by law, that the Department of Defense and maybe other agencies as well – in the intelligence community – had to sweep up whatever they could, on this subject, whatever data they might have, and centralize it or collate it into some some report, it would be harder for these agencies to sit on what they might have, or what they might know.
You know, I think a decent analogy for this kind of effort of getting the government to pull together what it might have in its files,
I think is – I may get the official name wrong – but the Assassination Records Review Board, which was set up in the early 90s after the movie, “JFK,” came out and there was this public outcry. The government knows all this stuff, about who killed JFK, and it’s hiding it. Which, of course, government probably didn’t know all that much. But there were a vast array of agencies: the FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service, who all had stuff still sitting in their files that might have some bearing on, could there have been a conspiracy to kill the president. And John Glenn – since we’re talking about space, former astronaut, who was in the Senate at the time – he was a key co-sponsor of the bill that created this review board underneath the National Archives. It was empowered to go out to all these agencies and say, “Give us what you got, that might be relevant to this sort of list of subjects that we think could have bearing on the murder of President Kennedy.
And I think a lot of historians, a lot of experts will say that process, which took many years. I mean, I think the bill to create the Assassination Records Review Board was in 1992. It was many years before agencies were able to cough up what they had. Obviously, there’s some skepticism that everybody coughed up everything that they had. Maybe they didn’t. There was resistance by the CIA to cough up some things in the latter years, but eventually, even they gave in. So maybe you could create something like that, for this subject of UFOs? A modern day, you know, review board that would be empowered to go to these agencies…would have security clearances, and could gather up what might be in all these other places. And have the power to declassify some of it so that the public could see it. And then that was one of the big things that this review board did on the JFK assassination was, collect up whatever they could, that was still sitting in these old files. And then if they were still secret, try to figure out if you could make some of that public.
AR: We’re out of time for this segment so we’re going to be right back in just a minute. Fascinating conversation, especially with someone with the experience that you have. And we’ll go over that a little bit when we come back from the break. But, we will be right back. For those of you listening on a radio station, you’ll hear a commercial. Otherwise, you’ll hear a short musical interlude and you’re listening to Open Minds UFO radio.
We are back. You’re listening to Open Minds UFO radio. This is your host Alejandro Rojas and we’re here with Politico’s Bryan Bender. And one of the things I was thinking about…one of the difficult things would be and we talked about this with the U2, Let’s say, back in Blue Book. And we even have some CIA files about that. How they were happy for people to think that U2s, the U2 sightings were UFOs. If there’s an official kind of review board, you know, it kind of would make that difficult. So, if like, you know, let’s say the CIA went and said, “Well, the sightings here, you know, in California, where we were testing, those are not UFOs.” And then you’d say, “Well, how do you know that?” And they’d say, “Well, we just know.” But the problem is, then, you’ve just alerted the public, and the Russians, that this particular…these sightings here are something special. They’re not UFOs but they’re something else. So now…the Russians know to take a closer look at these sightings here. So, I mean, that kind of causes a difficult situation, doesn’t it?
BB: Yeah but, you know, I think it would all depend on…I mean, if Congress wanted to do something about this. And it wanted to force the executive branch to gather up, in some comprehensive way, what it knows, what it has…other reports of sightings that have come across over the years. You know, it would be part of figuring out how do you write that law. What’s included? What isn’t included? I mean, you could conceive that some review board establish, a la the JFK assassination, to look at UFOs, would carve out black programs. In other words, if it’s a black program, a secret test program at, you know, Nellis Air Force Base, or in the Skunk Works, that’s not relevant because that’s a government program. It’s not an unidentified flying object. It’s not a, you know, something we can’t explain. Because we have an explanation for that. So you carve that stuff out. And maybe that would be one way to avoid what you’re talking about. And I also think a time frame would be important for this. And you know, there’s so much scar tissue and baggage going back decades, whether it’s Project Blue Book, that the Air Force ran for 20 years, that that didn’t have a ton of credibility, in the aftermath. If it’s, you know, other cases that are so old that, you know, there’s no first person testimony from them anymore or there’s no primary sources involved, maybe you don’t worry about those.
I mean, maybe this is, I don’t know, 1990 to now, which I still think would be important and would move the ball. Because it’s, number one, a relatively finite period of time that’s manageable for the bureaucracy to do. I mean, if you’re going to ask the CIA and the Air Force to go back to 1947 and dig up everything they know, I mean that thing would take years. And there probably would be huge gaps in, you know. And there’d be a lot of things, they wouldn’t have any records on it at all. Because, you know, people don’t realize this, but, you know, the stuff that goes into the National Archives, or the stuff that, by law, these agencies have to save, it’s like two or three percent of what they generate. So, I think, you know, maybe 1990, I’m just throwing that out there. But that’s, you know, a significant period, you know, 1990-2020 is, what, 30 years. And, you know, people are going to be around who wrote those reports, or who saw those things in the sky and went to their commander and said, “Hey, what the hell is that? What should we do about it?” And, I think, to your point, I think they’re, you know, you’d have to sort of carefully think about how do you write this law? How do you? How do you mandate the government to do this? Do it in a way that is manageable?
AR: Makes sense. So when, since you had various sources to kind of vet the story to figure out that this Pentagon program existed, and you obviously were ahead of the game once this information started rolling out – New York Times article and everything – did you ever question any of the statements made by To The Stars or Luis Elizondo? Were you like, “Hey, that doesn’t sound, you know, to jive up to what I had discovered.”
BB: Number one, I mean, pretty much everything the To The Stars Academy’s people – and obviously, that includes Chris Mellon includes Lou Elizondo, even though he had worked in the Pentagon, and some of the others – I mean, everything they told me, turned out to be true. In other words, I mean, that was…went a long way in convincing me that they were credible. Because there were,
you know, there were, for example, there were documents associated with AATIP that I was able to see early on. I wasn’t able to report on them because that was the ground rules. But as I educated myself about this program and started to come up with ideas for how do I verify this other ways, there were documents that named other people, other offices that I was then able to sort of track down and see if what the To The Stars Academy’s people were telling me, panned out. And everything they told me about AATIP panned out.
And so that gave me confidence. But there’s no doubt I was wary of their motives. I mean, you know, what’s their dog in this fight? Is it just public knowledge? And, you know, understanding and we got to get to the bottom of, you know, the biggest mystery of human history? Or is there some other motive? And so, you know, I was certainly aware of that. But again, what they told me panned out through other sources. I think the congressional side of the reporting was key. I mean, that’s where this AATIP program was born. There were people that were still up there, staffers and the like, who had direct knowledge of it, who were able to verify it. But you know, to this day, I still look at the, “To The Stars Academy,” folks as sort of one very key piece of this story, but just one piece of it. And, you know, in the end, I think, as I said before, I mean, as the story goes forward, in some ways, I think it’s becoming less and less about them. I mean, if the Navy’s issuing guidelines, they’re not doing that, because To The Stars Academy is telling them to do that They’re doing that, because members of Congress give a shit about it, and are being briefed by these pilots and saying, “What are you doing about this?” And so the Navy’s saying, “Well, here’s what we’re doing about it.”
And so I think, the To The Stars Academy’s folks kind of lit a fire. And I think they deserve credit for that. But you know, let’s face it, Tom, has said some pretty kooky things. And I say, kooky, you know, not, I mean that sounds negative. But like, and he’s obviously got a vision, he’s got ideas that as a reporter, I can’t verify. There’s no paper trail for some of that stuff. So, in some ways, I, you know, I try to ignore some of that and stick to what I said before. What is the government doing? What is it learning? How much of that can can we learn? Are there things we could FOIA?
AR: I think that answers a big question, because I get that a lot, too. Why aren’t you paying attention to what Tom DeLonge says. Well, it’s another opinion out there, but it’s nothing substantiated.
BB: Right. And this, you know, opinions are a dime a dozen. And everybody’s entitled to them. And some have more interesting ones than others. But like, I can’t traffic in opinion. I mean, we have people who write opinion pieces at Politico but that’s that’s not my job.
AR: And Tom DeLonge has not been and might have to write one about the space battles, (laughs)
BB: Right, and as far as I know he hasn’t pitched one, either. And I’m sure we would look at it, if he pitched it., But, you know, there’s a difference between sort of source reporting, using multiple sources to verify facts and trying to unpack, you know, this thicket of theories and ideas of what this might all mean, or what this could be.
AR: That brings up another topic. One of the sources of information, of course, is the public affairs office. And the public affairs office at the DoD, in particular has been kind of, I feel, and you can correct me, inconsistent, in that they have kind of, at times, said they couldn’t verify information, essentially that Lue Elizondo had said. At times, they said, “Well, we don’t even think that’s accurate.” And later, they kind of recanted. So, I had that, is that surprise you that they’ve kind of had this, these all these varying answers all over the place?
BB: Doesn’t surprise me. I mean, one thing I’ve learned covering the Department of Defense all these years, is that, particularly when it comes to the most sensitive issues, that by definition, if the bureaucracy talks about it, they know they can’t control it. In other words, the message cannot be controlled. It’s just going to spin out of control. The public affairs people are usually the last to know. And the last to be empowered to say anything about it. So, I also think it’s important…when the Pentagon spokesperson, any spokesperson, says we can’t verify that, that’s a very sort of specific term of art. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it doesn’t exist. It’s just that we can’t verify it. In other words, people won’t share information with me, the spokesperson. Or there’s no paper trail, or we can’t prove it. I think there’s a “Hollywoodized” version that everybody, a lot of people, including me sometimes, is sort of internalized about the military. That they’re so together, and everybody keeps track of everything and knows everything. And the truth is, they’re just human beings like we are.
And so it’s not surprising to me that it might appear that the Pentagon has changed its story on Lue Elizondo. I’ve come to believe that Lue Elizondo clearly was deeply involved in this program, at its beginning. He was one of the very few people that was approved to be involved in it. It was not his main job to cover or research UFOs. In fact, wasn’t his job at all. Until he was read into that program. He was a counterintelligence officer who did lots of other things over the course of his career. And I think that’s where there’s some nuance here to his role, that it’s gotten lost a little bit. And I think the Pentagon spokespeople have kind of muddled it even more. And that is, AATIP is created as a budget line and a sort of a program. Not an office. There wasn’t an office with AATIP on the door, where a bunch of people were working. It was a portfolio, in addition to a number of other intelligence portfolios, or jobs, quote, unquote, that the people who were associated with it, had to do.
My sense is that Elizondo gets read into this, starts, you know, carrying out some of the work, interviewing people, gathering some of these testimonies. And he sort of got obsessed with it. Because, you know, he was like, “Shit! I mean, this stuff is going on? And we have a measly $25 million program about it?” I mean, $25 million dollars is nothing in the Pentagon. It’s like the coins in the couch, that you clean out once a year. And so I think he becomes obsessed with it. He takes it on. And I think when AATIP officially winds down in 2012, because the money runs out, I think he continues to operate that portfolio. Continues to do some of the work, along with all the other stuff that was actually his real job. And so, if you’re a spokesperson now, in 2019 and you got to go back and verify that Lue Elizondo, quote, unquote, ran AATIP until he departed the government in 2017, you can’t really do that. I mean, because there really wasn’t an AATIP, officially. There was no budget line. But what’s clear to me is that he was involved in it when it did exist.
And then for a number of years after that, he continued to do the research. Kind of freelancing, if you will. I think he clearly had some buy-in from his superiors to keep doing it. In other words, they didn’t say, “Mr. Elizondo, stop doing that stuff.” But it was one of a number of jobs that he had, and clearly one that so captured him that he’s still doing it now that he’s out of the government. But I think some of that background, at least to me, explains why there’s this sort of confusion. Like, either he was there or he wasn’t there. I mean, it’s not as clear cut as…here’s the office, here’s the roster of the employees who work there. Here’s when they started and here’s when they left. I mean, that’s just not how the intelligence business works. Particularly a small program, like AATIP. And like I said, it was very small. Which makes me think it’s got to be one of a number of other things the government’s been doing in recent years.
AR: So, at least in the responses that the DoD has had – the press, public affairs – does it indicate to you that they have been kind of purposely, kind of unhelpful? Or is it just that they just aren’t in the know? It’s just normal kind of day to day?
BB: I don’t know for sure. I mean, I know Chris Sherwood, the spokesperson in question, and he’s, you know, he’s been helpful over the years on lots of other issues. But, you know, he’s a government functionary, like, pretty much everyone else. And he’s gotta operate in a specific lane. He can’t just, you know, talk freely about whatever he wants to talk about. And, and I think in this case, it’s a combination of, it’s difficult to verify, in a way that, you know, some very confrontational reporters might want. They want it in black and white. Either he read it, or he didn’t! Tell me! And it’s just not that simple. Or I should say, it’s not that simple to verify, years after, if you’re the poor spokesman who, you know, only gets told what higher ups are willing to tell you, to then go tell the public or to go tell a reporter.
AR: And you have more access, cause you have more sources than perhaps he even has, in that, you know, you have these sources who maybe won’t go on the record, but will at least tell you something, where you can put together a story. Where as Sherwood has a lot more restrictions, it would seem, than even you would have.
BB: And I think from Sherwood’s perspective, and again, you’d have to talk to him. But this is an issue that – and I think people forget this – that was…this was an office or an effort, a program, AATIP that was foisted on the Pentagon. The Pentagon didn’t go to Congress, like it does every year with a $730 billion budget request and say, “Give us a UFO research office.” They never asked for it. Harry Reid wanted them to do it. And so, he had the power, he had the juice to get the money and get them to do it. And so, this particular effort was never sort of fully owned, if you will, by the Pentagon. I don’t think it’s something they want to talk about willingly. I mean, it’s, it’s got so many minefields, if you will, in terms of public messaging, probably more than virtually any other issue because of the stigma. Because of the distrust of how the government has handled this issue for all these decades.
And so, the Pentagon would probably prefer to say nothing and make this go away. But a reporter is haranguing, Chris Sherwood for a quote. and so he does his due diligence, you know, to his credit. He tries to figure out, can I verify, can I prove that yes, Lue Elizondo did A, B, C and D. And he’s like, I’m not getting anywhere. So, you know, I can’t verify it. So that’s what I think where that came from. It didn’t mean that he wasn’t doing it…that he was a fraud, and he’s a liar and none of this stuff he says about his work for AATIP is true. I just think it’s not that easy for a spokesman to sort of unpack it all and figure it out.
AR: But there is a public affairs office, we’ve heard, that has been very cooperative and we’ve heard a lot from. It’s not the Air Force. We’ve heard very little from the Air Force or anybody else. But, you broke story about something you mentioned earlier about the Navy coming up with new, UFO reporting guidelines. They’ve also seemingly have at least given permission for the active pilots to go on the show that you’re on – “Unidentified” for the History Channel, and speak. So it seems like there’s a level of cooperation with the Navy. What’s the difference? What’s going on
BB: Well, I mean, I think the Department of Defense is a huge place. And there’s not just different military services – the branches of the military that all have their own different culture – but all kinds of different agencies that just operate differently. So when you say The Pentagon, you gotta be specific about well, what are you talking about in the Pentagon? Now, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, under which Elizondo worked and where some of this research went on? Very different animal than the Department of the Navy. And is just going to deal with issues differently and be more forthcoming or less forthcoming, depending on what the issue is. The Navy, in my experience, has always been much more forward leaning when it comes to public affairs and interacting with the media and the public. The Navy, unlike the other branches of the military, for many years, being a public affairs officer was a real job. It was your full-time job to be a spokesperson. You were trained in it. You went to school to know how to do it. There was a real sort of culture of Navy spokespeople, men and women, enlisted sailors who were in that specialty, but also officers.
And so I think, I think the Navy’s perspective is, you know, this is happening. These pilots are seeing this stuff. These are obviously credible people, otherwise we wouldn’t let them fly $25 million fighter jets. We’d find something else for them to do. Congress is interested and Congress holds the purse strings. So if there’s powerful members of the Senate or the House who want us to do more, we’re going to do more. And then when it comes to talking to the media, I mean, I think they’re just…their view is let’s be out in front of it. Because if we’re not and we don’t talk or we’re mum, or we’re, “No comment,” it just feeds more suspicion. Well, they must be hiding something. Why are they not talking about this?
So, I don’t think the Navy, you know, on the list of things that they are like, anxious to talk about, UFOs is at the top of the list. But I think it’s a different culture where you know, this is happening, the bureaucracy is responding with these new guidelines for pilots to report these things, and so they’re willing to talk about it. And I just think they’re probably a little more forward leaning than maybe the Army would be. Or the Air Force, which is also something I’ve been digging into. The Air Force said very little about this.
The Navy seeing these things. Why, I mean, you would think the Air Force would want in on it? I mean, why are they being left out? And I’m sure…but the Air Force is also a different culture. So maybe pilots don’t feel as comfortable coming forward to talk about it.
AR: Have you made any progress with the Air Force?
BB: Not a ton. But I’ve made some inquiries. I’ve filed some FOIAs.
AR: How much confidence do you have in the FOIA process? I mean, it seems like that’s, at least from our discussion, that’s the last place you go because it’s not very fruitful, as opposed to going to sources or even the public affairs department.
BB: Yeah, FOIA’s is very frustrating. I mean, number one, I think,
you know, the these agencies, by definition, are created to hide things, not to reveal things. I mean, it’s the national security state. And so, by definition, FOIA doesn’t get a lot of attention. The FOIA office is always small and undermanned. And, you know, the gap between how many people they have to respond to these requests, and the amount of requests, is so vast that it’s just a time suck. I mean, you have to be very patient if you’re going to FOIA things. That’s different with some agencies, like I said, different cultures. Some agencies are more responsive. I found, for example, the State Department is pretty responsive. If you know what you’re asking for, and they can reveal it, they can release it, they’ll do it within relatively few months. Very different, you know, if you’re talking about some some agency in the Pentagon.
But FOIA can be helpful if you know exactly what you’re looking for. And that’s where, you know, I’ve always advised other reporters, younger reporters who want to get more familiar with the FOIA process. Don’t think of FOIA as like, the be all, end all. In other words, I’m going to write a letter to this agency and I’m going to ask for documents on subject A, and they’re going to give me a bunch of good, juicy stuff. You have to combine FOIA with source report. You have to do the source supporting upfront to know what to ask for. Because the more specific you can be on a set of documents, a set of memos…who wrote them, when they were written. I mean, the more specific you can be, the easier it’s going to be for that bureaucrat to go find it, wherever it is in the agency, if it is in the agency.
I like to tell this story about a colleague of mine at the New York Times, a very good reporter, nationally recognized reporter. Once had a secret document that was really juicy and he wanted to use it. The source gave it to him but it was classified so he couldn’t use it. So he FOIA’d it, and got another copy of it. Of course redacted, in certain places. But he was able to get it mainly because he already had it. He knew the date, he knew the name of the guy who wrote it, who he wrote it to. And so I tell that story because it’s like, it’s like the perfect…not a very usual example. But the more specific you can be, the more lucky you’re going to be or successful you’re going to be in getting what you want,
AR: Which is kind of ironic, because at least I know one person and well, you know, there’s someone, there’s a person out there. And I hesitate to mention his name. I’m going to mention his name because he’s John Greenewald, who’s done a lot of great work. But he’s been critical of you and I recently. But he’s done that where he’s had the actual document, FOIAs it, and they’re like, “We don’t have it,” Even though he’s like, “I’ve got it right here. I’m showing it to you, a copy.” And so it’s funny how that happens sometimes. But it may be kind of what you’re going back to, they just don’t have permission to release it.
BB: I don’t know if permission to release it, or…
AR: “Maybe they can’t even find it anymore.”
BB: I was just gonna say, I mean, if anybody spent even three minutes at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, you understand pretty quickly how difficult it is for these massive government agencies to just keep track of stuff. And keep track of it in a way that it’s easily, locatable 30 years later, or 20 years later, or even five years later. But it also doesn’t mean that that government agency that John’s dealing with, isn’t trying to hide it, either. I’ve come across that many times where there are agencies, particularly national security agencies that don’t want to be transparent. They just don’t. It’s not in their DNA. Especially when either 1) It might reveal sources and methods. I think that is a legitimate concern. If they’re a spy agency, or they’re a national security outfit, they don’t want the enemy, quote, unquote, to know how they operate. I think they overuse that excuse to sit on stuff and hide stuff.
And the courts, usually side with the National Security bureaucracy, because there’s no court judge that wants to be blamed for forcing the CIA to reveal something that then (affects?) national security. So they they totally abuse that sources and methods excuse like, if we give you this document, our enemy will know how we gather intelligence. They’ll learn something that they don’t know. Embarrassing stuff? They hide that shit all the time. Even if it’s decades old. They don’t want stories that show that the CIA was playing a double game. Or, you know, and so, by law, that’s not a good enough excuse. I mean, the FOIA law is pretty specific. They can’t withhold something because it’s embarrassing. They have to have a better reason than that. But I have no illusions that they’ve they’ve given other excuses just so they can cover up something that looks bad. And then I think there’s this huge problem of just finding this stuff. I mean, if it still exists, if it wasn’t destroyed. And not necessarily destroyed because somebody is hiding something. It’s just like, it’s like you do every spring…you go through your garage and you throw stuff out. I mean, these agencies do that, too.
AR: Often, if there’s a box, even I know there might be something useful in it, I just don’t want to go through it anymore? I’ll throw the whole box away.
BB: So yeah, I mean, I think FOIA is a tool, but it’s one tool if you want to try and get.
AR: So we’re running out of time so this will be the last question. You alluded to this a little bit, of the possibilities of where this can all go. But do you have any sense of where it might be going? It seems like, you know, there’s a lot of talk going on in Washington, now. We had another senator just today say she was briefed on UFOs and kind of has a positive view.
BB: I missed that.
AR: Yeah, I’d have to look up who it was. I’ll do that in a minute. But could you see maybe an agency being created or maybe the Navy taking this on? Or like you said, something more? Where is it going? And do you have any sense of that?
BB: It’s hard to know, I don’t anticipate any major steps. I mean, I think if there are steps, they will be incremental ones. They will be something like, you know, when Congress doesn’t really want to do anything, they always require the executive branch to send a report to Congress. So like, I think that’s possible, like get the Pentagon to report back on this, ideally, in some public way, or at least some report that could have a public summary or executive summary. I don’t think we’re at the point where like, Congress is going to hold public hearings about this. I mean, never say never. It’s possible that one of these members of Congress who’ve been briefed and have taken an interest in this, could, you know, get the gavel of some key committee and decide, “Hey, I want to have hearings on this.” But I don’t anticipate that’s happening anytime soon.
As you know, there’s, you know, a lot of other issues on their plate. And, you know, I don’t know that UFOs is at the top of it. I also think, though, going forward – and I’ve just seen this, even just in my own inbox, or people who send me messages, encrypted messages through like different communications apps – there’s people in the government that have seen these stories in the mainstream, have seen these briefings on the hill, who know shit and want to talk about it. And I’m getting a sense that there’s sort of this, this new environment where you might see other government people come forward, to the extent they can. Say something that’s not…
AR: Kind of other Elizondos who have information that’s not as classified as…
BB: Right, or other pilots, or other personnel that have seen things.
I’ve heard from some folks that I’m sort of trying to vet their, their claims, who are government people who attest that they know of some things, to0 that might be of interest to the public. Not just in the Pentagon. Other government agencies. More civilian agencies.
AR: But I mean, and to that, too, I mean, that when it comes to the sources and vetting the information, I would imagine a lot of people in the government, even some with high titles, maybe even generals, are also kind of subject to believing in conspiracy theories, or things that just maybe aren’t even real. They just read it somewhere. And they think, “Hey, this could be. And I think this is something that’s going on.”
BB: But I also think the more the mainstream media covers it, the more you know, good or bad, the more some of these members of Congress and others will feel like they can take this on more. They can talk about this more. I keep coming back to…I read about it recently, I was not aware of it. But this thing known as The Overton Window, which is a theory that actually, Elizabeth Warren, who’s running for President, talks about quite a bit. Overton was a professor not that long ago, in the 90s. I think he died quite young in his 40s. But he, The Overton Window that he came up with was basically the idea that there are only certain things that you can talk about, in the sort of public square. Certain policies, certain ideas that are, quote, unquote, acceptable. And that could be on education policy, it could be on anything. There’s just sort of a window of what you can talk about and what you can propose. And I think she’s one who thinks The Overton Window is cracking, that it’s widening, What is acceptable to throw out there as a policy prescription or as an idea, is just a bigger universe now. And I think a lot of the policy she’s proposing on the campaign trail, sort of fit into that. Like 10 years ago, nobody would ever propose any of that stuff. But she feels like she can. And I think the UFO issue is maybe one that’s also kind of in that category. Where, you know, the Overton window is widening and talking about this.
I mean, let’s face it, it’s pretty cool, pretty surprising, that, you know, the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the Senate will come out and talk to a reporter and say, “Yeah, I got a briefing on UFOs and I think it’s important to get to the bottom of this.”
I mean, just the fact that he’s willing, comfortable enough to say that, and not be ridiculed. And, you know, I’m sure he’s being ridiculed. I’ve, in fact, I’ve seen Senator Mark Warner be ridiculed on Twitter. But that I think is going to be interesting to see going forward, as you were saying. What’s next? I think more stories about sightings, more reports from these credible witnesses getting coverage,
AR: And organizations like Politico, and you’ve said that you ran it past people: “Hey, it’s cool I’m covering the UFOs, right? And it seems like you’re okay. And the more you break the story…
BB: The deep, dark secret is it drives a lot of clicks. It does! I mean people are interested in this and that’s not reason enough journalistically to cover it. But I definitely have some buy in that, you know, if we can keep following the paper trail and learn new things about what the government is learning on this issue, then that’s, that’s newsworthy.
AR: And Politico is going to keep covering it. And hopefully, then the competition is going to see that and they’re going to want to jump in, too.
BB: Well, I think they have, I mean, as you’ve seen, even just some of these stories we’ve written or The Times has written…
AR: ABC brought it up with the President. So…
BB: And if the President doesn’t believe it, then…Isn’t he supposed to get that briefing as soon as he comes into office?
AR: I thought he believed in everything? Right! I know!
BB: But that gets back to the “Hollywoodized” version of it. I mean, I think the government knows a lot more than they’re saying. But I also think it’s quite possible that people in the government who are supposed to know all that stuff, don’t know it. Because they don’t know where it is! And, you know, the guy who knew it, retired 20 years ago and never handed the file to anybody else. So…
AR: Maybe it’ll pop up on eBay.
BB: But a vast conspiracy in the government to sort of hide what they know, at least in my experience, just gives them more credit than they deserve. I mean, they’re just not that good. And it doesn’t mean that there haven’t been cover ups. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t hidden things. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t put out disinformation. But who’s they? One little component of this larger organization, which doesn’t talk to the rest? Or, is it, you know, some Department of Defense-wide conspiracy? I just don’t…maybe that was possible back in the 40s, and the 50s and 60s before the internet, before globalization. That, you know, there was really a tight-knit group of people, all white men, who could keep all that stuff secret? Maybe that’s possible Back then, I just don’t see how it’s possible now. And again, it doesn’t mean there aren’t pockets that are hiding things. And that’s what we’re trying to do, is try to like, shake the trees and see if we can get more out of where are these pockets?
AR: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Great discussion.
BB: It was fun.
AR: Alright, well, hopefully be able to have you back to talk some more.
BB: Sounds good.
AR: Thank you so much to Bryan Bender for being on the show. He was awesome! So check him out in Politico. Like I said, he’s the defense editor. He’s actually the space editor as well. Of course, space being another topic close to my heart. Hopefully, he’ll hire me to write an article or two. No pressure, Mr. Bender if you’re listening, But I really love what he had to say. I think what’s great about this is, he’s very practical, pragmatic. And look, this is how I go about vetting a story. This is why, you know, how he gauges the veracity of one piece of information over another. There are a lot of people who have been criticizing him and other journalists. Some of them even lumping me in with some of these guys, which I’m completely honored to be lumped in with these group of people. Because people like George Knapp or Bryan Bender, cuz, or Leslie Kean, because I think they’re excellent, and some of the best in the business or best, especially covering this sort of thing.
And, you know, there’s reasons why people do what they do and why they will, you know…there are methods to their madness. And especially when they’re people that are seasoned and experienced, you know, to find out, you just have to ask. So that’s what we’re doing here is asking and figuring out, “Well, why do you take this piece of information as more important as others?” So for instance, I even got that this weekend from some of my colleagues. Well I heard that someone at DoD said that Lue did not work for AATIP. No, that’s not really what he said. What he probably should have said is something along the lines of, “According to the information I have, here’s the deal.” Because that’s more accurate. Because as we learned from Bender, you know, they just don’t always have the information available to them to answer the questions being posed to them completely. And that’s the situation we have. But when we have such a huge amount of associated people, to all of this, confirming, you know, information, such as Elizondo’s participation and the level of participation he had, then we’ve got pretty, pretty strong information to support, you know, his claims. Which so far have all turned out to be accurate. And I hope you get a sense, too, because people have accused, “Oh, Bryan’s on the TV show. So he’s going to be helping to push that.” No! He doesn’t make money off the TV show. He makes money off of Politico and his job, of course, at Politico, is much more important to him than any television show. Let alone his integrity as a journalist, which is extremely important to any major journalist, or any journalists worth their salt. And I think you get a sense here that Bender is certainly worth his salt. So, very honored to have him on the show. It was wonderful to hear his insights. And to me, they have been extremely helpful, as far as
helping to keep perspective and to unpack this information, and to understand everything that’s going on. So yep, thank you so much to Bryan. Check him out on Politico.
Oh, yeah. A couple things, too. Bryan will most likely, it looks like he’s willing to, and we would love to him to participate in a panel at the International UFO Congress. So imagine this, imagine this, if you will…A journalism panel with George Knapp and Bryan Bender and me asking them questions. And the audience as well. You all getting to join in on this. How cool would that be? Well, that’s what we’re looking at doing and you’re only going to find this at the International UFO Congress. So go to www.ufocongress.com to sign up for that and look at some of the other speakers. So we will have George Knapp. We’re going to have a lot of other really great speakers at the conference. And so check that out.
A lot of stuff to you probably haven’t heard anywhere else. And especially in today’s environment where this topic is becoming more serious. I think you’re going to want to educate yourself on some of the cool stuff out there and some of the more interesting cases such as I’m very excited to see this talk from to East Snyder, these late 1800 cases of mysterious airships is what they were called. But some of the things I didn’t perform like airships. And these were written about in the news really, really cool stuff. So I’m excited for her talk among many of the other talks that will be there. So check out UFO congress.com.