Answering "Who Else Knows"

To find out more about Luis Elizondo's resignation, I contacted him for an interview. He graciously agreed. I asked him directly, what did you mean by "who else knows?" He responded at length.

Answering "Who Else Knows"

In my last post about foreign intelligence interest in UAP, I ended with a series of questions. Many of these are about Thread-3, a little known cache of documents obtained by journalist George Knapp from the former Soviet Union. The documents are arguably a minor piece of a larger picture, but they provide an interesting entry point to a number of significant and unresolved problems. Here are those questions again:

  1. In the three years since Elizondo's resignation, are we any closer to finding out "who else knows?"
  2. What exactly is in the Thread-3 materials? Is it possible to evaluate their credibility nearly thirty years after they were obtained?
  3. What role did the Thread-3 materials play in the thinking of AATIP era officials? How was their credibility and relevance assessed during the life of the program?
  4. Is there significant public evidence that foreign intelligence programs have taken an interest in this subject?

We'll answer them all here. But first, a brief summary is in order if you haven't read the previous piece:

Luis Elizondo, former director of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), left a resignation letter outlining his policy concerns to then Secretary of Defense Mattis in the form of a series of "hard questions." The first question: "Who else knows?" Here is that letter again:

https://www.history.com/news/unidentified-ufo-investigation-documents

Other questions focused on uncertainties regarding the capabilities of "unusual aerial systems," and a lack of appropriate resources for studying the problem. Approximately a year after his resignation, Elizondo wrote a Medium piece about the national security implications of UAP, and a potential knowledge gap with competitors. Here is a key excerpt that expands on his concerns:

https://medium.com/hackernoon/why-unidentified-aerial-phenomena-are-a-national-security-risk-and-also-an-opportunity-for-progress-5f219768fa8f

This concern with foreign adversaries capitalizing on UAP studies is echoed in a public presentation given by Dr. Puthoff, also formerly associated with the AATIP program. The New York Times published this slide outlining the AATIP threat model:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/insider/UFO-reporting.html

The slide is nearly identical to ones used in a presentation by Dr. Puthoff to a 2018 joint meeting of the International Remote Viewing Association and the Society For Scientific Exploration. The presentation can be viewed in its entirety online here:

The next slide in the presentation after the "Future threat" comment references material from the "Soviet 'THREAD 3' Project":

Researcher Keith Basterfield has documented claims surrounding Thread-3, as well as the origin of the materials. In brief, journalist George Knapp and Bryan Gresh obtained a set of documents from Russian sources in the early 1990s. These documents are said to describe a Soviet UFO program and its findings. The documents have never been publicly released.

To sum, the arguments from AATIP so far:

  1. There is an intrinsic national security threat from unidentified objects with apparent technological superiority
  2. There is a secondary threat from a competitor potentially learning something of value from observing and studying that technology
  3. AATIP itself has no publicly articulated version of this model, but it does have an argument by proxy in the New York Times via Dr. Hal Puthoff. The New York Times team contends that this proxy argument is basically representative of the views of AATIP, even if AATIP did not use identical language (e.g. "offworld" derivation, etc)
  4. The presentation by Puthoff points prominently to Thread-3 as evidence of a secondary intelligence threat

I sought to find out more about Elizondo's resignation, the arguments above, and further details about the role of the Thread-3 material. Here is what I found out.


1: "Who Else Knows?"

To find out more about Luis Elizondo's resignation, I contacted him for an interview. He graciously agreed. I asked him directly, what did you mean by "who else knows?" He responded at length. His answer is nuanced, so I quote him fully below:

The question I posed, I challenged the Secretary of Defense with, was really to let them know A) that there are other people who have been briefed on this within his staff at very senior levels...that information hasn't come forward yet, but it will. Probably in short order. The world will realize soon that it was more than just my little organization AATIP that was aware of what was going on. We did brief, regularly, routinely, very very senior members of DOD. I wanted the boss to know that, hey, look, this isn't a shot out of left field. This is something that is enduring. If you look at the documentation back to 2009 when Senator Harry Reid wanted to SAP this capability, this was an enduring effort. Not just a one-off.
Furthermore, on the other side of that coin is that "hey, look, we didn't have much luck finding if there are any other organizations in the US government that were involved in this. Everywhere we went, everybody was like "nah, Lue, we never had anything like this, we don't have any data. At my level, I can ask the question and the answer isn't necessarily provided. Whereas, if the Secretary asks the question you're going to have other...you've raised that up several levels, several orders. Now people are going to have to answer that question.
If there are individuals in the Department of Defense or in the intelligence community that are indeed running another AATIP like program, well, he should know about that, because we should be working together, right? The Senate was only aware of AATIP, so then you go to elements working, if you will, below, sub rosa, below the surface, out of the public view and out of certainly governmental oversight, which is really problematic if you don't have any type of oversight. I think the Secretary deserved to know that. That line in there was very specific. It was both to say, hey, you need to ping the system within, because there are people who are aware of this and there is an email trail and documentation galore that is out there in your own systems: both unclassified and classified systems. Furthermore, there may be other similar type activities out there that we were not privy to that certainly you need to be privy to as a Secretary.

Because I have quoted Mr. Elizondo at such length, I'm also providing the original audio from our conversation with his permission:

It turns out that Elizondo's question was internal, rather than external. At least initially. I asked him to clarify if it was purely an intrainstitutional question or if there were also concerns about what counterparts elsewhere in the world might know.

Elizondo stated that concerns about foreign intelligence were also on his mind, particularly with respect to "nuclear synergies" in our national defense. Specifically, he mentioned that if these unusual aerial systems are Russian or Chinese, they demonstrate a preoccupation with nuclear strike and defense capabilities. Elizondo stressed "there is certainly a foreign intelligence and security services issue here. There has always been a cat-and-mouse game." Further, he said that in his estimation, "the greatest threat of all is that a foreign adversary has a better understanding of this than us."

I asked him about his estimation that other countries may know more than us. This position is based on his review of intelligence related to foreign expenditures. Elizondo stated, "we know as a demonstrable fact that some of our adversaries have had their own UAP programs. And they have spent significant resources trying to understand the phenomena."

He went on to say that, "the investment the US has in this effort is paltry compared to some other countries out there. Some of these countries are not necessarily allied to US interests. So that should be a concern. These are by the way, very capable countries."

He further explained that major power intelligence efforts in this domain have historically had a similar structure to that of the United States. In other words, odd topics like remote viewing, psychic abilities, and UFOs were often studied and managed together under "weird desk" programs.

Elizondo pointed to open source reporting available via the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) as evidence of ongoing Soviet and Russian investment in programs related to psychotronics –  a significant example of "weird desk" activities. In fact, a 1972 DIA study painted a rather alarming picture of Soviet engagement in this field:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP96-00787R000100120001-9.pdf

The picture described here – one in which the Soviet Union might achieve a kind of paranormal "gap" with the United States is also reflected in a series of leaked slides describing AATIP's "sub-focus areas":

Source: https://ufos-scientificresearch.blogspot.com/2018/08/aatip-documents-found-on-us-website.html

Objective estimates of how much the Soviet Union invested in these capabilities are hard to obtain. One review estimated that some half-billion dollars were invested. It is unclear however if those estimates are properly adjusted for inflation.

The fearful picture described by the DIA was contradicted years later in the closing days of the U.S. government's own psychic spying program. Essentially, the conclusion in 1995 was that the Russian efforts, while substantial, did not amount to a significant threat. The language also references a CIA assessment in 1977, with similar conclusions as the earlier DIA report:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP96-00791R000100180001-8.pdf

Despite this 1995 conclusion, concerns about psychotronic weapons appear to have re-emerged years later in the AATIP threat model. This re-emergence makes some sense, given the involvement of figures like Dr. Puthoff, who were foundational to the state study of parapsychology.

Aside from the particular relevance of psychotronic weapons, which are beyond the scope of this piece, Elizondo points to the considerable investment in this area as a concern regarding UAP. His reasoning is that these programs are essentially fused, and there is some reason to think the Soviet Union took the issue more seriously than the United States.

In sum, Elizondo's formulation of the question "who else knows" did in fact include concerns about foreign interest. The logic is straightforward; any source of potential technological advantage is of national security interest. Even more so when other countries appear to be investing significant resources.

Importantly however, Elizondo's original intent behind the question was to probe the internal knowledge of the Department of Defense. The "who" in his sentence primarily referenced other elements of government that he suspected might be involved in the subject. I asked him: what made you go looking for these other elements in the first place? Were there indications of another program outside of conventional oversight?

His answer:  no, there were ultimately no indications of a program operating outside of oversight. However, AATIP was aware of a precursor effort in possession of data that was not shared with the program. Details about this precursor effort are unclear, and much work remains ahead to responsibly document and report it.

After discussing the outlines of Elizondo's broad concern about foreign intelligence interest, we moved into the specifics. What about Dr. Puthoff's discussion of Thread-3 as evidence of Soviet interest in UAP?


2: What Exactly Is In Thread-3?

In order to find out more about the Thread-3 documents, I contacted Dr. Puthoff for comment. Based on his recollection, he first became aware of the documents in the 2008-2009 period, approximately fourteen years after they were obtained. Dr. Puthoff worked with journalist George Knapp to vet the documents, was aware of who translated the documents, and worked alongside an unspecified number of other "technical experts." The materials are comprised of one long document, which he describes as being over one hundred pages in length.

I asked him if he assessed the risk of disinformation in the documents in light of Soviet intelligence tactics. Succinctly, he tells me that he did, but found no evidence of such. He did not comment on how the documents were reviewed; simply that they had been.

Dr. Puthoff stated that he currently has access to the documents. When asked if he is able to make them public, he answered that he is not because they are "BAASS-propietary, sensitive information." Here, BAASS refers to Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, the vehicle for the predecessor of the AATIP program, the Advanced Aerospace Weapon Systems Applications Program. This complex period was ably chronicled by journalist Tim McMillan.

My reporting previously established that the Thread-3 material appears to have first been transmitted to the National Institute for Discovery Science, a privately funded research organization also funded by Robert Bigelow. As NIDS gave way to AAWSAP, it appears Thread-3 came along, too. The documents ultimately landed at AATIP.

After my previous post, I reached out to journalist George Knapp to ask him for comment, particularly if I he could provide further details about the vetting of the documents. He declined to comment. I reached out to him a second time in preparation for this piece; he again declined to comment.

Though Mr. Knapp has given public presentations about Thread-3, there are limited documents available describing how the papers were obtained. Previously, I covered  the the October 1993 MUFON symposium proceedings which summarized "highlights." Here is the document again. Unfortunately the resolution is quite poor:

https://ufos-scientificresearch.blogspot.com/2018/06/dr-hal-puthoff-and-soviet-project.html

Additionally, the Summer 1994 edition of Flying Saucer Review contains an account of Gresh and Knapp's trip and how they obtained the documents. The article describes the generosity of their Russian hosts – despite their poverty, living on $30 dollars a month – before turning to how "amazingly" Gresh and Knapp were able to buy UFO files from a Russian military official. Gresh and Knapp never appear to question the motivations of paid sources that they describe as struggling with poverty. The pair also admit to removing "still classified" files from Russia during this trip.

The article contains details of other interviews, with yet more incredible claims. Somewhat comically, they interview a Russian scientist, supposedly so deeply buried in the Soviet security apparatus that he is never able to use his real name. The scientist claims to have worked on a top secret plasma weapon, developed on the basis of information exchanged with aliens. The articles goes on to touch on but not explore references to conspiracy touchstones like "MJ-12" and apparently obligatory comments about Roswell – we're told that Korolev, the Soviet space pioneer, personally assessed UFO intelligence for Stalin. No substantiation or corroboration is offered for these claims beyond testimony, except one reference to a "letters to the editor" section of an edition of Soviet Military Review. The magazine appears to contain no substantive details, but merely recounts notable UFO incidents and points out a potential concern of UFOs inadvertently triggering an anti-ballistic missile response. Sadly, we learn next to nothing of substance about Russian cases.

Flying Saucer Review, Volume 39, No. 2

Ultimately, without access to the documents, they are impossible to fully vet. Given the lapse in time, there will be considerable challenges to investigating them if they are released. Given how the documents are represented in both the MUFON proceedings and the Flying Saucer Review article, they have serious credibility problems to overcome. The most significant of these: illegally obtaining state records from paid sources. To be sure, intelligence of all kinds is regularly obtained this way – but it is also scrutinized in light of the motivations of the informant.

It must be said: these are highly unusual circumstances. Mr. Knapp exhibited unusual foresight and courage to travel to Russia to obtain these documents. He deserves a measure of praise for this, though some Russians interested in the subject are unhappy that the documents were expatriated. In fairness, many documents in that period ultimately were destroyed. So, while Knapp appears to have illegally obtained them, he also may have saved some of them in the process.

It is the next part of the story that is difficult. Knapp then proceeded to largely sit on these documents, for what is now a period of decades. Moreover, he appears to have given them over to Mr. Bigelow's "proprietary" interests. With due respect to Mr. Bigelow, state documents of a now non-existent nation cannot ordinarily be considered to be "proprietary." They are valuable historical records, originally paid for by the Russian people. If released, the documents would supposedly provide clear evidence of Russian state programs and information about UAP – so, why would a journalist dedicated to this issue instead decide not to release the material, and only tease their contents?

In doing so, Mr. Knapp has arguably deprived the world of an important story. Alternatively, if the documents are not of high quality – if they contain significant misinformation or are outright fakes – we should know that, too.

Why? Because, in Dr. Puthoff's estimation, the documents appear to be the publicly available evidence for serious state interest in UAP. Except, they are not really public, and there are many obvious issues with their legitimacy.

In his 2018 talk, Puthoff said:

This is a document in the program we dug up out of the Soviet Union (“Thread-3”). It’s a very thick document. It shows that the Soviet Union had a massive program also trying to get to the root of all of this. In this document a number of research institutes and military institutes are listed. Of course, they had the same concerns we did. Is there a threat from the phenomena or might the Americans make headway before us and that be a threat?

These are significant claims. Given the issues with the documents I was curious if they made much impact contemporaneously within AATIP. Dr. Puthoff may have found them credible and important, but how were they received within government?


3: What Role did Thread-3 Play in the Thinking of AATIP Officials?

I asked Elizondo if the Thread-3 materials are a key resource to understand the Soviet interest in UAP. He answered plainly: "No, there are a lot of other things. Thread-3 is certainly a slice of the pie...but there is a lot more data there [beyond Thread-3]." He also said "you always want to avoid single source reporting."

In our interview, Elizondo also explained that historical matters (such as Soviet interest in UAP) were not a major concern during the program. Understandably, much of the focus was on investigating issues as they arose.

I raised my questions about the provenance and vetting of the document. He counseled me to simply remove them from the calculus, given these concerns. Additionally he stated:

Disinformation is a real thing...I'm not saying it specifically for Thread-3. That's just good advice, overall. Look at the art world; there are fakes and forgeries everywhere. I would caution people always to just be very diligent when you're dealing with stuff like that. That is why more information and data is better, because more corroborating information you get from separate sources, the more likely that piece of data is probably legitimate.

Essentially, Thread-3 appears not to be pivotal in the thinking of AATIP.

However, this raises an important problem: what happens if we remove Thread-3 from the argument? Is there any remaining credible evidence that governments have taken the UAP issue seriously, particularly with respect to scientific and technological advancements?


4: Is There Other Evidence of State Interest in UAP?

So far, we have seen that Thread-3 is of limited analytical value – both because the actual content of the documents are not available, and because they cannot be publicly vetted. We also saw that Elizondo's experience in the funding of these programs led him to see the broader "weird desk" budget of competitors like Russia to be of some concern.

But what about UAP issues more specifically? Is there evidence of specific state-level interest in UAP?

There is. Multiple countries have maintained at least small programs examining UAP and UFO matters. One of the better sources is the United Kingdom's Project Condign, a report produced on behalf of the Ministry of Defense.

Typically, the Condign report is dismissed by UFOlogists who do not like the recommendations of the report to discontinue the UK's study of UAP. British researcher Dr. David Clarke has done pioneering work on this issue. His background on Project Condign, co-authored by Gary Anthony, is essential reading.

In short, the pair describe how the Condign report was commissioned after an internal battle over UAP policy. The report was written by a single contractor, with limited resources. It is written primarily as an intelligence document, rather than as a scientific study. It appears to have been written with particular conclusions in mind, namely justifying an end to the monitoring of UAP reports. Clarke and Anthony write, "The contents of the report suggest the MoD actually knows very little about UFOs and even that some civilian ufologists know far more. Its main recommendation (implemented in December 2000) is that 'it should no longer be a requirement for DI55 to monitor UAP reports as they do not demonstrably provide information useful to Defence Intelligence.'"

Interestingly, even the dismissal in the report gives some purchase to Elizondo's concerns. The author of Condign makes a curious argument: while they aren't certain exactly what causes all UAP, they conclude it really isn't that important – despite ongoing aviation safety concerns. Tellingly, the author relates that the study of the subject did lead to potential technological developments of military value that had been forwarded to the Ministry of Defense technology managers. Here is the excerpt from the document:

Charitably, the conclusion here is that the value of broad study of case reports had been exhausted. Arguably, this is a contractor arriving at the expected conclusion, despite awkward facts.

Our interest here is precisely in the value of Condign as an intelligence report, rather than as a scientific study. To that end, some of the most interesting elements of the report are several pages detailing foreign intelligence interest in UAP around the globe. Two pages focus on the former Soviet Union and Russia. Annotated copies of the documents are reproduced in full below:

As a first step, I reached out to Nick Pope on the credibility of this material in Volume 3, Part E is. He replied as follows:

These three short pages contain a large number of pointers and references to other matters. There are more than can be discussed in this short piece – I hope to follow up with more research on this – but we will briefly examine three of the most interesting components:

First, the report clearly assesses that the Soviet Union had substantial interest in this field. Further, it identifies scientist and submariner Victor Azhazha as a central figure in the Soviet study. Information about Azhazha is scarce in American records. One CIA clipping about the National Enquirer tells a brief story about a dubious report supposedly originating from Azhazha:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP90-00845R000200760003-0.pdf

Of course, the National Enquirer is well known for hyperbolic stories and it is unclear from the clipping if Azhazha was responsible for the salacious story, or merely quoted out of context.

CIA FBIS reporting documents Russian media discussion of the subject in April of 1990, corroborating Azhazha as head of a state organization studying UFOs. This was during a period of intense Russian interest in UFOs after a flap in 1989, including the famed Voronezh case:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000112332.pdf

Azhazha is cited again in FBIS reporting, this time in reference to a supposed crash event within the Soviet Union:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000042346.pdf

This period in the late 80s was an extremely active one:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000042346.pdf

Specifically, in July of 1989 a sighting was reported in the Dnepropetrovsk region. The report below details efforts to investigate it, including purported observation of trace time dilation effects. The Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere, and Radio Wave Propagation Institute (IZMIRAN) emerges as another institution involved in these studies.

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000042346.pdf

Outside of official reporting, Azhazha also makes an appearance in computer scientist Jacques Vallée's account of a trip to the Soviet Union colorfully titled "UFO Chronicles of the Soviet Union: A Cosmic Samizdat". Key excerpts are provided below:

In this interview, we see that Azhazha's background as a submariner was not incidental to his involvement in UFOs: in fact, it is absolutely central to it. It was naval rather than aerial events that appear to have incited his participation. He goes on to describe the study of UFOs as being marginalized under Brezhnev.

Azhazha's interest or involvement did not end in the 1990s. In 2015, he published a lengthy book titled "Подводные НЛО" (Underwater UFO) that will be the subject of a later blog post.

Underwater UFO

To sum with respect to Azhazha: we have multiple reports, both from the UK's Project Condign and from Russian media that place Azhazha as a leader of at least one wing of Soviet interest in UAP. It bears repeating: that interest appears multifaceted.  In at least Azhazha's recollection, one aspect of it is rooted in highly classified underwater encounters. At the same time, we find at least one report of Azhazha's comments being used by the National Enquirer, and further FBIS reports that show him in contention with other Russian officials about matters like Roswell. Finally, by Azhazha's own account, Soviet commitment to the study of UFOs was not particularly consistent.

Images from Подводные НЛО ("Underwater UFO") by V. Azhazha, credit: https://www.labirint.ru/books/656156/

A second reference in the Project Condign material is perhaps the most potentially important and also the flimsiest. On the second page, a Colonel Sokolov is quoted as directly drawing a direct connection between the study of UFOs and military technology. In other words, this is exactly the threat model described by Lue Elizondo and AATIP. Corroboration of this statement is difficult to come by, however.

The Gresh and Knapp Flying Saucer Review piece referenced above appears to be the primary source. Their piece offers no pointers to documentation on military injuries or deaths. They mention rather than cite one document: a 1989 issue of Soviet Military Review that loosely discusses the issue of joint US-Soviet cooperation. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and the obscurity of the publication, it will be some time before I can access a local university archive to locate an official copy of this document.

Apart from Sokolov's comments, Russian media did contain references to pilot mortality – but not from a crash. Here is an account of an air crew suffering severe health effects after an encounter:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000042346.pdf

I spoke to Elizondo directly about the claims in Condign regarding Sokolov, particularly if there is anything in the unclassified domain to support it. He told me, "I don't recall another unclassified document or released document that provides that an assessment like that, that would be available to the consumer yet. Yet. Let me caveat, yet."

A third curiosity in the Condign materials related to "near field effects" in the vicinity of landing zones. An "Applied Biolocation Group" is referenced. There has been past speculation that this group may have involved remote viewing or other psychotronic techniques. It does not appear to be so; "biolocation" is a Soviet-era term for dowsing, the practice of using rods or other tools to detect things like minerals or water sources. Jacques Vallée's book again proves to be a valuable source. He explains his consternation at the commitment to this seemingly unscientific technique among Soviet investigators.

To further examine if the "Applied Biolocation Group" had any particular defense or intelligence significance, I filed a FOIA with the Central Intelligence Agency. They responded that no records were found that pertained to such a group, or a number of Soviet military units believed to be associated with the study of UAP. Note: their response was there are no records, not that the records could not be released. Subsequent research reflected that these dowsing techniques are and were commonly used by geologists and others. It appears likely they never reached the level of CIA concern.

Further coverage of UFOs in state media, 1990, personal files

5: Parsing Propaganda

So far we have established that there was official Soviet interest in UAP. The evidence of this is primarily from media reports, and from accounts from scientists involved. But what about the possibility that this is all a matter of Russian propaganda? How can we disentangle facts from posturing? The evidence reflects that the Soviets played both sides of the story – simultaneously.

A 1968 CIA document contrasts two pieces of Soviet UFO media from the same year, with diametrically opposed messaging:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000015452.pdf

The assessment above is accurate: one piece laughs off UFOs, and sees them as propaganda pieces for the United States. The other takes them seriously. Soviet media appeared to plays its messaging directly down the middle, in perfectly contradictory statements.

The text of the "Flying Saucers: They're a Myth" piece is available as a retype above. However the Soviet Life piece is less legible. To aid readers, I have obtained a copy, and will digitize them as time permits. Until then, here are images of the relevant pages that should be easier to read:

Personal files
Personal files
Personal files
personal files

Parsing Soviet media for some clue of a state level policy is nothing new, even for officials and scientists close to American UFO investigations. In a 1967 piece titled "The UFO Gap" for Playboy, J. Allen Hynek of Project Blue Book fame described a growing anxiety that the Soviet Union might outpace the United States. His language is highly reminiscent of Elizondo:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP81R00560R000100010006-5.pdf

In Hynek's writing, we see foreshadowing for concerns decades later that other powers might have an advantage over the United States with respect to UAP. There is a palpable anxiety that the United States has been operating an under-resourced investigation that could be eclipsed by the Soviets. Hynek cites media pieces from Felix Zigel as evidence of state interest – not unlike Elizondo and others referencing FBIS media reports. Like Elizondo, Hynek entered the topic somewhat disinterested and skeptical, but became convinced after examining some thousand cases that could not easily be explained.

6: Further State Interest in Spain and France

So far we have focused almost entirely on the context of the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. But what about other countries?

A complete review of all known national programs is more than can be accomplished here, but we'll briefly examine files from the Spanish Ministry of Defense and from the venerable French effort – one that is arguably one of the most important for the future of this field.

Spanish UFOlogist Ballester Olmos in Air Force facilities. Credit: Olmos in "Los expedientes OVNI desclasificado"

The Spanish national program is cited by name in Project Condign as being particularly robust. To date, it has released over sixty files, consisting of 122 distinct cases between 1962 to 1995.

The longest and most complex files describe a series of events in the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias, or Las Canarias) in the late 1970s:

Los expedientes OVNI desclasificado

The events in Las Canarias include a spectacular mass sighting of a bizarre light, depicted below. Hundreds of pages document multiple sightings, including reports and drawings of strange beings supposedly seen within a spherical structure. The complete files can be found on the Spanish Ministry of Defense archive site.

Las Canarias

Equally interesting to the events themselves is the reaction of the Spanish military. In discussing the data from Las Canarias, a short "proposal" describes the significance of repeated incidents in the Atlantic. Below, the authors sense that they may be on the brink of discovering a new source of "energy." They lament that not investigating would be equivalent to Isaac Newton being struck on the head by an apple and only registering a headache:

File: 1976-11-19

The proposal goes on to lay out a concept for a more organized response to UFO sightings. The report recognizes that the problem is likely too complex for journalists to research and cover on their own. Instead, there was a perceived need to bring together experts in a variety of disciplines (aerospace engineering, astronomy, meteorology, medicine, psychiatry, radar operators and pilots, etc) to examine these cases. Further, the Spanish files envisioned a kind of "quick reaction force" that could rapidly report cases and avoid loss of evidence:

File: 1976-11-19

This apparent interest in developing a more systematic approach appears to have grown and solidified over time. By the 1990s, reports now included an impressively structured form for witnesses. An example is shown below for one of the later cases in the files:

The forms offer witnesses both structured and free form responses. Intriguingly, witnesses are asked if they suffered from things like "paranormal effects", "changes in character", "distortions in time" and even insanity. A catalog of physiological effects are recorded, too, ranging from dermatological problems to electrical shocks and "physical enhancements."

France

The French interest and study of UFOs is longstanding and rich – its history and cases are too complex to treat in a short space here. I expect to write a dedicated blog post about it soon. However, in light of examining national programs, particularly where they overlap with the larger international context, there is a particular episode that stands out.

A 2001 audit of the French program by a division of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS, today known as Airbus) offered a partial review of French international cooperation on the issue of UFOs. Notably, they describe an episode in 1982 in which the then director of GEPAN (Groupe d'Étude des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-identifiés) Alain Esterle wrote to the ambassador of the Soviet Union with questions regarding UFOs. A response came back in early 1983, confirming that the Soviet Union was in fact studying UAP along similar lines. Additionally, France was invited to collaborate through IZMIRAN, the scientific institute described above. The invitation was not taken up.

Synthèse de l'Audit du SEPRA

An individual familiar with the history and context of this period informed me that while it is difficult to prove definitively, it is almost certain that Estrele wrote this letter on his own wherewithal, and without support from the wider French government. In fact, Estrele was forced to resign in 1983. It is unclear if there is a connection between this unauthorized communication with the Soviet Union and his resignation. An earlier CIA assessment of Soviet scientific efforts from 1974 indicated that IZMIRAN had actually cooperated with the French in other matters, particularly in the Indian Ocean.

U.S.S.R National Intelligence Survey, April 1974 

7: Conclusions

Our starting questions were the following:

  1. In the three years since Elizondo's resignation, are we any closer to finding out "who else knows?"
  2. What exactly is in the Thread-3 materials? Is it possible to evaluate their credibility nearly thirty years after they were obtained?
  3. What role did the Thread-3 materials play in the thinking of AATIP era officials? How was their credibility and relevance assessed during the life of the program?
  4. Is there significant public evidence that foreign intelligence programs have taken an interest in this subject?

The answers are:

  1. "Who else knows" referred primarily to elements within the Department of Defense that might have been aware of UAP data. Elizondo and others searched for them, without success. Ultimately, there was no evidence of a parallel program outside of conventional oversight, but there was indication of a precursor program that Elizondo and others could not access.
  2. The Thread-3 materials are largely still a mystery. They are comprised of about a hundred pages. They were directly purchased from military officials and illegally smuggled from the Soviet Union. Dr. Puthoff has claimed to have vetted them, but we don't know how. The papers have yet to be released, and will not be released by Puthoff because they are "proprietary" to Robert Bigelow. Mr. Knapp has not responded to several requests for comment, or publicly explained why he has not released the documents over the decades.
  3. The Thread-3 material played a very limited role. Elizondo cautions against relying on single sourced reporting, and instead points to foreign media reports from the CIA's FBIS database. There is copious reporting that does demonstrate both Soviet funding for "weird desk" activities, and a corresponding concern with the United States intelligence community.
  4. Further, there is copious evidence of foreign intelligence interest in UAP. It can be found in FBIS reports, as well as in primary source records in several countries. This piece briefly examined files from the United Kingdom, Spain and France. All of them investigated UFOs in light of potential scientific and technological discovery. The Thread-3 material is not remotely required to argue that there is a long standing foreign intelligence interest in UFOs.

The research for this piece opens up several new questions. Hynek's writings reflect a preoccupation with the possibility that a competitor (the Soviet Union in his case) would get ahead of the United States, creating a "UFO" gap. Today, Elizondo discusses a modern version of the "UFO" gap in terms of resources spent on the problem.

However, despite the passage of time, it appears that no government has made significant progress in understanding UAP.

Nearly all the national files I've read express some level of anxiety about the paucity of their own effort compared to other governments. In other words, some Americans fret that Russians will take this more seriously and make advances, and Russians have the same fear about Americans. Additionally, both sides are constantly parsing the other via media to try to evaluate their progress; both periodically seem to conclude there is a propagandistic or psychological warfare component to their messaging.

There is little evidence that either side has ever made a priority out of serious study of the subject. The Soviet UFOlogists seem to have undergone alternating periods of official rebuke and tolerance, with one "warmer" period in the late 1980s. The American efforts have been similarly fitful, as evidenced by Project Blue Book and more recently, in Mr. Elizondo's resignation and the subsequent creation of the UAP Task Force.

There are common themes across the national files: the importance of near-field biological effects, reports of time dilation, and observations of object polymorphism. Strangely enough, these themes are reminiscent of "Chains of the Sea," a science fiction novella recommended by Elizondo earlier in the year. Another emerging theme is that of water and subsurface encounters. In the case of Azhazha, he appears to have come to the subject entirely through his expertise as a submariner and is still focused on naval sightings.

The agenda for future pieces moving forward is clear:

  1. A more complete description of the French national program and its landmark cases
  2. A closer examination of the incidents in the Canary Islands, and other notable Spanish cases
  3. A chronological and more systematic account of important Russian/Soviet cases, including Voronezh and the Ukrainian nuclear incident in the early 1980s (only touched upon here)
  4. An examination of Azhazha's more modern work focusing on underwater incidents
  5. A more detailed picture of the modern American programs, including the precursor program that seemed to be out of Elizondo's reach

In other words, much more to come.