Conflict and Contradiction Over Luis Elizondo's Role in AATIP and UAPTF

Conflict and Contradiction Over Luis Elizondo's Role in AATIP and UAPTF

The question of Luis Elizondo's potential involvement with the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) was raised last week in a virtual press conference, published by Mystery Wire. Elizondo commented extensively about a pending report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding UAP. His remarks prompted participants on the call to ask about his potential role or visibility into the production of the report. Elizondo told journalists, "If you want to know if there is any role I'm playing with the government, I'm going to respectfully deflect and let you ask the government and let them make a determination what an appropriate response would be."

Department of Defense spokesperson Susan Gough stated in an email to me this week that Luis Elizondo has "had no involvement with the UAPTF." Her denial specifically included consulting and or any other kind of engagement.

On the specific matter of a pending report to the Senate about UAP, she wrote "he has had no role in the UAPTF’s support to DNI [Director of National Intelligence] in preparing the report." However, she clarified that "DNI is the lead on the report to Congress; I refer you to ODNI regarding the report."

The video of the conference call with Elizondo's original remarks can be found here:

At 17:45 in the video, he is asked: "What visibility [do] any the folks on this call have into what will be included in the report? What role if any, are you playing in actually compiling it?"

Elizondo's full response was:

I am going to politely defer the second question. I don't want to be evasive, but I also don't want to do anything that puts the government in an uncomfortable position. If you want to know if there is any role I'm playing with the government, I'm going to respectfully deflect and let you ask the government and let them make a determination what an appropriate response would be.

Based on this statement, I sought clarification from the Department of Defense about Elizondo's role. DOD spokesperson Susan Gough maintained that Elizondo had never worked for, consulted with, or in any way engaged with UAPTF at any point in time. I additionally asked if Mr. Elizondo had cleared his statements or in any way coordinated with the Department of Defense about his remarks. She responded that he had not.

Asked about Gough's denial of his role, Elizondo told me via email: "I am both disappointed but not surprised by Ms. Gough's statement.  As I indicated earlier, I will leave it to the Government to determine the level in which they are comfortable discussing this topic and any role [to which] I may or may not be involved.  However, as more information comes to light, I sincerely hope that her statements will one day be held to the same level of scrutiny as mine."

Asked to clarify his views if they differed from Gough, Elizondo responded: "I do not care to engage in a tit-for-tat discussion with an individual who has historically mischaracterized me and my involvement in AATIP.  I suspect her statements are part of a greater unknown strategy by some in her leadership chain to make the statements they do."

Elizondo added, "Although it would be easier for me personally to respond in order to clear up an ambiguity, I believe it is important to allow the Government to respond to any question that it is an equal or partial stakeholder."

The issue of Elizondo's role in AATIP, a five-year government study of UFOs that ended in 2012, is the subject of considerable controversy. Speaking with Keith Kloor for The Intercept in 2019, Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood stated “Mr. Elizondo had no responsibilities with regard to the AATIP program while he worked in OUSDI [the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence], up until the time he resigned effective 10/4/2017.”

Kloor commented on a lack of documentation supporting Elizondo's claims:

It bears noting that, although Elizondo has made a point of providing various documents to reporters (including me) to establish his bona fides, he does not appear to have supplied any materials that validate his connection to the government UFO program he insists he led. No memorandums, no emails discussing deliverables or findings, and no paperwork addressed to or from him that connects him to AATIP.

The type of materials Kloor references have not surfaced in the intervening years, leaving a curious gap in the record regarding AATIP and its activities.

The controversy about Elizondo's role in AATIP was addressed again this week by NBC's Gadi Schwartz:

Very shortly afterwards, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and AATIP sponsor sent NBC a letter affirming Elizondo's role at AATIP:

Elizondo's role also appears to be supported by a 2009 letter written by then Senator Reid. George Knapp originally published a copy of the letter, and later unredacted Luis Elizondo's name on a list of individuals with access to the program:

The Department of Defense's denial of Elizondo's role comes on the heels of a confusing partial authentication of material obtained by filmmaker Jeremy Corbell pertaining to a series of 2019 incidents involving unidentified aircraft flying in close proximity to Navy ships. In recent weeks, public messaging from the Pentagon has focused almost entirely on leaked photos and video without addressing their context or substantive questions about the incident itself.

The resulting situation is one of contradictions and conflict, and of unusual rhetorical positioning. The strict position that Elizondo has never had contact with his successors is curious. It is not uncommon for officials to consult their predecessors, particularly in the context of investigations. Further, nearly any documented link between Elizondo and the UAPTF would now discredit the Department of Defense's position – an oddly risky position to adopt.

Despite increased support with respect to his claims regarding AATIP, questions remain on Elizondo's part. By publicly framing expectations about an eagerly awaited report in a press conference, he invited journalists' questions about his role. To fairly cover his comments, they must establish if he is an observer offering analysis or a participant offering a preview of the report. The key words in his response were "defer", "evasive" and "deflect" – though "evasive" was used in the context of a kind of preemptive denial of that characterization.

The enduring problem is one of ambiguity. Critics of the government's public messaging will find ample ammunition, and plenty of witnesses (with varying degrees of individual credibility) to Elizondo's claims. Critics of Mr. Elizondo will find examples of deflection, and a sparse record in terms of documents.

In the meantime, the public still has little credible or substantive information regarding a potential national security concern.