The 2017 release of "UFO" videos raised eyebrows and consumed a few short-lived news cycles before largely falling in between the cracks of the national news media. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising. The public confirmation of a government UFO program has been one story among many bizarre headlines in the last few years.
Most coverage has focused on one of two facets of the story:
- A $22 million dollar earmark to Bigelow Aerospace, a contractor with ties to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
- Details of the videos and the events surrounding them.
These are understandably consuming subjects. We should know more about the history of these programs. It is also sensible to scrutinize videos and military testimony.
However, this focus has overlooked an important dimension of the story. What are the national security professionals involved in these programs concerned about?
In his 2017 resignation letter, the former director of Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) Luis Elizondo posed several "hard questions" that he hoped to elevate to the attention of the Secretary of Defense. The very first among them was "who else knows?" Notably, this question came before asking about the capabilities of UFOs themselves.
In short, Mr. Elizondo was asking the Department of Defense to consider the state of knowledge about UFOs among potential competitor nations. This concern was echoed in later reporting by the New York Times which surfaced a presentation slide prepared by a contractor that they claim is attributable to the views of AATIP:
The slide describes a simple, two-part threat model. The current threats are the objects themselves (colorfully described as having an "off-world" derivation), by virtue of their apparently sophisticated capabilities and unknown intentions.
The second item on "future" threats fleshes out Mr. Elizondo's pointed question. It describes a scenario where an adversary might achieve technological breakthroughs via the study of these objects.
Even by 2020 standards, these are explosive claims with largely unexplored predicates.
The slides themselves appear to have originated with Dr. Hal Puthoff, of TTSA and remote viewing SRI fame. Extremely similar slides were used in a 2018 presentation available below:
After raising the question of the threat of foreign intelligence learning from UFOs, Puthoff turns to a brief discussion of a supposed Soviet-era program known as "Thread-3." A screenshot of the slide is provided below:
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 themselves have never been released. However, "highlights" of the documents were published in the MUFON Symposium Proceedings in October of 1993.
The highlights offer a bewildering assortment of claims; among them, that supposed alien "contactees" are intentionally selected because they are "too dumb to convince anyone else that such contact really happened." Further, the documents purportedly quote American UFOlogists among sensitive Russian sources. It was apparently unclear to Gresh and Knapp if the documents support notions like the long debated MJ-12 conspiracy theory, or merely repeat them. By their description, the material is reminiscent of many supposed faux "official" documents that have circulated over the years.
There are a litany of important questions surrounding the credibility and vetting of these documents. Given that nearly 30 years have passed, it may be difficult if not impossible to properly assess them.
Despite the lack of information about the provenance and legitimacy of the documents, they appear to have had some influence within UFOlogical circles over the decades. Journalist Alejandro Rojas added this to the record:
Here, NIDS refers to National Institute for Discovery Science, a privately funded research organization funded by Robert Bigelow. AAWSAP refers to the Advanced Aerospace Weapon Systems Applications Program, a government program contracted through Bigelow Aerospace. AATIP refers to Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, the government-only successor of AAWSAP.
In essence, the "Thread-3" materials appear to have been subsequently fed through Bigelow-era efforts, and ultimately to AATIP itself. The materials were apparently deemed significant by Dr. Puthoff, who included them prominently in a presentation that has since been quoted by the New York Times.
As is typical in UFO matters, there are multiple interpretations available. Some will argue that Dr. Puthoff's endorsement lend these documents credibility. Many will likely impute tacit approval of the Thread-3 materials by AATIP, given the reporting in the New York Times.
An alternative view is that Puthoff's support of unverified documents from foreign sources is evidence only of credulity. Further, their inclusion in his presentation may be a worrying sign that AATIP itself relied on less than solid information.
Unfortunately, it may not be easy to resolve this question. The documents themselves are still not fully public today. Given the lapse in time, it may be difficult if not impossible to fully investigate them.
Sources and methods restrictions would likely prohibit Mr. Elizondo or other former officials from offering a more complete picture of the intelligence available to them. While Dr. Puthoff may have been impressed with the documents, that is not an assurance that they were taken seriously by other defense officials. We don't know what work (if any) NIDS or others did in analyzing these documents.
In short, we don't know if Thread-3 is an important part of a puzzle, a red herring, total folly or somewhere in between. Several questions remain unanswered:
- Aside from Thread-3, is there significant public evidence that foreign intelligence programs have taken an interest in this subject?
- What exactly is in the Thread-3 materials? Is it possible to evaluate their credibility nearly thirty years after they were obtained?
- 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?
- In the three years since Elizondo's resignation, are we any closer to finding out "who else knows?"