“The Truth is Out There”: The History of Government UFO Investigations

Quashon Avent
Staff Writer

PC: US Air Force

Anyone who read my last article will know that I have been a huge sci-fi nerd since childhood. I was particularly interested in the concept of extraterrestrial life. I would watch “Unsolved Mysteries,” “UFO Files,” “The Twilight Zone” and “The X-Files” religiously.

“The X-Files” introduced me to the world of ufology and UFO conspiracy theories. Topics such as cattle mutilations, Majestic 12 and Area 51 were fully woven into the show’s fictional mythology. I was interested in learning the truth behind these events. Were they based in reality, or completely fictional? I found out that the truth is stranger than fiction.

The U.S. Government has investigated the phenomena of unidentified flying objects multiple times over the course of the last 71 years. The earliest known study of UFOs was Project SIGN/SAUCER.

In 1947, Air Force Gen. Nathan Twining sent a secret memo to the commander of Air Material Command detailing the existence of “flying discs.” In response, the Air Force created Project SIGN. Project SIGN was developed to: “Collect, collate, evaluate and distribute within the government all information relating to such sightings, on the premise that UFOs might be real and of national security concern.”

On Jan. 23, 1948, the Technical Intelligence Division of the Air Material Command assumed control of SIGN and stationed the project at Wright-Patterson Air Force base. After a year of investigation, Project SIGN published a report detailing its findings. Dated Feb. 1949, it states: “No definite evidence is available to confirm or disprove the actual existence of unidentified flying objects as new and unknown types of aircraft.” The report also discovered that most sightings derived from mass hysteria, hoaxes or misidentification. However, they still recommended that: “Further activity on this project should be carried out at the minimum level necessary to record, summarize and evaluate the data received on future reports and to complete the specialized investigations now in progress.”

The U.S. Government did continue specialized investigations into UFOs. In the very same year, Project SIGN was molded into Project GRUDGE. Project GRUDGE focused more on alleviating public fears of UFOs and used public relations campaigns to sweep sightings under the rug. Sightings were explained as balloons, aircraft, meteors, optical illusions, etc. GRUDGE determined that UFOs were not a threat to national security and that UFO sightings could be an effective form of “psychological propaganda.”

The final report of Project GRUDGE recommended: “1. That investigation and study of reports of unidentified objects be reduced in scope.” GRUDGE was terminated on Dec. 27, 1949.

As the Cold War raged on, UFO sightings continued into the early 1950s. USAF Director of Intelligence Maj. Gen. Charles P. Cabell created a new UFO project in 1952. Named “Project Bluebook,” this program was the most comprehensive Air Force investigation of UFO phenomena.

Blue Book’s goals were also based in studying UFOs as a national security threat. However, Blue Book also attempted to systematically analyze UFO sightings and study any major trends or patterns in sightings. Blue Book determined that no UFOs were a threat to national security, every “unidentified” object could be explained as modern technology and none of the “unidentified” sightings were extraterrestrial vehicles. The program was terminated on Dec. 17, 1969, after the findings of the Condon Committee were released.

The Condon Committee was another UFO investigation that began in 1966 and was headquartered at the University of Colorado. The Committee was supported and funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and was led by Professor Edward C. Condon. The program was designed to be an unbiased and objective civilian-based scientific study into UFO phenomena. It was also meant to counter claims that the U.S. Government had concealed information related to UFOs.

The Committee published its final report in April 1969 and determined that the scientific study of UFOs was unwarranted. It also recommended the immediate discontinuation of Project Blue Book. The government gladly obliged and both were terminated the same year.

Although there were numerous calls to investigate UFO activity, a new program was not created until 2007. The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program began as a part of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was run by intelligence official Luis Elizondo out of the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring. The program was similar to previous programs, as it was created out of national security concerns.

Originally, it was the brainchild of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a UFO enthusiast. The program received help from Robert Bigelow, a famous businessman, ufologist and a close friend of Senator Reid. Over the course of four years, the federal government gave $22 million in funding to Bigelow Aerospace.

Bigelow used this funding to hire out subcontractors and solicit research. Researchers collected metal alloys from crashed ships, stored audiovisual evidence of UFOs, studied physiological changes in contactees and interviewed service members who witnessed sightings.

Due to funding, the program was discontinued in 2012. Mr. Elizondo continued to work with officials from the CIA and Navy, yet eventually resigned in protest. Elizondo told the New York Times that the effort still continues and that he has an unnamed successor.

That concludes the current list of publicly known UFO programs. Who knows what information will surface in the future? In the meantime, amateur ufologists can study thousands of publicly accessible government files.

NICAP and Internet Archive have whole collections related to SIGN, GRUDGE and Blue Book. I also recommend the 1972 book “The UFO Experience” by J. Allen Hynek. Hynek was the only person involved in all three Air Force programs and gives great insight into each program’s inner workings. He also discusses the shortcomings of each and provides detailed critiques that I could not fit into this article. The truth is out there, you just have to find it.



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