In light of the Pentagon’s UFO investigation program, suddenly ‘The X-Files’ doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
In December, I spent a lot of time thinking about UFOs and paranormal activity as I impatiently counted down the days until Fox Mulder and Dana Scully returned to my small screen for season 11 of The X-Files. Then fascinating reports published by The New York Times and Politico confirmed the existence of the AATIP (Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program), a UFO program that had secretly operated within the Pentagon starting in 2007. Suddenly The X-Files didn’t seem quite so improbable.
Much of the exact nature of the AATIP’s work remains shrouded in secrecy. But Luis Elizondo, the military intelligence official who served as the program’s leader until October 2017, confirmed that the team studied UFOs and observed activity that couldn’t be explained by science.
As reported by The New York Times, AATIP received government funding between the years of 2007 and 2012. The Defense Department denied its existence and now states that the program has been shut down completely. But Elizondo says AATIP officials, who are still employed by the Defense Department in various capacities, continue to study these cases to this day.
The existence of AATIP is a major revelation, and one that left many of us wondering why we’d been kept in the dark about its existence. Alejandro Rojas, a UFO/paranormal researcher, journalist and host of Open Minds Radio, told me it would have been kept secret for two main reasons. First, a large portion of the program’s work hinged on studying the technology of UFOs and using this knowledge to develop advanced weapons systems for military use.
“If we are developing advanced weapon systems, we wouldn’t want anyone else to know. We wouldn’t want the enemy to know, even in cases where we retrieve foreign technologies from Russia or China,” Rojas explained.
The second major reason is what Rojas describes as “the ridicule factor.” Simply put, the officials who are doing this important work don’t want to be mocked or have their efforts dismissed and undermined. “When [the government] is spending millions of dollars on a project centered around a topic that’s often seen as silly, then that budget is going to be questioned. It’s going to bring up uncomfortable interviews and questions. So that’s another reason you’d want to keep something like this under wraps,” Rojas said, noting that Senator Harry Reid, who was integral to forming AATIP in 2007, has alluded to the fact that he and the program’s intelligence officials didn’t want AATIP to be publicized because the ridicule factor could hamper their efforts.
And that’s where aspects of The X-Files undeniably ring true, whether you’re a skeptic like Scully or a believer like Mulder.
“If you look at someone like Fox Mulder, they call him ‘Spooky Mulder’ and he gets made fun of for investigating UFOs and paranormal activity. And that does happen in real life. Pilots in the military and otherwise, law enforcement, and people who look into these areas and take them seriously are subjected to ridicule, and a lot of people don’t want that ridicule,” Rojas said. “So The X-Files highlights some of the problem with looking into these areas. That’s completely demonstrated in the way that Mulder’s fellow FBI agents and the public interact with him. It’s one of the reasons they wanted to keep [AATIP] under wraps. It’s the same reason that, if the X-Files was a real FBI department, it wouldn’t be advertised. The FBI wouldn’t want it out there that they’re looking into ‘weird’ stuff like this. Every government agency undergoes a lot of scrutiny from the public and from rival departments, so they have to be very careful about how they’re perceived. The X-Files is really good at exemplifying some of that.”
But while The X-Files gives viewers an up-close-and-personal look at every case investigated by Mulder and Scully, very little information has been made public about what exactly AATIP’s work entailed. (Although I think it’s safe to assume that AATIP officials didn’t spend their time running through abandoned buildings and dark woods with flashlights like my two favorite fictional FBI agents, who’ve never solved a case and spent a whole lot of time flirting on the job.)
Based on his knowledge of the subject, Rojas told me the program’s officials would receive reports of unidentified objects that had been observed or recorded on video and they’d investigate those reports. AATIP only received cases that were submitted to them by the military. “They were genuinely aircrafts that couldn’t be identified. The military would go through the basics and attempt to figure out what they were before they sent it to the department,” Rojas said.
Although none of these reports are public at this time, two videos have been released by To The Stars Academy, where Elizondo currently serves as director of Global Security & Special Programs. Elizondo believes both these videos show unidentified crafts that exhibit characteristics indicating some sort of advanced technology. The “Gimbal Video” was released with no accompanying information or context. “[Elizondo] is only releasing what the Defense Department has given him permission to release,” Rojas explained. The Gimbal video can be viewed here:
There’s more information about the second video, which is from a 2004 incident outside San Diego. It was recorded by an aircraft carrier group whose members report seeing what they call a “Tic Tac” UFO, because the object looked like a Tic Tac.
“It was maneuvering in ways that were mysterious to them. [The group] did dispatch 18 fighter jets who then recorded infrared videos of these objects,” Rojas said. The pilots have since spoken to the media and confirmed that they couldn’t identify the objects — and one of them speculated that the objects were indeed otherworldly because they acted in a manner that’s beyond the technology we possess. “It was a real object, it exists and I saw it,” U.S. Navy pilot Cmdr. David Fravor told The Washington Post in December. “[It was] something not from the Earth.”
Rojas said there’s a third video that hasn’t been released — but we can expect to learn more about it in the coming months. News organizations and interested members of the public will undoubtedly put pressure on the Pentagon to release more information and the video itself. “If these pilots witnessed it, where did those reports go and who investigated it? How did they go about the investigation? Now that we know AATIP existed, a lot of people are going after that information,” Rojas said. “At some point they’re going to have to, through the Freedom of Information Act, release some information.”
The confirmation that AATIP existed and was kept secret from the public for years raises other questions, many of which tie into themes of The X-Files, such as government cover-ups and conspiracies. “There are obviously secrets, and how big are these secrets? That’s what The X-Files plays with,” Rojas said. “This whole situation has shown that, hey, some people have been saying the government’s been lying to us about investigating UFOs and they’ve been viewed as kooks. In actuality, we have now discovered that the government has been indeed investigating UFOs.”
In 1969 the Air Force shut down their official UFO project, Project BLUE BOOK. For decades the government denied that it had continued to research and investigate UFO cases — and that these investigations detected unexplained activity. “Finally we have an acknowledgement to this. The good part is that at least we have some transparency and we know that this was happening so people can be validated. Now what I write about has been substantiated,” Rojas said. “But it does make people think, ‘If [the government] is lying about this, then what else are they lying about? Is everything on The X-Files true?’ And people go down that rabbit hole.”
Of course, none of this new knowledge means The X-Files has suddenly become a realistic show. Its creators have certainly never strived for realistic plotlines and those iconic “monster of the week” episodes aren’t exactly meant to remind us of real life. But what is realistic are The X-Files’ overarching themes of what the government may be hiding and, perhaps more importantly, why they’re hiding it.
In addition to the recent revelations about the Pentagon’s program, The X-Files is arguably more relevant to viewers in 2018 than it was during its initial run in the 1990s and early 2000s. Certain aspects of season 11 certainly draw directly from our current political climate — the term “fake news” is used more than once and it’s mentioned that the unnamed president detests the FBI. But the themes of general mistrust of the government and the question of what is being hidden from the public have been the cornerstone of The X-Files since it hit our small screens in 1993. In the ’90s those themes felt almost as far-fetched as the monsters of the week. In 2018 they ring eerily true.