One of the national security subjects I have tackled in a number of books is that of threat, indications and warnings. It was big part of Surprise Attack and, perhaps not surprisingly, of Unidentified.
Recently the subject of warnings intelligence surfaced in news that the Defense Intelligence Agency had established a project dealing with UFOs, beginning in 2007 and extending over a number of years. That news is especially interesting because it reveals a good deal about matters ranging from Congressional budgeting, to the internal operations of agencies such as DIA and on to the issues of warnings and anomalous flying objects. I will be covering the story in a new edition of Unidentified but the following is a very brief synopsis of how the DIA came to be involved in a UFO project – a subject to which, as an organization, it ultimately showed no long term commitment.
For context, it also needs to be stated that both foreign military and terror intelligence collections and threat and warnings advisories are a core task of the DIA. The Agency operates regional centers and a 24/7 threat office in support of American combat commands worldwide. DIA’s mission includes not only real time intelligence and warnings support for American combat commands but its Directorate of Science and Technology has the responsibility for technical collection and analysis intended to identify new missile and space threats – and profile both vulnerabilities and defensive measures associated with foreign technology.
The DIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology oversees the work of the Defense Collections Group, the Collections Operations Center, the Science and Technology Analysis Group, the National Signatures Program and the Overhead Non-Imaging Infrared Group. Identifying new aerospace devices, especially potential weapons – and profiling their technical “signatures” and performance capabilities is a core task.
Given DIA’s mission, coming across the existence of a program titled “Advanced Aerospace Weapons Systems Program (AAWSA)” existing within the Directorate of Science and Technology and serving as an adjunct to the Warnings Office is no great surprise. Certainly DIA personnel routinely conduct work focused on just such emerging weapons systems, but as an intelligence agency DIA is notoriously hesitant to identify its organizational structure beyond a relatively high level.
Although the details of the story are still a subject of great debate – and argument – within the UFO research community, the basics appear to be as follows. According to several of the individuals involved, including Harry Reid himself, the DIA effort may have come into existence relatively recently, as of 2007, created under a special earmarked budget appropriation initiated by Reid and his associates. We do know that the project involved two major areas of work, one was the commissioning of some 38 technical studies related to theoretical propulsion systems, guidance and stealth – areas in which breakthroughs might be incorporated into advanced air and space vehicles. The justification for the studies was the possibility that such technologies might actually involve in certain military observations, incidents which could reveal highly advanced technology being deployed by potential adversaries, including the Russians and Chinese.
The majority of these studies appear to have been unclassified, we even have samples of some of them:
However, there was another aspect of the program, one much more oriented to extremely anomalous and “exotic” incidents. That aspect was driven by the interest of Reid, certain of his Congressional associates and influential private figures – all of whom felt there was something very real in the overall UFO phenomenon. In addressing that aspect of the problem, a contract of some ten million dollars was let to Bigelow aerospace, which in turn set up its own facilities and hired a staff of investigators and analysts. The exact nature of their work, their studies and the distribution of their work products within DIA is unknown as of this time but it did occur for several years, up to 2012 when the special funding faded away.
Based on press reports and statements from Luis Elizondo (its former head) it appears that beginning in 2012 and into 2017, work transitioned into a project known as the “Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Project” (AATIP) – focused largely on the examination of actual military encounters with highly anomalous aerial objects. Elizondo himself describes being frustrated by the lack of access to classified incidents and information, relying instead on a network of interested individuals and groups in various agencies and services.
Ultimately, with limited ongoing interest inside DIA and a failure to receive access to classified materials, Elizondo himself left the project. Comments by Elizondo also suggest that there was a generally negative response from the various elements of the overall intelligence community – consistent with the fact that the community itself did not originate the project nor establish a priority for the subject within its own threat categories. The extent to which either the Bigelow investigations and reports or Elizondo’s AATIP efforts made it into the DIA system, or within the DIA Science and Technology Directorate, particularly to its Analysis staff, not a matter of public record at this time.