Ufologists tried to break into my home for telling truth, says ex-Pentagon investigator

<span>Sean Kirkpatrick, director of All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office at the defense department, speaks at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington DC on 31 May 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Kowsky/Nasa</span>
Sean Kirkpatrick, director of All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office at the defense department, speaks at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington DC on 31 May 2023.Photograph: Joel Kowsky/Nasa

Sean Kirkpatrick doesn’t seem too thrilled to be chatting with me about UFOs. Since taking over the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) in 2022 – government-speak for UFO hunting – Kirkpatrick has received violent threats, social-media smear campaigns, and even had to call the FBI after a UFO fanatic tried to break into his home.

“I’ve had people threaten my wife and daughter, and try to break into our online accounts,” Kirkpatrick says. “I didn’t have China and Russia trying to get on me as much as these people are.”

So, after 18 months in the job, Kirkpatrick called it quits last December. Then, last week, AARO published the first part of a report he had worked on that concluded there is no evidence “that any USG [US government] investigation, academic-sponsored research, or official review panel has confirmed that any sighting of a UAP [unidentified aerial phenomenon] represented extraterrestrial technology”.

AARO’s conclusions sent the world of ufology – the study of UFOs, the practitioners of which are known as ufologists – into a tailspin.

After all, it was only in July last year that former intelligence officer David Grusch told a packed congressional hearing that for decades the US government had been hoarding crashed alien spaceships and attempting to reverse-engineer them. True believers thought we were getting closer than ever to full disclosure; it was only a matter of time until the government would wheel out the flying saucers on to the White House lawn.

Kirkpatrick was watching that hearing. Over the course of three hours, and via testimony from two former US navy pilots, David Fravor and Ryan Graves, Congress heard about unknown aircraft making impossible manoeuvres, or the government’s possession of “non-human biologics” recovered from crashed spaceships. At one point, Representative Tim Burchett asked Grusch if he had any personal knowledge of people being harmed or injured in efforts to cover up or conceal extraterritorial technology. Grusch replied: “Yes.” Burchett then asked Grusch if he had heard of anyone being murdered. The former intelligence official answered: “I directed people with that knowledge to the appropriate authorities.” Grusch also claimed that the Men in Black were on his case and were harassing other witnesses.

Crucially, Grusch said he hadn’t seen the spaceships and “biologics” with his own eyes; someone in the intelligence community told him the story.

Naturally, Kirkpatrick tried to talk to him. But although Grusch had dropped most of these bombshells months before on the cable channel NewsNation, when asked to discuss it with the one man in the US government who really needed to hear the yarn, he was a no-show. “We tried to reach out to him four or five times to get him to come in,” Kirkpatrick says. “And as of the time that I left, he had refused to come for a variety of reasons.”

You see this story crop up every couple of decades, and it’s pretty much the same story

Sean Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick – who has sharp features, a thin goatee and speaks in a measured monotone that makes even this topic seem slightly boring – says the evidence against Grusch’s claims is conclusive. “There’s no evidence to support any of the allegations or any extraterrestrial reverse engineering or ‘human biologics’ or whatever you want to call it,” he says. “You see this story crop up every couple of decades, and it’s pretty much the same story.”

And it comes, he says, from the ufologists who gave him such grief – a core of people that can only be described as America’s new UFO lobby.

A new age

The 21st century’s UFO craze began on 16 December 2017 after the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had created something called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). This was supposedly a secret department investigating unidentified aerial phenomena or UAPs (the Department of Defense’s preferred acronym for UFOs).

The Times piece also included three videos, the most compelling of which showed an object eerily similar to a flying saucer, moving with no apparent means of propulsion.

The story went viral and UFOs went mainstream. Serious people were now taking little green men and their spaceships very seriously. Barack Obama told The Late Late Show with James Corden that things were happening in our skies that the US government simply could not explain.

However, not everything in the Times’ story was accurate. Yes, the Pentagon did have a UFO programme, but it was called the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP), not AATIP, and it had bizarre beginnings.

Seated next to Grusch in that congressional hearing was George Knapp, a journalist who in 2006 co-wrote a book called Hunt for the Skinwalker (a shape-shifting witch in Navajo culture). Knapp’s book tells stories of vanishing cattle, “invisible objects emitting magnetic fields” and flying orbs zooming around the eponymous Skinwalker Ranch – a large property in Utah.

The book has proved to be instrumental in modern ufology. It found its way to James Lacatski, an intelligence officer in the Department of Defense, who was blown away by it and contacted the aviation billionaire Robert Bigelow, the owner of Skinwalker Ranch at the time. Bigelow allowed Lacatski to visit the ranch and investigate; one evening, Lacatski claimed to see an apparition in the kitchen, described in Knapp’s and Lacatski’s 2021 follow-up book Skinwalkers at the Pentagon as “an unearthly technological device” which took the form of “a complex semi-opaque, yellowish, tubular structure”.

Lacatski and Bigelow took their findings to the late Harry Reid, the Nevada senator, who also had a keen interest in UFOs. Bigelow was a longtime donor to Reid’s campaigns, and persuaded him that it was time to look into UFOs and related phenomena.

There was one problem: a defence programme focused on UFOs would not loosen any purse strings at the Pentagon, so Lacatski buried the true purpose of his research under an unremarkable acronym: AAWSAP, which promptly kicked off a search for poltergeists, ET and “the freakish hybrid of small dinosaur [sic] and large beaver”.

The Pentagon gave $22m to AAWSAP in 2007 – and AAWSAP gave the funds to none other than Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, who used the money to chase UFOs and the paranormal at Skinwalker Ranch.

In 2012, the Pentagon got wind of what was really happening, and closed AAWSAP down. There’s no evidence that AAWSAP found spaceships or aliens.

But the myth had taken root.

In Kirkpatrick’s report, he says all the stories – the alien bodies and crashed spaceships that Grusch peddled in Congress – “largely originate from the same group of individuals who have ties to AAWSAP/AATIP program”and “worked with each other consistently in various UAP-related efforts”.

Their beliefs, he says now, are as circular as their associations with one another. “Some of that same core group of individuals had reached out to one of these industry partners and convinced them to take a look at a piece of material that they claimed was part of a crashed UFO. And then they turned around to point to that company and say, ‘Hey, ‘they’re reverse engineering crashed UFOs?’ Well, they were the ones that gave it to them.” Nevertheless, he and his team at AARO looked into it. “It turns out that’s not really a UFO. It’s most likely a piece of a missile case from an air force test,” he says.

What about the leaked UFO videos, like the one in the New York Times? Kirkpatrick says there’s not enough data to provide a definitive analysis of each one but insists that, like all the stories that came across his desk, they have mundane explanations that don’t involve space aliens. The rotating object shaped like a flying saucer is probably glare from a distant heat source. “The source could be any number of things. Even a weather balloon will give off that kind of glare if it’s got enough shiny metal on it, and the sun’s just right,” he says.

But evidence is not the point. Some will never be swayed. “There’s the absolute true belief, which would suggest it is more akin to a religion than an actual factual thing,” he says. “And those are the people that you’re never going to convince, no matter what you put in front of them. I can lay out the pictures of the classified programmes that they mistook, and they still wouldn’t believe it. They would say, ‘No, that was derived from alien technology.’”

And what if the government does eventually get its hands on aliens and their flying saucers? “It’s not their job [to keep it secret],” he says. “It would immediately get turned over to Nasa, and Nasa would immediately disclose it to everybody. That’s their job.”