The truth is finally out there, after the Pentagon admitted it ran a secret UFO investigation programme for five years until 2012.
The Department of Defense’s own “X-Files” operation, known by the less catchy title of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, was closed after a change in funding priorities, it said.
But the remarkable revelation has raised more questions than answers, including whether the programme has been completely shut down, or just covered up further.
While the Pentagon claims it ended five years ago, it said it continued to take seriously “all threats and potential threats to our people”.
The military intelligence official Luis Elizondo, who ran the programme on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, according to the New York Times, which broke the story, told the paper it was only the government funding that had dried up.
He said activities continued under the direction of his successor, whom he declined to name.
Either way the revelation is likely to provide some satisfaction to UFO enthusiasts, often dismissed as conspiracy theorists.
Nick Pope, who used to run the British government’s UFO project, said: “The take-home message here is that there’s probably something out there, but we don’t know what it is.
It’s an extraordinary revelation, not least because it directly contradicts the many specific denials that the US government has issued previously when asked about this subject, and their involvement in it.
“It precisely reflects my own experience of this intriguing but frustrating subject with the British government. Like our US colleagues, we too denied – even to parliament – that we were undertaking secret studies into the UFO phenomenon and consistently downplayed the true extent of our interest and activity at the Ministry of Defence.”
The New York Times said the project, parts of which remain classified, received $22m (£18.7m) each year, hidden away in US Department of Defense (DoD) budgets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
It said its initial funding came largely at the request of the former Senate leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat long known for his enthusiasm for space phenomena.
He was quoted as saying: “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going. I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service.
I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Last year, John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, declared that he had convinced her to explore declassifying any government documents related to UFOs should she win the election.
Bill Clinton previously said that, during his time in the White House, he had tried to find out if there were any secret “X-Files”, concluding: “If so, they eluded me.”
In the UK, 209 files and approximately 52,000 pages of information on UFOs were released during a five-year rolling disclosure programme that concluded in 2013, containing details of about 6,000 separate observations reported to the British authorities since 1984.
In 2009, the Ministry of Defence closed down its hotline for UFO sightings, stating: “In over 50 years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom.”
Responding to the revelations about its activities, the Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoas told Reuters: “The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 timeframe.
It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”
She added: “The DoD takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed.”
Pope said: “This isn’t quite the ‘spaceship in a hangar’ smoking gun the UFO lobby was hoping for, but it’s as close as those of us who have looked at this subject from within government will ever go to saying: ‘Yes, this is real.’”