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Talk of the “unidentified” was once relegated to backchannels, joked about in tabloids, and kept shrouded in mystery by government agencies. But recently the UFO phenomenon has come to the forefront of national news. Headlines are ablaze with news about three UFO videos released by the U.S. Navy. While it is true that these videos have been made available for download by the Department of Defense (DOD), the videos themselves began making waves back in 2017. One of them has been online since 2007. However, perhaps more surprisingly, the Navy admitted that the objects in the videos remain “unidentified.”
In popular culture, depictions of UFOs have blurred the lines between fact and fiction for dramatic effect. While this has evolved from “The Invaders” of The Twilight Zone to the little green men in The X-Files, sci-fi storytelling has long explored the potential existence of “extraterrestrial” beings.
It’s good fun to speculate about aliens, but the real engine drivers behind UFO storytelling are themes of mystery, suspense, and fear—a curiosity of the unknown. Amazon Studios’ latest feature, The Vast of Night, pulls inspiration from science fiction of a bygone era for a story set in 1950s New Mexico about a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) who discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever.
The film, which is now streaming on Prime Video, brings viewers back to the infancy of UFO curiosity and mythology. Set in the 1950s American heartland with a premise that could be right out of The Twilight Zone, The Vast of Night shows how a fateful radio frequency draws two people into a world of unearthly visitors and possibility. It draws on America’s dawning UFO obsession of the era that accelerated into the mainstream during the days of Sputnik, Cold War hysteria, and the beginning of the space race.
However, it also draws on a long history of stories about encounters and inexplicable phenomena. Those stories take on new context with the U.S. government now acknowledging the credibility of videos of unidentified flying objects.
In December 2017, the New York Times broke the story of a secretive program inside the Pentagon that researched military UFO reports. The project was called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). AATIP’s existence was exposed just a few months earlier in October 2017. That is when rocker Tom DeLonge, former frontman of Blink-182, announced the creation of a UFO and paranormal focused organization called the To the Stars Academy (TTSA). Among an impressive list of former government and intelligence officials joining the project was a man named Luis Elizondo, who claimed to have run a UFO program while working at the Office of the Secretary of Department of Defense (OSD).
Some UFO enthusiasts were shocked by this claim. Those who have used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or have contacted the military about UFO cases were typically told the U.S. government has had no interest in UFO cases since the closing of Project Blue Book in 1969, despite documents showing otherwise.
A 2017 New York Times article referred to a UFO encounter that spanned a few days in November 2004. While conducting training exercises off the coast of San Diego, the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group encountered strange radar readings. At one point, radar supervisor Kevin Day was able to scramble jet fighters to check out one of the objects. Among them was Wing Commander David Fravor, the highest-ranking pilot on board. When they reached the area of the radar target, Fravor spotted an object near the water over a disturbance.
“It was calm that day, but the waves were breaking over something that was just below the surface,” described the Times. “Whatever it was, it was big enough to cause the sea to churn.”
The object itself, Fravor said, looked like a 40-foot long “giant white Tic Tac.” Fravor pursued the object, but he says it soon “accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen” and was gone.
Within a couple of hours of Fravor’s encounter, a second pilot encountered another unidentified object that he captured on his infrared video system. This video is referred to as the “FLIR” video, or “USS Nimitz FLIR1” video, and it is one of the videos recently posted by the DOD.
The other two videos are referred to as the “GIMBAL” and “GO FAST” videos. They were both captured in 2015 by the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group. Like the Nimitz, the Roosevelt Strike Force encountered unknown objects during training exercises, this time off the east coast, from Virginia to Florida.
The New York Times included the “FLIR” and “GIMBAL” videos in the December 2017 article. “GO FAST” was released by TTSA a few months after.
If these videos were shared by the newspaper of record and TTSA back in 2017, why are headlines saying the videos were just released? That is a good question, and it goes back to conflicting information that has been coming out of the DOD.
It should be noted that the “FLIR””video first made it onto the internet in 2007. However, very little was known about it. Fravor confirmed the video’s authenticity in a 2015 interview on the military website SOFREP.com. In the interview, Fravor shared details of his UFO encounter and how the video was captured. However, it remains unknown how the footage initially made it onto the internet.
As for the New York Times versions of the videos, they credit AATIP and the Department of Defense. However, the DOD later claimed the “DOD has not released videos related to this program.”
In response, former DOD employee Elizondo told me, “The videos were released in accordance with the strict manner that DOD prescribes to DOD manuals and regulations involving the release of information. It went through the official DOPSR process…”
Leslie Kean, one of the authors of the Times articles, told me they had vetted the videos and she had seen a form (DD1910) submitted by Elizondo to the Navy that was approved and demonstrated the videos were released. The DD1910 was later leaked to Las Vegas investigative reporter George Knapp. The DOD verified the DD1910 was real but claimed the videos were not approved for public release.
The DD1910 is titled “Clearance Request for Public Release of Department of Defense Information.” And the approval stamp states, “Cleared for Open Publication.” In response to my FOIA request, I received a copy of the DD1910 along with email correspondence between Navy officials and Elizondo. There is no indication the Navy had any issue releasing the videos.
Now the DOD is finally acknowledging the videos are real but claim this is the first authorized release. They have not given specifics as to how Elizondo’s request was unauthorized.
The DOD’s track record for accuracy regarding AATIP has not been stellar. They had previously claimed AATIP had nothing to do with UFOs, and Elizondo was not even a part of the program. The DOD has since recanted both claims. So perhaps the big news is not that the video is real, or that the Navy considers them “unidentified.” We already knew that. Maybe the real story is that the DOD is continuing to undermine the facts presented in the New York Times article, despite their past efforts on this front turning out to be misinformation.
Although today it is big news that Navy jet fighters chased UFOs and caught them on camera, at the dawn of the UFO age in the 1950s UFOs made headlines as well. In the late 1950s jet fighters chasing UFOs over the White House in Washington D.C made the front page. In the era for the setting of The Vast of Night, it was still OK to wonder out loud about UFOs. When the U.S. Air Force closed their official investigations, the topic became taboo for decades. Now, after all of this time, UFOs are once again becoming a legitimate topic of discussion.
The Vast of Night is now streaming on Amazon Prime.