The Pentagon has acknowledged for the first time the existence of program for investigating encounters with unidentified flying objects (UFOs), according to The New York Times.
The Times on Saturday reported that the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program started in 2007.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has never previously admitted the program exists, and the agency now says the initiative shut down in 2012.
The program received $22 million of the DOD’s $600 billion annual budget starting in late 2008 through 2011, according to contracts seen by The Times.
“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,” Pentagon spokesman Thomas Crosson said in an email last Saturday, referencing the DOD.
DOD officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The Times showed that the program examined reports of UFOs for years.
Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official, ran the initiative on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring.
Elizondo on Saturday told The Times that the only thing that had ended in relation to the program was its funding in 2012.
The official continued working from his Pentagon office until last October, when he resigned over what he described as excessive secrecy and internal opposition.
“Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?” Elizondo asked Defense Secretary James Mattis in his resignation letter.
Elizondo said that the effort continues under a successor, whom he declined to name to The Times.
The program collected audio and video recordings of reported UFO incidents, including some involving the unknown objects and U.S. military aircraft.
Parts of the effort remain classified, and it was initially funded at the request of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” said Reid, who has long had an interest in space phenomena.
“I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service,” added Reid, who retired earlier this year. “I’ve done something that no one has ever done before.”