"I think we're beyond that already. The government has already stated for the record that they're real," Elizondo told host Bill Whitaker.
Elizondo spent 20 years running military intelligence operations in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Guantanamo. In 2008, he was asked to join AATIP – a $22 million program sponsored by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to investigate UAPs.
"The mission of AATIP was quite simple. It was to collect and analyze information involving anomalous aerial vehicles. I guess in the vernacular you call them UFOs. We call them UAPs," related Elizondo.
According to Elizondo, AATIP was a loose-knit mix of scientists, electro-optical engineers and avionics and intelligence experts mostly working part-time. They combed through data and records and analyzed videos of UAPs. When Elizondo became AATIP's director in 2010, he focused on the national security implications of UAPs documented by U.S. service members.
"Imagine a technology that can do 6-to-700 g-forces, that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water and possibly space. And oh, by the way, has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces and yet still can defy the natural effects of Earth's gravity. That's precisely what we're seeing," Elizondo said.
Watch the "60 Minutes'" report on UAPs here:
The Navy released a document revealing eight incidents between June 27, 2013, and Feb. 13, 2019, in which Navy fighter pilots reported close encounters with unidentified aerial vehicles – including some that are dangerously close.
The Navy records, known as "hazard reports," describe both visual and radar sightings, including close calls with the aerial vehicles or "unmanned aircraft systems."
One such incident happened on March 26, 2014, over the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach. It involved a silver object "approximately the size of a suitcase" that was tracked on radar passing within 1,000 feet of one of the jets, according to the report.
Some of the incidents involved fighter squadrons aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. Lt. Ryan Graves, a former F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot, called whatever is out there a security risk. He told Whitaker that his F/A-18F squadron began seeing UAPs when they updated their jet's radar, making it possible to zero in with infrared-targeting cameras.
According to Graves, those UAPs could be a secret U.S. technology, an adversary's spy vehicle or something otherworldly. (Related: Leaked Pentagon footage shows what appears to be pyramid-shaped UFOs swarming Navy warship.)
"I would say, you know, the highest probability is it's a threat observation program," Graves said. "I am worried, frankly. You know, if these were tactical jets from another country that were hanging out up there, it would be a massive issue. But because it looks slightly different, we're not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We're happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day."
The government has ignored it – at least publicly – since closing "Project Blue Book," the code name for the systematic study of UAPs by the Air Force from March 1952 to its termination on December 17, 1969.
An incident in Southern California reignited the government's interest in UAPs. The incident was documented by radar, camera and four naval aviators – including Cmdr. Dave Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich who were also interviewed by Whitaker on "60 Minutes."
It was November 2004 and the USS Nimitz carrier strike group was training about 100 miles southwest of San Diego. During their training exercise, Fravor and Dietrich – each with a weapons system officer in the back seat of their F/A-18F – were diverted to investigate an anomalous object. They found an area of roiling whitewater the size of a Boeing 737 and saw something strange above it.
Fravor recalled seeing a little white Tic Tac-looking object. He said it was about the size of his F/A-18F with no markings, no wings and no exhaust plumes.
"It turned abruptly and started mirroring me, so as I was coming down, it started coming up. It was aware we were there," Fravor said. "I don't know who's building it, who's got the technology, who's got the brains. But there's something out there that was better than our airplane."
Fravor and Dietrich later learned from the controllers on the nearby ship USS Princeton that they had been tracking similar anomalous objects for days. When Fravor and Dietrich encountered the UAP, they were unarmed. "I felt the vulnerability of not having anything to defend ourselves," said Dietrich. "And then I felt confused when it disappeared."
They filed reports, but nothing was said or done officially for five years – until Elizondo came across the story and investigated.
"We spend millions of dollars in training these pilots. And they are seeing something that they can't explain. Furthermore, that information's being backed up on electro optical data, like gun camera footage. And by radar data. Now, to me, that's compelling," Elizondo said.
His findings were met with skepticism inside the Pentagon. AATIP's funding was eliminated in 2012, but Elizondo said he and a handful of others kept the mission alive.
Elizondo quit the Pentagon in 2017, but not before getting three Navy videos of UAP aerial encounters declassified.
That same year, Chris Mellon acquired the three Navy videos and leaked them to the New York Times. He joined forces with Elizondo and they started to tell their story to anybody who would listen. Last year, the Department of Defense (DOD) authenticated those videos of aerial encounters with UAPs.
"We knew and understood that you had to go to the public, get the public interested to get Congress interested, to then circle back to the defense department and get them to start taking a look at it," said Mellon, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Their strategy apparently worked. On Aug. 4, 2020, Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist approved the establishment of the UAP Task Force (UAPTF).
The DOD established the UAPTF to improve its understanding of and gain insight into the nature and origins of UAPs. The mission of the task force is to detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to national security. (Related: Experts clarify the role of the Pentagon's newest UFO task force.)
After receiving classified briefings on UAPs, Senator Marco Rubio called for a detailed analysis. In December last year, while he was still head of the intelligence committee, he asked the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon to present Congress an unclassified report by June.
"We're going to find out when we get that report. You know, there's a stigma on Capitol Hill. Some of my colleagues are very interested in this topic and some giggle when you bring it up. But I don't think we can allow the stigma to keep us from having an answer to a very fundamental question," Rubio said.
"I want us to take it seriously and have a process to take it seriously. I want us to have a process to analyze the data every time it comes in. That there be a place where this is cataloged and constantly analyzed, until we get some answers. Maybe it has a very simple answer. Maybe it doesn't."
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