The new high-level attention was heralded by Lue Elizondo, who was involved in a previous Pentagon UFO research program known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Intelligence Program, or AATIP, that was wound down in 2012.
Elizondo resigned in 2017 in part over frustration that senior Pentagon officials were not taking seriously enough a series of unexplained encounters, including those experienced by pilots flying off the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt in 2004 and 2015 who reported unknown aircraft maneuvering in ways that appeared to defy aerodynamics.
“This is precisely the intended result of what we were trying to achieve under AATIP,” Elizondo told POLITICO following the announcement.
POLITICO, along with the New York Times, first reported on the existence of AATIP and the Nimitz incident in 2017.
The Navy last year said it was updating its reporting guidelines for such sightings to more comprehensively collect new data. And earlier this year it officially made public three videos of the Nimitz and Roosevelt incidents.
The Pentagon announcement on Friday also comes several weeks after the Senate’s version of the Intelligence Authorization Act required the director of national intelligence and secretary of defense, working with a variety of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, to prepare a public report of government findings on the UAP issue.
“We have things flying over our military bases and places where we are conducting military exercises, and we don’t know what it is and it isn’t ours, so that’s a legitimate question to ask,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), acting chair of the intelligence panel, told WFOR-TV in Miami last month.
“Frankly, if it’s something from outside this planet, that might actually be better than the fact that we’ve seen some sort of technological leap on behalf of the Chinese or the Russians or some other adversary,” he added.
Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, Elizondo told POLITICO he believes the combination of a steady stream of new UAP reports in recent months and the pressure from Congress has compelled military leadership to be more aggressive about an issue that historically has carried a significant stigma but is now far more mainstream.
“They can’t ignore it anymore,” Elizondo said. “They are looking like they are hiding something from the American people. Not taking this more seriously is now a liability.”
The plans for the new task force were first reported by CNN on Thursday.
Gough, the Pentagon spokesperson, said Friday she could not provide specifics on how many personnel or from which agencies have been assigned to the new operation.
But she explained it is an outgrowth of research efforts undertaken by the Navy’s intelligence arm and that the service will continue to play a leading role.
“The Department of the Navy, under the cognizance of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, will lead the UAPTF,” her statement said.
In a followup email, she added that “since the majority of recent reporting about UAP observations have come from naval aviators, since approximately 2018 the Department of the Navy has been leading assessments of UAP incursion into [Department of Defense] training ranges and designated airspace.”
“Over the last year, DoD undertook efforts to formalize the good work done by the Navy for DoD,” she added. “Deputy Secretary Norquist approved the establishment of the UAPTF on Aug. 4, 2020.”
In the official announcement Friday, Gough also explained that “the safety of our personnel and the security of our operations are of paramount concern.”
“The Department of Defense and the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously and examine each report,” the statement added. “This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as UAP when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing.”