“I Want to Believe.” That, of course, is the phrase on the poster hanging on the wall of Fox Mulder’s basement office in “The X Files,” the iconic 90’s TV show that still has a great deal of influence on how we perceive the UFO phenomenon. Over the decades after the show ended, I’ve pondered on the actual significance of that somewhat deceptive phrase: here is Mulder openly admitting the emotional drive forcing him to immerse himself in the pursuit of things that bump in the night and secrets zealously kept by the higher echelons of power; but what is it that impedes him to take that small step and cross the line that divides the believers from the unbelievers? What’s stopping him from giving that final concesion?
Back in the day such ideas didn’t cross my mind; I was just a big, young, unquestioning fan of the show, tuning in every week to see if Mulder and Scully would finally be able to prevail over the evil cabal of The Smoking Man and his minions, who were always looking for ways to undermine their quest for ‘the Truth’ and expose the UFO coverup once and for all. My pal and colleague Greg Bishop often tells me that he never managed to stomach the series –much to my appalling dismay– because by then he was so well versed in all the content Chris Carter’s writers used as source material, he was too annoyed by all the things they left out in each episode to fully enjoy them as they were meant to be —entertainment.
Ironically, a similar thing happened to me a few weeks ago, when I watched Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, broadcast by The History Channel from May 31st to July 5th of 2019. The series, as readers of The Grail should know, is the brainchild of Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences (TTS/AAS) and their first TV product since the company was established in October of 2017. Unidentified’s goal was to chronicle the efforts of Delonge and his associates for the last year and a half, to bring public awareness in the existence of AATIP, the formerly classified Pentagon program tasked with studying UFO activity in relation to US Military affairs. In the end the show’s ‘protagonist’ was not DeLonge himself but Luis Elizondo, a man who erupted into the UFO scene with the public launch of TTSA and has quickly turned into a hero to all the people who are anxiously waiting for official and unambiguous recognition of the UFO presence by the powers that be —’Disclosure’, in UFOlogical parlance.
I’ve been following TTS/AAS’s development as best I can, by reading the mainstream articles published by The New York Times, the Washington Post and Politico –some of which whose appearance seemed purportedly meant to coincide with the premiere of Unidentified, and were written by journalists who ended up making repeated cameos throughout the series– and by putting my ear to the ground on social media and reading blogposts published by both supporters and critics of To the Stars. So when I tuned in to watch the six episodes and trying to keep an open mind –this despite the fact the show was not immune to the typical tropes of contemporary Reality TV programming (e.g. overdramatizing edits and way too many shots of Elizondo driving somewhere, like a typical UFO hunter)– I couldn’t help feeling the same type of annoyance Greg felt with the X-Files’ writing, by noticing all the things Unidentified was conveniently leaving out of its narrative.
Episode 1 (The UFO Insiders) introduced the audience to Elizondo and briefly went through Tom DeLonge’s motivation for contacting individuals in the ‘black world’ of America’s military industrial complex, who would help him out in assembling a team that would work to study the UFO problem and reveal it to the world. The focal point of this episode was the famous Nimitz encounters of 2004, when Commander David Fravor and other pilots –one of them who was interviewed for the show while keeping her identity secret– encountered a Tic-Tac shaped object that completely outmaneuvered their F-18’s; but what the producers omitted is the ridicule Fravor and his team endured once they returned to the USS Nimitz, and how someone even played the X-Files theme on the comm speakers of the ship.
The episode also shows Elizondo playing the widely publicized black-and-white footage taken by a Navy jet’s gun camera to a couple of retired aviation experts and asking them for their opinion, but they never mention what type of thorough scientific analysis was conducted by AATIP (if any) or whether the program had access to other material evidence, like radar returns (we’ll get back to that on Episode 3). In fact, the show gives the impression that this was the first time Elizondo had ever interviewed Fravor and the anonymous Nimitz pilot, and as a viewer I’m left unsure whether this was done for purely dramatization purposes, or if Elizondo was actually restricted from conducting such types of investigations when he was in charge of AATIP –he mentions his frustrations on the way the program operated on a later show, which makes me suspect AATIP’s scope was fairly limited, and it probably yielded very few tangible results.
Episode 2 (Raining UFOs) continues exploring the Nimitz case, but now from the perspective of Kevin Day, who was stationed at the radar room onboard the USS Princeton –another Navy vessel accompanying the Nimitz while they were conducting military exercises off the coast of San Diego– and managed to observe an entire ‘swarm’ of unidentified bogeys on his screen performing unbelievable changes in speed and altitude; the episode also briefly explored the notion that UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) can sometimes be USOs (Unidentified Submersible Objects) and have been tracked by the sonars of US submarines . But what is left out from the episode is any mention that during those particular exercises conducted in the Pacific Ocean on 2004, the Navy was testing (for the first time) a new and incredibly sophisticated air defense system, which it may not only have played a significant role in detecting these anomalous objects in this and other military incidents, but it has led some investigators to suspect the Tic-Tacs could have been a super-secret US military project that was tested –unbeknownst by the Navy– under ideally controlled conditions. Another thing omitted in this episode of the series –much to my disappointment– is any mention of Day’s alleged ‘psychic after effects’ caused by the UFO encounters, which has led him to live as a recluse on a remote, undisclosed location; I understand that bringing up the ‘psychic connection’ to the UFO narrative is always controversial, but (as I’ve said before on previous articles) by leaving this and other important elements of the phenomenon out of their spiel, TTSA will sooner or later end up shooting themselves in the foot –especially since people in that organization are not averse in the slightest to linking UFOs with PSI phenomena.
Episode 3 (The Pattern Revealed) was my favorite of the whole series. Here Elizondo teams up with Sean Cahill, who was a radar operator on the Nimitz, and shares one of the most enigmatic aspects of the 2004 case: that shortly after the UFO encounters took place, a helicopter with officers wearing Air Force uniforms came aboard the Nimitz and confiscated all the radar tapes and data. Who were these officers and why they did this is never explained nor explored, but it is conveniently used by the producers to plant the seed in the viewer that inside the US government there are several factions with diametrically opposed opinions with regards to UFOs and how to handle them: those who want to keep the coverup indefinitely, and those who support DeLonge’s efforts towards more transparency on the subject.
Regardless of that, the episode was interesting to me because it showed Elizondo and Cahill traveling to Ensenada, Baja California, to interview local Mexican fishermen (and even a marine biologist) who have witnessed unusual phenomena for many years prior to the Nimitz encounter –the radars of the Nimitz and Princeton allegedly tracked the Tic-Tacs heading into that region of Mexican-controlled waters after the events ended; the fishermen all coincide that Guadalupe island –a remote volcanic enclave that is off limits without a permit from the Mexican government– is a ‘hotspot’ of UFO activity possibly connected to peculiar electromagnetic anomalies registered in that geographic location; but whether AATIP or other American program ever contacted the Mexican government to further explore the issue of constant UFO activity in an area of interest for both nations –we’re still allies, after all– is never addressed; further confirming the suspicion that AATIP’s insular approach and black-budgeted nature doomed it from the start of its inception to not getting any real answers.
Episode 4 (UFO Fleet) shifts gears and moves on to the second UFO event widely publicized by TTSA: The ‘Gimbal case’ that took place a decade after Nimitz, and on the other side of the United States. Elizondo and Fravor interview Lt. Ryan Graves and Lt. Danny Accoin, who were onboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt when it was first stationed off the coast of Virginia and later sailed to the coast of Florida in late 2014/early 2015, performing training maneuvers before being deployed to the Middle East. It was during that time that both aviators and other members of the ‘Red Rippers’ squad encountered UFOS similar in aerodynamic feats as the Tic-Tacs reported by Fravor, although the shapes were entirely divergent –on one occasion an object described as a “dark cube encased in a transparent sphere” performing a disturbing trajectory collision with two F-18’s; it was these kind of hair-raising events what forced the Navy into issuing new guidelines for reporting anomalous objects.
The show included a tantalizing piece of information, which somehow was omitted from the New York Times article that described these incidents in depth in May of 2019, but had been already covered by journalist Tyler Rogoway online: that the Roosevelt still experienced unusual activity when they finally arrived at the Persian Gulf, which would contradict the theory these objects were ultra-secret US prototypes being tested behind the backs of Navy personnel. The episode features another TTSA member (Chris Mellon) lobbying on the White House and hinting that he took part in the official briefings on these UFO events (Nimitz and Gimbal) to members of the US Congress; yet Unidentified never bothers to explain why Elizondo couldn’t or wouldn’t do that during his AATIP years.Iif the UFO activity on US territory is such a threat –which is clearly TTSA’s main tactic to foster further interest in the topic– then why wait all this time to inform the legislative branch of the US government on events that took place a decade and a half ago?
Episode 5 (The Atomic Connection) goes further on to make a case that UFOs constitute a significant threat to American National Security, by highlighting events that are fairly familiar to the investigative community: UFO activity tied to strategic nuclear sites –which has been covered by investigators like Robert Salas. The episode’s highlight was the controversial ‘Rendlesham incident’ which is popularly regarded as ‘the British Roswell’ in English tabloids like The Sun or Metro, and included interviews with Col. Charles Halt –who filed an official report on the incident– and Airman John Burroughs, who suffered chronic health issues as a result of his exposure to a UFO he encountered while performing his patrol alongside Jim Penniston.
I really liked how they showed Burrough’s personal struggle to receive the medical treatment he needed, after the Air Force initially refused to accept he had served during the years the incident took place –the late senator McCain proved instrumental in his aid, and he also was actively interested in AATIP. Also that Unidentified acknowledged the presence of nuclear arsenal at the Woodbridge base at the time (an illegal act according to NATO rules) was a ballsy move by the producers of Unidentified –the show’s angle seems to have been praising the Navy while pooh-pooing the Air Force– and yet the fact that they failed to include an interview with Penniston, or any mention of the famous ‘binary code’ he allegedly ‘downloaded’ when he touched the mysterious triangular object they found floating around the Rendlesham forest, further alludes to the annoying ‘whitewashing’ performed by the show’s producers of any pesky aspects of the UFO narrative TTSA is not interested in selling.
Episode 6 (The Revelation) felt like the more uneven and mixed in content of the whole bunch. It starts with a trip to Italy DeLonge and Elizondo took to a ‘private reunion with top Military officials of the Italian government’ to discuss mysterious fire incidents that occurred in the region of Caronia (Sicily) in 2004 (the same year the Nimitz events happened, incidentally) which remained unexplained to this day –unusual solar activity perhaps?– and even recurred ten years later (again, coinciding with the Gimbal incidents); but the meeting was in fact among members of a civilian UFO group with no direct influence on official policy whatsoever. Among those Italian UFOlogists was a rather cryptic individual named Clarbruno Verdruccio, a controversial scientist and inventor who, although holding a legitimate position with the Italian Navy and whose credentials do check out, is also credited with inventing a device called the Trimprob that supposedly is able to electromagnetically detect cancerous tumors within the body; my initial reaction was to regard Verdruccio as a total quack, but as far as I can tell his invention does seem to work in principle –although it’s no better at detecting tumors than conventional methods (and the images of men being tested for signs of prostrate cancer are quite uncomfortable).
It was Verdruccio who informed DeLonge and Elizondo that UFOs were behind the Caronia fires, and even handed to the bewildered Americans a video purportedly showing a UFO following and shooting down a helicopter; interestingly enough, this video was showed only very briefly during the show, and is not part of the “shared documents” that were published online by The History Channel as accompanying material for their viewers. Verdruccio also offers the idea that using a particular electromagnetic frequency it would be possible to establish communication with the UFOs, and the Italians handed down an extensive catalogue of sightings to TTSA, which at first glance seems to simply be comprised of well-known cases widely available on the Internet –a diagram of reported shapes included the famous Trent-McMinnville UFO, which was photographed in Oregon in the 1950s. The episode culminates with a collective pat on the back by bragging about how much TTSA has accomplished in so little time –something their fans constantly remind their critics of on social media– by shooting a triumphant Elizondo driving all the way to TTSA’s headquarters in Encinitas to show DeLonge the newly published article by Bryan Bender which dealt with the new Navy guidelines to report UFOs; that this was portrayed as a surprise to both DeLonge and Elizondo is bad enough –Bender himself was the only “talking head” that was consistently shown on all six episodes– but even taking credit for the guidelines seems uncalled for, since the Navy had decided to update their guidelines long before TTSA came into existence –and also, the show fails to mention those same guidelines specify the reports would be kept away from public view.
After showing an interview with Senator Harry Reid and briefly mentioning Robert Bigelow’s involvement with AAWSAP and AATIP (the former was a precursor to the latter) without ever mentioning the Skinwalker ranch, of course, the episode ends with a romanticized shot of Elizondo standing next to DC’s famous monuments, to remind us it was his patriotism what lead him to make the great sacrifice of resigning his position at the DOA in protest of the way his superiors were failing to address the UFO problem; although that sacrifice would NOT involve violating his oaths of secrecy and revealing to the public the total extent of what he really knows. In fact, Unidentified and Elizondo make it perfectly clear he is STILL collaborating with the people who replaced him at AATIP.
To be fair, there were a few instances in which the series played a game of ‘Devil’s advocate’ to their own narrative that actually took me by surprise. For instance, when Elizondo is shown talking to Steve Justice (former head of Lockheed’s Skunk Works) to discuss the possibility that the Tic-Tacs could have been part of a secret US prototype test —”It’s possible,” Justice begrudgingly answers, while reminding Elizondo he won’t also discuss what he knows about the classified programs he was a part of (playing the spy game among your own associates must make for wonderful water cooler conversations!); but then the possibility is eventually shot down once they show, A) The UFO activity around the place where the Nimitz incident took place has been present for many years before or since; and B) The UFOs kept showing up once the aircraft Roosevelt moved to the Persian Gulf (compromising your own Navy with secret tests at a theater of war seems highly unlikely, IMO). During those exchanges Justice played the role of skeptic to the alien hypothesis, which I’m not sure if it was done purely for dramatic purposes, or to convey the idea that TTSA doesn’t have a hard ‘party-line’ to pursue with regards to the origin and nature of UFOs –even though DeLonge has hinted to his personal belief that the phenomenon is almost ‘demonic’ in nature…
Another time Unidentified surprised me is when they featured Greg Bishop –yep, the same Greg Bishop who hated the X-Files!– as a ‘UFO expert’ (I teased him to no end for that) to discuss the story of Paul Bennewitz and Richard Doty (to learn about that, pick a copy of his book Project Beta) as an example of the US Intelligence world spreading misinformation about UFOs. When the producers of Unidentified point-blankly ask Elizondo if he is a new Richard Doty, he blurts out, “as a counterintelligence agent I was tasked to lying to the enemy. You (the public) are not my enemy!” A strange answer, especially when one considers the many instances in which the US government has obfuscated the truth in order to protect sensitive classified information that would directly affect National Security –Paul Bennewitz wasn’t the ‘enemy’ but merely an innocent patsy exploited by Doty and AFOSI for their own ulterior purposes.
And no amount of shots of Elizondo looking straight into the camera and telling us that it’s OK to trust him will probably be enough to convince his critics and doubters. Just the day after the show premiered an article written by Keith Kloor for The Intercept was published, questioning whether Elizondo had actually run the AATIP program –something that has also been brought up by John Greenewald of The Black Vault; what followed next is an interesting example of how TTSA has affected the current UFOlogical ecosystem thanks to a savvy use of social media, with people outside of TTSA leading the charge against their critics, instead of them directly addressing the criticism through official press releases. In the meantime, the promised official confirmation from the Pentagon that Elizondo did in fact direct AATIP has failed to materialize; perhaps Elizondo will not end up being the new Doty, but the new Robert Lazar?
Fans of TTSA could point out, perhaps rightly so, that Unidentified was not really meant for someone like me –or even them!– but that it was intended for the public in general so they can be put up to speed about the current developments in the UFO scene, and create a buzz to further the cause of Disclosure and lift off the stigma surrounding UFOs once and for all. Whether the series managed to succeed in doing that remains to be seen, given that the official cable TV ratings they obtained on average were moderate at best:
Week One: 1.286 million viewers (11th place)
Week Two: 1.104 million viewers (15th place)
Week Three: 1.158 million viewers (5th place)
Week Four: 1.005 million viewers (10th place)
Week Five: 1.083 million viewers (17th place)
Week Six: 0.926 million viewers (29th place)
[Sources: tvbynumbers.com / showbuzzdaily.com]
Whether the ratings were a result of the atrocious time slot (Friday at 10 pm) assigned to the show by the History Channel, a reflection of how younger generations consume content (via online streaming instead of traditional cable TV) or just a sign of actual disinterest on the topic, I’ll leave it to you to decide.
Sure, I could remove my tinfoil hat, cease my posture as ‘pedantic UFO know-it-all’ so I could stop feeling annoyance to all the omissions and white-washing in Unidentified, the same way I asked my buddy Greg to give The X-Files a second chance and just enjoy Mulder and Scully’s escapades as TV entertainment. From that perspective the brainchild of DeLonge and his company is definitely a cut above the rest of the typical UFO hunting shows that have plagued cable TV for the last 10 years or so; I certainly never felt bored with any of the episodes, even knowing most of what they showed well beforehand!
But here is the thing: Unlike The X-Files, Unidentified is not marketed as mere entertainment; DeLonge keeps telling his audience that what they’re trying to do is literally change the world, that Disclosure is “right around the corner“, and that products like Unidentified are helping bring it into fruition:
“This, is the story of the millennia. This is changing the world, stuff. This reallyis in my heart, like, I am a part of something…I created something, that has an opportunity to change the world. And I really feel that. That is why I’m doing this. For the first time in the history of our country and in the history of the subject, the stigma and the taboo nature about it just got shattered to a thousand pieces in the wind.”
Because of that, there cannot be 11 seasons of Unidentified, in which Lue and the gang keep throwing us new little morsels of information here and there to their hungry audience. Doing that would not only get pretty old pretty quickly, but it would also mean proving they either failed to achieve the goal they promised to their fans (Finding Bigfoot anyone?) or that it was never really their intention in the first place.
“The Revolution will not be televised,”rapped Gil Scott-Heron. And neither will Disclosure, I daresay. For perhaps the biggest lesson Unidentified can teach us, is that ‘engineering’ an artificial interest in UFOs is not that simple, especially if it’s not accompanied by that which actually makes the public to look up to the sky and pay attention –a good old UFO flap. And you will not get the necessary respect from the scientific and academic community either, if your tall claims are not backed up by what they respect the most: peer-reviewed papers.
And if you end up tweeting that the figure of $22 million dollars spent by the AATIP program you originally reported might not actually be true, well then… why should we trust anyting you claim, when you’re no better than the old keepers of the so-called UFO coverup?
“I want to Believe” is the phrase of the poster I would have hung up on my bedroom wall 30 years ago. “Belief is the Enemy” is the poster I would hang up now.