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"UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact. " (Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon



UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact" was the headline of the renowned U. S. daily newspaper Washington Post on May 28, 2019. The basic message of the article is that in the wake of recent releases of various U. S. military information on the UFO issue, there could no longer be any doubts about the reality of the UFO phenomenon (in the sense of unidentified flying objects with anomalous characteristics). This positioning differs in a significant way from the usual reporting of important leading media in the USA on the UFO topic for decades. However, the Washington Post article does not stand alone, but is part of a whole wave of media events related to the UFO phenomenon that have attracted much attention in the U. S. and worldwide since late 2017. Among other things, it became known that the U. S. military intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), maintained a secret UFO research program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) from 2007 to 2012. This article sheds light on the background of the events and, with a view to historical PR campaigns and intelligence activities in connection with the UFO topic in the USA, endeavors to critically assess and contextualize the current situation. The focus is on the question of whether a targeted disinformation campaign could be behind the current reporting.
Journal of Anomalistics
Volume 22 (2022), pp. 18–35
“UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact.
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
A A, F V
Abstract – “UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact” was the headline of the re-
nowned U. S. daily newspaper Washington Post on May 28, 2019. e basic message of the article
is that in the wake of recent releases of various U. S. military information on the UFO issue, there
could no longer be any doubts about the reality of the UFO phenomenon (in the sense of uniden-
tied ying objects with anomalous characteristics). is positioning diers in a signicant way
from the usual reporting of important leading media in the USA on the UFO topic for decades.
However, the Washington Post article does not stand alone, but is part of a whole wave of media
events related to the UFO phenomenon that have attracted much attention in the U. S. and world-
wide since late 2017. Among other things, it became known that the U. S. military intelligence
agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), maintained a secret UFO research program called
the Advanced Aerospace reat Identication Program (AATIP) from 2007 to 2012. is article
sheds light on the background of the events and, with a view to historical PR campaigns and intel-
ligence activities in connection with the UFO topic in the USA, endeavors to critically assess and
contextualize the current situation. e focus is on the question of whether a targeted disinforma-
tion campaign could be behind the current reporting.
Keywords: UFOs – UAPs – disinformation – Advanced Aerospace reat Identication Program –
To e Stars Academy
1 Andreas Anton studied sociology, history and cognitive science at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität
Freiburg, Germany. He completed his doctorate in sociology in the German Research Foundation
(DFG)-funded project “In the Shadow of Scientism. On dealing with heterodox knowledge, experi-
ences and practices in the GDR.” Since 2017, he is a research associate at the Institute for Frontier
Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) in Freiburg. E-Mail:
Fabian Vugrin studied political and administrational science at the University of Konstanz, Germany.
He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in interdisciplinary anthropology at the Albert-Ludwigs-
Universität Freiburg. Since 2022 he is a student assistant at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology
and Mental Health (IGPP) in Freiburg. E-Mail:
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
“UFOs existieren, und jeder muss sich auf diese Tatsache einstellen.“
(Des-)Informationskampagnen über das UFO-Phänomen
Zusammenfassung“UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact” titelte die renommierte
US-amerikanische Tageszeitung Washington Post am 28. Mai 2019. Die Grundaussage des Artikels
besteht darin, dass im Zuge der jüngsten Veröentlichungen verschiedener Informationen des US-
Militärs zur UFO-ematik keine Zweifel mehr an der Realität des UFO-Phänomens (im Sinne
von unidentizierten Flugobjekten mit anomalen Charakteristika) bestehen könnten. Diese Positi-
onierung unterscheidet sich in erheblicher Weise von der über Jahrzehnte üblichen Berichterstattung
wichtiger Leitmedien in den USA zum UFO-ema. Der Washington-Post-Artikel steht jedoch nicht
alleine, sondern ist Bestandteil einer ganzen Welle von medialen Ereignissen im Zusammenhang
mit dem UFO-Phänomen, die seit Ende 2017 in den USA und weltweit viel Aufmerksamkeit erregt
haben. Unter anderem wurde bekannt, dass der militärische US-Geheimdienst Defense Intelligence
Agency (DIA) von 2007 bis 2012 ein geheimes UFO-Forschungsprogramm mit der Bezeichnung
Advanced Aerospace reat Identication Program (AATIP) unterhielt. Der Artikel beleuchtet die
Hintergründe der Ereignisse und bemüht sich mit Blick auf historische PR-Kampagnen und Ge-
heimdienst-Aktivitäten im Zusammenhang mit dem UFO-ema in den USA um eine kritische
Einschätzung und Kontextualisierung der aktuellen Situation. Im Vordergrund steht dabei die Frage,
ob hinter der aktuellen Berichterstattung eine gezielte Desinformationskampagne stehen könnte.
Schlüsselbegrie: UFOs – UAPs – Desinformation – Advanced Aerospace reat Identication
Program – To e Stars Academy
reat from outer space
On October 30, 1938 – one day before Halloween – the American radio station CBS broad-
casted a radio play based on the 1898 novel e War of the Worlds by Herbert George Wells.
e book, which is now considered a classic of science ction literature, is about an invasion of
Great Britain by technically far superior Martians – from where they plan to conquer the entire
Earth and exploit its raw materials. As soon as they land on Earth, the Martians destroy cities,
roads and communication networks with three-legged ghting machines, so-called “Tripods.
e humans are desperately inferior in terms of technology and have no chance against the
alien attackers. Finally, humanity is saved by the aliens being infected and killed by earthly
bacteria. For the radio play on CBS, the action was moved from the UK to the U. S. and the
story was told in the form of a ctional live report informing about the actual events of the alien
invasion. Although there were several indications that it was a ctional plot, some listeners
mistook the story for a real alien attack and panicked. e report in the next day’s newspapers
that it had come to a downright mass panic during the broadcast, turned out aerwards to be
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
a strong exaggeration of the press. Nevertheless, the transmission had an enormous eect: In
several police stations the telephone lines broke down, frightened people ran around on roads
protecting themselves with cloths face-coverings against the “poison gas” of the extraterres-
trial invaders. A priest gave a sermon on “Judgment Day” and some men called the authorities
inquiring where to join the armed resistance against the aliens. e reactions to the radio play
of e War of the Worlds are noteworthy: Apparently the idea of the existence of extraterrestrial
civilizations was not only widespread in the United States in 1938, but an attack by extrater-
restrial invaders was also considered a real possibility by at least some listeners of the CBS radio
broadcast. is, in turn, alerted U. S. authorities: e UFO issue had the potential to trigger
collective fears and even mass panic (Gerritzen, 2016: 13–20). e CBS radio broadcast from
1938 represents a key scene to understand the importance of the UFO topic in the USA.
e ‘UFO Year’ 1947
Beginning in February 1946, reports of sightings of unusual spherical or cigar-shaped ying
objects over Sweden, Finland, and Norway began to accumulate. ese objects were referred
to in the press as “ghost rockets” because they reminded some observers of the shape of the
German V rockets. In Sweden alone, some 1,000 sightings were reported by the end of 1946.
e events made headlines in Europe and the United States for weeks. To this day, it has not
been conclusively explained what caused the sightings. Various Western intelligence agencies
investigated the incidents and suspected the Soviet Union of using novel military aircra over
Scandinavia (Anton, 2019: 134–135). At the same time, reports of sightings of mysterious
celestial phenomena – some of them close to military facilities – were also accumulating in
the United States, leading to a nervousness among the U. S. military. In addition to the ques-
tion of whether the Soviet Union had technically sophisticated aircra that were intruding into
American airspace, there was also the suspicion that the UFO issue could be used by the enemy
as some sort of psychological warfare to create fear and confusion among the population. e
mood was further fueled by the famous UFO sighting of amateur pilot Kenneth Arnold on
June 24, 1947. Arnold reported seeing nine unusual ying objects in the clouds during a ight
near Mount Rainier in Washington State, which were later described in the press as “saucer-like
aircra” or “shaped like saucers.” us, the term “ying saucer” was born. Subsequently, there
was a nationwide wave of UFO sightings and the newspapers were full of reports on the subject.
Arnold’s sighting can be considered the beginning of the modern UFO phenomenon. omas
Bullard notes in this regard:
Kenneth Arnold’s report of nine objects skipping over the slopes of Mount Rainier on
June 24, 1947, marks the nominal beginning of the UFO era. In a sense his sighting comes
as just one among ongoing streams of predecessors and successors, and being chosen as
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
the “rst” is as arbitrary as pulling one person out of a line to celebrate the millionth cus-
tomer of a supermarket. If unidentied ying objects did not begin with Arnold’s report,
the social debut of UFOs certainly did. His report crystallized a coherent mystery out of
random observations, gave it a catchy name and captivated public interest. (Bullard, 2010:
Arnold’s sighting was investigated by the U. S. Air Force and evaluated as a mirage. at
same year, a period of military interest in the UFO phenomenon began – mainly by the Air
Force, entrusted with securing the airspace over the United States. From 1947 to 1969, ocial
investigations of UFOs were initiated several times: e projects Sign and Grudge worked for
one and three years respectively and Project Blue Book nally collected data and conducted
analyses over 17 years. e goal of all these projects was to determine whether UFOs posed a
threat to U. S. national security. Registration oces for UFO observations made by the popula-
tion were established and Air Force personnel were instructed via corresponding guidelines
to forward information and materials related to UFOs to special military agencies (Anton &
Ammon, 2015: 334).
However, the year 1947 was a signicant year in respect to the UFO topic for another reason.
In 1947, the so-called Roswell Incident took place, which plays an important role in various
conspiracy theories on the UFO phenomenon to this day (see for example: Carey & Schmitt
2019). On June 14, 1947, rancher William Brazel found mysterious debris on the grounds of
a ranch (about 105 kilometers northwest of the small town of Roswell, New Mexico). Shortly
thereaer, Brazel learned – in connection with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting – of the ying saucer
phenomenon from the press and reported his nd to the sheri of Roswell. He in turn informed
the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF), a U. S. Army base near Roswell. e 509th Composite Group
air force unit, which had been used to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during
World War II, had been stationed there since 1945. e Army examined the debris Brazel found
and told the press they had recovered parts of a ying saucer. us, the Roswell Daily Record
was published on July 8, 1947 with the headline: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch In
Roswell Region” (Roswell Daily Record – July 8, 1947).2 However, on the same day the report
was retracted and the next day the Roswell Daily Record read, “An examination by the army
revealed last night that mysterious objects found on a lonely New Mexico ranch was a harm-
less high-altitude weather balloon – not a grounded ying disk.” (Roswell Daily Record – July
9, 1947) ereaer, the incident was more or less forgotten for many years, until in 1980 the
book e Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore was published, in which the
authors claim that an extraterrestrial spacecra crashed in Roswell in 1947 and that the U. S.
2 Both articles can be viewed online at: http://www.roswell (last
access: 05/02/22).
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
government recovered both its debris and extraterrestrial corpses but hid this from the public
(Berlitz & Moore, 1980). e fact that this conspiracy theory persists to this day is also related
to a real UFO conspiracy. But before we turn to this, we must look at another event that plays
an important role in the dealing with the UFO phenomenon in the USA: e UFO incident in
Washington D. C. in 1952.
e Robertson Panel
In July 1952, UFOs were sighted over Washington, D.C. on several days and recorded by radar.
Eyewitnesses reported at, upward-curved ying objects that had lights on their outsides and
were moving at high speeds. Andrews Air Force Base interceptors made multiple unsuccess-
ful attempts to get close to the objects and establish visual contact. A wave of UFO sightings
directly over the U. S. capital had a special dimension. e sightings made it to the front-page
headlines across the country. e Air Force later explained that weather phenomena (temperature
inversion) were responsible for the radar sightings and eyewitnesses were probably misinterpret-
ing conventional astronomical phenomena such as stars and meteors. Nevertheless, the Truman
administration and the CIA were concerned about the events and a special working group was
formed within the Oce of Scientic Intelligence (OSI) and the Oce of Current Intelligence (OCI)
to review the situation. e working group concluded that most UFO sightings could be easily
explained, yet still recommended the CIA to continue to work on the issue (Dolan, 2002: 104–131).
In late 1953, the CIA formed a science panel that spent four days looking at the UFO issue.
Physicist Howard P. Robertson was the group’s chairman, which is why it is also known as
the Robertson Panel. e panel’s mission was to assess the threat to national security posed
by UFO sightings and to develop procedural recommendations about how to proceed on the
UFO issues. e panel concluded that there is no scientic evidence of the UFO phenomenon
and that it does not pose an immediate threat to U. S. national security. Nevertheless, the UFO
issue could pose an indirect threat resulting from several factors: “a. Misidentication of actual
enemy artifacts by defense personnel. b. Overloading of emergency reporting channels with
‘false’ information (‘noise to signal ratio’ analogy—Berkner). c. Subjectivity of public to mass
hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare.” (Duran Report,
1953: 15)
e panel recommended that air trac control personnel should be specically trained
to recognize unusually illuminated objects (e. g., balloons, aircra reections) and natural
phenomena (meteors, reballs, mirages, noctilucent clouds), thereby reducing the number of
alleged UFO reports. In addition, the UFO topic should be “debunked” and freed from its “aura
of mystery” with the help of a kind of PR campaign:
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
e “debunking” aim would result in reduction in public interest in “ying saucers” which
today evokes a strong psychological reaction. is education could be accomplished by
mass media such as television, motion pictures, and popular articles. Basis of such educa-
tion would be actual case histories which had been puzzling at rst but later explained. As
in the case of conjuring tricks, there is much less stimulation if the “secret” is known. Such
a program should tend to reduce the current gullibility of the public and consequently
their susceptibility to clever hostile propaganda.” (ibid.: 20)
As a further measure, the panel suggested monitoring civilian UFO research groups because
they have a “potentially great inuence on mass thinking” and could possibly be used for “sub-
versive purposes” (ibid.: 23–24).
J. Allen Hynek, who later gained worldwide publicity as part of his work for Project Blue
Book, was a scientic advisor to the Robertson Panel. Hynek famously evolved from a skeptic
to a vehement proponent of scientic UFO research during his many years of involvement with
the UFO subject. With regard to the impact of the Robertson Panel, he complained that it had
brought scientic disrepute to the UFO subject, leading to the problem that it was not given
the attention it needed to determine the nature of the UFO phenomenon. In the context of
conspiracy theory interpretations, the Robertson Panel is repeatedly cited as evidence that the
UFO subject has been systematically discredited and ridiculed in the United States. In any case,
this episode proves that the subject was attributed relevance in the context of security policies.
While UFOs were not directly classied as a threat, the potential impact of the subject matter
was. erefore, the goal was to gain control over this potential security risk. is was achieved
at considerable expense in some cases, as, for example, the Bennewitz aair shows.
e Bennewitz Aair and the Majestic 12 Documents
Paul Bennewitz (1927–2003) was a physicist who operated a company called under Scientic
in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that manufactured high-sensitivity instruments for the U. S. Air
Force and NASA, among others. e company still exists today and is carried on by his children.
Bennewitz lived with his family in the late 1970s at Four Hills Village, in close proximity to the
Kirtland Air Force Base, where not only were nuclear weapons stored, but all sorts of secret
military research projects were conducted. In addition, Bennewitz was interested in the UFO
phenomenon and was a member of a UFO amateur research group called the Aerial Phenomena
Research Organization. In 1979, Bennewitz saw strange things over the Air Force base: multicol-
ored, moving lights. He took photographs and lmed footage and received radio signals from
the air base with antennas he built himself. Bennewitz believed all of this to be the activity of
UFOs and contacted the bases chief of security. Since Bennewitz had been a reliable supplier
to the U. S. Army up to that point, they initially took him seriously and sent Richard Doty, an
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
Air Force intelligence ocer, to see him. When the latter looked around Bennewitz’s house,
he could hardly believe his eyes. e technical equipment in Bennewitz’s home was almost
equivalent to a powerful listening device – and it was right next door to the Air Force base.
is made him a critical factor in the secrecy of military research projects conducted at the air
base. Bennewitz could have been told that the lights he was seeing and documenting were not
UFOs but secret military projects and asked to keep quiet. But a dierent path was taken, which
German sociologist Ingbert Jüdt, who has studied the events intensively, describes as follows:3
“e decision was made not to prohibit Paul Bennewitz from continuing to make his observa-
tions (which would have been possible without any problems due to the legal situation), but on
the contrary to strengthen him in his belief in extraterrestrials – and to do so actively by feeding
him with falsied signals and documents.” (Jüdt, 2013: 214) In the following years, Bennewitz
was systematically provided with information by the Air Force intelligence service, which con-
vinced him more and more of the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrials. In the course of
time, the whole thing developed into a kind of system: “double agents” obtained information
from the UFO research scene and passed it on to the secret service. e latter converted this
information into “ocial documents” and sent them back into the UFO scene. is procedure
seems like a kind of overzealous implementation of the Robertson Panel’s claims. In the case of
Bennewitz and subsequent campaigns, the main goal was to discredit the UFO scene by feeding
false information and thus protect military secrets. An enormous amount of eort was put into
this. One of the informants who fed false information into the UFO scene was William Moore,
one of the two authors of the 1980 book about the Roswell incident. For Paul Bennewitz, the
aair ended with his mental breakdown (Bishop, 2005: 213–218). He was sent to a psychiatric
hospital and was subsequently kept away from his former acquaintances and the UFO topic by
his family (ibid.: 216–217). In 2013, a documentary about Richard Doty and the disinformation
campaigns of the Air Force intelligence service on the UFO topic was released, entitled Mirage
Men,4 based on the 2010 book of the same name by Mark Pilkington (Pilkington, 2010).
William Moore and Richard Doty also play an instrumental role in documents central to
conspiracy theories about the Roswell incident: e Majestic 12 documents. Moore’s collabora-
tion with intelligence ocer Doty was based on the fact that he was promised information
about the governments “real” UFO knowledge in return for information from the UFO scene.
Moore later explained his approach as follows:
I would play the disinformation game, get my hands dirty just oen enough to lead those
directing the process into believing that I was doing exactly what they wanted me to do,
and all the while continue to burrow my way into the matrix so as to learn as much as
3 All translations from German by the authors.
4 See:
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
possible about who was directing it and why. It would be a classic case of turning the tables
on the very ones who were most condent they had the situation well in hand. ere was
just one thing I needed to do this – Secrecy! I couldn’t tell anyone about what I was doing;
for if I did and word go back to those in control, I would be immediately cut o and cast
adri before I could learn anything. (Moore 1989: 16)
e reality, however, was dierent. Moore provided Doty with information about his research
into the Roswell incident. Doty, in turn, ensured that this information was cast into “authentic”
documents, which were then leaked anonymously to various UFO researchers and nally pub-
lished in 1987 by UFO researcher Timothy Good in the book Above Top Secret (Good, 1987).
e content of the documents is that aer the Roswell incident in 1947, where an extrater-
restrial spacecra crashed, a top-secret group of 12 members was formed on the instruction of
U. S. President Harry Truman, with the aim of hiding knowledge of UFOs and extraterrestrials
from the public. An excerpt reads:
On 07 July 1947, a secret operation was begun to assure recovery of wreckage of this object
for scientic study. During the course of this operation, aerial reconnaissance discovered
that four human-like beings had apparently ejected from the cra at some point before
it exploded. ese had fallen to earth about two miles east of the wreckage site. All four
were dead and badly decomposed due to action by predators and exposure to the elements
during the approximately one week time period which had elapsed before their discovery.5
“e sequel ‘Roswell’ started by UFO researchers,” Jüdt summarizes, “receives a follow-up
volume whose authorship lies with an authority of the United States itself” (Jüdt, 2013: 219).
e Majestic 12 documents play an important role in UFO conspiracy theories to this day and
are still believed to be genuine by some adherents of corresponding interpretations. ey are an
impressive example of how close conspiracy theories and real conspiracies can occasionally be
(Anton & Schink, 2021). e Bennewitz Aair and the events that led to the publication of the
Majestic 12 documents demonstrate the eort that government institutions in the U. S. put into
disinformation on the UFO subject in order to systematically promote belief in extraterrestrial
visitors within the scene of UFO researchers. is approach only seemingly contradicts require-
ment of the Robertson Panel to debunk the UFO issue. e main target of the disinformation
campaigns was not the general public, but UFO researchers, which were considered as a threat
to the security of secret projects (Pilkington, 2010: 178–179). However, the eect of the disin-
formation campaigns was not limited to the UFO scene, but spread far and wide, contributing
its part to the modern UFO myth.
5 e documents can be viewed online at: https://vault.
Part%201%20of%201/view (last access: 05/04/22).
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
e Condon Report
Another important document for the perception of the UFO topic in the USA is the so-called
Condon Report, which is a kind of nal report of the Project Blue Book. It summarizes the results
of a study conducted between 1966 and 1968 under the direction of the physicist Edward U.
Condon, which was based on the data of Project Blue Book and its predecessor. In the nearly
1,500-page report, commissioned by the U. S. Air Force, 37 project collaborators examined vari-
ous facets of the UFO phenomenon and relevant scientic principles. To this end, 59 UFO cases
were studied more intensively. Although a conventional cause could not be found for all cases,
the project director concluded in his summary that UFOs did not pose a threat to national
security and that no scientic ndings could be expected from the study of UFO cases. Literally,
the report states:
e history of the past 21 years has repeatedly led Air Force ocers to the conclusion
that none of the things seen, or thought to have been seen, which pass by the name of
UFO reports, constituted any hazard or threat to national security. […] We know of no
reason to question the nding of the Air Force that the whole class of UFO reports so far
considered does not pose a defense problem. (Condon, 1968: 7)
At another point in the report it is written:
Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21
years that has added to scientic knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is
available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot
be justied in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby. (ibid.: 2)
ese ndings were more or less in line with the Robertson Panel’s statements on the UFO
subject. As a result, the U. S. Air Force discontinued Project Blue Book. Condon recommended
that no further government program should be established to investigate UFOs. To this day
the Colorado UFO Project remains one of the most extensive scientic investigations of the
UFO phenomenon as part of a university research project, and it has been mostly positively
received by the media, especially in the U. S. e Condon Report was considered a kind of
‘scientic death blow’ for the UFO subject, but it also received massive criticism. Of the many
thousands of cases reported and investigated as part of Project Blue Book, most could be attrib-
uted to natural causes, but a small proportion (around 6 percent) remained unexplained until
the end – including cases with bizarre occurrences (Anton, 2013: 54–55). e physicist Peter A.
Sturrock, emeritus professor of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics at Stanford,
writes with respect to the Condon report: “e analysis of evidence by categories shows that
there are substantial and signicant dierences between the ndings of the project sta and
those that the director attributes to the project.” (Sturrock, 1987: 75) Allen Hynek also harshly
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
criticized the summary of the Condon report. He wrote: “e Condon Report settled nothing.
However, carefully read, the report constitutes about as good an argument for the study of the
UFO phenomenon as could have been made in a short time, and by a group of specialists in
their individual disciplines having no prior knowledge of the subject.” (Hynek, 1972: 243)
e Condon Report recognizably followed a military logic in its assessment of the UFO
phenomenon. Since UFOs do not represent a threat to the national security of the USA, further
scientic investigation of the phenomenon is also unnecessary. With reference to the Condon
report it was, for decades, a kind of party line of the authorities in the USA that aer Project
Blue Book there would be no more national interest in the UFO topic in the USA. But from 2007
at the latest this was no longer true, as publications from 2017 show.
A New Chapter
In 2017, a new chapter in the UFO story began in the USA. Contrary to the U. S. government’s
assertions that they were no longer interested in the UFO phenomenon, in December 2017 it
became known through media reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), a military
intelligence agency, maintained a secret UFO research program called the Advanced Aerospace
reat Identication Program (AATIP) from 2007 to 2012 (perhaps longer) (see, for example,
Cooper et al., 2017). e programs mission was to collect and evaluate information on UFO
sightings in both military and civilian contexts. Its creation was due to Senator Harry Reid
(1939–2021), then the Democratic majority leader in the U. S. Senate. But the real instigator
of the program was billionaire Robert Bigelow, who was a friend of Reid’s and encouraged
him to create it. Bigelow has been known for many years to have a strong interest in frontier
sciences. In 1995, he founded the private research organization National Institute for Discovery
Science (NIDS), which investigated, among other things, alleged mysterious incidents at the
so-called Skinwalker Ranch, a storied farm in Utah (Kelleher & Knapp, 2005; Lacatski et al.,
2021). AATIP received a total of 22 million dollar in state funding and collaborated with
Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, in evaluating information about UFO sightings. e
head of AATIP was Luis Elizondo, a former U. S. Army Special Agent.
e publication of information about AATIP was made via the organization To e Stars
Academy (TTSA), co-founded in 2017 by the well-known rock musician Tom DeLonge. e
composition of TTSA raised eyebrows from the beginning, as among its members were, for
example, the former senior CIA employee Jim Semivan or the former Deputy Secretary of
Defense, Christopher Mellon. Another member is the scientist Harold Putho, who had for-
merly worked for NIDS, which is funded by Robert Bigelow, and who investigated paranormal
abilities on behalf of the U. S. Army, the DIA and the CIA in the 1970s as part of the legendary
Stargate Project (Smith, 2004). According to its own website, the To e Stars Academys goals
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
were as follows: “TTSA collects documents and physical materials from public and private
sources related to the UAP phenomena to study it and then transitions the transformative tech-
nologies behind it to broader applications of public benet.6 When Tom DeLonge introduced
the To e Stars Academy in a press conference in October 2017, mainstream media took little
notice. e event only generated some attention among UFO enthusiasts and in music maga-
zines. is was to change abruptly in December 2017.
Beginning in mid-December 2017, the To e Stars Academy published three U. S. military
videos allegedly showing unidentied ying objects. As a result, a whole series of public state-
ments were made by military personnel involved in the alleged UFO incidents. e U. S. mili-
tary eventually conrmed the authenticity of the videos.7 One of the recordings comes from a
2004 UFO incident. On November 14, a radar-visual detection of an unidentied ying object
by the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group warship eet occurred o the coast of southern California.
Fighter jet pilots approaching the object from the aircra carrier USS Nimitz described it as a
type of large “Tic Tac” about 15 m long, with no windows, wings or tail, no visible engine and
no exhaust plume. e object reportedly performed ight maneuvers that would not be pos-
sible for any known human aircra (Knuth et al., 2019).
On May 28, 2019, the Washington Post headlined, “UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to
this fact.8 e basic message of the article is that in view of the publication of various U. S. military
information on the UFO issue, there could no longer be any doubt about the reality of the UFO
phenomenon (in the sense of ying objects with anomalous characteristics). is positioning dif-
fers in a signicant way from the usual coverage by important leading media outlets in the USA
on the UFO topic. However, the Washington Post article does not stand alone, but is part of a whole
wave of media events related to the UFO phenomenon that have attracted much attention in the U. S.
and worldwide since late 2017. e basic tenor is: the UFO phenomenon should be taken seriously.
is 180-degree turnaround in reporting on the UFO phenomenon nally arrived, with
some delay, in Germany in 2021. While for decades the topic was again and again considered
to be irrational, pseudoscientic or ridiculous in the German mainstream media discourse,
suddenly very factual and thoughtful articles started to be found. For example, in May 2021 one
reads in an article in D S magazine:
6 See: (last access:
7 See for example:ets--us-ma-
rine-bestaetigt-echtheit-der-aufnahmen-8913386.html (last access: 05/02/22).
8 See:
fact/ (last access: 05/02/22).
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
Apparently, the airmen did not always remain alone during training missions in US mili-
tary airspace. Some reported bizarre encounters above and below the clouds – with ying
objects. Sometimes as large as a bus, sometimes as small as a suitcase. e ying objects
moved with astonishing speed and performed maneuvers as if a dierent physics applied
to them. (Evers 2021a)
In June 2021, the topic even made it onto the cover of D S. Under an image from one
of the videos published by TTSA, it reads, “Are we still alone? e Pentagon’s UFO les and the
search for life in space.” With regards to the three published videos, D S states:
e recordings were clicked on millions of times on the Internet. e Ministry of Defense
has now admitted that they are authentic. But what exactly the lms show is not clear to
the viewer. It could be many things – spots of ies on the lens, an artifact of an electronic
system. And yes, also something completely dierent, something supernatural that could
shake our worldview. (Evers 2021b: 86)
Elsewhere, the author of the article asks:
Is the Western superpower, which spends many times more on its military than any other
country on earth, no longer master of its own airspace? If so, the national security of the
U. S. and the rest of the world could be massively threatened. But from whom? Has an
opposing power, China or Russia, developed a new type of drone technology, unnoticed
by intelligence agencies, that it is now using to trick U. S. ghter pilots at will? Or are the
inexplicable ying objects – this question is no longer taboo in the U. S. – actually some-
thing entirely dierent, namely companions of extraterrestrial origin? Are they scouts of
a highly technological super civilization that comes from unimaginable distances, from
outside the solar system, many light years from Earth?” (Ibid.)
ese questions are in no way meant to be ironic, as the article ends with: “Sure, all this sounds
far-fetched, like science ction – but the question of extraterrestrial life is actually a mega-topic
in current space exploration.” (Ibid.)
e fact that ex-U. S. president Barack Obama spoke out publicly about the UFO topic in May
2021 could probably be of signicance for this new tone in the German-language leading media.
When he was asked on a talk show what it was about these “damn aliens” that everyone is cur-
rently talking about, Obama replied aer a joke that he was not allowed to speak publicly about
these things, verbatim: “But what is true and I’m actually being serious here, is that there is footage
and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are. We can’t explain how
they move their trajectory. ey did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so you know, I
think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and gure out what that is. [...]”9
9 See: (last access: 05/02/22).
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
At the end of June 2021, the report of the so-called UAP-Task Force was published. e
acronym UAP stands for Unidentied Aerial Phenomena and is ultimately simply another name
for “UFO.” e task force was established while the Trump administration was still in power,
with the goal of systematically collecting and evaluating information that the military and the
Figure 1. Cover of D S of June 26, 2021: „Are we still alone? e
Pentagon‘s UFO les and the search for life in space.“
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
Department of Defense have in relation to the UFO phenomenon and making the correspond-
ing analyses public. It is thereby the direct successor organization to AATIP. For the report, 144
military reports of sightings of unidentied celestial phenomena between 2004 and 2021 were
analyzed. In 80 cases, ying objects were detected by multiple sensors simultaneously (e. g.,
via radar, infrared, electro-optical sensing, weapon seeking devices, etc.); in 18 cases, unusual
movement patterns or ight characteristics were reported; and in 11 cases, pilots even reported
near-collisions with UFOs. Except for one case, the report states that the sightings could not be
attributed to a specic explanation based on the available information. e report also claries
that the objects sighted are not military aircra from the ocial or classied U. S. inventory, nor
are they likely to be advanced developments from China or Russia.10
In late 2021, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA),
which is the legislative basis for the U. S. defense budget in 2022.11 e act also includes the
establishment of a UFO Investigative Agency (Airborne Object Identication and Management
Synchronization Group – AOIMSG) to succeed the UAP Task Force. e agency is set to collect
reports of UFO or UAP sightings, evaluate them scientically, and brief policymakers and the
public at regular intervals on the results of the investigations.
On May 17, 2022, a hearing was held at the U. S. Congress that can rightly be described as
historic. e topic of the hearing was UAPs and their potential threat to U. S. national security.
At the very beginning of the session, André Carson, Democratic Party politician and head of the
hearing, emphasized: “is hearing and oversight work has a simple idea at its core. Unidenti-
ed aerial phenomena are a potential national security threat, and they need to be treated that
way. For too long the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence
analysis. Pilots avoided reporting or laughed at when they did. DOD ocials relegated the issue
to the back room or swept it under the rug entirely fearful of a skeptical national security com-
munity. Today, we know better UAPs are unexplained. Its true, but they are real. ey need to
be investigated and many threats they pose need to be mitigated.12
Fielding questions from the deputies were Ronald S. Moultrie, U. S. undersecretary of
defense, intelligence and security, and Scott W. Bray, deputy director of U. S. Naval Intelligence.
Moultrie and Bray reported that since the release of the UAP task forces report in the summer
10 e report can be viewed via the following link:les/ODNI/documents/assess-
ments/Prelimary-Assessment-UAP-20210625.pdf (last access: 05/02/22).
11 e legal text can be viewed online:
text (last access: 05/02/22).
12 A full manuscript of the hearing can be found here:
congresss-historic-hearing-on-unidentied-aerial-phenomena/ (last access: 25/02/22).
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
of 2021, additional cases have been added, bringing the total to about 400 UAP cases. e
majority of the observed phenomena would have involved “physical objects.” In some cases,
the ying objects would have exhibited unexplained ight behavior. Bray explained: “I would
simply say that there are a number of other events in which we do not have an explanation in
which there are a small handful in which there are ight characteristics or signature manage-
ment that we can’t explain with the data that we have. We’ll continue, those are obviously the
ones that are of most interest to us.” So far, there is no evidence for an extraterrestrial origin
of the objects, but one is “open to all hypotheses.” Bray emphasized: “But we’ll go wherever
the data takes us. Again, we’ve made no assumptions about what this is or isn’t. We’re com-
mitted to understanding these. And so we’ll go wherever that data takes us.” Following the
public hearing, another secret session was held. e reason for this was that the UFO topic
repeatedly touches on areas that are subject to secrecy, such as military methods for airspace
surveillance. Needless to say, this fueled speculation about what was discussed in this secret
With the public hearing at the latest, one can speak of a paradigm shi in the USA. e con-
clusions of the Robertson Panel and the Condon Report, which shaped the political handling of
the UFO issue in the USA for decades, have been practically turned on their heads: UFOs are
considered a potential threat to U. S. national security, and the issue is to be destigmatized and
thoroughly investigated. In summary, the 2017 TTSA publications set in motion a process that
has ultimately led to the re-emergence of ocial government UFO research in the U. S., half a
century aer Project Blue Book was discontinued.
Conclusion: What‘s Going on Here? A New Disinformation Campaign?
In view of the fact that the UFO topic in the USA has been linked to security and intelligence
interests from the very beginning and has been the subject of disinformation campaigns and
diversionary tactics on several occasions, this possibility should also be considered in relation
to current events. e goal could be, as in previous disinformation campaigns on the UFO
topic, the protection of military secrets or national security in general. According to current
information, however, there are not many indications to suggest this. Moreover, this explana-
tion would be almost ‘unspectacular’ compared to the one that at least some UFO sightings
are actually due to technically advanced ying objects, possibly even controlled by an alien
intelligence. e report of the UAP task force does not contain any hints for an extraterrestrial
background of the phenomena. However, this possibility is not explicitly excluded.
e American UFO researcher Richard Dolan comes to the following conclusion aer ana-
lyzing the developments since 2017:
(Dis)Information Campaigns on the UFO Phenomenon
All I can say, it’s my own opinion, that TTSA is not a government op[eration]. I don’t see
this. I don’t see it as a CIA op[eration]. […] I argue that they look to me like private faction
with some decent connections and some high-level connections for sure and I think that’s
the correct position here so far. I wasn’t sure about this early on. is is my position now.
I think what’s been coming out these past two years is beyond anything that any organisa-
tion connecting to UFOs has ever been able to accomplish. […] What they’ve done is
far beyond anything that any researcher, and I include myself here, could have imagined
would be possible.13
We would like to explicitly agree with this assessment. At the moment, it does not look
like the publications on the UFO topic since 2017 are due to a targeted intelligence campaign
or even a disinformation campaign. Of course, one cannot rule out this possibility. However,
from our point of view, it is much more likely that the U. S. military has repeatedly made and
continues to make observations in the sky that it cannot explain. e dierence is that it is now
– at least in part – talking about it publicly. is, in turn, is due to the fact that the TTSA has
succeeded in combining a number of personalities into a group which not only has a great inter-
est in the UFO subject, but also has access to information from the U. S. security apparatus and
excellent contacts with the media. According to our thesis, the activities of the TTSA have led
to an opening of the discourse in the USA, in Germany and also in other countries, which makes
a dierent communication about the topic possible. However, so far this does not change the
scientic evaluation of the UFO topic. e fact that again and again anomalies of various kinds
are observed in the sky and also recorded by various measuring instruments cannot be seriously
denied. So far, however, there is no clear evidence that at least some UFO sightings are extrater-
restrial spaceships, probes or the like (Ballester Olmos & Bullard, 2017). However, this does not
mean that we deny the purpose and signicance of investigating the UFO phenomenon. Quite
the contrary: UFOs should become an established academic subject of research that investigates
the topic in an open, unbiased manner (Anton, Hövelmann & Schetsche, 2013). At least, the
changed discursive framework regarding the topic makes it no longer entirely inconceivable
that UFO research will establish itself academically. e rst signs are already discernible.
Shortly aer we nished this text, news came that NASA will ocially launch a project to study
UAPs. A NASA announcement on 09 June states: “NASA is commissioning a study team to
start early in the fall to examine unidentied aerial phenomena (UAPs) – that is, observations
of events in the sky that cannot be identied as aircra or known natural phenomena – from
a scientic perspective. e study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect
13 See: (last access: 05.02.2022).
Andreas Anton, Fabian Vugrin
future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientic understanding of UAPs
forward.” It is probably no exaggeration to call this an important milestone in establishing the
UFO subject as a legitimate area of academic research. e opening of academic science to the
UFO subject brings with it the chance of a real gain in knowledge regarding this phenomenon,
which has been a mystery for decades. According to Allen Hynek, the scientic research of
the UFO phenomenon could even mean a scientic quantum jump: “When the long awaited
solution to the UFO problem comes, I believe that it will prove to be not merely the next small
step in the march of science but a mighty and totally unexpected quantum jump” (Hynek, 1972:
288). At present, the general conditions appear to be quite favorable for nding out whether
Hynek was right.
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... Certainly not for a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense, i. e. a change of scientific theories or models. In terms of public discourse, the argument for a paradigm shift can be read in the article by Anton and Vugrin in this issue (Anton & Vugrin, 2022). However, I think it is unlikely that this jolt in public discourse can be applied to other areas of anomalistics. ...
... einen Wandel von wissenschaftlichen Theorien oder Modellen betreffend. In Bezug auf den öffentlichen Diskurs allerdings kann man den Begriff vertreten, wie dies im Beitrag von Anton und Vugrin in dieser Ausgabe nachzulesen ist (Anton & Vugrin, 2022). Dass sich dieser Ruck im öffentlichen Diskurs auf andere Gebiete der Anomalistik übertragen lässt, halte ich allerdings für unwahrscheinlich. ...
Full-text available
Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy, and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity, futility. The word, however, pleases me. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes "concern"; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; a readiness to find strange and singular what surrounds us; a certain relentlessness to break up our familiarities and to regard otherwise the same things; a fervor to grasp what is happening and what passes; a casualness in regard to the traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.
... zutreffend oder wenigstens als Beitrag zur kollektiven Wissenserzeugung herausgestellt haben (vgl. Anton & Vugrin, 2022;Cairns, 2016;Olmstedt, 2011;Schink, 2018). Das bedeutet im Umkehrschluss keineswegs, dass sie immer vernünftig und ungefährlich sind. ...
Full-text available
Der Beitrag reflektiert den gegenwärtigen gesellschaftlichen Diskurs zum Thema Verschwörungstheorien und plädiert für eine erweiterte Perspektive, die neben individuellen oder psychologischen Ursachen des Verschwörungsdenkens soziale und politische Faktoren stärker in den Blick nimmt. Dem sozialpsychologischen Konstrukt der ‚Verschwörungsmentalität‘ wird ein wissenssoziologisch orientiertes Konzept von Verschwörungstheorien als soziale Deutungsmuster gegenübergestellt. Der Beitrag schließt mit der Forderung, beim individuellen sowie gesellschaftlichen Umgang mit dem Phänomen der Verschwörungstheorien einen Weg einzuschlagen, bei dem negative Aspekte des Verschwörungsdenkens problematisiert werden, ohne dessen positives Potenzial auszublenden.
The ancient aliens hypothesis, the UFO phenomenon as well as alien abductions—three very special subject areas that have been causing problems for scientific alien research for decades. They are, as one would say in everyday language, hot potatoes of any preoccupation with extraterrestrials. There are two closely related reasons for this precarious status: First, they are sets of questions that have been dominated by lay research for decades.
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Waren Geheimdienste in die Anschläge vom 11. September 2001 verwickelt? Verheimlicht die US-Regierung Wissen über UFOs? Stecken Bill Gates und die Pharmalobby hinter Corona? Entführen Satanisten weltweit Kinder, um sie zu opfern und ihr Blut zu trinken? In den letzten Jahren haben Verschwörungstheorien eine ungeahnte Popularität erreicht. Im Zuge der SARS-CoV-2-Pandemie entstand in der Öffentlichkeit die Wahrnehmung, dass sich Verschwörungstheorien zu einer ernsten Gefahr für die Demokratie entwickeln. Sogar der Staat hat ihnen den Kampf angesagt. Doch was genau sind eigentlich Verschwörungstheorien? Wie gefährlich sind sie wirklich? Wie entstehen sie und wie verbreiten sie sich? Und sind sie wirklich immer Unsinn oder steckt in mancher Verschwörungstheorie nicht auch das bekannte Fünkchen Wahrheit? Die Soziologen Andreas Anton und Alan Schink geben in diesem Buch einen wissenschaftlich fundierten Überblick über Verschwörungstheorien und echte Verschwörungen. Sie zeigen, dass beide untrennbar miteinander verbunden sind, und dass es mit der »Wahrheit« oft weitaus schwieriger ist, als es auf den ersten Blick erscheint.
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Several Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) encountered by military, commercial, and civilian aircraft have been reported to be structured craft that exhibit `impossible’ flight characteristics. We consider a handful of well-documented encounters, including the 2004 encounters with the Nimitz Carrier Group off the coast of California, and estimate lower bounds on the accelerations exhibited by the craft during the observed maneuvers. Estimated accelerations range from almost 100 g to 1000s of gs with no observed air disturbance, no sonic booms, and no evidence of excessive heat commensurate with even the minimal estimated energies. In accordance with observations, the estimated parameters describing the behavior of these craft are both anomalous and surprising. The extreme estimated flight characteristics reveal that these observations are either fabricated or seriously in error, or that these craft exhibit technology far more advanced than any known craft on Earth. In many cases, the number and quality of witnesses, the variety of roles they played in the encounters, and the equipment used to track and record the craft favor the latter hypothesis that these are indeed technologically advanced craft. The observed flight characteristics of these craft are consistent with the flight characteristics required for interstellar travel, i.e., if these observed accelerations were sustainable in space, then these craft could easily reach relativistic speeds within a matter of minutes to hours and cover interstellar distances in a matter of days to weeks, proper time.
Anomalies play a key role in science, in calling into question some established belief: an anomaly is an anomaly only with respect to some hypothesis, theory, or belief system. Some anomalies (OK Anomalies) are greeted with interest and investigated vigorously, some (Not-OK Anomalies) are avoided or viewed with suspicion, and others (Sleeping Anomalies) may for some time go unnoticed. In this article, anomalies are viewed from the perspective of scientific inference. This requires that we compare the anomaly with a logically complete set of hypotheses, and that assessments of the evidence for the anomaly, and of its compatibility (or incompatibility) with various hypotheses, be expressed in terms of probabilities. Some anomalies may present a challenge to our "model of reality." (These are normally viewed as "Not-OK.") Identifying our "standard model of reality" makes it possible (and necessary) to identify alternative models so as to form a logically complete set of hypotheses.
Manifest für eine reflexive UFO-Forschung
  • A Anton
  • G Hövelmann
  • M Schetsche
Anton, A., Hövelmann, G., & Schetsche, M. (2013). Manifest für eine reflexive UFO-Forschung. In M. Schetsche & A. Anton (Eds.), Diesseits der Denkverbote: Bausteine für eine wissenschaftliche UFO-Forschung (pp. 261-264). LIT.
The nature of UFO evidence: Two views
  • V Ballester Olmos
  • T E Bullard
Ballester Olmos, V., & Bullard, T. E. (2017). The nature of UFO evidence: Two views. Available online:
The Roswell incident
  • C Berlitz
  • W Moore
Berlitz, C., & Moore, W. (1980). The Roswell incident. Grosset & Dunlap.
Project beta: The story of Paul Bennewitz, national security, and the creation of a modern UFO myth
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