Devices of Unknown Origin Part III: “Mr. Secretary, We Don’t Know”

In 1969, when the Condon Committee issued its final report condemning the subject of UFOs, Ray Mabus was getting ready to embark on a stint as a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. Only 21-years-old at the time, it’s unlikely Mabus could have foreseen that 40 years later, he’d end up serving as the highest-ranking official in the world’s most powerful naval force. 

Nevertheless, on January 17, 2017, when Mabus walked out of the Pentagon, he did so, having achieved something only four others in U.S. history had ever accomplished. He’d successfully served two consecutive presidential terms as Secretary of the Navy. The de facto ceiling for presidentially appointed and congressionally confirmed U.S. officials. 

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. (Image Credit: Department of Defense)

Now, having previously served as the Governor of Mississippi and later as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President Bill Clinton, it’s not as if Mabus lacked experience when he took over as the Navy’s chief executive in 2008. 

Once billed as the “face of the New South” in a Mississippi political establishment that didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment and officially abolish slavery until 2013, perhaps Mabus was ideally suited to navigate the temperamental waters of D.C. politics. 

Regardless, considering 6 different individuals have donned the title of Naval Secretary in the four years since his departure, Mabus’ 2,823 days in office certainly feels like a momentous feat. 

In fact, only President Abraham Lincoln’s appointee, Gideon Welles, tops Mabus for the title of longest-serving Navy Secretary. 

Lacking a splashy nickname like Welles’ “Father Neptune,” Mabus speaks with a kindhearted southern drawl that pours like ice-cold sweet tea on a Mississippi summer afternoon. With a distinguished head of silver and beaming smile, Mabus is the type of person that when he says, “it was good talking to you,” it feels like genuine appraisal and not a parting cliche. 

On several occasions in early 2021, Mabus and I chatted about a multitude of things, including politics, the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity for the Navy to move towards a more technologically versatile fleet, and the time he ran afoul the DoD’s bureaucratic legal eagles for the custom-made musket displayed in his former Pentagon office. 

“My legal counsel came in and said, ‘You can’t have weapons in the Pentagon,” Mabus bemused. “I said, ‘Have you ever been to the Commandant of the Marines’ office?’ He could take over a small country with the amount of weaponry in there.” 

Of course, given the branch he formally helmed has played vanguard for the Department of Defense’s sudden and unexpected interest in “unidentified aerial phenomena,” Mabus and I had to discuss UFOs, or in modern parlance, “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAP).

“For the first two or three months after I left the job as Secretary, whenever I would see friends I hadn’t seen since I’d been in the administration, almost without exception, they would come up to me and say, ‘Tell me about the aliens. The UFOs. You know, don’t you,” chuckled Mabus. 

If the U.S. government is squirreling away secret knowledge of visiting aliens they apparently forgot to tell Ray Mabus. That’s not to say, however, the former Secretary is dismissive of the subject or all the news coming out of the Pentagon nowadays. 

With cordial frankness, Mabus told me discussions regarding military encounters with mysterious unexplained airborne phenomena, in fact, did come up during his time as Secretary of the Navy. “It was an area of curiosity for a lot of folks while I was there. So it’s interesting to see it getting lots more play now,” said Mabus. 

News of UFOs being discussed within the most hallowed halls of the American military through 2008 to 2017 is likely to upset the fragile orbits of some who have suggested the wave of recent UFO news is merely the work of “Big Alien,” “Team Space Ghost,” or “mind warped” secret keepers. 

Although it shouldn’t. In fact, it’s been reasonably well established that at least some within the defense community were talking about UFOs during Mabus’ tenure. 

Defense Intelligence Agency, Secretary of the Navy UAP


In 2008, then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid helped set up funding for a Defense Intelligence Agency effort dubbed the Advanced Aerial Weapon Systems Application Program or AAWSAP. 

On paper, AAWSAP’s stated purpose was to “investigate foreign advanced aerospace weapon system applications, with future technology projections over the next 40 years, and to create a center of expertise for advanced aerospace technologies.” 

Behind the scenes, the program is said to have been something a tad different. 

The sole bidder and awardee of AAWSAP contract was Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS). Formed in 2007, BAASS was a subsidiary of Bigelow Aerospace – an aerospace technology company founded and ran by billionaire Nevada entrepreneur Robert T. Bigelow

Devices of Unknown origin
Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow talks during a press conference with NASA. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Slender with a swept-back head full of pewter and pronounced mustache, Bigelow has had a long, well-established interest in the paranormal and UFOs. 

Four years before founding Bigelow Aerospace, in 1995, Robert Bigelow established the National Institute for Discovery Sciences (NIDS). The organization was self-styled as “a privately funded science institute engaged in research of aerial phenomena, animal mutilations, and other related anomalous phenomena.”

NIDS researched a montage of paranormal topics for nearly a decade, including cryptids, cattle mutilations, and UFOs. The most well-known of NIDS research centers around the group’s investigation of a Utah homestead then-owned by Bigelow, dubbed “Skinwalker Ranch.” 

The roughly 512-acre ranch located southeast of Ballard, Utah, has a debatably long history of being a claimed rallying point for all things paranormal. 

For at least the last 30 years, the site has purportedly played host to everything from sightings of werewolf-like creatures, UFOs, interdimensional portals, and even mysterious mutilations of livestock. In 2016, Bigelow sold Skinwalker Ranch for a reported $4.5 million to Adamantium Holdings, a shell corporation owned by Utah business mogul Brandon Fugal. 

With executive chic, the bespeckled former Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner, Fugal, has become somewhat of a Bruce Wayne figure in the paranormal and UFO world after revealing himself to be the current owner of Skinwalker Ranch in March of 2020 to my fellow co-founder of The Debrief, MJ Banias.  

Under Fugal’s ownership, Skinwalker Ranch has become the location and theme of a History Channel television series: The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. 

In its second season, History looks to be trying to recapture the same lighting-in-a-bottle it stumbled on with its remarkably popular, Curse of Oak Island. Though, unlike the theme that has carried Oak Island for 7 years and counting, digging on Skinwalker Ranch is a big no-no. It is claimed that digging may disturb sinister incorporeal forces, resulting in grave consequences. 

“When a lidar scan reveals a dark mass at Homestead Two, the team invites a Rabbi to perform an ancient ritual believed to reveal interdimensional portals, which leads to chilling results,” reads a preview for the show’s fourth episode of its second season. 

Skinwalker Ranch also bears the distinction of being the claimed impetus behind the establishment of AAWSAP. 

According to legend, DIA nuclear scientist, Dr. James Lacatski, visited the ranch with Bigelow’s blessing in 2007. Never explicitly naming Lacatski, a handful of former BAASS employees have said that a “DIA scientist” had an “experience” while visiting the homestead. In one example, former AAWSAP contractor and astrophysicist Dr. Eric Davis recounted for blogger Joe Murgia, aka “UFO Joe,” what others told him about the event:

“In the living room of the former NIDS double-wide observation trailer/staff quarters. A 3D object appeared in mid-air in front of him and changed shape like a changing topological figure. It went from pretzel-shaped to Möbius strip-shaped. It was 3D and multi-colored. Then it disappeared.”

Lacatski, 69, is listed on government documents as the program manager for AAWSAP. However, so far, the scientist has never publicly discussed his involvement with AAWSAP, much less confirmed the experience at Skinwalker Ranch that’s been attributed to him. 

Notwithstanding, former Senator Harry Reid has said that a “longtime member” of a “federal national-security agency” and “Ph.D.” came back from a visit to Skinwalker Ranch saying, “Something should be done about this. Somebody should study it.” So agreeing, Reid would elect the help of late-senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye to secure $22 million of seed funding for AAWSAP.

Secretary of the Navy UFO
Cover of the BAASS “10-Month Report”

Since news of AAWSAP and another program- the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (ATTIP) (which we’ll discuss in a moment) – came to light in the New York Times on December 16, 2017, the Department of Defense had, for years, obstinately denied the programs had anything to do with UFOs or “unidentified aerial phenomena” (UAP). 

Finally, in May 2021, after the DoD Inspector General’s Office announced they were launching an “evaluation into the DoD’s handling of UAP,” the Pentagon begrudgingly said AAWSAP or AATIP maybe had a little to do with UFOs. “Some of the contractors working in AATIP looked at reports of UAPs, [however] the examination of UAP observations was not the purpose of AATIP,” the Pentagon’s de facto UAP public affairs czar, Susan Gough, told me in an email. 

The only evidence the government has offered to account for AAWSAP’s $22 million in funding is a list of 38 Defense Intelligence Research Documents (DIRDs). Of that list, at least one technical report is explicitly related to UFOs or UAP. The rest are an assortment of weird science topics such as traversable wormholes, stargates, and fusion energy. 

In late 2019, I got my hands on a copy of a previously unknown “10 Month Report” BAASS had provided to the DIA. Examining the nearly 500-page document, I found it to be filled with strategic plans, project summaries, data tables, charts, descriptions of biological field effects, physical characteristics, methods of detection, theoretical capabilities, witness interviews, photographs, and case synopses- all explicitly focused on unexplained aerial phenomena or UFOs. 

Moreover, during many interviews with numerous former BAASS employees, all independently but uniformly told me AAWSAP was nothing but a UFO program. 

So, suppose indeed “some” contractors weren’t looking into UFOs, as the DoD has implied. Evidence of this non-UFO work remains curiously elusive. 

In fact, one of AAWSAP’s former members hasn’t merely confirmed the program’s UFO focus. Instead, after leaving the DoD in 2017, former career counterintelligence official Luis Elizondo has launched a very public crusade to let the world know that “unidentified aerial phenomena” are very much real. 

Secretary of the Navy UFOs
Luis Elizondo (Image Credit, Unidentified, Six West Productions/ A&E)


Luis Elizondo’s life story reads like militant Forrest Gump.

Built like a wrestler, tattoos dotting both arms and a signature goatee, Elizondo, who prefers to go by “Lue,” says his family roots stem from a line of revolutionaries and freedom fighters. 

During one of many phone conversations we had over the years, Elizondo recounted for me the time his grandfather caught his then-teenaged father making improvised explosives in the family kitchen of their home in Cuba. By 16 years old, Lue says his father was already an active member of the underground Cuban revolutionary movement. 

“My grandfather confronted him and said, ‘Listen, these people aren’t worth your life or your freedom. If you continue to do this, you will no longer be part of this family, and we will never speak to you again,” Elizondo told me. Then, after a long pause, Elizondo said his father replied, “Dad, I’m doing what I think needs to be done.” 

Rather than being exiled from the family, Elizondo’s grandfather told his son, “I’m so proud of you,” before divulging that he too had been a revolutionary during the early days of Cuba. 

The elder Elizondo’s drive to fight for Cuba’s freedom would send him to Guatemala to train in the art of guerrilla warfare before being whisked away by the CIA in the early 1960s. Attached to the CIA-backed paramilitary group of Cuban exiles, Brigade 2506, Elizondo says his father would play a role in the attempted overthrow of Fidel Castro and failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. 

During the Bay of Pigs, Elizondo said his dad was on the USS Houston transport vessel when Castro’s forces sank it on day one of the invasion, just south of Playa Larga, Cuba. 

Making it to shore and changing into a set of clothes he found at a nearby farmhouse, Elizondo says his father would have escaped Castro’s military if it wasn’t for the fact he forgot to change his shoes. “My Dad looked real young and might have gotten away pretending to be a farm boy, but he was wearing his issued boots. It was his boots that gave him away,” Elizondo told me. 

Elizondo’s father would end up spending a very rough couple of years in one of Castro’s infamous prisons. “He had a challenging time. He would tell me stories of how they were fed horse meat. One time while he was in prison, he had an infected tooth, so they decided to pull it without any type of novocaine. Can you imagine that? Having a tooth pulled with no pain meds,” said Elizondo somberly. 

Once released from prison, the elder Elizondo would eventually make it to Miami, Florida, to restart his life in the United States as a Cuban exile. 

Growing up amongst the Cuban exile community in South Florida, Elizondo describes his early childhood in happy terms. Raised by a passionately hard-working Cuban father and Jewish mother. Elizondo shared with me a photograph of him with an unruly swirl of dark hair atop his head and big gapped-tooth grin at around 9 years old. 

Life, however, took a turn for the worse when Elizondo was in his teens and his parents divorced. “When my Mom and Dad got divorced, it was really pretty bad. We lost everything, and I remember the bank coming to repossess our house and my mom having to sell our clothes at a flea market,” said Elizondo. “My life changed in a pretty extreme manner, but it also made me who I am.” 

Beating the odds for impoverished youths growing up in South Florida,  Elizondo graduated high school and went on to attend the University of Miami. Elizondo largely credits the life lessons imparted on him by his father for his success of not becoming a statistic to the streets of Miami. 

“My father told me, ‘Nobodies going to give you anything. But if you work hard enough, you’ll do very well,” Elizondo shared. “And don’t take anything more than what’s yours. Don’t take from anybody else. Work hard, and do it well. Even if it’s digging a ditch.” 

Elizondo described himself as an “ok student” in college, enrolled pre-med with a focus on infectious diseases. “I had three majors at Miami. Microbiology, immunology, and parasitology – not’ parapsychology,” joked Elizondo. I asked Elizondo about his academic focus on infectious diseases, a seemingly odd mix for a man who would ultimately spend his career gathering secrets or catching spies in the Intelligence Community.

“I was always fascinated by the way nature works,” said Elizondo. “Nature is a riddle, and diseases are like warfare on the biological level. To me, that’s what microbiology is. It’s warfare inside the human body. That’s really what led me into the world of intelligence and whatnot. It wasn’t so much medicine. It was the idea that there was a struggle or conflict with nature inside our bodies that is constant and pervasive. I just found it interesting.” 

Indeed, upon graduating with a degree in immunology and infectious diseases, rather than going on to medical school, Elizondo says he would make one of the most significant decisions of his life. He joined the Army.

Luis Elizondo Army
Luis Elizondo (Image Credit: Luis Elizondo)

In truth, Elizondo says his reasoning for joining the military was more practical than patriotic. At least initially. “I had a whole lot of debt after college, and the Army came in and said, ‘Look, if you join us, we’ll pay off all your student debt in three years,” Elizondo told me. “That’s like a small mortgage. It was a really great financial deal.”

Reasoning aside, Elizondo attributes his choice to join the military as one of the best decisions he’d make in his life. “It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but it was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Elizondo. 

After working a few years in Army counterintelligence, Elizondo says it wouldn’t be long before he’d find himself being recruited to join some of the more enigmatic appendages of the U.S. Intelligence Community. “I was recruited into a special program where I wound up working for some specialized activities. I don’t want to get in trouble by saying much more than that, in case it’s still going on,” Elizondo hesitated. 

According to friends, at least some of what Elizondo did post-Army and in the run-up to the September 11, 2001 attacks involved counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations in Latin America. 

Post 9/11, Elizondo says he was thrust into the fight on terror, ending up in East Asia and at one point serving as an advisor to a small intelligence unit supporting General James Mattis and the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Task Force 58 in Afghanistan. 

By early 2008, Elizondo finally came out of the field and settled on a cushy office job in the Information Sharing and Foreign Intelligence Relationships Office in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD(I)). In June of that same year, Elizondo says an unexpected visit would be the catalyst for why the world would later come to know “Lue, the UFO guy.” 

At his off-site office in Crystal City, Virginia, Elizondo says he was approached by two members of AAWSAP. From this, Elizondo would go through a series of conversations and vetting to gauge his interest in possibly joining the unconventional project. This would culminate in a meeting with the AAWAP’s program manager, James Lacatski. 

“The guy running AAWSAP asked me, ‘What do you think about UFOs?’ Elizondo recounted. “I told him, ‘I don’t. I don’t think about UFOs. I don’t know if they’re real or not. I don’t think about them. I’m too busy trying to catch terrorists and bad guys.”

His UFO cynicism was evidently the response Lacatski was looking for. 

Brought into AAWSAP to help with counterintelligence and security, Elizondo says early on he would find out about a sub-component focusing solely on military encounters with UFOs or UAP. This sub-portfolio being the previously mentioned Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (ATTIP). 

In a June 2009, letter addressed to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn  former Senate majority leader Harry Reid requested “special access program”(SAP) designation for AATIP, meaning the program would have official compartmentalized secret access. Had this request been granted, it’s very likely none of us would be talking about AAWSAP, AATIP, or the government’s interest in UFOs right now. However, Reid’s request was denied and here we are. 

In 2018, redacted copies of Reid’s letter leaked into the public realm via KLAS Las Vegas reporters George Knapp and Matt Adams. Elizondo’s name was amongst the list of preliminary personnel proposed to have SAP access to AATIP. 

By 2010, Elizondo and a handful of former program members told me that senior DIA leadership had become increasingly hostile toward the idea of having a program that was involved in “that crazy UFO topic again.” Facing opposition, it is said the decision was made to let Elizondo carry the program out of the DIA and from his position at OUSD(I). 

Elizondo says once at the helm, he reduced efforts to just AATIP and focusing on military encounters with UAP rather than the medley of paranormal topics AAWSAP was reportedly examining.

“Limiting things to just AATIP wasn’t a decision that was made unilaterally by me. Many of us were part of the calculus in deciding to refocus efforts,” Elizondo told me. 

“There was ample information, data, and evidence indicating continued incursions into controlled U.S. airspace, so we felt it was best to just focus on that,” Elizondo added. “Plus, AAWSAP was looking into a lot of stuff that goes ‘bump in the night,’ and that was always going to attract a lot of negative attention from the front office.” 

Since details of AATIP’s existence began pouring out in 2017, AATIP’s post-2010 years have proved to be a point of controversy. 


Pentagon UFO


In 2012, funding for AATIP was exhausted. However, rather than packing up shop and closing the doors, Elizondo says he maintained efforts by “boot-strapping” the program and continuing to examine reports of UFOs or UAP. 

Though these endeavors are not something that would ever appear on any DoD program element guide, it is still possible to glean some understanding of AATIP during the “Elizondo years.” 

Officially, Elizondo was a Chief in the Information Sharing and Foreign Intelligence Office, and later in 2016, the Director of National Programs Special Management Staff. Quietly, Elizondo says he preserved AATIP in the form of a formal working group made up of trusted associates from within the U.S. Intelligence Community. 

Through numerous background conversations with both past and present defense and intelligence officials, including some senior executives, I was told that Elizondo and a handful of others were surreptitiously examining reports of UAP that came their way through varying backchannels. 

Purportedly, there was a small consistent cadre working with Elizondo on AATIP.  However, other transient government officials could also be called on to offer expertise or insights whenever needed. Expertise in aerospace, electro- optical and radar engineering, along with officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), U.S. Strategic Command, Navy, Air Force, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and OUSD(I) are said to have offered varying degrees of support to AATIP. 

In 2015, reports of the mysterious “jittery” objects being encountered by Navy Aviators off the Eastern United States (Detailed in Part II: Interlopers Over The Atlantic) made its way to AATIP after senior Navy leadership sent out a cry for help. 

I was told not long after this, in 2016, a formal operations plan to address UAP was drafted and submitted through Alternative Compensatory Control Measure channels at the DoD. Two persons I spoke with hinted that a portion of the operations plan may have involved attempts to “coax” UAP into showing up, potentially involving the object’s propensity for showing interest in nuclear materials. Unfortunately, however, specific details of this plan were said to be classified, and no one was willing to share much more, outside of acknowledging it existed. 

Additionally, in 2016, it is said that AATIP successfully commissioned at least one academic study by a major American university in effort to determine technical assets that could be used to better detect and monitor UAP activity. I wasn’t provided any specifics of the study, however, it was said to have been slightly shrouded in the guise of examining signatures of space and missile defense threats to the United States. 

In several conversations, former senior Pentagon officials told me about numerous early 2017 briefings they had on UAP with Elizondo. At least some of these meetings were said to have included several of the F/A-18 pilots and E-2 Hawkeye radar operators from the 2004 Navy encounter with a “Tic Tac” shaped object off the southwest coast of California. 

Former F/A-18 pilot and UAP eye-witness Alex Dietrich confirmed to me in a phone conversation that she had been one of the Navy pilots who had provided briefings regarding the 2004 “Nimitz encounters” to senior DoD officials and members of Congress. 

In the early days of 2017, numerous officials told me that former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, Christopher Mellon, was instrumental in helping connect ATTIP and Elizondo with senior DoD officials and senior staffers on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees in Congress. 

In several conversations, Mellon confirmed to me that he had indeed lended a significant helping hand in helping try to push the UAP topic to the highest levels of U.S. governance. Mellon has since been very vocal on his support for UAP action by America’s leadership, becoming arguably the biggest driving force behind why the topic seems to be being considered right now by U.S. officials. 

Several former and current DoD officials also told me AATIP had indeed successfully collected much more imagery and data than has been made publicly available thus far. Reportedly, this includes videos of UAP flying in formation for extended periods, images captured at close proximity (by some accounts as close as 50 feet), along with other examples of high-fidelity imagery, possibly even showing objects moving underwater through airborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR). 

“I have a hard time, when I see the images, and I see the data, and I see the correlation between two or multiple systems, to figure out, to make sense of what I’m seeing,” one former senior executive defense official told me. “I saw a lot. I don’t feel comfortable saying more than that. But yeah, I saw a lot more than what’s been out there so far.” 

The credentials of the individuals I’ve spoken with independently about AATIP or UAP are, by all accounts, beyond reproach. Regrettably, though,  much of this information has been oral history and from persons who, for varying justifiable reasons, are unwilling to speak on the record.  

Increasingly alarmed by UAP incursions, Elizondo says he made repeated attempts to push the issue to the highest levels of the DoD. When these attempts went nowhere, in early October 2017, Elizondo walked away from his employer of over 20 years. Opting instead to join, To The Stars Academy (TTSA), a then-recently formed UFO-centric private company established by former Blink 182 rocker Tom DeLonge. 

Outwardly, it seems incredibly odd that a man who spent his entire adult life in the rigid confines of government service would abruptly join in on a UFO-themed organization being fronted by a juvenile rockstar who once released an album entitled “Enema of the State.”  

In fairness, Elizondo wasn’t the only one to hitch their wagon to DeLonge’s UFO venture. Other impressively resumed members of TTSA included former program director and head of Lockheed-Martin’s Skunkworks, Steve Justice, and Christopher Mellon. All of whom have since left TTSA as of late 2020. 

Yet, as odd as it may seem, Elizondo’s rarely discussed past and rebellious lineage as the grandson and son of rebel freedom fighters may offer some insight into why a man would leave a stable federal job with premo Pentagon parking to join a punk rocker and start talking about UFOs.

People can infer many things about Elizondo. Still, few who’ve actually spoken at length with him can fairly say Elizondo’s not passionate about his reasons for coming forward and discussing the UAP topic. His willingness to talk with anyone, from the random person with a YouTube podcast and 30 listeners to the highly polarizing Tucker Carlson, seems to stem from a genuine belief that the public deserves to know that UFOs or UAP are real.

For its part, after initially confirming Elizondo ran AATIP since spring of 2019, the DoD has been steadfast in claiming he had no “assigned responsibilities” in the program. In fairness, over the last 4 years, the DoD’s position on AATIP or UAP has been, at best, indecisive. 

Source conversations, emails, and documents I’ve reviewed suggest the Pentagon has been playing a game of semantics over Elizondo’s role with AATIP. While saying he had no “assigned responsibilities” may indeed technically be true, a more accurate reflection of the situation would be addressing whether Elizondo had any “approved activities” that involved AATIP. Unfortunately, this is a question the DoD has thus far declined to answer. 

Recently, it was announced that through his attorney, Daniel Sheehan, Elizondo had filed a formal complaint with the Inspector General’s Office against the DoD with claims of “malicious activities, coordinated disinformation, professional misconduct, whistleblower reprisal and explicit threats perpetrated by certain senior-level Pentagon officials.” 

The Inspector General’s Office’s involvement, both in Elizondo’s complaint and their own self-initiated evaluation, could ultimately end up having one of the most significant impacts on the UAP topic in nearly half a century. However, known for working diligently, not quickly, any impact by the IG may not come until years down the road. 

For now, the Pentagon’s denial of the central claims surrounding AAWSAP and AATIP and Elizondo’s role has proved to be an ideal avenue of attack for many critics. In many cases, these critics zeal appears less rooted in Elizondo and more on how anyone would dare speak about UFOs publicly or willing to call themselves amongst the ranks of “UFO enthusiasts” (See Part I: Mystery in the Caribbean). 

There is, of course, an overlooked problem in attacking Elizondo’s credibility as a means for attacking the entire UFO discussion. 

Whether Luis Elizondo is ultimately bound for sainthood or infamy is irrelevant. Likewise, whether he was the director, coordinator, or sovereign emperor of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, is essentially meaningless. 

Instead, since coming forward 3 years ago, Elizondo’s core message has been that there are devices of apparent intelligent control and unknown origin flying in our skies with impunity. 

What precisely these devices represent can be a matter of debate. Yet, according to past and current Senators, current and former directors of the CIA and National Intelligence, Deputy Secretaries of Defense, and former Presidents of the United States, these claims are indeed valid. 

And when it comes to the former senior government officials who’ve come out saying there’s something to this whole UAP thing, former Secretary of Navy Ray Mabus says you can add his name to that ever-growing list. 

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
Former Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus. (Image Source: DoD)


Taken aback by his cheerful candor that UFOs had been a topic of conversation while he was Secretary of the Navy, I asked Mabus if sightings of UAP or unknown aerial objects was actually something occuring far more frequently than the public realizes. 

“I would say, yes and no,” professed Mabus. “In fact there are more sightings or encounters than people realize. But they are ones that were easily explainable. For example, people might see a long flash or something and record it. Come to find out it was a missile launch or test in the area, that for whatever reason hadn’t been announced. Now, there’s a difference between that and the stuff that’s been released by the military lately.” 

Mabus explained on occasion there were incidents involving highly trained military observers or sophisticated intelligence and surveillance technologies that were much harder to pin down. “Like these incidents with the U.S. Navy pilots. They are very familiar with everything going on in the area they’re operating in and are familiar with the technology. These were very hard to explain.” 

Given that known events like the 2015 “Roosevelt Encounters” (See Part II: Interlopers Over the Atlantic) occurred while he was in command of the Navy, I asked Mabus could it be likely that some of these mysterious events involved top-secret U.S. technology. “A couple of things. Number one, no,” Mabus said with a sincere and hearty laugh. “Number two, do you really think we could keep stuff like that secret?” 

The former Navy Secretary conceded he understood why some people might believe the military would test highly-classified technology on their own people. 

“The military does not have a good record with those types of things. You know, they let service members be close to atomic tests to see what would happen. They tested psychedelic drugs on people without telling them back in, what was it, the late 40s, early 50s,” said Mabus. “That’s clearly not a good thing.” 

In light of this past unscrupulousness, Mabus expressed it was a logical fallacy to assume events like “Operation Plumbob” or “MK Ultra” could be carried out in today’s U.S. government. To this point, since the early 1990s, a number of federal laws, oversight measures and formal governance structures have been implemented to prevent rogue, unlawful or immoral activity in even the most highly-classified programs. 

Mabus’ sentiment was one repeated to me by numerous other U.S. defense and intelligence officials; including former Assistant to the Commander of NORAD and Executive Assistant to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Brigadier General Bruce McClintock. “It is unlikely that the U.S. government would intentionally conduct tests against its own unwitting military assets,” McClintock told me in an interview late last year. 

As Mabus also points out, in recent examples of when classified activities breach contemporary  legal or moral lines, these ventures don’t remain secret for very long. With the CIA’s infamous “enhanced interrogation techniques,” lawmakers had been briefed on the program shortly after it had been approved by George W Bush’s White House in 2002. Details of the physical and psychological interrogation techniques being used would slowly begin leaking out to the public within the year. 

The last use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA occurred on November 8, 2007. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13491 making it unlawful for U.S. agencies to engage in interrogation practices viewed as torture, including the use of “waterboarding.” 

Having been CEO for one of America’s military branches for almost 8 years – including periods when some of these UAP encounters were going on-  Mabus expressed that it was nearly impossible these events were the results of some highly-secret U.S. technology. 

“Somebody would have spilled the beans by now, and moreover, I think I would have known if somebody was trying to test some superduper top secret thing on our own folks,” said Mabus. “I don’t know a single senior person in the Navy, me or anybody in uniform for that matter, who would have said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’” 

Mabus told me he had been shown imagery that was captured during  purported UAP encounters, including incidents that have since come to light, such as the 2004 Nimitz and 2015 Roosevelt encounters. Interestingly, even as the Secretary of the Navy, Mabus says he was never given any satisfactory answers about what it was pilots were encountering. 

“I asked what was the explanation [for UAP]. Some people had hypotheses, like it was a glitch in the system or something that didn’t make any sense. And yeah, you know, there just was no rational explanation,” said Mabus. “I did ask a few questions, but then I never got much of an answer back. Nobody really had any answers to give. The military folks always seemed pretty dismissive.” 

Many might wonder why the Secretary of the Navy wouldn’t have made a bigger deal about these mysterious encounters and demanded someone get to the bottom of it. “You know, I had enough coming in back then as it was. My bandwidth for pushing those sorts of questions was pretty limited,” sighed Mabus. 

Mabus’ comments as to why he didn’t make a bigger deal out of UAP while he was in office, have been likewise expressed to me by other former senior defense leaders. It wasn’t as if principle leadership were given an adequate explanation or didn’t believe there was something truly odd about these reported events. Rather, there always was something, often multiple somethings, going on that felt like it represented more dire concerns for U.S. national security. 

Whatever these mysterious UAP objects were, they didn’t seem to be posing any real danger or threat. In essence, the inexplicable nature of the events allowed them to easily be regulated to laughable realm of “UFOs,” saving time and energy on matters like China’s advances in the South China Sea, Russian expansion in Eastern Europe, Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, or North Korea threatening nuclear strikes on the continental United States. 

“We had Syria launching chemical weapons against its own people. We had the Horn of Africa, absolutely on fire with Yemen and the Civil War proxy war with Iranians and the Saudis. And, by the way, no shit. We are on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea,” a former senior official in the Secretary of Defense’s office told me, explaining everything that was going on at the time when they received several briefings related to UAP. “I know that is a sad story. It’s not the right story. It’s not the right answer. I’m not proud of it. But it is reality.” 

Ironically, at the same time Mabus was asking a few questions, to no avail, within AATIP, Elizondo and Co. were quietly trying to solve the UAP riddle. Yet, each were oblivious to the other’s interest or endeavors. 

One thing that seemed fairly obvious from my conversations with Mabus, had the Navy Secretary known about it, he would have been supportive of AATIP’s work. 

“It’s not a one off thing. Yeah it’s worth looking into,” declared Mabus. “I mean say it’s not aliens. Say it’s some other nation that is perfecting that technology or using some strange technology just off the U.S. coasts. Doubtful! But that is still something that would be good to know. Not just out of human curiosity, but also national security. It would be good to know if there’s something going on here. Plus, if something else is trying to contact us, it’s not like that would be a layup shot.” 

Given that the DoD’s public messaging has been chaotic, and the pending Congressional report on UAP, I asked Mabus if he felt like something truly unknown would be difficult for the Pentagon to talk about with the American people.“You know, the DoD doesn’t say very often, ‘we don’t know,” Mabus laughed. “That’s a pretty stunning revelation right there.” 

“So far they seem to be being pretty transparent about it by saying ‘we don’t know.’ But there shouldn’t be any issue with being transparent, releasing the stuff and saying, ‘we don’t know, but we’re looking into it.’ I know people don’t like that answer. That ‘we don’t know.’ But when it’s the truth, that’s what you need to say.” 

“Admitting you don’t know is a pretty good place to start. Instead of saying we don’t know what this is and we’re not going to let you know either.” 

Perhaps, Mabus’ lateral thinking on the subject of UAP or UFOs isn’t all that surprising. 

In his final year in office, Mabus was labeled as a “controversial Secretary of the Navy” by the Navy Times. What Mabus had done during the preceding 7 years to draw such a title, was stand firm on pushing such apparently radical ideas that all military roles, including combat positions, should be opened up to qualified women. Racism, alcohol abuse, and sexual violence, must be eradicated from the ranks. And the Navy’s future fleet needed to be poised to operate on alternative clean energy and be less dependent on Middle Eastern Oil. 

Half a decade later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have been widely praised for pushing nearly the same principled agenda that once labeled Secretary Ray Mabus as “controversial.” 

Speaking with NPR in 2015, about the strength of diversity and not becoming fixated on maintaining past status quos, with that same warm southern accent he shared with me during our conversations about UFOs, Mabus said, “If you have the same outlook, if you have the same mindset, you don’t get much innovation.” 

The 4th and Final Chapter in Devices of Unknown Origin –  Coming Soon 

Follow and connect with author Tim McMillan on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan or by encrypted email: