Prior to publishing a recent investigative story by Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean detailing a former intelligence official’s communication with Congress and the Intelligence Community Inspector General on purported retrievals of craft that are believed to be of anomalous origin, The Debrief’s Christopher Plain sat down with Co-founder and investigative reporter Tim McMillan to learn about all of the background research and fact-check process that was performed by our investigative team. The following is a transcript of that call, which incorporates minor edits for readability.
Christopher Plain: Hi, Tim, and thanks for agreeing to sit down and do this with me. I know it has been a crazy few weeks, and I admit I am still reeling a bit from you sharing this story with me just a few days ago. Before I get into all of the research, background analysis, and fact-checking you and your team did on this piece to make sure it was viable to print, I was wondering if you could just sum up your first reactions to our Editor in Chief Micah Hanks telling you that we have this piece, and then your reactions after you actually read the first draft.
Tim McMillan: Sure. You know, obviously, because of the subject matter…initial reactions, I was highly skeptical. In particular, this area, the idea of the government having crashed UFO, this kind of stuff is really something that I’ve kind of avoided to an extent because it’s so steeped in lore, mythology, rumors, and there’s a lot of noise in the system. And it makes it hard to figure out. But when I had an opportunity to actually see the work that Ralph and Leslie had done and read their research, what they actually had here with this story, I was blown away because this was something different. This was different than the lore stories that we’ve heard before. Mainly, in this instance, we have an individual who’s coming out on the record who has the agency to say the things that he said. But he’s not just telling it to us for the first time. We’re actually reporting on the fact that he has already shared these details in an official capacity under oath to official bodies within the government, the Inspector General, and members of the congressional staff General Counsel. So that, to me, was what made this really unprecedented is that we’re seeing, we’re actually, this story is about us reporting on somebody already telling this story, officially under oath.
CP: My reaction was more or less the same. You and I have discussed this in the past. And I think we’re all a little dubious when you get anywhere beyond lights in the sky or craft flying around. But I had the same reaction. I read the story. And I was like, “Wow, whatever this is, it feels like a story that needs to be told.” So I was excited as well. So let’s get into the meat of this. I know that you didn’t do your research and fact-checking and all that alone. Could you tell us who, besides Micah, helped you in this process?
TM: Sure. And I want to say upfront that Ralph and Leslie had done an exceptional job of reporting before they even came to us. They had all of their ducks in a row. They already had documentation. They already had everything really necessary. So that was great because everything was really just cross-checking what they had already done, which is nice. This was nice for me because I got to play the sole role of investigator rather than a journalist for a change. So it was nice. Obviously, the claims in his story are incredible. They’re almost unbelievable. And so there’s a lot of care that has to go into that, in terms of making sure that what’s being said is accurate to the best that you can determine. And in this case, it was nice because really what you’re having to do is determine, “Did this individual have the agency and authority to say the things that they were saying, in an official capacity, to government investigators and to members of Congress.” It’s such a monumental task.
CP: I bet.
TM: A lot of people don’t realize we do have an investigative team here, The Debrief, that I work with. So Craig and Sean are two of the members of that team, in particular, Shawn (who) is an attorney. So it’s nice to have that kind of critical attorney eye on that. So I looped him in as soon as we got into it. And we kind of delineated the work. And basically, Shawn and Craig became the red team. Their job was to go through this article and really look at it as critically as possible. Where are their deficiencies? Where are the avenues that couldn’t be attacked in terms of is this information accurate? Can we substantiate that? So, they spent a lot of time really combing through word for word, looking through it, and making sure that this was a good finished product. And while that was going on, my main role was really the background, fact-check investigator, which evolved independently. So taking what Leslie and Ralph had already done, but then completely independently, looking into it, verifying, and making sure it’s accurate. And it’s nice. It’s one of these things…something that’s not going to come out of the article (is that) none of the words and the information changed. Because I was able to verify everything. What people might not realize (is) that we did bolster it. So we added more witnesses to the story that affirm what Mr. Grusch was saying had indeed occurred. That it was true.
CP: Okay, great. So what I want to do here is just open the article. I’m going to start scrolling down. I sent you a copy with the highlights of the things that I felt were facts. If you have thoughts that I skip over something important, or you have any extra thoughts you want to give, jump in. But this is the stuff just from my outside looking in, that if I were fact-checking it, these are the things I would go through.
CP: After the first few sentences of the article here, there’s “The whistleblower, David Charles Grusch, 36, a veteran of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), served as the reconnaissance office’s representative to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) from 2019-2021. From late 2021 to July 2022, he was the NGA’s co-lead for UAP analysis and its representative to the task force.” Are those things you guys had to go check, or Leslie and Ralph had already done the background checking on that?
TM: They had already done the background checking, but we obviously have to verify that. So we’ve got to vet that as a publication. That involves me and the team independently corroborating. Leslie and Ralph obviously have their sourcing and information. And clearly, Mr. Grusch is on record. So, you have him and his word, but they have their own sources that verified he was who he said he was and that he worked at those places. But we needed to be able to supplement that (being) independently verified. We didn’t want to just rely on what Ralph and Leslie…, not that we had any questions or concerns…but it’s all about making sure that good info is put out there.
TM: So, luckily, we at The Debrief have been able to forge some really good relationships with people across the government and in this space with UAP. But outside of that, so in areas like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency or the NRO, they realize that we’re just trying to get information correct. And so these are people that we can call and say, “Hey, do you know this individual?” A big part of this was not only verifying that he was who he says he was, that he was in a position he says it was, but then, for me as well, kind of getting an idea of “Who is an individual? Is this somebody who’s had a long-standing UFO interest? Like, what’s going on here? What’s going on in the mindset here?” And so that involved really getting to know Mr. Grusch without directly knowing him and talking to people that work with him (as a) colleague, verifying that he had worked with the task force, verified his work at the NRO, and what his colleagues and coworkers thought of him. And I’ll tell you that, through that and multiple sources, no one had anything bad to say. But it’s a good thing. And something that wasn’t included in the article. But I do think is significant for people. It was significant for me because one of the questions that I had when I spoke with people that knew him was understanding the involvement that got him into UAP that got him into the Task Force.
CP: How did that happen?
TM: He had no preexisting interests or real interest in UAP. So it wasn’t any experience with UFOs or any preexisting interest that got him into that to where he is today. It was rather he had come recommended to the director of the task force based on experience and for being known as a sharp analyst with the NGA. And somebody (who) when the task force needed a liaison at NGA was someone who was recommended. But it was based on his reputation in the intelligence community as an analyst, not someone with an interest in UAP.
CP: So he was brought in, based on your research and verifying who he was and talking to people. He was brought in purely as an analyst with this skill, as opposed to a pre-interest, prior interest in UAP or UFOs.
TM: That’s correct. Yeah. He was recommended to the task force that was already in place. I was told a rather lengthy interview between the director and Mr. Grusch occurred. And they agreed, the task force agreed, that this was somebody who was sharp and would be a good fit, would bring some experience and some expertise in that field of geospatial intelligence.
CP: Awesome. Awesome. Okay, great. And you guys, so you were able to verify all that then that these dates are given 2019 to 2021? Is all of that independently verified?
CP: Great. So, Tim, the next thing here, it says “In accordance with protocols, Grusch provided the Defense Department’s Office of Prepublication and Security Review the information he intended to disclose to us, and it was “cleared for open publication” on April 4 and 6, 2023.” What is the Defense Department’s Office of Pre-publication Security Review? And were you able to confirm that contention that it had been cleared for publication on those two dates?
TM: That’s a great question. So, the Defense Pre-publication Security Review, that’s also called DOPSR, each branch or component of the government has one of these offices. And so what it means is, anytime somebody who held a top-secret position or has worked with classified material, if they’re going to discuss that work publicly, if they’re gonna write a book, if we’re going to do an interview, that type of thing, they are required…they’re supposed to clear what they intend to say through DOPSR beforehand. And DOPSR’s role there is to determine what somebody is going to say, what they’re going to write, if they’re writing a book, what they’re going to print, and make sure that what’s being said isn’t classified information. So, they’re essentially stamping and saying, “That’s fine, you can say that.” And, you know, they may, in certain instances, say, “No, you can’t say that.” Or, often, they do. They’ll say you can say this. You can’t say that.
CP: Because this mostly has to do with security and classifications?
TM: Yes. It has to do with ensuring that people who are even out of the government now, that if they’re going to talk about their work while working in a classified setting in government if they’re going to talk about that publicly, it’s ensuring that the information they’re talking about, they’re not revealing national security secrets or classified information. So this is a unique setting here because this is something you don’t often see in any type of news article. You would see it with books, you’ll see it in documentaries, but you often would never see this in a news/print article. But it does speak to the fact that Grusch really tried to take the exact, appropriate path, the exact official channels. He’s tried to do everything right throughout this process. He hasn’t gone willy-nilly. And so, when he decided he wanted to come forward with his story, he put the information he wanted to share through DOPSR, and they cleared it. That doesn’t mean that the Department of Defense is stamping off on what he’s saying and saying, “Okay, yeah, it’s all true.” They’re just saying, “Okay, we’ll let you say that because it’s not going to reveal any secrets.”
CP: Gotcha. And I want to stop you there. I know you have another thought on that idea that you shared with me the other day. But I want to kind of save that for the end of the interview. I just wanted to make sure you were able to fact-check and confirm that he had run this through DOPSR and those dates and that it had been cleared for open publication.
TM: Sure. So aside from the DOPSR, yes, having a DOPSR clearance during our fact check, I can verify other individuals were familiar as well that that had occurred and knew that it had been approved.
CP: Gotcha. So you had multiple verifications of that data.
CP: Okay. Great. The next fact I have highlighted here in the story, it says “Karl E. Nell, a recently retired Army Colonel and current aerospace executive who was the Army’s Director for the UAP Task Force from 2021 to 2022 and worked with Grusch there, called Grusch’s statements essentially correct.” Were you able to confirm that Karl Nell is a retired colonel and that he did work those dates at the task force?
TM: Yes. Now we were able to confirm, just like (with) Mr. Grusch, we were able to confirm through multiple sources that he did work for the task force during that time (and) that he did work with Grusch and what he was saying in terms of his support for what Grusch was claiming was accurate. And like Grusch, part of my work was understanding how were these individuals called to be a part of this seemingly stigmatized topic. And in Nell’s case, he wasn’t. He wasn’t necessarily recruited to the task force. He actually was assigned there as the army (liaison). So it was one of the situations where Nell’s an interesting one as well because he wasn’t recruited. It wasn’t something that he necessarily wanted to be a part of beforehand. It was something that he was told he was going to be a part of. But the task force and the Army, nobody had a choice here. But he came in. He ended up coming in and working with the task force, and subsequently, what he was exposed to led him to the same kind of conclusions that Grusch shared.
CP: Awesome. Okay. Just looking at the dates here, it says “recently retired,” and then you’re saying he was assigned. So, he was still on active duty when he was assigned?
CP: Okay. Gotcha. So very recently retired.
CP: Scrolling down next one, this statement says, “Jonathan Grey is a generational officer of the United States Intelligence Community with a Top-Secret Clearance who currently works for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, where the analysis of UAP has been his focus. Previously he had experience serving Private Aerospace and DoD Special Directive Task Forces.” Who is Jonathan Grey? And were you able to confirm these parts of his resume that are listed here?
TM: Right. Well, I’ll just say this. I’m exceptionally cautious in discussing anything related to that individual because, as you’ll note, that’s the only one who technically still works in government, still holds several classifications, works in compartment…I’ll just say, it was very interesting multiple sources confirmed for me, somewhat to my surprise, that, in the NASIC, the National Intelligence, um…
CP: National Air and Space Intelligence Center
TM: Yeah, that they indeed have been involved. They do share information with the UAP Task Force and have worked with them and have been involved in this issue. And so there’s not a lot I can say about…
CP: Okay. Okay, fair enough. But just being able to independently confirm that NASIC was working with the UAP Task Force, even if it wasn’t specifically him. It would lend support to him and his claim?
CP: Okay. Great.
TM: Basically, NASIC was involved in it. And there, there are a number of people that fit the profile for Jonathan Grey.
CP: I’m reading another line here from the article. This is a long one. “At the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Grusch served as a Senior Intelligence Capabilities Integration Officer, cleared at the Top Secret/Secret Compartmented Information level, and was the agency’s Senior Technical Advisor for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena analysis/Trans-Medium Issues. From 2016 to 2021, he served with the National Reconnaissance Office as Senior Intelligence Officer and led the production of the NRO director’s daily briefing. Grusch was a GS-15 civilian, the military equivalent of a Colonel.” Now there’s a lot in that one there. Can you just go through it with me real quick and just tell me, were you able to confirm his service as the senior intelligence capabilities integration officer and clearance levels and the dates and times and all of that?
TM: Yeah. I can answer it by saying yes…but I…
CP: You don’t have to give away your secrets here, McMillan. I just wanted to, you know, again, we’re putting out there that this was fact-checked that these key facts were fact-checked.
TM: I spoke with a number of people who have the ability to verify that information or would have been aware of all that information, and they acknowledged and agreed that that was valid. So, yeah.
CP: Okay. The next claim right under that says, “Grusch has served as an Intelligence Officer for over fourteen years. A veteran of the US Air Force, he has numerous awards and decorations for combat service in Afghanistan and for his participation in covert and clandestine operations to advance American security.” Were you able to confirm that, like the time in the Air Force and having combat service and decorations and all that?
TM: Sure. I was able to confirm that. And then, obviously, you know, when you’re talking about covert and clandestine operations, that’s, you know, very sensitive stuff. So we were then able to confirm his military service background and confirmed he was in a position that would have placed him with the ability to participate in those types of sensitive operations.
CP: Gotcha. Okay. Next point. “According to a 2021 reconnaissance office Performance Report, he was an intelligence strategist with multiple responsibilities who “analyzed unidentified aerial phenomena reports” and “boosted congressional leadership Intel gaps [in] understanding.” He was assessed by the reconnaissance office’s Operations Center Deputy Director as an “adept staff officer and strategist” and “total force integrator with innovative solutions and actionable results.” Where did those quotes come from? Is that a publicly available formal review or something he provided to Leslie and Ralph?
TM: It was from his employee performance report that he provided to Leslie and Ralph. It’s like your annual employee performance reviews that anybody in government and most people in jobs get. So that’s where that information comes from.
CP: Okay. And obviously, that’s not something; even though he’s given it to you, you can’t go fact-check it. But your cursory review of the report and the things they were given it’s consistent with what a real one of those would look like.
TM: Micah’s seen that one. I haven’t seen that. But I will just say that…all the other corroborating sources kind of confirmed that there wasn’t, there was nothing, that there are no red flags there.
CP: Great. Another key quote here. “Grusch prepared many briefs on unidentified aerial phenomena for Congress while in government and helped draft the language on UAP for the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act.” Were you able to confirm that he was somebody who helped draft the language on that?
TM: Yes, and that’s a huge part of our verification and fact-checking process that involves me being able to verify information through various senior members of the Legislative Branch. So, through Congress. And they did confirm it and verified that Grusch was involved in providing briefings to lawmakers. I’m sure we’ll get into subsequent…we were able to confirm that directly from the sources who would have been receiving that material.
CP: Fantastic. Next one. Now this is less something you fact-check and just more something I would like clarity on. “Grusch asserted that UFO “legacy programs” have long been concealed within “multiple agencies nesting UAP activities in conventional secret access programs without appropriate reporting to various oversight authorities.” So my understanding, or my reading of that, would be that rather than secret access programs set up specifically to study UFOs, or UFO debris or material, there would be a secret access program already set up to study something else. And the term “nesting” within there was a way to take keep it hidden while the main stuff of that program was reported. Am I reading that correctly?
TM: Yeah, you’re correct. I mean, that’s what Grusch is asserting, and what he’s testified to legal counsel and to the Inspector General, is that the government’s UAP activities, rather than there being necessarily like one single, secretive, UAP office, if you will. It’s that these things have kind of been nested and spread out into already special access and compartmented programs. It’s like ultra-compartmentalization.
TM: (They) compartmented this program in other compartments as well. So it’s really spread out, you know. What’s being said there is that if there’s a compartmented program looking at a certain type of, let’s say, satellite reconnaissance, they just add to that tasking, “We want you to look for the particular signatures or these particular activities, as well as what you’re already looking at, and give us that information back as well.” So it’s seating-in things that would be specific to UAP, within existing programs that are involved in stuff that have nothing to do with UAP.
CP: So this is another way of essentially obscuring it, rather than having a special access program or secret access program that is specifically just about all the UAP stuff. By taking the pieces of it and spreading it to other secret programs, it makes it much harder to find. Is that correct?
TM: Right, it’s very spread out; it’s spread out all over the place. And it also extremely narrows the scope over who knows what. So each person knows only a very small sliver of what’s going on, even when they’re working on it.
TM: So if you’ve tasked the UAPs specific activity within an existing NRO SAP program, let’s say, that means that whatever you’re specifically looking for, that person who’s that analyst, or that operator that’s collecting that data may know about it, but the people sitting at the desk next to you don’t know. They only know about the NRO program that they think they’re part of. And so it really is just an extra way of obscuring things.
CP: Gotcha. So extra security and extra hiding, essentially.
TM: Yeah, it makes it much more difficult to find. If you have a Joint Special Operations UAP center or Command, where everything is localized, where everything is centralized, that makes it very easy to get “well, that’s where we need to go.” This just spreads it out where you’re able to achieve your mission through a really diverse workforce. But it’s so dispersed that it’s hard to really, for any person to really understand what’s going on; they all have a single slice of the pie.
Don’t Miss Part 2 of Fact Check Q & A with Debrief Co-founder and Professional Investigator Tim McMillan on Tuesday, June 6th.
Christopher Plain is the Head Science Writer at The Debrief as well as a Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist. Follow and connect with him on Twitter, learn about his books at plainfiction.com, or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter, and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing typically focuses on defense, national security, the Intelligence Community, and topics related to psychology. You can follow Tim on Twitter:@LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be reached by email: email@example.com or through encrypted email:LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com