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While most people were getting ready for Christmas and the media was beginning to flood us with a series of year-in-review highlights, a surprising report from the New York Times brought former Sen. Harry Reid back into the limelight with a tale of black-op government research into flying saucers and their potential threat to national security.

Anyone watching mainstream news stations at the time was more likely to have seen commercials for the return of Fox television network’s popular “X-Files” series than any coverage of Reid and his Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which pumped $22 million into Pentagon research similar to Project Blue Book and other UFO-related research during the wild Cold War era of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The online report included two U.S. Department of Defense videos of Navy aircraft filming unidentified objects in 2004.

Anyone who has already made up his or her mind about such things need read no further. For those of us still wondering if something is “out there,” this tale of modern UFO sightings may shed some light on a phenomenon that has perplexed scientists around the world.

I have been interested in fringe phenomena such as UFOs for many decades, although I have never seen anything strange in the sky nor do I have any opinion about their origin or purpose. I am interested primarily in the psychological impacts of such sightings, and their possible connection with historical manifestations that predate man’s ability to fly. If the bizarre aerial displays described by true UFO believers are ever seen on a broad scale by masses of people across the globe, and our governments have no explanation for their origin, they would certainly give rise to new and potentially self-destructive beliefs.

As a newspaper editor in the conservative northeast corner of Nevada I have been very critical of Reid’s liberal politics over the years, but I know that he is not a quack. He is one of the most serious and dedicated people I have ever met, and he would not throw away millions of dollars on a black-op program for no legitimate reason.

According to the Times, Reid decided to seek UFO research funding after Las Vegas hotel developer, aerospace contractor and firm E.T. believer Robert Bigelow told him in 2007 that he had been approached by the Defense Intelligence Agency about visiting the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah – a site of numerous cattle mutilations and UFO reports -- that Bigelow had purchased.

With bipartisan support from defense and appropriations committee members Sen.

Ted Stevens and Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Reid had the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program created with funds kept beneath the congressional radar.

“By 2009, Mr. Reid decided that the program had made such extraordinary discoveries that he argued for heightened security to protect it,” stated the Times.

Instead, the Pentagon says it discontinued the program in 2012. But the Times spoke with project manager Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official, who said their work continued despite the lack of funding. He continued to head the program until October, when he sent a letter of resignation to Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis complaining that not enough time or money was being dedicated to the issue.

One theory was that a foreign government, such as Russia or China, might have developed advanced flight technology that could pose a threat to the U.S.

Reid’s program “produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift,” the Times reported.

One of the Defense Department videos shows a sharp-edged object rotating in a mechanical fashion that resembles fake UFO footage of the past.

“This is a f---ing drone, bro,” says one of the observers. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” responds another. Their conversation indicates that the objects are being tracked on radar as well as visually.

The other footage shows a glowing, saucer-shaped object that darts away at an extremely high speed. The audio track is not included.

Neither clip is spectacular enough to spark a widespread flying saucer hysteria like the waves of sightings in the 1950s or ‘60s.

Still, the Times report did not ridicule Reid. As secondary sources to the story they quote an M.I.T. astrophysicist admitting that there are still unexplained phenomena in the sky, and a former space shuttle engineer who was skeptical yet still welcomed the research.

Their coverage prompted a Daily Intelligencer reporter to question how this story might have played out if Hillary Clinton had been elected, pointing out that Clinton and former chief of staff John Podesta have a strong interest in UFOs.

All of the writers point out that Bigelow was a Reid campaign supporter and that some of the project’s funds were funneled to his aerospace firm. It’s unlikely, though, that a mere $10,000 in contributions over a 10-year period were a payoff for the small-scale program (Bigelow is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space, the Times noted).

To the public psyche at large, Reid’s black-op program is nothing more than a rerun of earlier attempts by the government to deal with paranormal phenomena – just as the new “X-Files” show will likely be seen as an inferior remake even though it features original actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

But Reid was Senate majority leader when he started the program, making him one of the most powerful people on the planet. If he had serious questions about the technology being witnessed by our defense forces, we should all have serious questions about their origin.

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