In December 2017, The New York Times reported on the existence of a secret U.S. Department of Defense program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which sought to research unidentified aerial objects. It began in 2008 and ended in 2012, costing an estimated $22 million over its course.
One of the Times piece’s coauthors, Leslie Kean, has a documented history of championing UFO reports that turned out to be mistakes and hoaxes. In one case Kean vouched for a famous photo taken in 1990 by a man known only as “Patrick” in the Belgian town of Petit-Rechain. “Patrick” later confessed that the image, twice deemed authentic by a panel of distinguished scientists and experts, was really of a small piece of triangular Styrofoam spray-painted black with lights attached.
Much of the AATIP and its conclusions have not been released, and it’s not clear what if any useful information came from the effort. Several short videos of military jets encountering something they couldn’t identify have been released by the program. Already some researchers, including Robert Sheaffer and Mick West, have suggested that distant jets might be the culprit, and in the past, crowdsourced research has yielded answers to seemingly inexplicable phenomena in our skies; a “mystery missile” seen off the coast of California in November 2010, for example, stumped military experts at first but was later determined to be an ordinary commercial jet plane contrail seen from an odd angle.