The genesis of a disclosure

Part 1: AAWSAP, the Predecessor of Lue Elizondo’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.


Published 2023-06-25 at 04:37

Reading Reading 11 min.

On December 16, 2017, the prestigious New York Times revealed that the Pentagon had spent $22 million on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP. It is now known that this was in fact AAWSAP (Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program), a program AATIP eventually stemmed from, and whose existence had not yet been revealed that received the funds.

The revelation of this quiet investigation by the American government was accompanied by the release of 3 Navy videos showing UAP. The daily revealed that the program was directed by a military intelligence officer, Luis Elizondo, "on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze".

New York Times, Kean, Blumenthal & Cooper, December 16, 2017, under Fair Use for Information

Senator Harry Reid and Robert Bigelow

It was found out that the program had been initiated in 2007 by Nevada Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, notoriously convinced of the existence of UFOs, terminated in 2012 according to the Pentagon. This was contested by the authors of the NYT article - established journalists Helene Cooper and Ralph Blumental, and Leslie Kean, author of various publications on the paranormal and UFOs.

At the time, AATIP, or rather AAWSAP, was placed under the supervision of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the main manager and producer of foreign military intelligence, including foreign political, economic, industrial, geographic and medical information related to national defense.

According to the article, the funds went to "an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow" then working with NASA to "produce expandable craft for humans to use in space". Robert Bigelow's Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) had hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.

"Bigelow, just turning 50 at the time, had made enough money as a commercial developer, [...], that he could finally indulge a fascination with UFOs that dated back years, to a close encounter his grandparents had experienced and told him about when he was three years old. He dubbed the group, somewhat grandly, the National Institute for Discovery Science [NIDS]".

Las Vegas, Circe Denyer, Public Domain

The National Institute for Discovery Science

NIDS, based in Las Vegas, home of Harry Reid and later on to TTSA (Tom De Longe's 'To The Stars Academy', today renamed 'To The Stars'), was mainly interested in two subjects: UFOs and the survival of consciousness after death. Its members were known for their interest in the fringe of science and parascience. One them was Harold E. Puthoff, Ph.D., an American physicist and co-author of several books on gravitational research and the paranormal. Puthoff was well-known in gravitational physics circles for his articles on alternative approaches to general relativity and quantum mechanics. In the 1970s and 1980s, he led a CIA/DIA-funded program at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), investigating paranormal abilities. A former U.S. Navy officer and civilian employee assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), he later joined the SRI where, in 1972, he co-founded a then highly-classified remote viewing program named STARGATE, which had been funded over its two-decade history by the CIA, DIA, and various military organizations.

NIDS also hosted well-known researchers such as Dr. Jacques Vallée, astronaut Ed Mitchell, who was passionate about UFOs, Senator from New Mexico Harrison Schmitt, and Colonel John B. Alexander, a former U.S. Army infantry officer and a prominent advocate for the development of non-lethal weapons and military applications of the paranormal. Interested in the UFO phenomenon, he was featured in journalist Jon Ronson's book, The Men Who Stare At Goats (2004), which later became a movie starring George Clooney (2009).

Senator Harry Reid also belonged to that group, albeit in a more confidential and informal way. Bigelow's interest in the paranormal and UFOs was therefore long-standing and he was surrounded by a fairly dense network of researchers, politicians, and military personnel involved in these infamous investigations.

The New York Times article also told us that Lue Elizondo had resigned as program director in October 2017 in protest of internal opposition and excessive secrecy, and immediately disputed Pentagon claims that the program had been shut down, indicating it had continued with support from Navy and CIA officials even after his resignation. Reports from 2020 and 2021 confirmed Elizondo's claim, as well as the existence of AATIP's successor within the Department of Defense.

In 2010, Elizondo and a handful of former program members told me that senior DIA officials 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). His supervisor was the senior civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) serving as the principal civilian advisor and deputy to the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) and Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) on military intelligence and security matters.

Defense Intelligence Agency, Warp Drive, Dark Energy, and the Manipulation of Extra Dimensions, Public Domain

Defense Intelligence Reference Documents

Elizondo claimed that, once at the helm, he narrowed his efforts toward AATIP and focused on military encounters with the UAPs rather than the mix of paranormal topics AAWSAP had been investigating:

“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,”

An anonymous staffer of the program told Politico:

“After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,[...] They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find. It all pretty much dissolved from that reason alone—and the interest level was losing steam. We only did it a couple years.”

In recent years the former staff of AAWSAP came forward to specify the work they did for the DIA. In Skinwalkers at the Pentagon, authors explain that “a significant part of the AAWSAP legacy was the prodigious output of thousands of pages of technically rigorous investigative reports on UAP and other anomalies utilizing scientific methodology”. The entirety of AAWSAP’s work was then sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency where it remained for a decade before slowly being released

In 2020, the Pentagon acknowledged the existence of a program similar to AATIP called the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF). By the time funding ended (in 2012), Elizondo, serving as the head of the Office of Information Sharing and Foreign Intelligence, and later in 2016 as the director of the National Programs Special Management Staff, had preserved AATIP as a formal working group of trusted associates within the U.S. intelligence community.

AAWSAP appears to have produced a 494-page report that documented the phenomenon around the world over several decades. The report, which was not made public, was apparently only a sample of the material provided to the Defense Intelligence Agency, with monthly reports sent to the Pentagon, in addition to the program's annual updates, which were almost exclusively about UAP. In addition, the program also funded and published 38 theoretical studies covering a range of topics related to exotic and theoretical aerospace subjects, from "High Resolution Detection and Tracking of Vehicles at Hypersonic Speeds" to "Warp Drive, Dark Energy, and Manipulation of Extra Dimensions." 

After the shock announcement in one of America's largest daily newspapers, a newspaper of reference for Democrats and moderate Republicans, founded in 1851 and awarded 130 Pulitzer Prizes (other major newspapers such as the Washington Post also pursued the investigation on their own), the debate raged as to whether the second "A" in AATIP officially stood for Aerospace or Aviation, with "Aerospace" ultimately proving to be the correct terminology. 

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security Ronald Moultrie, Public Domain


This new acronym, seeming replacing 'AAWSAP' (Advanced Aerospace Weapons Systems Applications Program), raised the question of whether AAWSAP and AATIP were two separate programs, or the same device under two separate names. It would seem that AAWSAP was the original program conducted by Bigelow as a subcontractor and that AATIP was the subcomponent more specifically assigned to the study of UFO encounters from a military point of view in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSDI). A letter from the late Senator Harry Reid shows that "AATIP" was at the time used as a cover name for AAWSAP before becoming a standalone program.

The AAWSAP program was first proposed and then managed by an intelligence analyst and rocket scientist, Dr. James Lacatski, who spent much of his career working for the Defense Warning Office within the DIA. Initially, the stated purpose of AAWSAP 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". 

Interestingly, Lacatski, when asked to specify the odds between AAWSAP and AATIP, notes: "There was a difference between the two programs  (mine and Elizondo's). (...) Ours looked at military and civilian investigations, his looked at military exclusively. (...) But he did his thing, we did ours. But I can say that in direct answer to your question, we were the only game in town, I would say from 2008 through 2012”.

The Petri dish in which AAWSAP did its experiments is a now well-known area in the desolated landscapes of North Utah: Skinwalker Ranch.

To be continued

Translated from French by Guillaume Fournier Airaud

Main picture: F Delventhal

Thibaut Canuti

Thibaut Canuti is a contemporary historian and a graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de l'Information et des Bibliothèques. He has written several books, including "Un fait maudit" and the two-volume "Histoire de l'ufologie française," authored numerous articles, and participated in various conferences. Thibaut is interested in all aspects of the UFO phenomenon and ufology and serves as an editor and writer.