If we find out one day that aliens really do exist, there’s a good chance we’ll have Luis Elizondo to thank. Elizondo works as the director of government programs with To The Stars Academy (TTSA), an aerospace and science company founded in 2017 by a physicist for the Department of Defense, a former CIA operations officer, and Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge.
TTSA specializes in research around unidentified aerial phenomena — military-speak for any unexplained presence in the atmosphere. Before joining TTSA, Elizondo headed the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program at the Pentagon, an initiative secured and promoted in 2009 by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada for the study of “anomalous” aircraft.
Soon after joining TTSA, Elizondo helped facilitate the release of three videos taken by Navy pilots of unidentified objects. Those videos quickly caught the public’s attention, thanks in part to credulous write-ups in the New York Times. Just last month, the Defense Department officially released the videos and finally acknowledged the presence of these unidentified aerial phenomena.
GEN: What was your reaction to the Pentagon’s acknowledgment of unidentified aerial phenomena in the video?
Luis Elizondo: I was encouraged by the Pentagon’s forthcomingness and honesty. This is something I have been engaged with for the last two and a half years after I left the Pentagon because I think this topic requires a conversation not just inside the government, but outside as well. I remain optimistic the Pentagon will continue this trend of transparency. Acknowledging there’s an issue is always the first step in remedying it.
Do you think the Pentagon’s release of the footage gives TTSA more legitimacy in the public eye?
It’s helped the legitimacy of our mission, which is transparency and discussion about a topic fraught with stigma and taboo. Let’s not forget in the last year alone the Navy has admitted the videos are real and they are unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), not just “unidentified aircraft.” It’s a huge win for the American people that we can now have a conversation about UAPs without thinking about Elvis on the mothership or little green men.
Whether or not these videos are real is no longer up for speculation. They are real. It is a fact. And the government has finally acknowledged their existence. Now, the Pentagon hasn’t taken the further step to say what these UAP are. This is probably a smart thing because we don’t have enough data yet to make this determination.
Furthermore, you have Congress briefed about the footage and you have the President of the United States acknowledging, “It’s a hell of a video.” This should be a testament to where the conversation is going. For many years this topic was relegated to the fringe. Now this is a discussion we can have around the dinner table — and maybe even in the hallways of Congress.
Some astrophysicists say we could simply be seeing atmospheric effects, reflections, or bugs in the display systems of fighter jets. How much room are you allowing for this as a legitimate possibility for the phenomena in the video?
This the first thing we looked at, all the types of conventional aircraft and drones and rockets, missiles, helicopters. Anything that flies, we would look at it. But one can say, sure there’s an infrared flare, or there’s a reflection off of the camera lens. But this doesn’t explain eyewitnesses seeing it with the naked eye. It also doesn’t explain the radar return. You can’t have a radar lock on an atmospheric condition. That doesn’t make sense.
These videos have sustained a lot of public interest since the New York Times reported about their existence in 2017. How will you keep the conversation going?
We spent a tremendous amount of time, resources, and effort creating this capability. Anybody out there with a smartphone can quickly be alerted if there’s something in their sky. That information, that thing being observed, will be analyzed using some of the most sophisticated A.I. technology we have right now. Is it an airplane coming in and making a final approach into LAX? Is it a planet, a star, or a meteorological effect? Is it a rocket reentering Earth’s atmosphere? Is it a weather balloon? All these things will automatically be filtered ahead of time.
We are at a point in history where every human being is an intelligence collector. You have a device in your hand that can triangulate and record audio and video. If we have enough of these devices looking up in the skies, I think we’re going to be really surprised by what we can collectively capture.
Why would the government be motivated to — and since you can’t see me over the phone I’m putting this in air quotes — “cover-up” the existence of UAPs?
I want to avoid going into conspiracy theories. I no longer work with the U.S. government so I can’t speak on its behalf, but it is the job of the government to always have answers, especially from a national security perspective. If there is a country out there with a technological capability that surpasses our own, then it is the job of our intelligence community to figure it out and warn certain individuals in our government. When you have something that can fly unimpeded into U.S.-controlled airspace and can perform in ways that certainly outperforms anything conventional we have, that’s alarming. You don’t necessarily want to broadcast that something has this capability.
Look back historically at the U-2 and the SR-71 spy plane missions. During the early days of the U-2, we were flying it over Soviet-controlled airspace, but they never acknowledged it to their own people until they were able to successfully shoot one down. That’s when they said, “Look, America has a secret capability, but we took care of it.” But until they had that capability, they never uttered a word of it.
Can you speak a bit about the contract TTSA just signed with the Army Futures Command? TTSA has often pushed the Pentagon to release documents and footage. Could this collaboration with the government change that relationship?
If you look at who’s inside TTSA, we’re all ex-government or military intelligence officials. People say, “Oh, well, you’re working with the government.” Duh. Have you seen our backgrounds? The fact we are working with the United States Army and other sections within the U.S. government isn’t a bad thing. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the last guy standing in the Pentagon saying, “This stuff isn’t real, nothing to see here folks.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.