Since its existence was revealed by the New York Times in 2017, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which was funded by the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, has been the subject of fervent curiosity from UFO disclosure advocates, government transparency activists, and journalists alike. The now formally defunct program was studying UFO-related phenomena, according to a landmark 2020 investigation by Popular Mechanics; the DIA’s public explanations on just what that involved have ranged over the years from unsatisfying to obfuscatory. Namely, the agency has insisted in recent years that AATIP was not looking at UFO-related phenomena, which former employees working on the program say is simply not true.
Now, a new tranche of documents released by the DIA to Motherboard based on a FOIA request filed four years ago shows, in detail, the exotic and occasionally downright weird research priorities of the Advanced Aerospace Weapons System Application Program (AAWSAP), an at-times overlapping program whose existence has been known about for several years. Some of these documents were also released several weeks ago to John Greenewald at the Black Vault; others have been circulating on Reddit for the past several weeks, indicating that the DIA has recently released a backlog of very old FOIA requests. The Sun also published some details about some of the documents, which it also obtained via FOIA, earlier this month. (AATIP and AAWSAP appear to have been, in practice, almost interchangeable; a DIA spokesperson previously told Greenewald, “[AATIP] was the name of the overall program. [AAWSAP] was the name of the contract that DIA awarded for the production of technical reports under AATIP.”)
The nearly 1,600 pages of documents released to Motherboard are a mix of scientific research, contracts, presentations, briefings, and memos related to the program; there are also many documents written for or by former Senator Harry Reid, who was responsible for the creation of the program, that detail meetings about AATIP or AAWSAP, argue for or against certain research or contracts, and the like. In many cases, documents prepared for the DIA about the theoretical applications of certain technologies were prepared by a person or entity whose name is redacted. Motherboard is publishing the full scope of what we received for transparency and to aid researchers and other journalists. Those documents are available here.
The documents make clear that the AAWSAP was focused on studying the defense and military capabilities of a variety of exotic speculative technologies, including invisibility cloaking, traversable wormholes, stargates, negative energy, antigravity, high frequency gravitational wave communications, and an (obviously) never-carried out proposal to tunnel a hole through the moon using nuclear explosions. (“Gravity is the bane of aerospace transportation,” one DIA reference document reads.) In the coming weeks, Motherboard will examine a few of these proposals in detail.
None of these technologies ever seem to have gotten remotely close to being a reality, as far as we know. The documents included in the FOIA are fascinating for two reasons: The first is that the research is, well, pretty weird, and the other is that AATIP and AAWSAP weren’t doing much of that research in-house. Both programs relied in large part on contract research conducted by an arm of a private company, Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Studies (BAASS), owned by eccentric hotel magnate Robert Bigelow. (BAASS is now defunct, but Bigelow Aerospace is still operational.)
Bigelow was a personal friend of Reid and lobbied for the creation of the AATIP program. He owned the infamous Skinwalker Ranch, a location said by some UFO enthusiasts to be a hotbed of paranormal activity and others to be a hotbed of a particular kind of hot air, for about 10 years. Bigelow is also known for having a keen interest in life after death. Just six months after BAASS was created, according to Popular Mechanics, Reid created funding for AATIP and drafted the AAWSAP contract. BAASS was the sole bidder for the contract and was awarded $10 million for the first year.
The documents raise further questions– which have already been swirling for years – about the government’s allocation of millions of dollars to a set of programs that seem to have ultimately accounted to very little, at least publicly. Titles of 38 research projects covered under the AAWASAP were released in 2019, following a FOIA request filed by Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. (Correction, 5:40 p.m. EST: After publication, Jeremy Corbell, a UFO filmmaker, pointed out that George Knapp was the first person to publish a list of 37 of these areas of study, in July 2018. Knapp obtained it, he reported, from physicist Hal Puthoff, who previously worked for BAASS. The DIA formally released the full 38-item list in 2019 in response to Aftergood's FOIA.)
Aftergood, too, was critical of aspects of the program, telling Popular Mechanics: “The whole contracting process for this program was irregular from start to finish. [The AAWSAP contract] sounds like it was a good deal for the contractor. But it would be hard to argue that either the military or the public got their money’s worth.”
But what was released to Motherboard this week is a far more in-depth series of records, giving status updates on various projects and outlining why, precisely, the U.S. government was so interested in things like invisibility cloaks. They also reveal the enormous amount of effort former Reid put into championing the AATIP and AAWSAP, and into trying to keep the work they did classified. (Reid died in December 2021.)
In 2020, Reid said that what had publicly been released to that point "only scratched the surface" of what the Pentagon knows about UFOs and advanced technology and told Motherboard that he believed (at the time) that far more information should be released publicly.
This wasn't always the case, however; the documents released to Motherboard also show Reid pushed at one time to keep AATIP highly classified. In a 2009 letter to then-Secretary of Defense William Lynn III, Reid urged Lynn to make large portions of AATIP a Restricted Special Access Program (SAP)—a step above how normal classified documents are handled.
“Given the current rate of success, the continued study of these subjects will likely lead to technology advancements that in the immediate near-term will require extraordinary protection,” Reid wrote. (A memo prepared for the Secretary of Defense by James Clapper Jr., who would go on to become Director of National Intelligence, recommended against giving the program a SAP classification.)
Reid also made sweeping promises about what AATIP could do for the United States.
“Ultimately, the results of AATIP will not only benefit the U.S. Government, but I believe will directly benefit DoD in ways not yet imagined,” he wrote. “The technological insight and capability gained will provide the U.S. with a distinct advantage over any foreign threats and allow the U.S. to maintain its preeminence as a world leader.”
It seems clear that even more documents about these two linked, and deeply weird, programs will be forthcoming. In early March, for instance, Greenewald at the Black Vault learned that the Barack Obama Presidential Library is in possession of thousands of pages of materials, although those could take years to be released.