In 2007, former senator Harry Reid-along with former senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye-used "so-called black money" to secretly fund a program inside the Defense Department to study and investigate reports of UFOs, particularly from U.S. military personnel.
The Times reported most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Reid's, Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace and Las Vegas real estate investor.
According to the New York Times, the government spent $22 million during the five years the program officially operated, from 2007-2012. In addition, researchers spoke to military service members who had reported sightings of odd aircraft.
"The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program ended in the 2012 time frame", Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said in an email. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence.
The meeting with Mr. Stevens and Mr. Inouye, Mr. Reid said, "was one of the easiest meetings I ever had".
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One of the sightings investigated had been captured on videotape, released in August, showing a white oval object the size of a commercial plane as it was chased by a pair of Navy fighter jets off of San Diego in 2004, the Times said. In audio and video of the incident, the pilots said, "There's a whole fleet of them". Some footage was collected from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and "showed the aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves", according to the Times.
What is unusual is when members of the military publicly come forward, such as a group of former Air Force officers who in 2010 asserted their belief that UFOs visited the bases they were stationed at and caused nuclear-weapons systems to temporarily malfunction.
The since-resigned Reid expressed he was glad for the program, notwithstanding the reality numerous around the globe see the look for UFOs to be the result of excessively empowered creative energies and scheme scholars.
"I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going", Reid told the newspaper.