The UFO Information Operation
On December 16, 2017, the New York Times published an article by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal, and Leslie Kean, titled “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program.” The article described a Department of Defense (“DoD”) program sponsored by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program” (“AATIP”), purportedly created to investigate military encounters with unidentified flying objects (“UFOs”). The article made available three videos filmed by US Navy fighter pilots of “unidentified” aerial phenomena that the DoD has twice since characterized as authentic.
According to the article, in 2008 a US Army counterintelligence officer named Louis “Lue” Elizondo was allegedly “asked to be part of [AATIP],” and assist in conducting “a scientific-based intelligence investigation of incursions by [UFOs] into U.S. airspace.” Two years later, in 2010, Elizondo “assumed the lead role for this endeavor” as a Staff member of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Elizondo eventually resigned his position with AATIP and the DoD in October 2017, citing his frustration with “bureaucratic silos and stovepipes hindering the conversation about this important topic.”
The 2017 DoD Release of the Three UFO Videos to the New York Times
Weeks before he resigned at DoD, in August 2017, Elizondo made a formal request that DoD publicly release the three videos filmed by the gun-cameras of the US Navy pilots that were eventually published by the New York Times. Consistent with DoD policy, Elizondo requested publication of the videos and submitted the required DD Form 1910s to the Defense Office of Publication and Security Review (“DOPSR”).
The three DD Form 1910s submitted were unsigned by Elizondo. They were also unsigned by the designated Service-level Original Classification Authority — the only individual(s) permitted to authorize declassification or public release. For reasons that remain unclear, the absence of signatures on Elizondo’s DD Form 1910s were not problematic and DOPSR authorized release of the videos a few days later. A subsequent DoD investigation into the release of the videos whitewashed DOPSR’s publication approval, finding that “the videos were not classified.”
Contrary to the lawful release of the three videos, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, Christopher Mellon, stated in an interview for the documentary film The Phenomenon that he was responsible for releasing the three UFO videos to the New York Times and that his receipt of those videos violated DoD policy.
The film’s director, James Fox, who interviewed Mellon in the documentary, was apparently misinformed that a retired DoD official (Mellon) secured release of the videos, not an active official in the Pentagon (Elizondo). In the film, Fox asked Mellon how he was able to get the Pentagon to approve public release of the videos. In a melodramatic accounting reminiscent of Watergate fame, Mellon stated:
I received the videos, the now-famous videos, in the Pentagon parking lot, from a Pentagon official, I still have the original packaging. This is a case where somebody bent the rules a little bit, and they did so for the larger good, and we’re absolutely all better off because of it.
Mellon has made other public statements that appear contrary to available evidence. On April 29, 2019, Mellon wrote a letter to Las Vegas reporter and UFO enthusiast George Knapp in which he claimed to have arranged Congressional briefings on military encounters with UFOs, including “making introductions” between members of Congress and Navy pilot UFO witnesses.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) show Mellon’s account about these Congressional briefings to be false. Released emails show that it was the US Navy that facilitated UFO-related briefings to Congress. Four days before Mellon wrote Knapp his letter, the spokesperson for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, issued a statement to reporters explaining that, in response to requests from Congressional members and staff, the Navy coordinated briefings with aviators who reported unidentified aerial hazards to safety.
Mellon was spreading misinformation when he took credit for the circumstances surrounding the release of the three videos and his purported arrangement of Congressional UFO briefings. Each account is directly contradicted by the documentary evidence which, instead, proves the DoD was responsible for both. These false claims share an obvious common design which is to draw attention away from the DoD as the instigator of these UFO-related news events. All of this is to suggest that Mellon, given his direct background in information operations, as described in more detail below, is acting as a misinformation agent.
Connections between To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science and the US Government
The December 2017 New York Times article disclosed that Mellon and Elizondo would be joining a “new commercial venture” called To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, Inc., (“TTSA”) — a public benefit corporation formed in 2017.
Publicly available evidence suggests TTSA is a commercial cover organization for an agency of the US government and that it was formed to carry out an unlawful influence operation against US audiences related to UFOs.[i]
Two of TTSA’s founders, Jim Semivan and Hal Puthoff, spent decades in the CIA and NSA. Semivan and Puthoff were able to disguise TTSA’s potential government-sponsored financing by forming the company through a series of complex stock transactions between six shell entities owned by rock musician Tom DeLonge — a “useful idiot” who has served as the company’s “interim” CEO since the company was created.
Once TTSA was formed, no fewer than nine former officials of the US defense and intelligence community were installed as members of the Board of Directors and the company’s “Advisory Board.” Many of these individuals spent their careers in government as experts in psychological warfare and counterintelligence operations.
TTSA made repeated statements advertising itself as an ambitious aerospace company going so far as to hire a former Lockheed Martin executive. SEC filings show, however, that TTSA never invested in any product, service, or technology of any kind. Instead, the company’s only reported source of revenue involves marketing, promoting, and advertising Tom DeLonge’s music, novels, and band: Angels and Airwaves.
(1) Installation of 11 former DoD counterintelligence and information operation specialists into TTSA leadership
TTSA’s installation of former-US defense and intelligence officials atop the company’s hierarchy is a strong indication that TTSA is being directed by an agency of the US government.
One of TTSA’s founders, James Semivan, spent decades working in the Operations Directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) where he worked in foreign embassies with the US Department of State, under non-official cover. Another company founder, Dr. Hal Puthoff, previously worked as a research scientist at the National Security Agency (“NSA”). Email correspondence shows several years before founding TTSA, Puthoff directly participated in a scheme to spread disinformation about UFOs, including disseminating a fraudulent photograph that purported to be of an extraterrestrial being.
The links to US government agencies do not end with the founders. Nearly every director and Advisory Board member of TTSA are former senior officials from the US defense and intelligence communities. These individuals include a former Counterintelligence Special Agent with the US Army’s Special Activities Program, the former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (“USD(I&S)”), a former Operations Officer at CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the former Director of the Intelligence Community Counter-Biological Weapons Program at CIA, a laser physics specialist previously employed by NSA, and the former White House Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Information Technology. In total, TTSA installed 11 former-US defense, intelligence, and private defense contractors to its Board of Directors and Advisory Board.
Two of these officials: Lue Elizondo and Chris Mellon specialized in overseeing and carrying out counterintelligence and psychological warfare operations during their government service; experience well-suited to carry out a domestic information operation.
Former-TTSA Chief of Security and Special Programs, Lue Elizondo, previously served as a “Special Access Program Control Officer,” within the US Army’s “Information Operations and Special Activities Division (‘IOSAD’).” IOSAD “is responsible for the development and integration of all information operations concepts and capabilities into theater plans and operations for deliberate and crisis planning.” Elizondo has repeatedly claimed that he no longer works or speaks for the US government. These assertions, however, were directly contradicted in an interview Elizondo gave on May 28, 2021, in which he admitted his status as a “government contractor.”
Expertise in military information operations was also brought to TTSA through the addition of Christopher Mellon to the company’s Advisory Board. Mellon previously served as the USD(I&S) within the Office of the Secretary of Defense where he oversaw the DoD’s entire “military deception” and “operations security” portfolio.[ii]
(2) TTSA used shell companies to conceal the identity of its investors.
TTSA was formed through a complex sequence of stock transactions between at least six shell companies owned or controlled by Tom DeLonge. Many of these businesses share the same managers, directors, addresses, and registered agents. TTSA’s willing acceptance of seed capital from these shell entities suggests a prearranged and deliberate effort to disguise the source of TTSA’s financing.
Review of TTSA’s financial statements from 2016 to 2019, reveals that 44% of its “financing activity cash flow” ($2,158,463) was received from shell companies. Between 2017 and 2019, TTSA received $787,285 from unidentified lenders in agreements that the company failed to disclose in its filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). On July 20, 2020, the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance formerly requested by letter that the company disclose these lender agreements. To date, TTSA remains non-compliant with the SEC’s request.
Bringing additional suspicion to whether TTSA is a legitimate operation, are transactions identified in TTSA’s financial disclosure statements that lack any clear business purpose. For instance, on March 31, 2019, a DeLonge-owned shell company: Our Two Dogs, Inc., cancelled and forgave a $688,120 loan it made to TTSA. DeLonge’s company had not collected a single payment on the loan when it forgave TTSA’s entire obligation to repay both the principal and the interest.
(3) Tom DeLonge and other TTSA-affiliated directors misrepresented the purpose and nature of TTSA’s business.
In a press release announcing its founding, TTSA described itself as a “consortium of scientists, aerospace engineers, and creatives working collaboratively to…explore exotic science and technologies” and to “rapidly transition innovative ideas into world-changing products and services.” The release included concept art for an “Advanced Electromagnetic Vehicle” — a TTSA planned project to build an “international point-to-point transportation craft that could dramatically reduce the current travel limits of space and time.”
These claims notwithstanding, TTSA has never invested in the planning or development of the “Advanced Electromagnetic Vehicle” or any such similar craft or technology. In fact, TTSA has never introduced a single product or service from its aerospace or science divisions and no revenue has ever been reported in SEC filings from either division. Ultimately, in 2020, citing the need to pivot to entertainment, TTSA announced it was eliminating the aerospace and science divisions altogether.
TTSA’s only legitimate business is the marketing, promotion, and advertisement of DeLonge’s music and other intellectual property via the company’s entertainment division. Since 2011, TTSA’s entertainment division — the only part of the company to report any revenue — has been licensing non-exclusive use of DeLonge’s name, likeness, trademarks, copyrights, and master recordings.
The licensing agreement between TTSA and DeLonge makes TTSA financially responsible for day-to-day business affairs, including covering “all costs and expenses incurred” in the promotion of DeLonge’s novels, publications, apparel, merchandise, and music. TTSA also pays DeLonge royalties on all gross sales of his publications, novels, graphic novels, similar printed and digital works, apparel, merchandise, and music (including vinyl, CD, and digital). TTSA is even responsible for costs associated with managing DeLonge’s social media accounts. TTSA’s licensing arrangement with DeLonge was recently renewed and is set to continue until at least 2026.
A DoD-sponsored information operation against American civilians is far from unprecedented. A Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation found that the DoD carried out a years’ long campaign beginning in 2002 that co-opted retired generals who appeared on television as “military analysts.” In exchange for lucrative access to DoD contracts these retired generals repeated DoD-provided talking points to make the case for troop surges in Iraq on cable news. In 2011, it was revealed that the US Army unlawfully tasked a team of psychological operation specialists to influence US senators to provide more troops during their factfinding visit to Afghanistan.
For decades defense and intelligence agencies have taken a furtive but well-established interest in feeding disinformation to prominent members of “the UFO community.” These include influence operations against Robert Emmenegger in 1973, Ward Kimball in 1979, Paul Bennewitz in the 1980s, Linda Howe in 1983, Dan Smith in 1991, Robert Bigelow and Gary Bekkum in the 1990s, and Ryan Dube and Brendon Burton in 2006. These individuals received fake UFO “briefing books,” and “government documents” delivered in unmarked envelopes containing misinformation about an extraterrestrial presence on Earth. These individuals were selected because defense and intelligence agencies believed they would best propagate misinformation widely among other UFO enthusiasts.
Today, social media has supercharged the tools and techniques of state-sponsored government misinformation campaigns. And there are more national security officials talking about UFOs now than at any other point in American history. These include two former presidents, two former CIA directors, the former and current Directors of National Intelligence, the director of NASA, and the former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security. Each of these officials’ public statements reflect the same scripted bafflement about UFOs origins while maintaining a healthy distance from outright characterizing their source as extraterrestrial.
As I have attempted to outline here, there is substantial evidence today’s UFO mania is the result of a coordinated defense or intelligence influence operation. FOIA released documents prove that the DoD authorized dissemination of the three UFOs to the New York Times via “former” officials Elizondo and Mellon. And public evidence shows Mellon deliberately misinformed the public about the DoD’s role in approving release of those videos. Perhaps most alarmingly, SEC filings indicate an agency of the US government appears to have financed a covert commercial enterprise to conceal its involvement in the overall operation.
For good reason, laws prohibit DoD and the intelligence community from using information warfare capabilities against US persons and organizations. Yet, sobering documentary evidence suggests the government may be in flagrant violation of those legal guardrails.
[i] Information operations refers to “the coordinated, integrated, and synchronized application of national diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and other capabilities in peacetime, crisis, conflict, and post-conflict to foster attitudes, behaviors, or decisions by…target audiences that further U.S. interests and objectives.” GAO-21–525T, Accessible Version, INFORMATION ENVIRONMENT: DOD Operations Need Enhanced Leadership and Integration of Capabilities