Research within the program, which was initially launched at the behest of Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader in 2007, was carried out by private contractor Bigelow Aerospace, a company owned by Reid's close friend and firm believer in extraterrestrial life, billionaire Robert Bigelow.
"I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going", Mr. Reid said in an interview with the New York Times who first reported the story. "I think it's one of the good things I did in my congressional service".
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The program's backers said that the program still exists without funding and continues to investigate "episodes" brought forth by service members while carrying out other tasks in the Defense Department, The Times reported.
The videos, all taken from cockpit cameras, show pilots struggling to lock their radars on oval-shaped vessels that, on screen, look vaguely like giant flying Tic Tacs.
Reid, who retired from Congress this year, told the Times he was proud of the program.
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"I left to find an environment where investigating these phenomena is priority number one", he said. The Defense Department has never acknowledged the existence of the program before, but now says it shut down in 2012. He said he was quitting in protest of internal opposition to the program as well as the dwindling attention that was paid to their findings.
UFOs have piqued U.S.' military's curiosity for several decades now. It is a rare instance of ongoing government investigations into a UFO phenomenon that was the subject of multiple official inquiries in the 1950s and 1960s. The project, code-named Project Blue Book, concluded that most sightings involved stars, clouds, conventional aircraft or spy planes, although 701 remained unexplained. "They are happy to lurk unrecognized in the noise, or even to stir it up as camouflage". On Saturday, Reid renewed his call for the USA to fund UFO research in a tweet that linked to the Times' report and borrowed "The X-Files" tagline that "the truth is out there".
However, some documents procured by the New York Times revealed that a large portion of the contracts for the program went to a billionaire entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, a close friend of the program's chieftain Reid, who is now working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space. Bigelow has famously stated in the past that aliens exist and that UFOs have visited Earth.
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Referring to the Pentagon budget for classified programs, "This was so-called black money", he said. "But that was it, and that's how we wanted it".