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Reviewing “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation”

The much anticipated six-part series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation” airs on History Channel on May 31st. A joint venture between A&E and UFO mogul Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars, the show promises to blow the doors wide open on the government’s recent examination of the UFO phenomenon. Having the opportunity to see the first episode early, I was also able to sit down with Anthony Lappé‏, the program’s showrunner and executive producer, to talk about some of the ‘behind the scenes’ moments which led to the creation of this project. Please note that this review DOES contain ‘Spoilers.’

The show opens with the audience meeting a former Pentagon staffer and intelligence agent, Luis Elizondo, who left his position in US intelligence to pursue the UFO enigma full time. We learn more about some of his background, as well as the now famous Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP. We also learn about “the team,” the small collection of experts put together by Tom DeLonge and To the Stars Academy. This group is comprised of Steve Justice, Chris Mellon, and Hal Puthoff. Leading this band is Luis Elizondo and DeLonge himself.

Lappé‏ explained that this team is what really makes the show compelling. He stated,

“What we really try to do with this show was to turn the UFO genre on its head. We almost never say the word ‘alien’ in in the show. We’re really just trying to look at it from a really hard journalistic point of view…And that’s one of the key things that we really try to understand, and that is what’s so fascinating. We have these guys who are from the inside, helping us, guiding us, and introducing us to more people on the inside. I think people, when they see the series, are really going to have a much better understanding of what’s going on inside the military and our government. It’s very complicated. I’ve reported on the military intelligence world many times before, and what people don’t realize is there is no such thing as the US government. There are seventeen intelligence agencies. Everyone has different agendas and information, and especially information like this, it is highly siloed…”

Tom DeLonge (image: courtesy A&E/Andrew Cagle)

The episode provides a brief explanation of how DeLonge began contacting these individuals but does not go into much detail as to how some of these connections were made. After leaving Blink 182, DeLonge plunges himself into the UFO world full time and begins to form bonds with some very important people. We are left to wonder how he did it, but as George Knapp states in the episode, “he used shoe leather,” made phone calls and knocked on doors. A little awkwardly, the episode poses the question as to whether DeLonge is a pawn in a bigger government intelligence game, and Knapp states that he is not. That entire conversation felt a little forced, but it clearly is meant to address some of DeLonge’s critics and their belief that the musician is another Paul Bennewitz. The episode touches upon the Wikileaks hack where DeLonge’s e-mails to former White House staffer John Podesta became public, Chris Mellon’s work as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, a little about Area 51 and Politico’s Bryan Bender just generally being a cool guy with whom I would like to go for beers with. Maybe he can come to my next UFO-themed viewing party? Open invitation Bryan.

The bulk of the episode, however, deals with the recounting of a specific UFO event, known as the 2004 Nimitz Tic-Tac incident. Luis Elizondo travels to meet with two key witnesses regarding the encounter, retired Navy pilot Commander David Fravor and the (kinda) anonymous female pilot who was Fravor’s wingman during the incident. I won’t go over all the details of the event, and you can read more about it here, but in November of 2004, the USS Nimitz battle group encountered a series of strange unidentified flying objects that resembled forty-foot Tic-Tacs. It is undoubtedly one of the most interesting modern UFO cases to grace the discourse, and the source of the “Flir Video” which was taken by one of the F-18 Super Hornets in the air that day, and features an odd object accelerating quickly off to the left. A retired Top Gun pilot and aviation expert, as well as a retired commercial pilot with 35 years’ experience,  turned consultant assess the footage in the episode. Only a week ago, new claims have surfaced full length uncut and higher quality versions of the videos featured in the episode, the “Flir Video” included, not only exist but are in the possession of private citizens.

USS Nimitz

Lappé expressed that the show has a clear objective,

“There is no doubt that this is a real phenomenon. What is it? That is still a gigantic question mark. But I think you won’t be able to watch this series of six episodes and walk away saying this is some weather phenomenon or even an American military test. I think we really put that to bed…”

I asked Lappé about how his personal opinion of the UFO phenomenon has changed as a result of producing this program. He explained,

“It’s definitely changed my life. This is a topic that I had a sort of a mild curiosity about especially when the New York Times article came out…but I never really had any direct evidence to make me believe…but this process of working on it, and it really has less to do with Luis Elizondo and Chris Mellon than it has to do with people like that female wingman pilot…and other pilots that we met. I mean, when you’re sitting in a room with these people who are so credible and have dedicated their lives to serving their country and keeping us safe. And they’re freaked out by it. You can’t help but get freaked out. It definitely changed my life. It really opened my eyes to what’s going on. On a personal level, I had nightmares in the first few months of working on this and meeting these pilots.”

Compared to other UFO documentary programs, this show is definitely one of the better ones. It does not go into the dark and nebulous ideological pit of extraterrestrials or interdimensional beings, at least in the first episode. It spends its time primarily on the cases themselves and doesn’t rely on the alien trope. While hardcore UFO researchers will find nothing startling or new in the first episode, members of the general public will find it quite compelling. We can only hope that this show will provide some more content that has never been seen before by both the public and the UFO research community. With that being said, I know I plan to keep watching.

Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation airs on May 31st on History Channel.