84°F
weather icon Clear

No secret government UFO program would be complete without Nevada ties

Updated December 22, 2017 - 6:21 pm

A secret government program that investigated UFO sightings, stored objects of unknown origin in a Las Vegas warehouse and survived for at least five years with shadowy funding secured by Harry Reid?

Sounds about right to Dennis McBride.

The Nevada historian and author could only shrug when he read the New York Times’ bizarre Dec. 16 account of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a mysterious Defense Department initiative to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects.

“I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised at all,” said McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas. “I’m sure that there’s all sorts of things going on we don’t know about because they are secret. Why not Harry Reid?”

Bigelow’s involvement

According to the Times, Pentagon officials recently acknowledged the existence of the UFO program, claiming it began in 2007 as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency and ended after five years. But the military intelligence official who ran it said the work continued after funding from Congress dried up in 2012.

The Times’ investigation unearthed contracts showing the program received $22 million in federal funding between 2008 and 2011. The money went to Bigelow Aerospace, the North Las Vegas-based company founded in 1999 by Robert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain and one of Reid’s longtime friends and campaign contributors.

Bigelow’s company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials reportedly recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena, the Times said.

Bigelow’s fascination with outer space and the paranormal is well-documented. In 1997, he gave UNLV $3.7 million to establish the Bigelow Chair of Consciousness Studies, which featured course work in metaphysics, near-death experiences and extrasensory perception.

His aerospace firm is now testing an inflatable space capsule attached to the International Space Station under a contract with NASA.

Reid declined an interview request from the Review-Journal, but he told the Times he was proud of his role in starting the program and funding it with earmarks tucked away in the Pentagon budget for classified programs. He said the idea of investigating UFOs was suggested to him by astronaut and fellow Senator John Glenn, and the initiative was supported in the Senate by Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

Bigelow wasn’t interested in talking to the Review-Journal either.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, he said he was in a meeting and couldn’t talk. He said he would also be in meetings later that day and all of the next day. Then he asked, “How did you get this number?”

Nevada connections

McBride said Nevada has a rich history of both secret government projects and UFO lore. In some cases, those two things are almost certainly connected.

He said parts of Central and Southern Nevada saw a spike in UFO reports in the 1950s and again in the late ’60s and early ’70s that coincided with classified aircraft testing at the Nevada Test Site and its famously secretive Area 51. Between 1952 and 1968, the Review-Journal published at least 29 stories about UFO sightings in the area.

McBride said he started collecting comics about aliens and flying saucers when he was a kid, and he has been collecting newspaper reports and other accounts of UFO encounters ever since. His files include tales of strange lights and objects in the skies over Boulder City, Black Mountain in Henderson and Moapa Valley. The oldest sighting dates back to the early 1930s, during the construction of Hoover Dam.

McBride said tiny Nelson, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, seems to be a hotbed for sightings for some reason.

He also recalls a string of cattle mutilations around Blue Diamond and Pahrump in the 1970s that some people tried to blame on space invaders.

Some Southern Nevada business owners and boosters have embraced the state’s out-of-this-world reputation.

State Route 375, which winds past the entrance road for Area 51, is officially known as the Extraterrestrial Highway. Las Vegas’ minor league baseball team, the 51s, has Cosmo the alien as its mascot.

In Rachel, the Lincoln County town closest to Area 51, the Little A’Le’Inn lures customers with alien-themed food, drinks and souvenirs. In Amargosa Valley, on the other side of the test site, a legal brothel called the Alien Cathouse lures customers with … er … something else.

“I don’t see anything wrong with exploiting it for a few tourist dollars,” McBride said.

A buff and believer

McBride is more than just a UFO historian. He’s a true believer.

He said his close encounter came during a trip to Botswana in 2014, when he watched in amazement as a lighted rectangle rose from a roadless patch of jungle, made a sharp diagonal turn and shot straight up into the sky at impossible speed.

But even if he hadn’t seen what he saw, McBride would still be a UFO buff. “It’s intriguing and fun to talk about,” he said.

He just wishes the government felt the same. “I don’t understand the secrecy,” McBride said.

That’s why he was pleased to see the curtain raised on Reid, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program and the government’s effort to investigate the unexplained.

“It’s good to see something positive done with our tax dollars,” McBride said.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
'Evangelicals for Trump' event draws hundreds to Las Vegas hotel - VIDEO
Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters packed the Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas for a faith-based campaign event. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak names new DETR director, head of unemployment task force - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak named Elisa Cafferata acting director of Nevada’s Department of Training, Employment and Rehabilitation and announced Barbara Buckley as the leader of a rapid response team on unemployment insurance at a press briefing Thursday afternoon. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak unveils long-term COVID-19 plan with Nevada Health Response team - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Monday a long-term strategy for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Nevada through a targeted approach. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak: Bars in four counties to stay closed - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said bars in four counties, including Clark County, will remain closed to help fight COVID-19. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
COVID-19 case reported at Legislature's special session - Video
A person who was inside the Nevada Legislature Building has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes said Friday, July 10. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump Pushing for Reopening Schools and In-Person Learning - Video
Donald Trump launched an effort on Wednesday to reopen schools across the United States with in-person learning.
Special session to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lawmakers to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Democratic leaders resign
Several key Clark County Democratic Party leaders have resigned as progressive leadership has swelled in recent months.
Dream Big Nevada celebrates DACA ruling - VIDEO
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections under DACA for 650,000 young immigrants. Astrid Silva, founder of Dream Big Nevada, discusses the temporary victory and the next step for Dreamers.
Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of city council meeting - Video
Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of a City Council meeting during public comments.
Mitt Romney marches in Washington, D.C., protest - Video
On Sunday, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah joined a group of protesters marching through Washington, D.C. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Trump briefly leaves news conference after shooting outside White House

President Donald Trump was abruptly escorted by a U.S. Secret Service agent out of the White House briefing room as he was beginning a coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon.