About six months ago, our board at UFODATA was privileged to welcome Christopher Mellon as the newest member of our team. Chris spent nearly 20 years in the federal government serving in various national security positions. For the first time, he has agreed to speak publicly about his experiences within government as they relate to UFOs.
It is unusual for a man of Chris's stature to speak openly about UFOs, which gives his statements great weight. His positions during the Clinton and Bush administrations involved high clearances; in fact, there are few people who have enjoyed such deep and wide-ranging access to compartmented programs in both the Defense Department (DoD) and the intelligence community. Chris is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Reconnaissance Office Gold Medal and the Defense Intelligence Agency Director's Medal.
At DoD, Chris served on a small committee that provided oversight of all DoD special access programs, in order to eliminate potential waste and duplication. The oversight included visits to Area 51 and other sensitive facilities. He also spent over a decade on the Senate Intelligence Committee, involved in oversight of NRO, CIA, NSA and other intelligence organizations. He became the first Congressional official to review all of the NSA's compartmented programs.
I wanted to know what Chris had to say about Hillary Clinton's implications that the government may be withholding classified UFO documents. Backed by John Podesta, chairman of her campaign, Clinton has been speaking about the need to "get to the bottom of the UFO mystery." Her comments are unprecedented within a presidential campaign.
Here is my recent conversation with Chris Mellon, mainly conducted via email, edited only for clarity.
Q: When did you first become interested in UFOs?
A: I was about seven years old when I saw an old-fashioned amateur movie taken by a friend of our school principal. It showed a huge, golden disc-shaped object serenely moving through sunny, blue skies, passing through cumulous clouds in a manner that would be very hard to fake. I have no idea what became of the movie, but it filled me with wonder and awe. I read everything I could get my hands on afterwards and eventually did a research project on UFOs in college for a physics professor. I remain deeply intrigued.
Q: Did your colleagues in government know you were interested in UFOs? Were you afraid of being ridiculed?
A: It was something I didn't reveal to colleagues unless I got to know them well and we became personal friends. Even then of course I wasn't a nut about it and I certainly was not obsessed; it was simply a subject of great curiosity. It did not come up often. I was focused like a laser on my duties 99.9 percent of the time.
Q: Hillary Clinton has been asked about UFOs during her campaign. As the former Secretary of State, would she be likely to know if there were any classified government programs involving UFOs?
A: No, I don't think so. I recall instances when White House officials sought briefings on highly compartmented DoD programs and were flatly refused. Access to such programs is on a need to know basis. In general, nobody outside DoD, including the Secretary of State, is deemed to have a need to know. Officials like John Podesta and Secretary Clinton can easily serve for years in senior positions and be avid consumers of classified intelligence analysis but never obtain access to DoD's compartmented programs, which mostly relate to new weapons systems. Information about such programs rarely leaks because it doesn't circulate, unlike the constant stream of leaked information regarding classified intelligence activities.
Chris (right) with former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen in 1995. Note the inscription: "The Other Man who kept all the secrets." Chris drafted the bill for Cohen that established the US Special Operations Command.
photo © Chris Mellon
Q: Do you think that if Clinton is elected we can expect to learn new information about UFOs?
A: I highly doubt DoD or any other government agency is concealing UFO information. I participated in a comprehensive review of DoD's black programs and spent over a decade conducting oversight of the national foreign intelligence program, an almost totally separate world of secrets. I visited Area 51 and other military, intelligence and research facilities. During all those years, I never detected the faintest hint of government interest or involvement in UFOs.
Q: Clinton and John Podesta have been focusing on the need for de-classifying government documents. What do you think about that?
A: While a few new, previously overlooked documents might turn up (the bureaucracy is never perfect), I do not believe they would resolve the UFO issue or provide significant new insights. I can think of one lengthy UFO report that is classified only due to concerns over sources and methods. In fact, it identified a convincing conventional explanation for the pilot sightings in this particular case. There are lots of classified documents related to activities at Area 51, where high security is needed. But this is all legitimate stuff the American people would support. They have nothing to do with UFOs, to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Do you recall any incidents involving UFOs while you were in government?
A: Yes, there were a handful of incidents. Knowing of my interest in UFOs, a breathless naval aviator called me one day to report that he was present minutes earlier when a Navy jet landed after being circled by a UFO in broad daylight. The Navy did not pursue the issue as far as I could tell. I also recall the Maui Optical Tracking Facility, which tracks satellites, recording a flight of four or five fiery UFOs traversing the night sky. Nobody knew what to make of it. But no government official expressed the slightest interest even after the tape was featured on ABC's Nightline. I found the utter lack of scientific curiosity due to political correctness highly frustrating.
Q: How do you think the press and public will react if Clinton is elected, makes the inquiries she promised, but comes up empty-handed?
A: I think the conspiracy theorists will be angry and unconvinced, while the general public may conclude UFOs are not a worthwhile topic. If Clinton really wants to get to the bottom of the UFO issue, I think she should officially task NORAD with collection and analysis responsibility. Simultaneously, she should assign the Office of Science and Technology Policy the job of reviewing available evidence, coordinating with other countries and providing scientific assessments and recommendations.
Q: The taboo against taking UFOs seriously is a huge problem. How can we get more government officials to change this ingrained attitude?
A: I think we have to ask ourselves a key question, and then bring it forward. "Are there UFO cases that are sufficiently well-documented to warrant a scientific investigation of the phenomenon?" In my view, the answer is yes.
The patterns in the data are too strong; the reports from credible witnesses separated widely by time and place too similar; the evidence from videos and trained military and law enforcement observers too extensive; and the independent radar data in select cases correlates too highly with visual observations to safely ignore. Finally, when someone you trust and respect, like a naval aviator, looks you in the eye and tells you he saw something truly extraordinary at close range, it's hard not to take his testimony seriously. It is arrogant, unreasonable and unwise to dismiss such reports. We should simply and impartially follow the trail wherever it leads.
Q: Which credible UFO incidents have you found particularly impressive and convincing?
A: A few stand out in my mind. In November 1989, 13 police officers and hundreds of other witnesses saw two silent triangular craft gliding over Belgium. This was the beginning of a wave of sightings there lasting well over a year. Ground and air radar data were acquired as well. The Belgian Air Force investigated the events in cooperation with a team of scientists and consulted with the U.S. and NATO countries, but could not find a conventional explanation.
On the night of March 30, 1993, over a hundred witnesses in England, including police officers and military personnel, saw a triangular-shaped craft able to rapidly accelerate in seconds from a hovering position. The British Ministry of Defense stated that "none of the usual explanations put forward to explain UFO sightings seem applicable" and concluded that the evidence showed that "an unidentified object (or objects) of unknown origin was operating over the UK."
Similarly, multiple police officers in Southern Illinois saw an object in January 2000 that looked and behaved very similarly to the Belgian and British UFOs. In fact, the Illinois police officers' drawings of the craft are uncannily similar to the depictions of triangular craft produced by Belgian law enforcement officers a decade earlier, as well as many others since.
In 2006, pilots and airport personnel witnessed a disc-shaped object hovering over O'Hare airport for over five minutes, yet no government investigation was undertaken.
And, while most sightings have conventional explanations, I think it is stunning how many reports come in regularly to groups like MUFON, with impressive detail, including photos or videos. I often hear from skeptics, "If UFOs are out there how come nobody ever gets a video with all the smartphones around?" That is ignorant, it happens all the time!
Q: Some people believe the more recent sightings in cases such as those you mentioned may simply be US government tests of experimental aircraft. Is that possible?
A: I can understand why this may seem the most plausible explanation. But I can assure you, those objects did not belong to US Department of Defense. Just before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I was contacted by the DoD Office of Congressional Affairs. They were in a tizzy because Robert Byrd, the powerful Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was challenging them over reports appearing in magazines such as Aviation Week and Space Technology describing an alleged super-secret US aircraft program dubbed "Aurora."
Senator Byrd would use his budget power to punish the department severely if we lied to him or withheld information. We pursued all possible options, double-checking with the appropriate officials while reminding them of the imperative of providing an accurate response. We quickly confirmed what we already knew - that while there are always things on the drawing board, there was nothing remotely resembling such aircraft being operated by the department. We had nothing with the capacity to hover and then silently accelerate at massive speeds.
Also, it is totally uncharacteristic of the US military to conduct experimental tests of new vehicles over populated areas where security would be compromised and innocent civilians placed in harms way. That's completely contrary to military DNA. Alien visitation is actually easier to believe than that level of stupidity being exhibited by the brilliant people developing new aircraft technologies for DoD.
Q: Are you certain there is no government cover-up?
A: It's impossible to prove the negative, so all I can say is that I never saw any evidence of official interest in UFOs. I'd love to believe we have a crashed saucer somewhere, but I've never seen anything remotely supportive of such incredible claims. In my experience, on those rare occasions when UFO incidents involving the government occur, they are highly inconvenient, awkward and embarrassing for the afflicted government officials who want nothing more than to put the issue behind them as quickly as possible! The military seems generally unwilling to investigate even when UFO reports come from our own military pilots or officials in high office such as Fife Symington, the former governor of Arizona. Senior officials are so fearful of being ridiculed that they conceal any expression of interest or curiosity.
Q: Some inside sources have proposed that retrieved hardware from a UFO may exist within a private aerospace company which has become independent from the DoD. In this way, it would be exempt from government oversight and known only to a few people. Do you think this is possible?
A: I find it hard to imagine something as explosive as recovered alien technology remaining under wraps for decades. So while I have no reason to believe there is any recovered alien technology, I will say this: If it were me, and I were trying to bury it deep, I'd take it outside government oversight entirely and place it in a compartment as a new entity within an existing defense company and manage it as what we call an "IRAD" or "Independent Research and Development Activity."
Q: So where does this all leave us, and what is to be done?
A: In my view, calling for the end to an alleged government UFO cover-up is almost certainly a dead end, and does not help inspire anyone in government to become more open to the topic. The UFO mystery is a scientific problem. A true scientist seeks and follows the data no matter how politically incorrect the facts may be. The greatest scientific breakthroughs occur when we verify information that challenges conventional wisdom. That's why I joined the board of UFODATA.
Q: I'm so glad you did. What kinds of new data are you hoping we will collect?
A: Our team of scientists and engineers are designing and will build a large network of automated surveillance stations with sophisticated sensors to capture a wide range of data. The stations will house cameras to record both an image and spectra, a magnetometer, instrumentation to detect radiation, a gravimeter, and more. They will be mobile so that we can readily deploy them to areas that become hotspots of UFO activity. We can then make the data available to the scientific community for analysis.
Q: Do you think UFOs could be visitors from civilizations elsewhere?
A: I'm certainly intrigued by the possibility. But I don't think we will find out without a deeper scientific inquiry. I would like to invite the public to participate and support this lean but potentially groundbreaking effort, staffed by volunteers. UFODATA's findings, one way or another, can help us to resolve this perennial mystery and perhaps even help us to better understand the universe and mankind's place within it.