Throughout his distinguished government career, Chris Mellon has been keenly focused on the prospect of unconventional national threats. Now he works with a civilian group called To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, trying to prod the U.S. defense and intelligence communities to investigate reports of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs—also known as UFOs) that maneuver in ways that have no known precedent.
He’s inspired, he says, by the growing number of such sightings in sensitive military contexts—reported by highly trained, highly credible witnesses and corroborated by some of the world’s most sophisticated technology, including several infrared videos shot from fighter jets. He doesn’t claim to know what these unusual crafts might be, nor does he assume they bring “aliens” from afar. To him, they signal a potential high-level strategic threat of unknown origin—one the nation would be foolish to ignore.
Mellon is uniquely qualified to assess such threats. Having served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, and later as Minority Staff Director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was heavily responsible for reviewing agencies and budgets involved in top-secret “black programs” related to things such as special operations and nuclear weapons. Mellon is now an integral part of the investigative team featured on HISTORY's “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.” We talked to him about what’s happening—and what he thinks should be done.
Why raise the alarm now about UFOs/AAVs?
What is really motivating me right now, what really has accelerated and solidified my interest, is the  USS Nimitz case—when I learned of that and began to talk to the military personnel involved. We had multiple naval aviators [reporting] what they saw [wingless UFOs, with extraordinary capabilities] in broad daylight, over an extended period of time. It was corroborated by the most sophisticated air-defense sensor systems on earth, and on multiple platforms operated by multiple independent individuals. So when you start talking about that level of evidence, I think any reasonable person would have to say—this is real, and we should proceed accordingly.
Which means what? Intelligence gathering? Risk assessment?
From a national security standpoint of course, you’re paid to be paranoid, to think about risk. So you do inevitably wonder: Why are these things currently in these locations at these times? Have we been technologically leapfrogged? Could it be the Russians or Chinese—or someone else? And what else may be going on?
There are craft that are violating our airspace with unknown intentions and extraordinary capabilities. And until we get some answers to the questions about the technology involved and the capability, the intentions, we shouldn't rest easy.
I have lived through and survived intelligence failures, including the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, and the Iraq war. Some of those problems are manifest in the situation again today. And that's part of what concerns me—people are not paying attention or not engaging, and the data is extremely compelling. We don't want to have to relive mistakes we've seen in the past, like in Pearl Harbor, where radar blips were observed and nobody paid attention.
When the Nimitz pilots got back to the aircraft carrier, no one took their report seriously.
It was extraordinary that when the [Nimitz] pilots landed, that they were ridiculed. There was no interest expressed on the part of the intelligence personnel on board, in terms of documenting this, running this up the chain. It was the inverse of what you would normally expect. We spent $50 billion a year and have an intelligence apparatus, in large part to avert strategic surprise. And here we have a case where incredible technology is manifesting itself, intelligently controlled vehicles operating in and around the carrier battle group—and the system doesn't react. It shuts down. It tries to suppress the information.
Why do you think that is?
I think a large part of the reason is because people have a hard time processing something so radical; there's no frame of reference for it.
There's a great deal of agitation on the part of our combat personnel who are encountering these objects—and understandably so. Their concerns are what we're trying to relay. We respect the uniform, we respect those personnel, and we're deeply concerned that the information they’re trying to provide is not being acted on.
If one of these craft bore a Russian insignia, do you think the response would be different?
One of the things that I've often pointed out—and I've never found anyone who disagreed with this—is that if any one of these objects had a Russian insignia on it, the entire system would be electrified and would spring into action.
Sixty years ago, the public was rightly agitated to learn that the Soviet Union had beaten us to space, had deployed the first man-made satellite in orbit. That capability and the momentum they were achieving with their space program understandably generated a lot of concern here in the context of the Cold War. I would hope that people, when they get this information, would react now as the public did then, which is to raise questions about what we are doing in response to that.
How has that question-raising gone for you inside the Beltway?
When you're talking to people about this issue in the Pentagon, you're going to draw blank stares. Even from very high-ranking officials, very, very few of them have any exposure to the actual underlying information and the empirical data. So there's a propensity for people to say, "Well if this were real, I'd know about it, because I'm well plugged in, I've got all these security clearances, and I get access to all this information."
Well, the fact is, the information has not been disseminated through normal channels.
Didn’t the U.S. government investigate UFOs during the Cold War?
In the 1940s, shortly after the war, the military began to encounter an increasing a number of UFOs, and the number of incidents spiked enormously. They recognized the need to try to understand the phenomenon, which resulted in series of investigations culminating in the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, a program that lasted until the late ’60s.
We know from documents that in New Mexico, the director of Air Force security was advocating a study of the phenomenon, because so many people in and around Los Alamos and other facilities where nuclear weapons were being tested, were observing these [anomalous] crafts: scientists, military pilots, civilian pilots, a wide range of individuals.
Ultimately, the government determined it needed to tamp down the public concern, in part because during the Cold War, this could create some kind of hysteria. The government concluded, behind the scenes, that it needed to discredit this phenomenon—not due to a lack of compelling information. It was actually the result of compelling information. When the Air Force undertook this study, they examined 12,000 cases. Of those, 700 were unexplained.
Could these crafts be…ours?
The first question all of us have asked when we've seen the information is: Could this possibly be one of our own programs, a highly classified U.S. test program?
I served in a capacity in which it was my job to conduct oversight of our black programs, and never saw anything of this kind on the books. Moreover, I was once actually specifically asked to determine whether we had a capability along these lines, in response to a query from the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Bobby Byrd.
I ran that all the way up the flagpole with the Air Force and others, and believe me, everyone respected Senator Byrd. No one was going to lie to him and risk his wrath. And the answer was, “Absolutely not. We don’t have a super-secret black triangle that can go at hypersonic speeds and all that sort of thing.”
Secondly, a technology like this is so radical, it can't just appear out of nowhere. There have to be facilities, there has to have been research and development, a prototype. We don't see any evidence of that anywhere.
Thirdly, these aircraft are being observed operating in and around carrier battle groups that are armed with air-to-air missiles and so forth. We never, to my knowledge, put at risk those personnel—or test personnel—by flying them in an uncoordinated manner against carrier battle groups. That's just not how we operate.
Talk about To the Stars Academy, where you work with Tom DeLonge and Luis Elizondo. What’s the mission?
They are not necessarily asserting that these are alien craft or anything of that kind. They are people like me who see this as an incredible mystery and enigma that that needs to be resolved.
We’re helping to change the climate, I think, and establish that there are reasonable level-headed, patriotic people who are willing to speak about this.
READ MORE: UFO Stories
What role do you play?
My goal, personally, in my role within the organization, is to help break down the bureaucratic walls that are preventing this information from reaching Congress and the American people. I'm not trying to drive any particular agenda. I want to ensure, if possible, that people who have responsibility for national security are informed and have the facts and the data.
Is anyone else exploring these questions?
One of the things that's really exciting to me is that we are one of only three efforts in the world that are [currently] in a position to potentially answer the profound, timeless question “Are we alone in the universe?”
Today, NASA is spending about $20 billion a year. A small portion of that is directed toward trying to uncover, identify exobiology—alien life. They're looking for microbial life on Mars, and they want to use the next generation of space telescopes to examine the atmospheres of different planets for molecules that would be consistent with life. Not necessarily intelligent life, just some kind of life. So that's a very slow-moving, wonderful program—exquisite science, but not likely to answer the question anytime soon.
There's a Russian billionaire who has self-funded a program listening for signals from space that might reveal alien communications. It's a very worthwhile effort. But so far they've had no success. We probably don't even know what to look for. We probably wouldn't recognize the signals. So it's a difficult proposition.
The third effort, that we're associated with, is trying to convince our government to use the capabilities it already has to understand the UFO phenomenon. And if we find out it's the Russians or Chinese or others, then we've done a great thing for the country and for national security.
What are those capabilities? What are you suggesting?
The U.S. government has an extraordinary network of sensors—from geosynchronous orbit 22,500 miles away to the depths of the ocean—and many places in between. And that fairly exquisitely sophisticated and calibrated sensor network is acquiring data that could help answer these questions that no one is even bothering to look at.
We've already paid for it. It’s just sitting there at a computer and no one is even interested enough to say, “Gee, during that period when this carrier battle group was engaging these unknown vehicles in the Pacific… What other signatures are we seeing in that area?” Nobody's analyzing it, no one's pulling it together.
So the first step is to convince the Congress, the executive branch, to simply use the apparatus the taxpayer has already bought and paid for to try to answer the question.