The former Blink-182 guitarist opens up about his new History Channel docuseries Unidentified, which explores unexplained aerial phenomena alongside former members of the CIA and Department of Defense

By Jordan Runtagh
May 31, 2019 06:30 PM
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It’s tough to say which is the most mind-melting aspect of Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, the new series that premieres Friday on the History Channel. Is it watching former high-ranking military and intelligence officials speak on the record about strange aerial phenomena they claim to have witnessed? Getting warm. Is it the recently declassified government footage, taken from F-18 fighter jets, depicting bizarre unknown aircraft? Warmer. Is it the frank talk of an official Pentagon UFO investigation program? Warmer still. Is it the fact that all this information is being brought to you by the former guitarist for Blink-182? Cerebellum is now liquid goo.

Yes, Tom DeLonge, the executive producer of the six-part program, has gone from “All the Small Things” to, well, pretty much all the big things — like the nature of the universe and Earth’s role in it. Clearly the guy who once sang “Aliens Exist” to sold-out crowds two decades ago has a longstanding interest in extraterrestrials, but in recent years he’s become one of the most vocal public figures on the subject. He famously split from the zillion-selling pop-punk group in 2015 to launch To the Stars Academy, a venture dedicated to increasing the understanding of UFOs and disseminating their discoveries responsibly to the public.

Naturally, the narrative quickly became “rock star quits band to chase aliens,” and DeLonge was subjected to all manner of media mockery that usually accompanies such an unorthodox left turn. But a number of power players took him very seriously. Emails released during the WikiLeaks dump in 2017 reveal that DeLonge scheduled a meeting between President Obama’s former senior advisor John Podesta and General William McCasland the previous year. While it’s unknown if that meeting ever took place, Podesta tweeted upon stepping down from his senior advisor post that his “biggest failure” in office was “not securing the disclosure of the UFO files.”

DeLonge’s claims that the United States Department of Defense were investigating UFOs were dismissed as conspiracy theory fodder until December 2017, when the New York Times published an exposé (coauthored in part by two Pulitzer Prize winners) that confirmed the existence of the Pentagon’s hidden Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The bombshell report was backed up on-the-record statements from many involved, including ex Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who designated $22 million to the program when it was created in 2007. (“The truth is out there,” Reid tweeted after the piece was published. “Seriously.”) The report features numerous stunning revelations, such a 2009 Pentagon briefing of the program stating “what was considered science fiction is now science fact,” as well as hints that the government may be in possession of alloys that reportedly “had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.” But what’s more, it went a long way in suggesting that DeLonge knows more than people give him credit for.

Though AATIP was defunded in 2012, it remained operational under the direction of military intelligence official Luis Elizondo until October 2017 at which point Elizondo resigned — citing excessive secrecy and concern that the Department of Defense wasn’t treating these unidentified aerial phenomena like the national security threat he believes them to be. “Why aren’t we spending more time and effort on this issue?” he wrote in his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to Newsweek.

Now he’s teamed up with DeLonge. Unidentified follows Elizondo as he continues his investigation, beginning with the puzzling incident that occurred in November 2004 off the coast of California. Several F-18 jets from the USS Nimitz carrier strike group crossed paths with an unidentified craft. Down below aboard the ship, radar tracked dozens more, moving in formation across the sky for several days. According to the radar operator Kevin Day, interviewed by Unidentified, the radar data was confiscated by government officials — an unprecedented occurrence, he claims. Commander David Fravor, who was in the air that day and captured the craft on film, described “seeing an object that looked like a 40-foot-long white Tic Tac that performed remarkable maneuvers” that appeared to defy the laws of physics. Fravor’s statements are corroborated by his wing mate, who has never spoken out before.

In addition to Elizondo and DeLonge, Unidentified features regular appearances of fellow To the Stars colleagues, many of whom boast impressive credentials. Christopher K. Mellon formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Harold E. Puthoff was employed as a former CIA Contractor, and Steve Justice used to head up Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs (a.k.a. “Skunk Works”) — the same organization hired by the CIA to develop their infamous Area 51 military installation. Together they might boast enough ex-government clout to convince even the most ardent skeptic that we may not be alone. Or maybe not. In either case, Unidentified is quite possibly the most impressive UFO docuseries to date.

The show comes at a time when the study of unexplained aerial phenomena has been moving, in the words of the New York Post, increasingly out of the fringe and into the mainstream. Last month the Navy issued new guidelines for reporting encounters with “unidentified aircraft,” a response to an apparent surge in sightings by personnel. In an article published by the New York Times over Memorial Day Weekend, five Navy pilots came forward to claim that they saw unexplained aircraft off the Eastern seaboard on an “almost daily” basis between 2014 and 2015 — though they won’t speculate on whether they were of extraterrestrial origin. Neither will the Navy, despite their moves to formalize (and destigmatize) the reporting process. But many, including those involved with To the Stars Academy, hope that these changes lead to a more careful study of these cases. “Right now, we have a situation in which UFOs and UAPs are treated as anomalies to be ignored rather than anomalies to be explored,” Christopher Mellon told POLITICO in April. “We have systems that exclude that information and dump it.” After his career in the Department of Defense, Mellon calls this new reporting process a “sea change.” Similarly, Elizondo told the Washington Post it was “the single greatest decision the Navy has made in decades.”

So what’s going on in the sky that’s confounding even highly trained members of American armed forces? Tom DeLonge says he has an idea. PEOPLE talked to DeLonge about Unidentified, what he’s uncovered alongside his team at To the Stars, and what he sees as global ramifications that could make or break humanity.

On a lighter note, we also talked to him about his new music with Angels and Airwaves, and the 20th anniversary of Blink-182’s seminal Enema of the State album. Remember, from the ‘90s? It was a much simpler time.

First off, what would you say to a nonbeliever, somebody who really has trouble wrapping their mind around all this, to get them to sit down and watch this show?

I think I would tell them there finally exists a body of evidence, that is very tangible and very real, for them to consider. For a long period of time, material was largely classified, and it was classified for good reasons — for issues dealing with national security. But thanks to the partners at To The Stars Academy, we now have a vehicle to transition a lot of those learnings over to the public for the first time. So for the people that don’t want to believe that this could be real, or this really counteracts their own personal belief systems, this is now an era where we have the evidence for people to look at, to digest, and hopefully — over time — get them to a place where they can live with this reality.

The first several episodes concern the USS Nimitz incident when two fighter pilots, in different planes, observed an unidentified flying craft — the famous giant Tic Tac — off the coast of California in November 2004. There is video evidence as well as radar data from the U.S. Navy ship below which, as you claim in Unidentified, was confiscated by government officials. What was their rationale for keeping this story under wraps?

Well, I can’t speak for the government, but I can tell you I do know how they work and how they think on this subject. When you’re dealing with really, really advanced technologies that are coming in and out of our military airspace and sensitive locations, interacting with our most advanced technologies as though we’re just ants, the military does not have the capacity, does not have the skillset, does not have a division, to stop what they’re doing and try to educate us on something that may be a threat. The only thing they do is deal with threats.

You have to understand what happened there. One hundred craft came in from the atmosphere over a four-day period of time, and traveled down the coast of Southern California, and all disappeared at one specific latitude-longitude. You have to also realize that these craft were descending, in .78 seconds, from 80,000 feet to sea level. Literally, less than one second, it goes from the tip of the atmosphere to hovering a foot over the water. That’s scary to see, and there’s 100 of them. You’re kind of going, “What is in those things, and how are they doing that? What the hell are we supposed to do about it?”

Now, imagine you’re the military or the intelligence service, and someone’s trying to sneak a nuclear weapon through the border of Canada or Mexico. They’re not going to stop, go on the news, and say, “Oh my God, someone tried to sneak in a nuclear weapon. We want to tell you about it.” They don’t do that. They go back into secure locations, and they start laying all of the data on the table, and they have to make a plan. That plan has to hopefully keep us safe so we don’t panic, and we can go to malls and soccer games, and we can just live comfortably. We’ve empowered really smart people to take this stress and put it on their own shoulders so we don’t have to worry about it. The men and women at the Department of Defense, and the CIA, and other intelligence organizations — after I learned more about this subject than I already knew, I walked away saying, “These guys are national heroes.” I mean, the stuff they’re dealing with is so far out, and frankly unnerving, that I don’t think the people are ready for all of it. And I don’t think they actually need to know all of it, just like my kids don’t need to know exactly what terrorists are doing, but they kind of need to know that terrorists exist. It’s a little bit of that, if that makes sense.

What’s your motivation for putting this out there now? As you say, there’s potentially stuff that the public shouldn’t know about. 

We already have been dealing with this for 70 years. Again, I don’t want to pretend I can speak for my partners that ran these programs and are still connected to these programs in various ways. You’d be much better off hearing them speak, but I think, from my point of view, it looks as though our country has made some headway on understanding this stuff, and so, now, they’re open to a responsible conversation. Keep in mind, what happened was I got into a position where I was knocking on doors and pitching away to have a responsible conversation, and it worked, but it took me almost a year, and it took me ruffling a lot of feathers.

Luis Elizondo likes to say, “I came into a china shop and let off a grenade.” People from multiple intelligence agencies and areas that are very secretive within the Department of Defense came to me and said, “What the hell are you doing? What are you trying to accomplish?” I think they liked my ideas. They huddled around me, and we made a much more responsible way of doing all this. That’s when we added on aerospace and science. We said, let’s discuss what we know, let’s keep on studying it with the world, and let’s take this technology and get to the bottom of it, and put it in the private sector. That way it can move much faster, and we can get the world’s best physicists, and scientists, and engineers on it, and potentially even make it an international effort. To The Stars is actively involved with multiple international governments.

You’ve put together an impressive team. You mentioned [former military intelligence official and Special Agent In-Charge] Luis Elizondo, in addition to [former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence] Chris Mellon, [retired Program Director for Advanced Systems from Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs] Steve Justice. It seems fair to say that a number of high-ranking officials are dissatisfied with the government’s official stance on UFOs? Why has the study of UFOs been relegated to the fringe for so long?

Our intelligence agencies spent decades working their way into the social groups and organizations that are private, dealing with this issue, and they did a really good job at discrediting it over the many decades after World War II. They actually had good reason for this, because what happened is all these people get together and start talking about all this stuff, and they don’t know all the facts. It’ll bubble up, scare everybody, and then could eventually cause a national conversation on the issue far earlier than they’re willing to have it. It’s kind of like if there’s a hostage situation, and we’re trying to get the chief of police to come out and just start talking about it, when he doesn’t even know who the shooter is. I think their idea was smart: “Let’s keep everybody thinking this isn’t real. Let’s keep everybody thinking that there’s nothing to see here, while we actually go somewhere very secret and learn as much as we can.”

When I was meeting with multi-star-ranking officers, I said, “That makes a lot of sense, but the problem is it ran like wildfire into something else, where no one trusts the government. No one believes you, no one understands why you would do such a thing, because the subject’s so big.” People start making up conspiracies. “Oh, it’s about money,” or, “They think that we can’t handle the truth.” That’s all bulls—. What it boils down to is there is something here that moves 20,000 to 80,000 miles an hour, that is using technologies that we don’t understand, and we’re starting to get a glimpse of what these things are doing, but we don’t totally know why. We’ve just got to figure it all out before people go into an uproar, because all that’s going to do is open up hearings in Congress, and people pointing fingers, and all the stuff that you see when there might be a little bit of moral ambiguity while we’re dealing with something difficult.

I mean, it’s kind of like the CIA was doing all this stuff in the Cold War, and after the fact we want to point fingers and have the hammer come down in Congress and the Senate, with people on national TV saying, “What did you do?” At the end of the day, they’re like, “We did what was necessary in that moment, and you couldn’t do it, and you couldn’t stomach it. You wanted us to do it, and we did it. Now you’re here, 20 years later, complaining about it.” I think this is a little bit like that, where they’re dealing with the reality of something that has just … I mean, this is so much bigger than overthrowing a country. This affects everybody.

The sooner that this conversation starts is the sooner we get to the core of the problem that is happening on the Earth, which is this idea that we’re all separate, this idea that all the countries are out for themselves. This is how we unify the world. This is how we get young people, in all countries, coming together, and saying, “Hey, I’m not Russian, or American, or Indian. We’re all from the same little planet. We’re humans.” Let’s take this big step, and now stop looking directly at each other. Let’s look up, and go, “We are now at the frontier of understanding what’s in space, and what that means, and how we go there, and how we start branching out into the future.”

The Department of Defense, by definition, are designed to deal with threats, and it sounds like you believe they’re treating these craft as threats because that’s what they do. Do you personally view these craft as threats?

I can say a blanket statement that, yes, I do personally believe these are threats,. But there also are different layers of threats. There are threats to our aviation safety. There are threats to our military. There are threats to people that are having encounters with this — that deals with biological issues. There are threats because we don’t understand what the intentions are, when you’re dealing with something that’s just so much further ahead than you. I mean, we can look at our own history and know that. Look what we did to the Native Americans, or look what the Spanish did to the Aztecs. I don’t want to get my history wrong here, but you see what I’m saying.

When a more advanced culture comes in, there’s many different ways that culture can benefit but also can lose a bit of themselves in the process, so I think what we need to do is really have that discussion. Are there bad things that go along with this subject? Yes, and some of those bad things are not open for discussion here. Are there some good things? Absolutely, and some of those good things come with the idea of what this technology can do for the world, the unification of us working with people we thought were our adversaries, and then an international conversation of who we are as human beings.

All of this is really, really important. We might find out, one day, that there are good ones and bad ones. And we might look back and go, “Wow, that’s what all of our ancient texts describe in some way, that kind of counter-views between gods that are from the heavens.” I think it’s going to help us understand a bit more of ourselves. But for now, until that time comes where we can understand what’s in these things, what we look at is, yeah, there are issues. There are big issues here.

You’ve been researching this subject for many, many, many years. At what point did you feel like you were onto something really big?

Oh my God, there’s so much to the story that nobody knows. When I started bouncing around and meeting people from different organizations within the government — intelligence operatives, military operatives, officers — when I got brought in and sat down they looked at me and I’ll never forget one of the things said to me. They said, “Is there anything else you need to complete your project, to get this done?” I listed one kind of very sensitive group, and I said, “I think maybe getting a sign-off from this group might be important.” A certain person looked at me and said, “Do you ask your father for permission after your mom’s already given it to you?” I said, “No.” He said, “You’ve been given permission. Shut the f— up and get to work.” I remember, at that moment, that it went from me and a project to me needing to execute the promises that I made.

The big, big breakthrough moment that had me pissing my pants (not literally, but I thought I was) was when I got called to a meeting. I was sitting in a room, and this person moved across the table, and starts giving me a bunch of compliments about my music and my band. I didn’t understand why, because I knew who he was and I knew where he’s from. I said, “I know who you are. When you’re giving me all these compliments on my band, I’m taking them with a grain of salt.” This gentleman stopped, took a deep breath, leaned back, and says, “I need to know who the f— you are. You know s— that you’re not supposed to know, and I need to know why.”

He leans over, points his finger to the table, and pounds his finger on the table, and says, “This is the story of the millennia, and I need to know why the f— you know what you know.” At that moment, I literally was going, “Oh my God, I really f—ed up.” I really, really, got myself into kind of an Ed Snowden situation, where I thought I was doing something good, and now I realized I was doing something where I can easily, easily just disappear, and nobody would know.

For years you alluded to the existence of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, and were met with a great degree of skepticism from the public. Then in December 2017, the New York Times released an exposé that appeared to lend credence to what you’d been saying. Was that vindicating for you?

It was, but it’s all part of the plan. You’ve got to remember I’ve been on this for a few years now. It’s really funny because I’m very much known as a bit of a renegade, and always doing stuff where people think I’m crazy. People think that I’ve lost all composure of being a musician, and quit my band to go chase aliens. In the beginning of all this, I couldn’t tell the guys in Blink what I was doing. It very much needed to be kept secret. I was confided in, and all this was in the works, but I did know what was getting ready to happen.

There’s so much more coming, and people better hold on tight. To The Stars Academy is going to be doing some stuff, here, in the near future, that will be responsible for changing the world. At the time, when AATIP was getting ready to come out, this was very much part of the plan and part of the strategies put forth by the policy being created by Chris Mellon, one of my partners, chairman of our scientific advisory board at To The Stars Academy. Chris Mellon was under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence at the Pentagon — kind of what you would think of as third-in-command at the Pentagon — and he wrote some very large bills. He has decades of experience in writing national security policy, so he had a plan, early on, of how we could create a template of getting information out, getting the right information to the right members of Congress, and getting national journalism involved, to ferry this stuff over the border and let people start digesting this stuff. I want to pretend that I did everything, but that’s absolutely not the case. If you look at my partners, you’ll realize, quickly, who the smart ones are.

But you got in the room with them, which I assume was not an easy task.

I always tell people, “It’s the biggest secret on earth, it’s the most classified subject on earth and it’s the most controversial subject on earth.” The first place I knocked on the door, literally, I had to go and do fingerprints. I had to go through three guys with machine guns. I had to go through locked doors with electronic codes. I was in hallways that had speakers playing white noise so nobody can hear any conversation. There’s no windows, and each door had these rotary locks on them, like a safe.

I got into the heart of where this was, and that was where this all started. Not everyone can get in there. If anything, I was definitely a performer at that point. I took all my performer credentials and put it to use, and acted like I was smarter than I was. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I could really help. Well, it worked just enough for all this to start, but it’s kind of like you’re rubbing the sticks together to get a spark, and make a fire, and you get so close. Holy s—, it’s going to work. It’s going to catch. Well, it barely caught in those days, and it could’ve blown out at any second.

In the first episode of Unidentified, you touch briefly on walking away from Blink-182. Was that hard for you, or did you know where you wanted to go and never looked back?

It’s always hard when you’re transitioning from something that you’ve worked your entire life, up to that point, to achieve, but the only two things on Earth — outside of my family — that I was interested in were music and this subject. When I got brought into the arms of how the subject works, and what it is, it was a very easy choice. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m literally going to be driving the boat here, with something that’s going to affect every person in the world, in such a beautiful way, hopefully.” That was an easy decision. What’s never easy is dealing with the social groups, and the stigmas, and the ignorance, and all that comes along with doing things that are progressive, and out of the box, and beyond people’s understanding.

Frankly, I understand why they do that. It took me 25 years to really digest this subject and have a foundation for dealing with what I have to deal with now. Then suddenly expecting people to get it, by throwing it out there over a few articles? People were like, “He’s lost his mind. He’s chasing monsters.” No, not exactly, but you will find out soon enough. Yes, I’ll be vindicated, but that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because we need it, and I’m sick of people like my brother going off to war, to fight with our neighbors, with our brothers. We should not be killing each other over anything on this planet.

I’m speaking to you 20 years, almost exactly, after you released the track “Alien Exists” on [the 1999 Blink-182 album] Enema of the State. What are your thoughts on that song now, given all you’ve learned and been through?

Yes, 20 years ago I wrote this song, “Aliens Exist,” and I remember people thought it was a fun song, and this and that, but that’s how long this goes for me. Now, I look at this coming year, so much of this information and what this is all about is going to be showing its face, using Angels and Airwaves, my other band, as a vehicle. We just released a song called “Rebel Girl,” which was the start of bringing back this band that’s been around for 12 years. In essence, this first tour will be the beginning of a few tours that get bigger and bring all this information out.

I think people are curious about what To The Stars is, and what we’re doing, and why I’m involved in all this stuff. They’re going to learn a hell of a lot by following Angels and Airwaves, and then the movies that I’m directing and producing, that are starting to come out, like the TV series, Unidentified. I mean, that’s one of quite a handful of things I’ve got going in the film world, but they’re all related to this stuff. I challenge people to follow Angels and Airwaves a bit. That’s not meant to be a plug on the band as much as it’s meant to be an easy way to see some of the more innovative ways we have discussions.

This is your first tour in seven years. Was it announced to coincide with Unidentified, as a way to kind of get the message out there?

Yeah. Well, it’s both. What happened is I spent so long putting this company together, that it finally got off the ground, and so I was able to take a deep breath and go, “Okay, now I can write music again. I’ll just take my time,” and that’s what I did for six months. All of a sudden the opportunity came, where they were like, “You can release a song right now, and start. If you start right now, it’ll be the perfect opportunity to align the film projects with the music projects, and take this entire thing on the road. I thought it would really show people the culmination of everything I’ve been doing. I go, “Wow, that is a really great opportunity. Let’s try it. I’ll just do four weeks. We’ll do small clubs to test, and if that works, we’ll do X, Y, and Z.”

Well, we put up the song, and it exploded far beyond what I thought it would do. Then they put the shows up, and they all sold out. Well, not all of them, but a lot of them. I just really didn’t expect it, so it was obviously meant to be. I’ve got to say I’m completely humbled that people care about my music still, and I’m so thankful. I’m really excited for my band members in Blink and what they’re doing. I think a lot of people still think I’m in that band, but I’m not touring with them at the moment, or writing music with them at the moment, but I do support their evolution of what they’re doing. I just want everyone to win in whatever way makes them happy.

Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation premieres Friday at 10 p.m. on The History Channel, while Angels and Airwaves’ tour kicks off Sept. 4 in Arizona.

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