“THERE are a number of people here who know everything on that screen was absolutely true,” said the President. A wave of nervous laugher rippled through the White House’s private cinema room. Ronald Reagan, however, never broke a smile, his solemnity immediately silencing the intimate audience of esteemed guests – Neil Armstrong, Steven Spielberg, high-ranking military personnel and the upper echelons of Nasa among them. It was 1982 and the group had just been treated to a special pre-release screening of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Despite its rather outré nature, this tale is no urban myth – although some details have been embellished over the years. One retelling even has Reagan weeping on Spielberg’s shoulder as ET “went home”. Having since confirmed the event indeed took place, the legendary director has also admitted he remains unsure if Reagan was being honest with his guests – or simply pulling off deadpan surrealism better than Rikki Fulton or Jacob Rees-Mogg.

One thing is incontrovertibly true – if Ronald Reagan had intimate knowledge of extra-terrestrial visitations to Earth, then he certainly knew they weren’t friendly, doe-eyed botanists. Without even taking his bizarre satellite-laser “Star Wars” missile defence system into consideration, Reagan’s numerous mentions of aliens in speeches marked him as a blatant UFO-nut hiding in plain sight. One turning a blind eye to the Pentagon burning through tens of millions of taxpayer dollars investigating “foreign advanced aerospace weapons”.

Yet, if such research – carried out under different guises by the US military since Project Blue Book in the 1950s – was simply to ascertain the threat from traditional Russian or Chinese bogeymen, then it seems they were a wee bit more technologically advanced than previously thought.

This week, the Pandora’s Box of top secret Pentagon documents was declassified under a Freedom of Information request – a single five-page letter containing the titles of a bewildering litany of otherworldly research papers commissioned from scientists around the globe.

The titles of these academic studies certainly don’t concur with commonly accepted Russian technical malevolence like vote rigging and web trolling. Certainly, research into invisibility cloaking, dark energy, stargates, multidimensional manipulation, meta-materials, laser weapons, quantum entanglement and “controlling external devices in the absence of limb-operated interfaces” seems more like a Philip K Dick fever dream.

If nothing else, the document – addressed primarily to the office of late Senator and former pilot John McCain, who also had a considerable interest in colourful accounts of unusual aviation – certainly proves the Pentagon had been trying to get their heads around the true nature of a somewhat peculiar security threat. And unless the Russians or Chinese have torn a wormhole through the fabric of spacetime with a laser weapon recently, it wasn’t them.

Uni lateral thinking

THE exotic nature of some of the research papers commissioned by the US military’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) would raise a quizzical eyebrow on even Vladmir Putin’s Botox-irrigated deathmask.

It’s certainly reaffirmed the suspicions of the global Ufology community, who only learned of the research papers' existence last week after the AATIP letter ended up on the desk of Nick Pope, ex-head of the UK Government’s official UFO research project. Colloquially known as Britian’s “Fox Mulder”, the affable Nick immediately teased true believers on Twitter with some ambiguous speculation, saying: “It still doesn’t give us a definitive answer to whether, as claimed, ‘foreign advanced aerospace weapon threats’ is coded language for UFOs.”

Nick would likely call the document’s revelations a solid five on the Rio count – a new global ET “Richter scale’” developed by academics at our very own St Andrews University. It marks global reports of extraterrestrial activity from zero to 10 – the alarm sounding when Jacob Rees-Mogg rips off his skin suit to reveal true reptilian form.

That’s not all academics at St Andrews have been getting up to though. One of the AATIP report’s 38 “advanced technology” studies was completed by the impressively alpha-sounding Dr Ulf Leonhardt, a respected German scientist working at the uni at the time.

Cynics may think Ulf’s “Invisibility Cloaking” paper better suited to Hogwarts’ library than John McCain’s desk, but the good professor is a noted global expert on something called quantum optics, which juxtaposes the fact nothing actually exists with photon manipulation. One day, this may potentially allow a military force to enter a country without being seen. And grant perverts access to your bathroom as you shower.

Follow the money

TRUTH is a funny thing – will o’ the wisp, a subjective perception in the beholder’s eyes. Yet, as the human brain or internet didn’t always exist, an untainted objective reality clearly exists – and the empirical truth behind any murky complex mystery involving our species often reveals itself by simply applying one time-tested method – following the money. By doing this, the AATIP report is revealed as perhaps less revelatory than hype suggests.

From 2008-12, the Pentagon spent £17 million commissioning these 38 papers. Meaning, towering piles of hard cash were on offer for academics willing to sell their credibility for a basement swimming pool. Might be difficult to find one who wouldn't. A few imaginative chapters of pseudo-waffle on non-existent technology that only Hollywood CGI can presently bring to life? Beats working for a living.

It’s also perhaps no coincidence that many of these “academics” were already already part of a network of true believers – the now-defunct “National Institute for Discovery Science” (NIDSci), which was well known for its studies of UFO sightings, extraterrestrials and other “fringe” topics.

To understand why such a band of eccentrics were ever commissioned by the Pentagon in the first place, we must first understand the origins of AATIP. Initiated in 2007 by then US Senator Harry Reid to study unexplained aerial phenomena, the group was formed at the request of Reid’s influential friend, Nevada businessman and UFO true believer Robert Bigelow. Who, coincidentally, also founded the aforementioned NIDSci.

And, again, entirely coincidentally I’m sure, it was Bigelow Aerospace which won the AATIP contract to manage its research.

Military writer Joseph Trevithick has since carried out some admirable work uncovering the interesting backgrounds of some of the papers' authors, a number of whom already had associations with Bigelow. The largest single source of these Pentagon academic reports is EarthTech International of Texas, whose CEOs both also have close ties to the billionaire business mogul.

Trevithick also reveals that Marc Millis, a former NASA propulsion engineer, is also among the authors. Millis apparently left NASA after attending a venture capital event that some fella called Joe Firmage hosted in 1999. Firmage, for those unaware, is a Silicon Valley tech millionaire who claims he had an unexplained visionary experience where a ‘being’ produced a ball of energy which then entered his body. We've all been there.

Perhaps being exposed to the mind-bending fantasies of some of these academics explains another great mystery of our times – why John McCain believed Sarah Palin was a sensible choice of running mate for the 2008 Presidential elections. Likely he thought she would come in handy in a world threatened by extra-terrestrial invasion, being able to communicate directly with destructive, hostile oddities intent on destroying Earth and depleting our natural resources.

And finally ...

ON his death bed, John McCain enjoyed one last dig at his nemesis Donald Trump, accusing him of “hiding behind walls”. Although McCain never became president himself, another wall-hating Republican did – the aforementioned Ronald Reagan.

Although it’s unknown if the AATIP paper convinced McCain of a viable alien threat, it’s certain that Reagan believed in such a possibility – and used his fears as leverage to take down the actual Berlin Wall.

During the 1985 Geneva Summit, Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev had a private chat. Years later, Gorbachev revealed that Reagan had simply asked him to set aside their differences in case the world was invaded by aliens. No, really.

Perhaps, in the current climate of division, intolerance and social discord, another famous fearmongering speech by Ronnie is still relevant today: “I occasionally think how quickly our differences would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.

"Yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

Follow Bill on Twitter: @futureshockbb