David Grusch UFO whistleblower claims

July 26, 2023: David Grusch testifies before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs in the hearing titled “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena: Implications on National Security, Public Safety, and Government Transparency”.

In 2023, David Grusch, a United States Air Force (USAF) officer and a former intelligence official, was interviewed by various media outlets and testified in a U.S. House of Representatives congressional hearing. Grusch claimed that conversations with unnamed officials led him to believe that the U.S. federal government maintains a secretive UFO, also known as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), recovery program and is in possession of “non-human” spacecraft along with their “dead pilots”. In 2022, Grusch filed a whistleblowercomplaint with the U.S. Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) to support his plan to share classified information with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He also filed a complaint alleging retaliation by his superiors over a similar complaint he made in 2021.

He claims to have viewed documents reporting that Benito Mussolini‘s government recovered a “non-human” spacecraft in 1933, which the Vatican and the Five Eyes assisted the U.S. in procuring in 1944 or 1945. Grusch claims second-hand knowledge that American citizens have been harmed and killed as part of their government’s efforts to cover-up the information. In response to his claims from June 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) stated that no evidence of extraterrestrial life had been discovered and that there was no verifiable information about anyone possessing and reverse engineering any “extraterrestrial materials”.

In a testimony given to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability in July 2023, Grusch repeated several claims under oath. Testimonies were also delivered by Ryan Graves, a retired fighter pilot, and David Fravor, a retired U.S. Navy commander, on their experiences related to UFOs. Grusch testified that he could not elaborate publicly on some aspects, but offered to provide further details to representatives in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF).

Background

David Charles Grusch is a decorated Afghanistan combat veteran and former Air Force intelligence officer[1] who worked in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).[2][3][4][5] From 2019 to 2021, he was the representative of the NRO to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.[3][4][6] From late 2021 to July 2022, he was the co-lead for UAP analysis at the NGA and its representative to the task force.[2] He assisted in drafting the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023,[7] which includes provisions for reporting of UFOs, including whistleblower protections and exemptions to non-disclosure orders and agreements.[8][9][10] Congressional interest in UFO sightings immediately prior to Grusch’s public claims surrounded questions about the four objects that the Air Force shot down in February 2023.[11]

Grusch’s public claims

Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office tasked with investigating and reporting to Congress on UAPs
Ross Coulthart, conductor of the June 5 interview with David Grusch on NewsNation

 

 

On June 5, 2023, independent journalists Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal provided a story detailing Grusch’s claims of a UFO coverup by the government to The Debrief, a website that describes itself as “self-funded” and specializing in “frontier science”.[12] The New York Times and Politico declined to publish the story, while The Washington Post was taking more time to conduct fact-checking than Kean and Blumenthal felt could be afforded because, according to Kean, “people on the internet were spreading stories, Dave was getting harassing phone calls, and we felt the only way to protect him was to get the story out”.[13] According to Kean, she vetted Grusch by interviewing Karl Nell, a retired Army colonel who was also on the UFO task force, and “Jonathan Grey” (a pseudonym) whom Kean described as “a current U.S. intelligence official at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC)”.[14] Kean wrote that Nell called Grusch “beyond reproach” and that both Nell and “Grey” supported Grusch’s claim about a secret UFO retrieval and reverse engineering program.[15][16] Also on June 5, portions of an interview of Grusch by Ross Coulthart aired on NewsNation with additional excerpts appearing on June 11.[2]

Grusch claims that the U.S. federal government maintains a highly secretive UFO retrieval program and possesses multiple spacecraft of non-human origin as well as corpses of deceased pilots.[17][18][19][20] Grusch also claims there is “substantive evidence that white-collar crime” took place to conceal UFO programs and that he had interviewed officials who said that people had been killed to conceal the programs.[21] Grusch stated that he tried to get the director of AARO to help him share his claims with Congress, “I expressed some concerns to Dr. Kirkpatrick about a year ago, and told him what I was starting to uncover. And he didn’t follow up with me.”[22]

Grusch elaborated on his claims in a subsequent interview with the French newspaper Le Parisien on June 7. He said that UFOs could be coming from extra dimensions; that he had spoken with intelligence officials whom the U.S. military had briefed on “football-field” sized crafts; that the U.S. government transferred some crashed UFOs to a defense contractor; and that there was “malevolent activity” by UFOs.[21]

During a July 26, 2023, Congressional hearing, Grusch said that he “was informed in the course of my official duties of a multi-decade UAP crash retrieval and reverse engineering program to which I was denied access”[6] and that he believes that the U.S. government is in possession of UAP based on his interviews with 40 witnesses over four years.[23] Grusch claimed in response to Congressional questions that the U.S. has retrieved “non-human” biological matter from the pilots of the crafts and that this “was the assessment of people with direct knowledge on the [UAP] program I talked to, that are currently still on the program”.[24] When Representative Tim Burchett asked him if he had “personal knowledge of people who’ve been harmed or injured in efforts to cover up or conceal” the government’s possession of “extraterrestrial technology,” Grusch said yes but that he was not able to provide details except within a SCIF.[25]

BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight on August 3, 2023, interviewed Grusch along with his attorney Charles McCullough, a former Intelligence Community Inspector General. When asked about the U.S. having “intact and partially intact alien vehicles in its possession”, Grusch repeated his claims, and McCullough noted that Congress should have “access to the information it needs to properly oversee things going on in the executive branch”.[26]

Response from relevant experts

Joshua Semeter of NASA’s UAP independent study team and professor of electrical and computer engineering with Boston University’s College of Engineering concludes that “without data or material evidence, we are at an impasse on evaluating these claims” and that, “in the long history of claims of extraterrestrial visitors, it is this level of specificity that always seems to be missing”.[27][28] Adam Frank, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, published a critique of the Grusch claims on June 22 with Big Think. Frank writes that he does “not find these claims exciting at all” because they are all “just hearsay” where “a guy says he knows a guy who knows another guy who heard from a guy that the government has alien spaceships”.[29] Frank also said of the Grusch account that “it’s an extraordinary claim, and it requires extraordinary evidence, none of which we’re getting”, adding “show me the spaceship”.[30]

The Guardian printed an opinion piece by Stuart Clark about Grusch’s claims which included questions from three scientists. Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb, who co-founded the UFO-investigating Galileo Project, noted that nothing extraterrestrial has been observed. Radio astronomer Michael Garrett noted that crashed landings of alien craft “would imply that there must be hundreds of them coming every day, and astronomers simply don’t see them”. Sara Russell, a planetary scientist from the Natural History Museum in London, said that, “if you give me an alloy, it would take me less than half an hour to tell you what elements are in it”, and that “it should be easy to understand whether something falling to Earth is man-made or extraterrestrial, and if it is the latter, whether it is naturally occurring or not”.[31]

Greg Eghigian, a history professor at Pennsylvania State University and expert in the history of UFOs as it occurs in the context of public fascination,[32] notes that there have been many instances over recent decades in the U.S. of people “who previously worked in some kind of federal department” coming forward to make “bombshell allegations” about the truth regarding UFOs with the whistleblower claims by Grusch fitting this pattern.[33] Eghigian describes the 1940s–50s media enthusiasm about flying saucers, and comments that the successful books on the subject by authors Donald Keyhoe, Frank Scully, and Gerald Heard “provided the model for a new kind of public figure: the crusading whistleblower dedicated to breaking the silence over the alien origins of unidentified flying objects.”[34] Since then all these similarly credentialed claimants have been unable to provide any further corroboration.[34]Eghigian said that “a new kind of sobriety needs to be interjected here” and that the Grusch story “ups the ante” but is “very hard to take seriously unless we start getting some real evidence that’s of a forensic nature to prove these things”.[30]

Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute writing on MSNBC.com about Grusch’s claims, said that the claims are extraordinary, before asking, “But where is the evidence? It’s MIA. Neither Grusch nor anyone else claiming to have knowledge of secret government UAP programs has ever been able to publicly produce convincing photos showing alien hardware splayed across the landscape. And remember, we’re not talking about a Cessna that plowed into a wheat field. We’re talking about, presumably, an alien interstellar rocket, capable of bridging trillions of miles of space, and sporting technology that is obviously alien”.[35] Shostak concluded that, “from the standpoint of science, there’s still no good evidence [that extraterrestrials are visiting the Earth], only an ‘argument from authority‘”.[35] Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, said of the July 26, 2023, congressional hearing that “it’s astonishing it’s come this far without any real evidence, without anybody in the scientific community making an appearance” and “we are still seeing not a shred of physical evidence”.[36]

The physicist and cosmologist Sean M. Carroll said of Grusch’s claims about non-human visitors, “the evidence is laughable”. Grusch was “talking about the holographic principle and extra dimensions and stuff like that” which should “set off your alarm bells,” he said. He concluded that Grusch “has all of the vibes of a complete crackpot”.[37]

Laurie Leshin, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) director for NASA, when asked by reporter in August 2023 if she had “seen spacecraft made from outside of this world”, replied “Absolutely not. No.” with a laugh and head shake.[38]

Physicist and popular science writer Michio Kaku told NewsNation that “so far we have not seen the smoking gun” to prove any of Grusch’s claims. However, he also suggested that “the burden of proof has shifted, now the Pentagon has to prove these things aren’t extra-terrestrial”. That prompted Real Clear Science editor Ross Pomeroy to comment, “no, the burden of proof has not shifted. Aliens are not the default explanation when a simpler explanation readily does the job”. According to Pomeroy, “Kaku is seriously jeopardizing his reputation and misleading the public through his unscientific new stance on UFOs.”[39][40]

On an interview with Coulthart for NewsNation, Timothy Gallaudet, a former U.S. Navy admiral and a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, supported Grusch’s claims.[41]

United States government responses

Department of Defense and NASA statements

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referred questions about Grusch’s complaint to the Department of Defense (DoD).[42] In a statement, Sue Gough, spokesperson for the Pentagon, said: “To date, AARO (All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office) has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of any extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently. AARO is committed to following the data and its investigation wherever it leads.”[13][43]

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an interview to The Washington Times on August 6, 2023, in which he stated that he had never encountered evidence that would verify the claims made by Grusch regarding “quote-unquote ‘aliens’ or that there’s some sort of cover-up program”. Milley added that he was unsurprised that such rumors would circulate and be believed by some within an organization as large as the U.S. military.[44][45]

NASA stated: “One of NASA’s key priorities is the search for life elsewhere in the universe, but so far, NASA has not found any credible evidence of extraterrestrial life and there is no evidence that UAPs are extraterrestrial. However, NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions, including whether we are alone in the universe.”[46]

Congressional action and comments from members

In response to Grusch’s claims, Representative Mike Turner, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “every decade there’s been individuals who’ve said the United States has such pieces of unidentified flying objects that are from outer space” and that “there’s no evidence of this and certainly it would be quite a conspiracy for this to be maintained, especially at this level”.[47] Representatives Anna Paulina Luna and Tim Burchett were tasked with organizing a hearing in response to the Grusch claims on behalf of the House Oversight Committee. This took place on July 26, 2023.[48][49][50][11][47]

Senator Lindsey Graham found the claims unreasonable, saying, “If we’d really found this stuff, there’s no way you could keep it from coming out”.[51] Senator Josh Hawley said, “I’m not surprised, necessarily, by these latest allegations, because it sounds pretty close to what they kind of grudgingly admitted to us in the briefing”.[11][51] Some senators, though not concerned about Grusch’s specific claims, were concerned that Congress might not have been briefed on special access programs.[11] Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who led a Senate hearing on UFOs in April 2023, said she intends to hold a hearing to assess whether “rogue SAP programs” existed “that no one is providing oversight for”.[11] Senator Marco Rubio, vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said, “there are people who have come forward to share information with our committee over the last couple of years” with “first-hand knowledge” and that they were “potentially some of the same people perhaps” referred to by Grusch.[52][53]

Following the July 26 hearing with Grusch as a witness, a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives called for the formation of a select committee on UAPs with subpoena power.[54][55]

In July 2023, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Mike Rounds led a proposed 64-page amendment to the 2024 National Defence Authorization Act, named the UAP Disclosure Act 2023, which proposes wider access to records of UAP and federal government ownership of any “recovered technologies of unknown origin”.[56][57][58] The enrolled bill directs the National Archives to collect government documents about “unidentified anomalous phenomena, technologies of unknown origin, and non-human intelligence”.[59]

2023 House Committee Oversight and Accountability hearing

On July 26, 2023, Grusch testified before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The representatives present included Tim Burchett and Anna Paulina Luna.[60] He did so alongside Ryan Graves, a retired fighter pilot, and David Fravor, a retired U.S. Navy commander.[61] Fravor gave a first-hand account of his involvement in a 2004 incident released in the Pentagon UFO videos involving his fighter jet and a UFO, and Grusch repeated his previous claims under questioning from house representatives.[62]

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked the three witnesses, “If you were me, where would you look?” regarding answers to UAP questions and evidence to validate his claims. Grusch replied, “I’d be happy to give you that in a closed environment. I can tell you specifically.”[61] Since the hearing, several lawmakers have said that they want to hear more from Grusch in a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), however, according to Representative Burchett, officials have informed the lawmakers “that Grusch doesn’t currently have security clearance to discuss the issues in a SCIF”.[63]

Following the Congressional hearing, AARO‘s director Sean Kirkpatrick wrote on his LinkedIn page that, “contrary to assertions made in the hearing”, Grusch “has refused to speak with AARO” so that some details said to have been given to Congress had not been provided to his office and also that the hearing was “insulting …to the officers of the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community who chose to join AARO, many with not unreasonable anxieties about the career risks this would entail”.[64][65] A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters that the post was Kirkpatrick’s “personal opinions expressed in his capacity as a private citizen,” and declined to comment on the content of the post.[66]

Sean Kirkpatrick

At the time that Grusch made his public claims, physicist and intelligence officer Sean Kirkpatrick was serving as the first head of the US Department of Defense’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) tasked with investigating UFOs and related phenomena. Grusch initially said he had “expressed some concerns to Dr. Kirkpatrick about a year ago, and told him what I was starting to uncover. And he didn’t follow up with me.”[67] To which Kirkpatrick responded that Grusch had “refused to speak with AARO”. And also that the 2023 Congressional hearing was “insulting …to the officers of the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community who chose to join AARO, many with not unreasonable anxieties about the career risks this would entail”.[68][69]

In 2024, after retiring from AARO, Kirkpatrick wrote an opinion piece for Scientific American in which he said that the US Government UFO coverup allegations “derive from inadvertent or unauthorized disclosures of legitimate U.S. programs or related R&D that have nothing to do with extraterrestrial issues or technology. Some are misrepresentations, and some derive from pure, unsupported beliefs. In many respects, the narrative is a textbook example of circular reporting, with each person relaying what they heard, but the information often ultimately being sourced to the same small group of individuals.” Describing it as “a small group of interconnected believers and others with possibly less than honest intentions,” who promote a “whirlwind of tall tales, fabrication and secondhand or thirdhand retellings”.[70]

In a 2024 interview with Peter Bergen, Kirkpatrick said about Grusch:

He’s one of the individuals that I think this kind of, this core group of people have influenced him, have told him this information. He may have misinterpreted things that people have said, or he may have just fallen into the influence of what these folks have been telling him. At either event, at the time I left he had not come in to speak to AARO.[71]: 32:20 

Burgen further characterized what Kirkpatrick was saying as an ironic twist on conspiracy theories about government cover ups. “The true believer about UFO’s thinks that there is a government conspiracy to hide real evidence of aliens. What Kirkpatrick is saying is the actual conspiracy is being carried out by a group of UFO true believers to get the government involved in the business of investigating aliens.”[71]: 33:00  Burgen suggested to Kirkpatrick that this might be, in Pentagon jargon, a “self-licking ice cream cone“, a non-productive endeavor that only perpetuates its own existence. To which Kirkpatrick responded “That is a self licking ice cream cone, exactly.”[71]: 33:28 

Media reporting on Grusch’s claims

Connections to studies funded by Robert Bigelow

Keith Kloor writing for the Scientific American on August 25, 2023, draws a line from “these outlandish assertions” by Grusch “to the vast repository of so-called studies” funded over past years by Robert Bigelow.[72] Kloor also points to the specific references to “a football field–sized UFO” showing up in one of the claims made by Grusch and in past claims by Bigelow.[72]

Reporting on psychiatric treatment received by Grusch

Ken Klippenstein reported in The Intercept, that Grusch was twice committed after incidents in 2014 and 2018 that involved drunkenness and suicidal comments. Police records mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the incident in 2018, Grusch was placed under an emergency custody order and transported to an ER. A mental health specialist requested a temporary detention order, whereupon Grusch was transferred to Loudoun Adult Medical Psychiatric Services, an inpatient program in the Inova Loudoun Cornwall Medical Campus in Leesburg. The article in The Intercept noted that “Grusch’s ability to keep his security clearance” despite this history “appears to contrast with the government’s treatment of other employees”.[1][73]

News stories and commentary

Related to the June 11, 2023, broadcast of more Coulthart interview content, NewsNation included multiple voices, such as skeptical investigator Mick West. He was interviewed on June 8 and 11 and said, “I don’t think what [Grusch is] saying is accurate” and that, while “it’s possible he’s believing what he’s saying, it’s an incredible story that really needs some actual verification”.[74][75]

British journalist Nick Pope, who previously ran the British Ministry of Defense “UFO Desk”, initially expressed hope for confirmation or disconfirmation of Grusch’s claims, but now that Grusch has lost his security clearance and there is still no “smoking gun” Pope says it is difficult to see how the claims could be confirmed.[46][16] He added that while he was at the Ministry of Defense if the US government had acquired craft and bodies, “they didn’t tell the UK.[76]

Writing for The Atlantic on June 7, Marina Koren pointed out that the case fits a long pattern of previous unprovable claims and that, “so far, the best evidence [Grusch has] come up with, besides his own word, is the government’s denial”.[12] Matt Laslo, writing for Wired on June 13, described the sympathetic hearing of Grusch’s claims by some members of Congress as an indication that in “our strange new political universe of alternative facts turned dystopian reality, once-fringe notions have built-in fan bases in today’s Capitol“.[11] The conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson gave publicity to the claims in a video posted to Twitter,[77] and more recently a video, published to YouTube, in which he interviewed Grusch.[78] Tom Rogan, writing in the Washington Examiner on June 12, was skeptical regarding the extent of Grusch’s claims, but said that they should be further investigated.[79]

Outside the United States, the story received attention from multiple foreign mainstream news outlets, in such countries as Denmark,[80][81][82][83] Germany,[84][85] Austria,[86] France,[87][88] the Netherlands,[89] Sweden,[90][91] Norway,[92][93] Croatia,[94][95] and Turkey.[96] The 2023 House Committee hearing at which Grusch testified brought much wider coverage to his claims including major international outlets like the BBC, CNN, and others.[60][62][97]

Disinformation campaign allegations from media pundits

Accusations of an intentional UFO disinformation campaign have been a feature of the coverage of this story. Grusch said intentional disinformation was being pushed by the US government to cast doubt on the veracity of “non-human” (or alien) claims such as his.[17][98] Adam Gabbatt of The Guardian described Grusch’s position as “a common conspiracy trope in the UFO community”.[20] Others have suggested a different sort of intentional campaign that fed Grusch disinformation about aliens to encourage the public to believe in the extraordinary claim of aliens and crashed ships for ulterior motives.[99][100] Gareth Nicholson, editor for the South China Morning Post, explored some of the military and technological reasons for the purported existence of such a campaign, “the current UAP flap could be an attempt by the US military to engage in a disinformation campaign to disguise real aerospace breakthroughs or an attempt to flush out advanced technologies held by rivals such as Russia and China”.[101]

Additional responses from media pundits

Andrew Prokop, a political news correspondent with Vox, wrote on June 10 that, “skeptics question whether Grusch is just repeating tall tales that have long circulated through the UFO-believing community, suggesting he may be just a gullible sap (if not an outright fabulist).” Prokop went on to state that, “mainstream media sources have so far remained wary of Grusch – The New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico were all offered his story but none thought it was publishable. The Debrief, which published it, is a notably UFO-friendly outlet, as are Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal, the two journalists who wrote the story. And purported bombshells like this in the past have tended to fizzle out.”[102] Sean Thomas expressed confusion in his opinion piece for The Spectator that, preceding Grusch, there have been others trying to convince officials and the public that UFOs are worthy of serious considerations including some who themselves were high-ranking U.S. officials.[103] The New York Times columnist Ross Douthatnoted in a June 10 opinion piece that one interpretation of the flap is that parts of the U.S. government see benefit in promoting belief in UFOs, noting similarities between Grusch’s claims and the claims of Garry Nolan, Stanford pathology professor and longtime proponent of the UFO extraterrestrial hypothesis, among others.[99] (According to Leslie Kean, Nolan knows and respects Grusch.[14]) Matt Stieb, writing for New York, described Grusch’s claims in Coulthart’s interview as “crazy”.[21]

Ezra Klein, a columnist with The New York Times, posted a podcast interview with Kean on June 20, 2023, noting that “the main reactions” to her recent story about Grusch “have been to either embrace it as definitive truth or dismiss it out of hand.”[14] Klein asked a series of skeptical questions. Kean agreed that it is hard to imagine the government managing to keep programs secret for so long.[14]

Documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist Steven Greenstreet criticized Grusch in a video with the New York Post for previously attending UFO conventions and associating with Skinwalker Ranch ufologists Jeremy Corbell and George Knapp, whom he met at a Star Trek Convention and both of whom sat behind Grusch at the July 26 Hearing and whom Representative Tim Burchett recognized from the dais and read their statements into the record.

David Grusch, a former intelligence officer, at the witness table July 26 for a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington on unidentified aerial phenomena. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

David Grusch landed at Dulles International Airport on July 25, the day before he would testify under oath to Congress that the U.S. government is secretly handling extraterrestrial technology. The former intelligence officer was not picked up by his lawyer, I. Charles McCullough III, a former inspector general for the nation’s intelligence community. Nor was Grusch swept up by a posse of national-security pros or old-school publicists.

Instead, Grusch, who is 6-foot-6, squeezed into the back of a dark SUV with a pair of YouTube creators who had the air of intellectual frat dudes: Ammar Kandil, 29, a founder of Yes Theory, a “digital-storytelling” collective with a huge fan base and an array of affirmational stunt videos; and Jesse Michels, 31, an investor in Peter Thiel’s technology ventures who hosts an interview series with “heretical thinkers” such as the cosmic philosopher Jacques Vallée, on whom Steven Spielberg based a key character in his 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The whistleblower and the influencers seemed like natural collaborators. Yes Theory’s motto is “seek discomfort.” And Grusch, 36, was about to make Washington uncomfortable.

“How do you expect this to go?” Michels asked Grusch on the ride into Washington.

Grusch worried that his testimony, limited by security-clearance red tape, might be a letdown for those versed on the topic of unidentified aerial phenomena (or UAP, the modern term for UFO). Grusch said that while deplaning moments earlier, he had still been pleading with the Pentagon’s security office to clear more material for public consumption.

“Shouldn’t it be the president saying this stuff?” Grusch said, glancing out the window of the SUV, cameras capturing his prehearing jitters. “Like, I don’t want to be the purveyor of disclosure because I don’t have all the data.”

This behind-the-scenes peek at Grusch’s visit to Washington is part of “Close Encounters of the Human Kind,” a documentary by Kandil, who stars with Michels as confidants to Grusch in the days before and after his visit to Congress. As Grusch was testifying under oath about “Non-Human Reverse Engineering Programs,” he also was starring in his own personal odyssey through modern-day UAP discourse, which has grown louder and more mainstream in recent years as the U.S. government has acknowledged that sometimes the phenomena defy explanation.

The documentary’s subtitle is “7 Days With The Man Claiming Aliens Exist (under oath in congress),” although Grusch’s purported knowledge is secondhand and he has offered no hard evidence in public. To Kandil, this is sort of beside the point.

“Our audience responds the most to moments of humanity,” said Kandil, in an interview Saturday with The Washington Post, the day before the documentary was uploaded into the feeds of Yes Theory’s 8.5 million subscribers, who responded with comments including “The Truth Will Set You Free” and “feeling uplifted for the compassion expressed for all of humanity.”

There is something bigger here than bewildering aviation technology or clandestine government programs, Kandil thought. Something less alien. Something, ironically, more human.

Grusch with Ammar Kandil, a founder of Yes Theory, and Jesse Michels, before his congressional testimony. (Luke Gaie)The documentary came together just a week before Grusch’s testimony. Michels, who met Grusch two years ago through a mutual friend in the Air Force, set up an introductory phone call with Kandil. Grusch liked the uplifting, adventurous vibe of Yes Theory’s videos, which include Will Smith bungee-jumping out of a helicopter, two men illegally hiding out in Singapore’s airport for four days, and a prank involving a Justin Bieber look-alike who ate a burritofrom its middle instead of from one of its ends. Yes Theory’s platform was a way to tell a story outside the bounds of traditional media or congressional oversight.

“I thought it would make sense to go through you guys,” Grusch tells Yes Theory on camera.

Cut to: the exterior of the Rayburn House Office Building on July 26. Grusch, Kandil and Michels made small talk about the summer humidity. The influencers asked how the whistleblower was feeling, and he said he had been “restless” the night before.

Inside the committee room for oversight and government reform, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) asked Grusch: “Do you have any personal knowledge of people who have been harmed or injured in efforts to cover up or conceal these extraterrestrial technology?”

“Yes,” Grusch replied.

Later in the hearing Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) asked whether the government had retrieved bodies from crashed UAP.

“Biologics came with some of these recoveries, yeah,” Grusch said.

Mace asked: Were they human or nonhuman?

“Nonhuman,” Grusch said. “And that was the assessment of people with direct knowledge on the program I talked to.”

Kandil was transfixed by Grusch’s testimony, but he didn’t see fellow content creators lighting up at the committee’s dry, repetitive focus on the national-security interests of the United States. He thinks the key for this kind of news to reach an untapped, younger audience is hardly rocket science.

“The packaging needs to feel like it’s YouTube-native,” Kandil said in an interview. In the modern streaming era, this means emphasizing a character’s relatability as much as the person’s credentials or claims.

As Kandil explains, “stepping outside your comfort zone” — as Grusch did over the summer in Washington — resonates with young people raised in a “hyper, instant culture” that is “constantly telling you to take the easier route.”

It hasn’t been easy for Grusch. Since July, he has been portrayed as a kook, a conspiracy theorist, a peddler of scuttlebutt. Last month, NASA administrator Bill Nelson — while unveiling a report on UAP that found no evidence of extraterrestrials — said there was “a lot more to learn” on the subject, but when asked about Grusch’s testimony, he belittled it as the equivalent of saying “a friend” has “a UFO locked up in a warehouse.”

“David Grusch has this intensity, and we know the type,” said retired Navy pilot Ward Carroll on his YouTube show in August, referring to the military’s administrative ranks, adding: “Sometimes they’re a little eccentric.”

Grusch, who declined to be formally interviewed for this story, is portrayed in the documentary as a man on a diligent mission — or a “journey,” as he puts it at one point. He speaks of his trauma from combat, of his Roman Catholic upbringing, of his neurodivergence.

“Hopefully I can make a difference,” Grusch said on the ride from the airport to Washington, and be “the guy that will inspire more people to go public.”

After the congressional hearing, Kandil posted a cryptic message on his personal Instagram account: “Hey, I’m doing a meet up tomorrow around UFOs. If you had one question to ask at the hearing, what would it have been?”

The next day, July 27, Kandil hosted a Q&A with Grusch and 30 fans of Yes Theory at a hotel less than a mile from the Capitol. “The true public hearing,” Kandil called it, with “skeptics” and “believers” alike. Fans drove overnight from outside the D.C. area to be there.

Grusch, who a day earlier was grilled under penalty of perjury, found himself in the middle of a YouTube fan meetup with far lower stakes — although the documentary’s pulsing musical score suggests that great revelations were at hand.

“Are we safe as, like, a human species?” asked one attendee. “Because, I mean, I might have watched too many movies.”

“The universe certainly has a yin and a yang, so there’s certainly dark with light,” Grusch said. “So I think it’s a mixed bag.”

Grusch then recounted one story about “a very senior Navy individual” who told him about an incident where a “a 300-foot triangular craft” hovered above his car. “He couldn’t even process what he was seeing,” Grusch told the meetup. “But then he took pictures of his car after the incident,” he said, and the “upper-facing decks of his car were all hit with ionizing radiation, ultraviolet, because the paint became milky.”

Did Grusch see the photos? Would it matter if he did? If his tale proves anything at all, it’s Grusch’s sincere desire to connect with — and believe — his fellow humans. He told the meetup about his Catholic upbringing, and the “woo-woo” nature of faith in any transcendent mystery — how he drifted from it, and how, in a way, he has returned.

“Oddly enough,” Grusch told the meetup, “I’ve kind of come full circle.”

The UAP discourse has rounded a bend, too. The documentary arrives at a moment when the conversation has intensified in politics, popular culture and the Pentagon.

In 2017, the New York Times revealed a secret U.S. government program devoted to investigating reports of UAP. In August, the Defense Department’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office launched a digital hub for all things anomalous, including a map of reported “hot spots” and records of typical UAP characteristics (“round” and “white”). Last month, NASA appointed its first director of research on UAP.

A bipartisan amendment to the annual defense authorization bill would declassify government documents related to UAP.

“The American public has a right to learn about technologies of unknown origins, nonhuman intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in July.

One of the 10 most-watched TV shows on Netflix is the Spielberg-produced “Encounters,” a four-part docuseries revisiting unexplained sightings through a humanistic lens. Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets quarterback, barely raised an eyebrow when he recently disclosed a UAP run-in on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” Ditto for Olivia Rodrigo, one of the biggest names in pop music, who told Rolling Stone that in lieu of “Twitter conspiracies” about a rumored feud with Taylor Swift, she prefers to “only look at alien conspiracy theories.”

Although UAP discourse has trended toward the mainstream, it still can feel like a fringe topic. Congress and NASA make it seem too technical and bureaucratic. Paranoid stories of close encounters, sprinkled across Reddit, are too odd and tinfoil-hat.

Kandil thinks his documentary — which had accumulated over 750,000 views by Thursday morning can move the conversation forward, to new demographics and new platforms, through modern ways of storytelling suited for TikTok tastes. Grusch thinks his “journey” can inspire people with firsthand knowledge to come forward.

But real answers to the UAP question are not to be found in behind-the-scenes journeys, in the enthusiasm of subscribers or in the promise of evidence. They are to be found in measurable, tangible facts.

“So, this David Grusch guy is basing his entire claim on conversations that he had,” not “actual evidence,” said Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard University, in a phone interview. Loeb says he watched half the documentary; he saw a narrative, not any actual disclosure.

“We need to look through telescopes and be collecting data through instruments, not through people talking about it on social media,” said Loeb, who heads the Galileo Project, which searches for science-based evidence of extraterrestrial technological artifacts. “Somebody interviewing another guy who tells the story — who cares?”

Fans of Yes Theory might care. People who want to believe might care, as would people who just like a good, relatable story. But people like Avi Loeb?

“I just want to see the data,” Loeb said. “And Grusch is just another story.”

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