FORMER Senate majority leader Harry Reid was at the center of efforts to transform the UFO debate into a serious political issue.
For decades, discussions about unidentified aerial phenomena were often restricted to the fringes of American politics.
Reid attended a series of meetings in the mid-1990s alongside real estate magnate Robert Bigelow, parapsychologist Hal Puthoff, and “avowed” ufologist Harrison Schmitt, Politico reports.
Bigelow wanted to talk about aliens and the politician was introduced to the real estate tycoon through renowned Nevada reporter and journalist George Knapp.
In a New York Times piece, Reid recalled that his staffers said: “Stay the hell away from this.”
But, the politician ignored them as he was “inquisitive”, adding: “I thought it was an issue that demanded attention and I was in a position to act.”
Reid was warned that “fraternizing” with the group could “ruin” his career and shatter potential aspirations of becoming Democratic Party leader, according to Politico.
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While in Congress, the Nevada Senator managed to secure $22million in funding for research, which helped create the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.
The AATIP investigated alleged sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena, involving encounters with military personnel before being disbanded in 2012.
Reid wrote in the Times: “I’ve always been fascinated by things I don’t understand – by the mysterious and the unexplained – and I believe this fascination comes in part from growing up in rural Nevada.
“People who live in rural America, away from the light pollution of the major cities, can gaze at the night sky and see the marvel of the Milky Way.”
Reid viewed his work as a “highlight” on his resume.
He told Politico: “I think that I have opened the door to people not being afraid to talk about it.
“I know that when I first got involved in this, people in the military were afraid to mention it for fear of it hurting their promotions.
“But now the Pentagon has told them they should report all these things that they see that are unusual. So we made a tremendous amount of progress.”
Former US Navy fighter pilot Alex Dietrich spotted a mysterious object while training with a strike group, approximately 100 miles southwest of San Diego in 2004.
She spoke out about the mission alongside fellow former pilot Commander Dave Fravor.
Dietrich told CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ that fighter pilots had struggled with how much to reveal about the encounter as the descriptions sounded “crazy”.
I think that I have opened the door.
She said: “Over beers, we've said, 'Hey man, if I saw this solo, I don't know that I would have come back and said anything.
“Because it sounds so crazy when I say it.”
Fravor and Dietrich were each flying F/A-18F fighter aircraft when they said they saw an anomalous object flying in their vicinity.
She said: "It was unidentified, and that's why it was so unsettling to us because we weren't expecting it. We couldn't classify it."
Dietrich, who now teaches at George Washington University, said that she didn’t want to be known as the “faculty UFO freak”.
UFOs have risen up the political agenda in Washington as Joe Biden signed into law a new office that will probe mysterious encounters.
It will probe whether or not the strange craft that has been reportedly buzzing the US military are unknown technology from Russia and China or potentially something more alien.
Unclassified reports on the phenomena will also have to be released each year on October 31.
Reid passed away at 82 on Tuesday and dozens of tributes have been paid following his death.
President Joe Biden said: “I’ve had the honor of serving with some of the all-time great Senate Majority Leaders in our history.
“Harry Reid was one of them. And for Harry, it wasn’t about power for power’s sake. It was about the power to do right for the people.”
'AN AMAZING INDIVIDUAL'
Former President Barack Obama shared a letter he wrote to Reid so his wife, Landra, could read it to him.
In a statement, he penned: “Here’s what I want you to know. You were a great leader in the Senate, and early on you were more generous to me than I had any right to expect.
"I wouldn’t have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn’t have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination.”
Obama described himself and Reid as “a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and care about the little guy".
Current Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer branded the politician “one of the most amazing individuals” that he’s ever met.
And, Republican and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said: "Nevada and our nation are mourning a dedicated public servant and a truly one-of-a-kind U.S. Senator, my former colleague Harry Reid.
"The nature of Harry’s and my jobs brought us into frequent and sometimes intense conflict over politics and policy.
'NEVADA IN MOURNING'
"But I never doubted that Harry was always doing what he earnestly, deeply felt was right for Nevada and our country.
"He will rightly go down in history as a crucial, pivotal figure in the development and history of his beloved home state."
Originally a boxer, Reid’s political career began when his coach, Mike O’Callaghan, made him his running mate in the 1970 Nevada gubernatorial election.
Reid became the state’s Lieutenant Governor from 1971 to 1975, later becoming chairman of the Gaming Commission.
He ran for Congress in 1983, after a previous failed attempt, and became the representative for Nevada’s 1st district. He would later serve as Senate majority leader for eight years.
Reid also put much focus on water, energy, and public lands issues.
The politician faced multiple health issues near the end of his term. In 2015, he was left blind in one eye after an exercise accident.
In May 2017, he learned he had cancer after a colonoscopy.
In 2018, he underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer and announced last summer that he was in “complete remission” and cancer-free.
His cause of death is unknown at this time.
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