Question: Was there ever a real-life version of the X-Files?

The answer is YES – and it was run by the US Air Force.

Many fans of the X-Files might be surprised to learn there was a real-life program with a similar mission. The US Air Force’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) investigated unexplained aerial phenomena (UAPs), often referred to as UFOs.

From Basement Files to Streaming: Revisiting the X-Files with New Eyes

As a kid, I grew up watching Agent Fox Mulder work tirelessly from a basement office full of files – but not the sort of files most of us work with today. No, these weren’t drawn facsimiles of manila folders glowing on the desktop of Mulder’s computer screen – they were hand-typed and printed documents inside actual manila folders. That’s right, the 90s were a crazy time.

Thanks to modern streaming platforms like Hulu, I’ve recently been able to revisit the X-Files and watch it with a new set of eyes: those of a person who’s participated in formal military investigations (into much less dramatic things), developed a breadth of life experience to pull from and understands that Scully’s shoulder pads weren’t a product of her own lack of style, but rather the lack of style everyone was subjected to in the 1990s. Most importantly, as an adult, I’ve seen things I’m not sure I can wrap my head around – though admittedly, nothing that I believe constitutes proof of anything other than my imagination’s ability to argue against Occam’s Razor when I see lights darting across the dark, Georgia skies.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, Occam’s Razor is a pretty simple concept at its fundamental levels: when faced with two potential solutions to a mystery, the simplest answer is often the correct one. More to the point, when problem-solving, the solution that requires the fewest assumptions on your part is likely the more accurate one – per William of Ockham’s 14th-century theory. Why isn’t Occam in Occam’s Razor spelled the same way? Some mysteries I may never unlock.

The Mystery of Mulder’s Files: Where Did He Get All That Information?

As what I like to think of as a well-reasoning adult, re-watching the X-Files has been a clinic in shame regarding my childhood hero-worship of Fox Mulder. Although he often turns out right, he also demonstrates a real lack of tact when it comes to conveying his theories to his professional counterparts. In fact, I often find myself now empathizing with the cut-and-dry Dana Scully, medical doctor and skeptic… but is that because Mulder’s quest had drained him of empathy for disbelievers (fictionally), or is it because our world has grown less mysterious in the last twenty years? Has the internet age simply made skeptics of us all?

Well, based on the steady surplus of fake news bouncing around the cyber highways of the web, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe the X-Files just suffers from a bit of cheesy writing, then.

Mulder’s not saying either way.

My concerns about my own skepticism prompted me, however, to look a little harder at those filing cabinets in which Agent Mulder maintains his meticulous X-Files. Drawer after drawer of research, it doesn’t seem as though Mulder did himself, but rather accounts of mysterious events, military documents recounting witness statements, and – if you’re familiar with the show – lots and lots of slides to show Scully.