Who is Tonya P. Wilkerson, and what does it have to do with UFOs?

Who is Tonya P. Wilkerson, and what does it have to do with UFOs?
Biographical page on Tonya P. Wilkerson as it appeared on the website of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) on May 19, 2024

By Douglas Dean Johnson

@ddeanjohnson on X/Twitter // my gmail address is my full name

Original publication: May 21, 2024 8:35 AM EDT. Any substantive changes after initial publication will be noted in a log at the end of the article. If you are reading the emailed version of this article, you'll find it necessary to click the "view in browser" link at the top of the page if you wish to access or download any of the embedded documents. I first published a slightly different version of this article on X/Twitter on May 20, 2024.

President Biden has nominated Tonya P. Wilkerson to be the highest-ranking intelligence official in the Department of Defense.

On May 2, 2024, Biden nominated Wilkerson to serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security [(USD(I&S)]. Her nomination is currently pending before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Presidential Nomination 1691).The committee has not yet announced a date for her confirmation hearing.

The White House announcement that President Biden intended to nominate Tonya Wilkinson to serve as USD(I&S), May 2, 2024. The nomination was sent to the U.S. Senate on the same day.

This key Pentagon post is currently vacant. It was held by Ronald S. Moultrie from May 29, 2021, until his resignation on February 29, 2024.

Currently and since November, 2021, Wilkerson has served as Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Her biography on that agency's website, displayed as the graphic a the top of this article, says that Wilkerson has "over three decades of experience across the Intelligence Community, including leadership skills, experience across multiple mission areas, and deep expertise in the space sector." Wilkerson's previous government offices include Associate Deputy Director for Science and Technology/Strategy at the CIA (February 2019-November 2021), and director of the Mission Operations Directorate of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) (2015-2019).

Wilkerson holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and a master's degree in engineering management from George Washington University. At age 54, she has been associated with the intelligence community for a long time. In an April 2022 speech, she said, "I have always loved math and science, and as a high-schooler, decided that a good way to combine those interests was through pursuing a degree and career in engineering.... So, you may be wondering how did I end up in the Intelligence Community? Well, through my high school principal, I was introduced to a CIA officer..."

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on May 1, 2024, Wilkerson said, "The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is our nation’s leading authority for geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), providing warfighters, policymakers, intelligence professionals, and first responders the decision advantage they need to develop and carry out national security objectives at home and abroad....Most of our GEOINT data sources are space-based systems – including U.S. national technical means and commercial satellites – that are tasked by NGA’s collection experts to produce imagery exploited by our analysts to provide timely warning of imminent threats in global hot spots and unique insights on critical issues around the world."


The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security is a very senior Pentagon official, subordinate in the department hierarchy only to the Secretary of Defense and to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. The USD(I&S) is the department's highest-ranking intelligence official, serving as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on intelligence, counterintelligence, and security matters. The USD(I&S) oversees an array of major intelligence-related component agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.

The organizations that are under the authority of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security appear in the column on the far right.

For those who follow government activity pertaining to Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP), or UFOs, the USD(I&S) is a position of particular interest. Recent history provides some examples of why this is so. Throughout the period discussed here, the USD(I&A) was Ronald S. Moultrie (who resigned effective February 29, 2024).

On November 23, 2021, the Pentagon senior hierarchy administratively established a UAP office called the "Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group" (AOIMSG). (In my view, this was an eleventh-hour attempt to head off enactment of the expansive UAP-focused Gillibrand-Rubio-Gallego Amendment--at the time, I joked that AOIMSG stood for "An Office Intended Mainly to Stop Gillibrand"). AOIMSG was placed under USD(I&S) Moultrie's charge; most likely it was created at his instigation.

The Gillibrand-Rubio-Gallego legislation nevertheless was enacted on December 27, 2021 (part of Public Law 117-81), greatly expanding the mandates assigned to and powers conferred on the UFO office. But the Pentagon kept the upgraded, congressionally empowered office under Moultrie's administrative control, even though the authorizing legislation gave the Pentagon broad latitude to place the UAP office within any "component of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or within a joint organization of the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence..."

It was Moultrie who later picked Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick to head the new, upgraded UAP office.

[I was the first to publicly report that Kirkpatrick had been picked for the job, in an article dated May 12, 2022. Months later, the Pentagon acknowledged that Kirkpatrick had actually been asked to take the job in May--shortly before I reported it.]

On May 17, 2022, Moultrie appeared as the lead witness at a UAP-focused public hearing chaired by Congressman Andre Carson (D-In.) in a subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I think it is fair to say that Moultrie's testimony received low grades from just about every UFO-friendly quarter. At the hearing, Moultrie announced that the Department had selected the person who would direct AARO, but he did not announce the name.

On July 20, 2022, the Pentagon issued a press release announcing that the congressionally upgraded UAP office would be named the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), adding: "Today, USD(I&S) Hon. Ronald S. Moultrie informed the department of the establishment of AARO within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, and named Dr. Sean M. Kirkpatrick, most recently the chief scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency's Missile and Space Intelligence Center, as the director of AARO....The AARO Executive Council (AAROEXEC), led by...Moultrie, will provide oversight and direction to the AARO..." [boldface added for emphasis]

[This official announcement was issued a full ten weeks after my May 12, 2024 article had reported Kirkpatrick's selection.]

In a "media roundtable" conducted by Moultrie and Kirkpatrick on December 16, 2022, Moultrie told reporters that in reviewing department records, "I have not seen anything in those holdings to date that would suggest that there has been an alien visitation, an alien crash, or anything like that."

Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick gave his first public interview as director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) to Devin Dwyer of ABC News on July 20, 2023.


In the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act enacted on December 23, 2022 [Public Law 117-263], Congress adopted new statutory language intended to reduce the degree of the USD(I&S)'s control over AARO. The new law required that "on all operational and security matters," the AARO director would report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the second-ranking position in the Department of Defense (a position held then and now by Kathleen Hicks), and to the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, the second-ranking official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (a position held then and now by Stacey Dixon).

However, on "all administrative matters," the revised statute provided that AARO remained attached to the USD(I&S). Thus, the next Under Secretary and her USD(I&S) staff will remain very much involved the operations of AARO (to say nothing of any other UAP-related matters that may be encountered by organizations that fall within the Under Secretary's purview). This will include heavy involvement in shaping the budget requests submitted to Congress to support AARO operations, and collaboration in AARO's ongoing interactions with members of Congress.

To cite just one example of the latter: The USD (S&I) liaison to Congress, David A. Kozik, was included in a chain of mid-2023 emails between AARO Director Kirkpatrick and Senate committee staffs, dealing with AARO's unsuccessful efforts to persuade controversial UFO whistleblower David Grusch to agree to a formal "authorized reporting" interview with AARO staff regarding Grusch's allegations of a nonhuman-tech program hidden from Congress. These communications came into the public domain through a FOIA release obtained by John Greenewald of TheBlackVault.com (DoD FOIA 24-F-0266, March 21, 2024). Kozik's title is Director, Congressional Activities, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security.

Queried for this article, Matthew Pines, who directs the geopolitical and cybersecurity risk advisory practice for the PinnacleOne Strategic Advisory Group, commented: "The administrative matters the nominated USD(I&S) is likely to oversee include AARO-related facilities management, budget, contracting, human resources, congressional affairs, and information technology. Of these, budget and congressional affairs are the most significant, given that Ms. Wilkerson could help shape how AARO resources are slotted into the Future Years Defense Plan and how statutory changes to the Office are developed in collaboration with Congress. Of course, any items that bear on 'operational and security matters' would have to get [DoD Deputy Secretary Kathleen] Hicks’ and [ODNI Principle Deputy Stacey] Dixon’s stamps of approval. The USD(I&S) would also have an important say in who is appointed by the DoD to be the next AARO Director, a position which has been left unfilled for over six months."

Contacted for this article, Christopher Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, said that he had no information specifically on Wilkerson, adding: "But if UAP issues are going to be raised with the nominee, I would recommend someone raise the issue of the ridiculous current UAP class [classification] guide, which is impeding the flow of legitimate and valuable UAP information to both Congress and the public. Everyone in Congress and the Executive Branch agrees the government over-classifies information and this may be the most egregious example within the entire federal government....The current UAP classification guide is so indiscriminate, arbitrary and inconsistent with past practice that it seems to me in clear conflict with the President’s EO [Executive Order] on classification."

Moultrie's successor will probably have a lot of influence about who is picked as the next director of AARO. This is so even though the governing law provides that the AARO director "shall be appointed by the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence," and that the director "shall report...to the Deputy Director of Defense and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence on all operational and security matters of [AARO]."


In view of everything that I have written above, it would obviously be of interest to know something about what Tonya Wilkerson currently knows about or thinks about UAP, and also to have some insight into the extent to which she may have encountered the subject in her past jobs.

At the moment, however, I do not have a clue about either of those questions.

I will note that Wilkerson's service at the National Reconnaissance Office (2015-2019) partly overlapped with the tenure there of David Grusch (April 2016-November 2021), the retired intelligence officer who on July 26, 2023, testified at a hearing held by the National Security Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee, stating that he had acquired information about government programs involving research on technologies of nonhuman origin. Grusch has said that while on staff at the NRO, he was asked to serve as the agency's liaison to the UAP Task Force, which he began doing "in early 2019." The UAPTF was a small inter-agency operation, originally formed under prodding from the U.S. Senate defense committees, which at that time was headed by Jay Stratton, a senior Navy intelligence analyst who has since retired.

The scene just prior to the opening of a hearing on UAP before the Committee on Oversight and Accountability, U.S. House of Representatives, July 26, 2023. At the witness table, retired intelligence officer David Grusch was flanked by former Navy pilots Ryan Graves (on Grusch's right) and David Fravor.

In addition, both Wilkerson and Grusch joined the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) during the same month (November 2021); Grusch retired in April 2023. The vita that Grusch submitted to the House committee said that Grusch was a "senior GEOINT Capabilities Requirements Officer," at civil service grade GS-15. The vita also said that he was "NGA lead for Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) and Trans-Medium Anomaly issues. Executed new program of record responsive to direct tasking by the Congressional Intelligence Committees." In his July 26, 2023 House testimony, Grusch said, "I was my agency’s [NGA's] co-lead in unidentified anomalous phenomena and trans medium object analysis as well as reporting to the UAP Task Force--UAPTF--and eventually, once it was established, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office--AARO."

Both NRO and NGA are very large organizations (NGA employs about 14,500 "intelligence professionals"). In both organizations, Wilkerson held positions much higher than those held by Grusch. Wilkerson is the second-ranking official at NGA.

Early on May 19, 2024, I queried Grusch's "media team" as to whether Grusch knew Tonya Wilkerson or had any observations regarding Wilkerson with respect to UAP matters. I have received no reply as of the time of this post. I have also submitted questions directly to Wilkerson pertaining to any past involvement with UAP, including UAP-related interactions with Grusch at either NRO or NGA--but it would be somewhat surprising if someone with a nomination to a sensitive position pending before the Senate responded to such questions from any journalist, even one representing a major corporate media platform, much less little old me.

However, at some point, nominee Wilkerson will receive a public confirmation hearing (and, given the nature of the position, perhaps a closed hearing as well) before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Perhaps one or more members of that committee will raise UAP-related issues during those proceedings, and/or in private meetings prior to the confirmation votes in committee and on the Senate floor, and/or in written questions submitted for the public record.

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