The Pentagon said Saturday that it did have a secret program to investigate unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, from 2007 to 2012. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

The Pentagon admitted Saturday that its long-secret UFO investigation program did exist. But it said the program ended in 2012, when U.S. defense officials shifted attention and money to other programs.

But whether the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program has continued to investigate UFO sightings since its money dried up five years ago could be an unexplained phenomenon.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the hush-hush program, which was to investigate sightings of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, ran from 2007 to 2012 with $22 million a year in funding secretly tucked away in U.S. Defense Department budgets.

Its initial funding came mostly at the request of former Senator Harry M. Reid, the Nevada Democrat long known for his interest in space phenomena, the newspaper said.

Yet according to its backers, the program remains in existence, and officials continue to investigate UFO episodes brought to their attention by service members, the newspaper said.

The Pentagon was not clear about whether the UFO program continues to hover somewhere in the vast universe of the U.S. defense establishment.

"The [Defense Department] takes seriously all threats and potential threats to our people, our assets, and our mission and takes action whenever credible information is developed," Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said in an email to Reuters.

What is less in doubt is former senator Reid's enthusiasm for UFOs and his role in launching the Pentagon initiative to identify advanced aviation threats.

"If you've talked to Harry M. Reid for [more than] 60 seconds then it's the least surprising thing ever that he loves UFOs and got an earmark to study them," former Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said in a message on Twitter.

Or as Reid himself said in a tweet that linked to the Times' story: "The truth is out there. Seriously."