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Area 51 and Roswell

25 Apr 2013
Once I drove my two Iranian roommates onto a military base, a nuclear base of the Strategic Air Command. I just flashed my ID at the front gate, and we drove right on through. They were astounded, but that was just the beginning. I drove them past a line of fighter jets and nuclear bombers, including two B-52s. They were speechless. Few people in their home country, generals included, had ever seen such a display of the world's leading military technology.

That was five years before the Iranian revolution, when the Shah of Iran was still America's best friend in the Middle East. My buddies were sons of top-ranked men in the Iranian government, one a general. In spite of their stature this everyday occurrence for me was beyond their wildest imagining. The idea that foreign national could be allowed there, unescorted except for me, was hard for them to believe: I was not even a soldier.

Some bases have always been more secret than others, but perhaps none more so than Area 51, an hour's drive fm rhere I live today. For years the very idea of Area 51 was considered mythological. Whether it existed or not was irrelevant, because no one would ever know if it existed.

This point was driven back home to me recently when I reviewed a segment of the 1996 film Independence Day. In a key sequence someone suggests to the President that they flee to Area 51. The President informs that person that there is no such thing as Area 51. His Secretary of Defense clears his throat and says, "Mister President, that's not exactly true." I had to laugh. I first located Area 51 with a tourist map in the gift shop of the Hoover Dam.

According to the recent book Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen, this super-secret base was carved out of the Nevada Missile Range in 1955. Along with Roswell Air Force Base in New Mexico, the primary purpose of this base was, in the beginning, to administer nuclear testing in the Nevada desert north of Las Vegas. The entire range was devoted to this purpose. Hundreds of nuclear tests, above and below ground, were conducted there until 1992. Residents of Las Vegas used to hold nuclear lawn parties to watch. At one point a gigantic explosion damaged Area 51 so badly that it was closed for years. Eventually it was reopened for other purposes.

Yucca Flats
Yucca Flats Nuclear Test Range, southwest of Area 51 See massive volcano-like crater in the upper right, and the dozens of "normal" craters in the foreground

The missile range was divided into dozens of areas numbered sequentially from one to fifty-one, but Area 51 was always special. It was the CIA's playground. The base was larger and contained Groom Lake, a dry lake bed that became useful for testing CIA spy planes like the U-2. You can see the base today on Google Earth. Most noteworthy are the airplane runways, which by all appearances are more substantial than those at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.

Area 51 Base
Area 51 base, south of Groom Lake in foreground See the grid of long runways for large aircraft

Just as interesting as a history of the area is an account of the Roswell incident of 1947. The author claims that in the process of researching Area 51 and its Roswell connection, she came across an elderly source who reluctantly discussed the Roswell incident, in detail. The result is interesting and plausible, but impossible to confirm.

According to this source, what Roswell experienced was a flying disk with individuals inside, but its alien origin was the Soviet Union, not another world. As the story goes, the U.S.S.R. was determined to show the U.S. that even with our nuclear monopoly (at that time), we were not secure. They used unknown technology - the flying disk - and easily penetrated our air space, just to make us nervous. Remember that this was before anyone had created an intercontinental ballistic missile. The passengers were mistaken for aliens, the story goes, because the Soviets used passengers with severe genetic anomalies, for the specific purpose of making the event more frightening. The intention, we are told, was a psychological operation (psy op) against the U.S. military.

If true, they succeeded. My uncle Patrick Napier was stationed on Roswell AFB in 1950. He relates that it was a base with unusual security protocols. The locals hated everyone on the base. Why the hatred? Because after the 1947 incident, the military came into town and made severe threats to shut everyone up. Rumors have long circulated that some people disappeared in the desert, but talk of that sort cannot be substantiated.

Area 51 is a fascinating book with photos, names, places, and dates. It has recently declassified information, and information that perhaps is not yet declassified. Much of the information is publicly available, but the author dug deep to get the juiciest historical details. A book this forthcoming about secrets makes this writer, who received his own security clearance two weeks after graduating from high school, a bit suspicious.

Suspicious I am, because the CIA excels at false-information games of this sort. It could easily provide doctored photos for Google Earth, and dummy photos and documents for the book. I struggle to accept it at face value. If my doubts are justified, that means that the entire book is open to question. But some of the satellite photography of the region is clearly true: endless acres of nuclear craters. Appearing as they do on the already-desolate desert gives them an almost lunar appearance.

Examine the book, by all means, but do so skeptically. It is an accessible source and a pleasant read. Trust, if you wish, but verify.


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