Area 51

groom_lake_aerial There's a government base at Groom Lake, Nevada where ultra-secret U.S. spooks allegedly keep crashed flying saucers. Or, more likely, a place we tested experimental combat and surveillance aircraft.

It's the most talked-about super-secret location in the history of secrecy. So why doesn't the government just open the gates and show people around?

FUCK YOU — that's why.

Area 51, an Army air base, is a top-secret enistery wrapped in a ultra-classified mygma. (We have to use code to even refer to it.) Everything we know about it is subject to debate.

There's a "credible" story, then there's an "incredible" story. But there's no official story. Despite the fact that Area 51 is one of the most popular topics of fiction, paranoid speculation and beer-soaked college dorm ruminations in this history of this nation, the government still refuses to discuss the facility in any way, except to tell you it's none of your damn business.

A band of hardy skeptics pieced together the "credible" story, a mind-bogglingly thankless task since absolutely no one wants to hear about it. Let's get it out of the way right off, so that we can move on to the more entertaining stuff:

The Army founded Area 51 during the 1950s, and developed the U-2 spy plane there. It developed a whole bunch of other fancy airplanes at the 500 square-mile base, at least through the F-117 Stealth Fighter. Run by the Air Force today, the base is devoted to developing secret airplanes for use in spying.

Whew! That's a load off! Needless to say, this version of events lacks a certain, shall we say, joie de vie. Luckily, there's plenty of joie to go around. There's plenty of juice in the actual facts, before we get to the UFOs. And don't worry, we'll get to the UFOs.

  • Shoot to kill! Tourists regularly trek to Area 51 to see the sights and the mysterious lights in the sky. This is not the brightest idea, because the private security firm patrolling the grounds is authorized to kill anyone stepping over the line onto the base proper.
  • Speaking of that private security firm, here's a little known fact: The Carlyle Group owns about 25% of it, according to the company's proxy statements, which were reviewed by You might wonder why a private firm is needed to secure a military installation. Keep wondering.
  • Most of Area 51's staff is flown to the base for work on a daily charter plane from fabulous Las Vegas, NV, every day.
  • Timothy McVeigh told his biographers that he went to Area 51 in 1994, just to "look around." He claimed he was chased off the base by black helicopters. (He also said he fucked Terry Nichols' wife the same month. Don't believe that either.)
  • According to an executive order of the President of the United States (George W Bush annually renewing an order previously given by Bill Clinton), Groom Lake is exempt "from any Federal, State, interstate, or local hazardous or solid waste laws that might require the disclosure of classified information concerning that operating location to unauthorized persons. (...) Continued protection of this information is, therefore, in the paramount interest of the United States." So pollute away!
  • According to the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, some sections of Area 51 are open for cattle grazing. All the better to mutilate you, my dear!
  • According to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, there have been at least four documented nuclear test detonations in and around Nellis Air Force Base, which administers Area 51, from 1957 through 1968. One of those detonations was in an area known as "Area 13." So a simple and purely scientific calculation tells us that whatever is in Area 51 must be 3.92 times worse than a nuclear bomb.
  • Area 51's proper name is... Well, we don't know. The order above refers only to a location near Groom Lake Nevada. The government denies it has ever been called Area 51. The number is believed to have originated with a map notation. As an Air Force liaison to Hollywood commented once, "I've been asked about Area 51 dozens of times. I tell screenwriters that everybody has heard of Area 51. I say, 'If I were you, I'd forget Area 51 and look at Areas 1 through 50.'"
Nothing ever comes out of Area 51, or so the legend goes. No garbage, no recycling bins left out for pickup, no shipments, only mysterious planes flying with their lights down, or strange unearthly objects with all kinds of lights going on. All these flights take place at night. The only daytime flight is the little commuter plane bringing the workers in from Las Vegas.

Despite all this secrecy, satellite pictures of Area 51 have been published all over the Internet. The pictures show a bunch of hangars and runways. They are not exciting. But then, if the pictures actually showed flying saucers, they wouldn't make it to the Internet, now would they?

The real legend of Area 51 — that the base is used to house and reverse-engineer crashed flying saucers — is actually a relatively recent creation. It began around 1989, when a guy named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television program that he had worked at Groom Lake and had seen the flying saucers with his own eyes.

Lazar claimed he was an MIT-trained physicist who worked at the facility and helped the government unravel the secrets of crashed saucers, including one recovered at Roswell (even though the Roswell incident precedes the founding of Area 51 by nearly 10 years... well, according to the credible story, anyway).

After the initial television airing, the skeptics took aim at Lazar. Now, the community of "skeptics" moved in and proceeded to decimate the entire story, the man himself and anyone who gave him the time of day.

Still from TV special It's worth noting that there is a whole subclass of American society now designating itself as "skeptics." They have magazines, Web sites and they publish a lot of books. Now, a lot of people approach UFO stories, aliens and a lot of other stuff (like politics) without bothering to think critically or educate themselves sufficiently to make a reasonable judgment about things. That's a bad trend. People who designate themselves as official skeptics claim to be working to offset that trend, which is a good thing on the face of it.

The actual problem arises when the skeptics (people like James Randi and Philip Klass, and pretty much the entire editorial staff of the "Skeptical Inquirer") violate their own self-stated principle of "the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view" by failing to put aside their own knee-jerk presumption that all paranormal claims are false and their derisive contempt for anyone who presumes otherwise.

All that being said, the skeptics appear to have been dead-right about Bob Lazar. When follow-up research showed he didn't go to MIT (and barely graduated high-school), he claimed the government had altered his school records to discredit him.

Lazar claimed he was developing startling new technologies based on the saucer's secret fuel, anti-matter "Element 115." He also spouted a lot of stuff about anti-gravity and gravity warps which are wholly inconsistent with anything even remotely resembling science.

Captives of Area 51? Shortly after the TV interview, Lazar was convicted of felony pandering for pimping out a Las Vegas-area prostitute. To get convicted of felony pandering in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, you either have to a) really be trying hard, b) be really stupid or crazy, or c) be the target of a vast government conspiracy to discredit you.

Even other UFO enthusiasts quickly soured on Lazar's "too-good-to-be-true" account of Area 51's alien experiments, mostly because it takes about five minutes of physics research to realize that the man had no clue. Despite the unsoundness of the source, the story and the claims about Area 51 will not die. They just go on and on and on.

The government's over-the-top secrecy doesn't help things. Again and again, the U.S. has refused to disclose even a hint of what goes on at Groom Lake.

As recently as June 2003, the FBI raided the home of an Area 51 researcher named Chuck Clark, who lives in the region and writes about the facility, using a sealed search warrant. Clark had discovered and documented a motion-sensor warning system installed on public lands outside the officially restricted zone.

When Area 51 workers sued the government for exposing them to highly toxic waste (jet fuel exhaust and related fumes from illegal disposal, allegedly), the feds refused to respond in any way, except to (successfully) insist in court that no one, any where, any time, has any right to know any thing about any activity at Groom Lake. Period.

With all this, there has been at least one official statement about Area 51, which was made in 2000 after aerial pictures of the facility appeared on the Internet. Speaking is Assistant Secretary of Defense Ken Bacon:

Q: Okay, and just to be clear, since this is a matter of some speculation for years about what exactly goes on in Area 51, what can you say goes on at this test facility?

MR. BACON: Darn little. All I can tell you is that we have a right, as a sovereign nation — in fact, a responsibility to the citizens of the United States — to develop various weapons from time to time. Sometimes these weapons are developed in classified locations, and we have several locations where we do this, as do a number of other countries in the world.

Q: And although you've talked about this sort of obliquely and somewhat satirically, can you just say for the record whether or not, can you confirm or deny whether there are any alien spacecraft, alien -- anything extraterrestrial stored or at any time stored at this facility?

MR. BACON: I think I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have no classified program that relies on aliens from outer space.

Weapons, eh? Particle beams? Laser cannons? Sex-a-lyzers? Rectal probes? Cattle mutilators? Somehow, I don't think this will settle the debate.

After all, aside from the fact that this response says basically nothing, there is also the small ongoing issue that we're all aware of: The government lies. All the time, every day, about things large and small, about grave abuses of power, about bizarre but completely true conspiracies, and about stuff that's just fucking pointless.

So, hey, why not aliens too?

Note: There is a persistent rumor that Area 51 has been abandoned. It hasn't been. This story stems from a poorly researched article in Popular Mechanics magazine. The magazine sent reporters out to the base--and they went down the wrong road. In truth, Area 51 is as active as ever, doing whatever it does. A new runway was installed on the base in spring of 2003.


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