Aug 19 2013

Area 51 Revealed

Area 51 is more than just a subject of UFO conspiracy mongering, it has graduated to a fixture in pop culture. Everyone knows what Area 51 is, or at least what it’s supposed to be. Mention crops up in movies, such as Independence Day.

According to the CIA this facility’s official name is the much less alluring, Nevada Test and Training Range at Groom Lake, a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is part of a 23 x 25 mile area of restricted air space. For decades there have rumors that Area 51 is a secret base where the US government has recovered alien spacecraft and conducts research on those craft.

The government denies these claims, but has never said what Area 51 is really for. It has never been mentioned in any public document, and documents obtained through any freedom of information act (FOI) request have never mentioned Area 51 (any possible mention being redacted).

George Washington University’s National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson made a FOI request in 2005 for information on the U-2 spy plane program. He received a 400 page reports entitled, “”Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs, 1954-1974.” In this document the name Area 51 is no longer redacted – it is mentioned as the base at which the U2 was developed and tested.

The document confirms what UFO skeptics have been saying for decades – sure, Area 51 exists and it is shrouded in government secrecy. However, the US must have some secret air bases where they test new aircraft and from which they launch their spy planes. There has never been any evidence of alien spacecraft or advanced technology emerging from the study of alien artifacts. Lacking any evidence for an alien phenomenon, mundane government spying is the more likely explanation.

Of course, this will not end UFO conspiracy theories, involving Area 51 or otherwise. If you believe the government is covering up aliens then no government explanation will convince you otherwise. This in itself is reasonable, once you buy the conspiracy, of course.

The need for government secrecy surrounding spy programs has likely generated a great deal of UFO and conspiracy belief. In the early days of the U2 program, this high-flying spy plane was responsible for a sharp increase in UFO sightings. The government, of course, could not explain what the sightings actually were. At times they tried to explain them away as natural phenomena – transparently implausible explanations that just lent more credence to the conspiracy theories.

At other times they allowed belief in aliens to provide the cover for their secret programs. They likely have had different feeling about this strategy over the years. I can imagine that some argued this strategy backfired when belief in UFOs became a huge phenomenon, driving thousands of curious UFO investigators to probe even further into the government’s secrets.

For example, Area 51 is a popular destination for UFO seekers. They cannot get into the restricted base itself, but they hover on the fringe taking pictures and videos, hoping to catch a glimpse of a flying saucer.

Another example of a secret government program being mistaken for a UFO cover up is Roswell. To quickly summarize this long and now famous story, in 1947 a Rancher found debris from an unusual crashed object. The government recovered all the debris and tried to cover up the incident, however an inexperienced press officer released a statement that a “flying saucer” was recovered, before the big boys showed up.

For years the Air Force had no good explanation for what they found, leading to the huge Roswell crashed saucer cover up phenomenon. In 1994, however, the Air Force finally fessed up – the crashed object was part of a secret spy program, Project Mogul, in which the Air Force was using weather balloons and modified corner reflectors to spy on Soviet nuclear testing.

The reaction to this revelation was predictable – skeptics said, “Of course,” while conspiracy theorists scoffed.

Conclusion

For the foreseeable future there is going to be government secrecy. They will need to keep military secrets and there will always be a shroud of secrecy surrounding their espionage and intelligence activity.

Secrecy, of course, is the enemy of science and open inquiry. I can sympathize with those who are uneasy with such high levels of government secrecy, and I can understand how it breeds suspicion.

We therefore have to keep a delicate balance between necessary secrecy and the need for proper oversight and public trust. We do have mechanisms for oversight by elected officials, and the public also has some rights, such as those spelled out in the Freedom of Information Act. But as long as the government is allowed to keep secrets, there will be conspiracy theorists imaginatively filling in the gaps.

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14 responses so far

14 Responses to “Area 51 Revealed”

  1. Bruce Woodwardon 19 Aug 2013 at 8:41 am

    There was actually a pretty good progamme about this and other UFO folklore this last weekend on British TV. I am a bit fuzzy here as I spent half of it running around after a very active and non sleepy 9 month old, but it did cover a lot of how the UFO lore might have come into being through the USA testing Nazi technology that was far beyond it’s time and the whole smokescreen around the U2 and area 51 data.

    He did say that he felt some reports from credible sources were not explainable, but he didn’t dwell on them.

    Unfortunately I missed the end of it but his pattern was to present what UFO nuts were saying and then give a mock-up of the incident and then go into explanations that were not alien related. Some of it relied quite heavily on Nazi technology which I was a bit unsure of, but I think it did a good job overall.

  2. locutusbrgon 19 Aug 2013 at 9:20 am

    Couple of NIT’s
    They have, through eminent domain in 2005 claimed a good deal of the property surrounding groom lake making photography just about impossible now.

    Paragraph three I am sure that you meant IT not I. I know what you mean but I might as well mention it before you get the snide comment.

    See I told you that THEY were hiding things from us. That proves that the alien bodies FROM AREA 51 were moved to the pentagon and purposefully destroyed in the Sept 11th attacks, exist. Proving once again how the CIA used planes to fly coke into the US. Turned into crack to provide the money for area 51 and then September 11th attacks to hide the evidence of aliens from us. I am also sure that the GM corn from Monsanto was based on alien technology as well. Foolish skeptics learn from your unquestioning belief in the party line.

  3. ccbowerson 19 Aug 2013 at 10:06 am

    locutusbrg-

    Have you been smoking the pot? You risk your life revealing such information. Of course you know Monsanto is named after the home planet.

  4. ccbowerson 19 Aug 2013 at 10:29 am

    “The document confirms what UFO skeptics have been saying for decades – sure, Area 51 exists and it is shrouded in government secrecy.”

    But we already knew that right? I don’t understand the unnecessary secrecy over the years that added fuel to the UFO conspiracy belief. It just brought more eyes to a supposed secret base. Perhaps initially they thought that UFO and alien fanatics were too fringe to have an impact on exposure, but once it became a broader cultural phenomenon they should have been smarter about unnecessary secrecy to add fuel to the fire. Perhaps they didn’t even care about the added attention, but then why the secrecy? Another example of incompetence (of PR in this case) being a much more likely explanation than broad conspiracy.

    This does make me think about the role of secrecy and it’s impact on increasing conspiracy thinking. I wonder about cultural differences in conspiracy thinking and correlation with governmental secrecy and stability. It certainly seems like there is a causal link, because with insufficient information, people will still try to connect-the-dots. I have noticed this on smaller scales- in a workplace for instance.

  5. Bruce Woodwardon 19 Aug 2013 at 10:41 am

    cc,

    I think they wanted to foster the conspiracy nuts as it kept the focus away from what was really going on. They couldn’t come out and say what was going on so they had to misdirect the attention it was getting. They couldn’t come out and say it was actually a secret spy plane but shhh… don’t tell the ruskies.

  6. Bronze Dogon 19 Aug 2013 at 10:47 am

    Perhaps initially they thought that UFO and alien fanatics were too fringe to have an impact on exposure, but once it became a broader cultural phenomenon they should have been smarter about unnecessary secrecy to add fuel to the fire. Perhaps they didn’t even care about the added attention, but then why the secrecy?

    One idea I’ve heard is that they probably started using the aura of mystery for counter-intelligence purposes. It’s like putting a complicated lock on a highly visible empty safe while storing your valuables elsewhere. The spy/thief ends up wasting resources cracking the wrong container.

  7. ccbowerson 19 Aug 2013 at 10:50 am

    So… Bronze dog. Where is the REAL area 51??

  8. locutusbrgon 19 Aug 2013 at 10:54 am

    @cc
    My experience whatever that is worth.
    Disclosure of secret information that does not support their theory results in the opposite reaction. Conspiracy theorists then tend to say that it is a misinformation campaign to distract us from the truth. It is hard to understand when you use logic, but more information is useless and perpetuates the nonsense.
    Frustrating for us but it is probably better to let them think the absurd rather than to put the truth out.

  9. Kawarthajonon 19 Aug 2013 at 12:05 pm

    While the UFO nuts were developing their conspiracy theories (I love how they tie it into 9/11) about area 51, the Russian and Chinese governments have been monitoring what actually goes on there – I’m sure that their spies/satellites have been peeking in on the latest technology that the US airforce is testing in area 51.

  10. ccbowerson 19 Aug 2013 at 12:45 pm

    “Disclosure of secret information that does not support their theory results in the opposite reaction. Conspiracy theorists then tend to say that it is a misinformation campaign to distract us from the truth.”

    I disagree somewhat. Although disclosure is often rationalized by the conspiracy theorist as part of the conspiracy, I think that having a more transparent process makes conspiracies less appealing among the general public. The fringe will not be deterred, I suppose, but I do think that the balance of secrecy/disclosure matters for the broader picture. If secrecy appears irrational from the outside, people start to wonder what are they REALLY hiding. When left to the imagination, explanations become more elaborate than the (usually) more mundane hidden truth.

  11. Bronze Dogon 19 Aug 2013 at 12:47 pm

    So… Bronze dog. Where is the REAL area 51??

    Everywhere else they test experimental military technology, typically boring stuff like stealth aircraft.

    Aside from the allure of the complicated lock, Area 51 probably had the Christmas Present Effect. It contains whatever your imagination wants it to hold or even stuff you can’t imagine, so you stay up all night wondering what it could be. Then you tear off the wrapping paper and discover it’s just socks and underwear.

  12. locutusbrgon 19 Aug 2013 at 5:21 pm

    @ CC
    “The fringe will not be deterred, I suppose, but I do think that the balance of secrecy/disclosure matters for the broader picture. If secrecy appears irrational from the outside, people start to wonder what are they REALLY hiding. When left to the imagination, explanations become more elaborate than the (usually) more mundane hidden truth.”

    I would not agree given the Warren report, project mogul, the 9/11 report. None of those disclosures has in anyway derailed the popular misconceptions about 9/11, Kennedy assassination, or aliens at Roswell. Roswell is the only one where you could make the argument for a delay affecting the popular imagining. Kennedy is an excellent example of rapid disclosure that become an example of the cover up.

  13. ConspicuousCarlon 19 Aug 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks to 60 years of stupid crap from the UFO nuts, this is actually boring news.

  14. ccbowerson 20 Aug 2013 at 8:54 am

    locutusbrg-

    So you don’t think secrecy promotes conspiracy thinking, really? A few counter examples really don’t help here, because I’m not saying that conspiracies won’t exist with disclosure. We don’t have the counter factual senarios to see how the belief in these ‘conspiracies’ would change with and without the disclosures. Your examples are fairly extraordinary examples of false conspiracies that have entered the public mainstream, while I am just saying that secrecy promotes conspiracy thinking.

    Conspiracies will still occur with disclosure, and complex situations will leave room for anomalies to be exploited by those who want to connect dots. The Kennedy situation was helped by many popular books, television shows, and a movie which put forth a lot of misleading information. Post misinformation fact correction does not work well in these senarios because they never get the attention that the original incorrect information received.

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