Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Area 51" by Annie Jacobsen

Few other places on earth have generated as much controversy, or mystery, as Area 51,located in the desert of Nevada. To make matters even more complicated, the area simply does not "officially" exist. And therein lies the key to the enigma that has spawned TV shows, books, movies and given birth to the entire UFO debate. This book examines all of these things.

The first UFO "crash" in Roswell, New Mexico back in 1947, provided a unique problem for the United States government. We had just won the Second World War with the use of an atomic bomb. We were the only nation, at the time, to have a weapon of such destructive force. Of course, it was only a matter of time until the Soviets would catch up and develop a bomb of their own. To this end they employed the same people we did in our endeavors to perfect missile technology.

When Nazi Germany fell in 1945, among the spoils of war were the top Nazi rocket scientists. We got Von Braun and a few others. The rest were "divided" between Britain, France and Russia. While the Americans worked primarily on high altitude bombers and missile delivery systems, the Russians were working on satellites and jet propulsion. Here's where things get interesting.

Suppose, just for a moment, that you are the President of the United States in 1947. You receive the news that a Russian "craft" of unusual design has crashed in the desert outside of Roswell. Its trajectory indicates that it came from the Northwest, having crossed over several of our most sensitive military areas in the Southwest, before crashing. The "pilot" was killed and his body stored for examination. The craft itself was identified as a disc, with no wings, and had Russian markings on the interior surfaces.

The letter posted here mentions a Dr. Vannevar Bush, a man who founded Raytheon in 1922. The letter is dated within months of the events at Roswell. Raytheon is the Greek translation of "light from the gods." He headed the Office of Scientific Development which controlled the Manhattan Project. He was involved in the research and development in every aspect of Area 51. Just who was this man and how did he garner so much power in regards to "national security" and the 60 odd year coverup of the events at Area 51?

The first press release identified the craft as the object that had been plaguing the newly created United States Air Force (up until the end of World War Two it was the Army Air Corps) all that summer. There were many reports of an object on radar in the area, but the object had eluded the radar operators on several occasions. This time, however, the craft had literally landed in our laps. With questions pouring in faster than the disc had traveled, an explanation needed to be concocted which would satisfy the public's concern, while not insulting their intelligence. The next day the first press release was scrubbed and the object became the now contentious "weather balloon."

That story was then used to cover up all manner of experiments taking place at the Nevada Test Firing Range in the desert outside of Las Vegas, including Area 51, where the "alien" craft had been taken. In that same area the United States, desperate to find out what was going on behind the "iron curtain", began to test high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. This was the beginning of the U-2 program and the road that led to the 1960 shoot down of Gary Powers, a civilian employee, flying a U-2 over Russia's most secret facilities. That failure led to a cancellation of a summit between Nikita Khrushchev and President Eisenhower. It also set the stage for the most dangerous years of the "Cold War".

Khrushchev used the incident to show the world that there was a "criminal conspiracy" against the Soviet Union, based in the United States. He even named the culprits; a private contractor, the military and the President were all involved in an effort to illegally cross the Soviet border and gather intelligence to which they had no right. The program had been ongoing since 1956, and denied by the United States government. But this time the Soviets had the pilot, Gary Powers, and pieces of the plane as proof of their assertions.

Eisenhower was forced to admit that the plane existed, but insisted that it was used for atmospheric tests. His only other choice was to have admitted lying to the American people since 1956, thus lending credence to the Soviet claims of the earlier missions. Further denials were not possible, given that the pilot was still alive and in Soviet hands.

The first jet engine experiments were conducted over the Mojave desert in California during the early days of World War Two. The plane, flying out of Edwards Air Force Base, was a Bell XP-59A. With no propellers, it was an unusual sight, so “dummy" propellers were affixed to the nose of the aircraft during tests. The only problem was that the test range was right next door to the training facility being used to train P-38 pilots. When they saw an aircraft without propellers, trailing smoke, zooming high above the desert, the first real UFO stories were born. Prior to that time the only UFO stories came from science fiction books and the famous Orson Welles broadcast of "War of the Worlds" in October of 1938.

Almost all of the UFO sightings in the United States can be traced back to experiments conducted at Area 51. But those experiments pale in comparison to some of the other stuff these same scientists were working on. In addition to the experimental aircraft, there were medical tests being done on children, and adults, with Plutonium. These experiments were conducted along the lines of the Nazi "medical" experiments conducted during World War Two. Some of the experiments were even conducted with the participation of ex-Nazi scientists, working for our own government and under the supervision of Vannevar Bush. Since all of this was being done under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission, most of those details are still classified.

But, by far the most dangerous of all the experiments conducted were the two named Teak and Orange. Teak would scare Werner Von Braun so badly that he simply walked away from the program. Teak was the first of two nuclear test explosions undertaken to see what would happen with a high altitude detonation of a thermo-nuclear device. It was expected that the range of fallout would be greater with increased altitudes. To this effect they decided to go way up - as high as the ozone layer, for the tests. There was some concern about what would happen if the ozone layer were breached, but these concerns were brushed aside, the assumption being that Mother Nature would repair the damage by itself. To this day we have no idea of how much damage was done by these two tests. Think about that the next time someone talks to you about your responsibility for the depletion of the ozone layer. It's not just the result of your car. A strong case could be made that the ozone depletion began with these experiments. Evidently, Werner Von Braun thought so, too. Still, the experiments continued, under the secrecy surrounding Area 51.

As late as 1958, on August 27th, the 30th, and again on September 6th, three nuclear tipped warheads were fired atop X-17 rockets launched from the USS Norton Sound off the Coast of South Africa. The missiles pierced the stratosphere and the nuclear devices exploded 300 miles into space - this time above the ozone layer. The architect of this brainchild was a former elevator operator who had become a physicist, Nicholas Christofilos. He reasoned that a nuclear explosion above the atmosphere, but still inside the earth’s magnetic field, would disrupt the arming devices aboard any Soviet missiles seeking to make their way into the United States. The experiment was a failure. The price paid by our Ozone layer has never been divulged.

The ionization of fuel was another series of tests which were conducted at Area 51. It was reasoned that by adding cesium to the rocket fuel the radar returns of the Soviets against our missiles would be rendered useless. That experiment did have some limited success, but the question remains, what did we do to the atmosphere? Once again, the answer is still classified.

The book is quite expansive, even delving into the history of military aviation as it regards the United States. The nation's first aviation reconnaissance for military purposes was in 1916 when the Texas based First Aero Squadron sent planes over the Mexican border to track Pancho Villa. Over the next 90 years this program would gain in popularity, eventually giving way to the unmanned drones used today, which were first developed within Area 51.

Actually, that story is compelling as well, although it does not directly involve Area 51. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was flying a classified mission aboard a B-25 bomber when he was lost over Germany in the later days of the Second World War. What was that mission? It was the world's first remotely controlled bombardment of an enemy installation. Kennedy, flying the B-25, which was loaded with the explosive Torpex, would fly the plane close to the target, bail out, and then be retrieved by the plane following him. That plane would radio direct the B-25 to its final destination. Great idea, but it didn't work. The plane exploded before the target was sighted, killing the entire crew.

There is so much information in this book that I will have to read it a second time in order to really absorb it all. With its meticulously detailed 150 page section of sources and notes, this book is the most revealing look ever produced about Area 51. If you are willing to approach this book with an open mind, and can put TV shows such as "Roswell" behind you, this book just might teach you something about the relationship between the military and private defense contractors. The biggest questions posed in this book are how we allowed this all to happen in the first place, and why we allow it to continue today.

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