Area 51 exists. And if that’s not news, then the CIA is for the first time willing to talk of area 51’s existence. As with anything kept secret, the military zone has become a projection screen for all sorts of conspiracy theories, especially regarding UFOs. The mysterious location in central Nevada has in fact brought forth secret tools and weapons, and of course inspired the imagination of Hollywood and crazies, and Hollywood crazies, for decades.
George Washington University’s National Security Archive has been the first to get official mention of the area, as the CIA has sent their history of the U-2 spy plane a second time for their archive: the first time Area 51 was redacted out of the documents, but upon receiving a second request for the same information in 2005, they responded with a version restoring mention of Area 51, and this was received by the University last Thursday.
Area 51 does indeed exist –that much the CIA has made clear — but what they’re up to at that facility is no more transparent than before. Instead, we have a little history on how this facility was chosen.
The released information “is clearly a conscious decision to acknowledge the name, the location, rather than play pretend about the secrecy,” said Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The place was originally an old airstrip used in World War II. CIA project director Richard Bissell and Air Force officer Col. Osmund Ritlandt discovered the old airstrip from the air and debated landing on it, but elected to land on a nearby lake instead. As the document explains:
They spotted what appeared to be an airstrip by a salt flat known as Groom Lake, near the northeast corner of the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) Nevada Proving Ground.
After debating about landing on the old airstrip, LeVier set the plane down on the lakebed, and all four walked over to examine the strip. The facility had been used during World War II as an aerial gunnery range for Army Air Corps pilots. From the air the strip appeared to be paved, but on closer inspection it turned out to have originally been fashioned from compacted earth that had turned into ankle-deep dust after more than a decade of disuse.
If LeVier had attempted to land on the airstrip, the plane would probably have nosed over when the wheels sank into the loose soil, killing or injuring all of the key figures in the U-2 project.
They decided to make a site for testing the U-2 and training its pilots, and that’s how the area, which on its map designation was called “area 51” became a testing site. The secrecy has to do in part with its remoteness, a feature of the facility that lead Kelly Johnson to refer to it as “the Paradise Ranch” to make it sound more appealing, which was later reduced simple to “the Ranch.” That it was secretive lent it to the sorts of rumors and conspiracy theories that all secrets and secretive behavior inspires.