Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base - reviewed
I'll admit to being very interested in aliens, UFOs and the 1947 Roswell crash when I was in high school, but I had fallen out of my fervent fixation with such extraterrestrial musings over the years. Perhaps that's why I picked up this book to begin with. Maybe I had a lingering curiosity or a wonder whether I would still find such things curious. I don't know for sure, but I do know that it's probably why I loved the book as much as I did.
Let me be clear about this: Annie Jacobsen's Area 51 is not about aliens, alien abductions, extraterrestrial UFOs or anything else most people associate with Area 51. It's much more down to Earth, and far more surreal at the same time.
If you're looking UFO lore, look someplace else. But if you're looking for a plausible history of one of the most secret government installations in the world and why it's remained so secret that even in 2011 the government has not officially acknowledged its very existence, then I encourage you to read this book.
Annie Jacobsen is a journalists who fell into some very special connections over a dinner party that led to various threads she then spent years unraveling. The result is one of the most thorough accounts of cutting edge research and development done by the United States government from the final days of the Manhattan Project to today.
The Groom Lake facility, A.K.A. "Area 51"
The history of Area 51.
The official history of the Area 51 research center at Nevada's Groom lake is that it doesn't exist.
The unofficial history is that it was established in 1951 (hence the name Area 51) to process the remains of what crashed in Roswell New Mexico on July 8, 1947.
But just what did crash in Roswell on that fateful day has always been a mystery.
Early eye-witness accounts said it was a "saucer-like craft". In fact, Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release detailing a "flying disk" had crashed.
The government later forced Haut to declare that he had been mistaken and what had crashed was nothing more than a weather balloon.
This change in story has led to conspiracy theories of a government cover up and speculation that the first story is the true one, and that the UFO was extra-terrestrial in nature. There is even speculation about alien bodies recovered from the site.
Indeed, it is this single incident that is at the heart of Area 51 but before we can understand this, Ms. Jacobsen takes us back in history a bit further... to a certain radio broadcast on Sunday, October 30, 1938.
Original 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast
War of the worlds
Sunday, October 30, 1938 Orson Wells made his famous broadcast of War of the Worlds with The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was a radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and it was done as though the it were a radio broadcast of an actual invasion by Martians.
It was famous because despite the introduction proclaiming the broadcast to be a radio adaptation of the H.G. wells classic, many listeners who tuned in late and found it so real that they believed it was indeed an actual news broadcast. In fact, many other news stations also missed the introduction and were so taken in by the broadcast that they too began to relay the story as if it were news. Mass panic ensued.
What does any of this have to do with Area 51 and secret government installations? That's the first part of Jacobsen's unique theory. I won't go into too much detail here because I don't want to take away from the book, but I will say that John and Jane Doe were not the only ones listening intently to the broadcast. Governments - both domestic and foreign - were also listening and paying attention to the reaction of thousands of ordinary citizens to what they believed was a bona fide alien invasion.
As many people know, the Manhattan Project was the name given to the top secret atomic weapons development program of the United States in the early 1940s. It was also the single biggest secret program the government had ever conducted. So secret in fact that Harry S. Truman was entirely unaware of its existence until he was briefed on the matter one week after assuming the office of the Presidency upon FDR's death.
After World War II, control over what was the Manhattan Project was assumed by the Atomic Energy Commission (currently part of the Department of Energy). It was because the agency was the only one of its kind - super secret, and of the highest classified nature - that it was entrusted with the remains of the 1947 Roswell crash.
The UFO crash of Roswell in 1947 is one of the few things discussed in the book that remain classified. Still, Ms. Jacobsen presents a fascinating account pulled from various interviews tied together with supporting documentation. What she lays out is one of the most stunning depictions of what may have actually crashed on that day that I have ever heard.
It's far more down to Earth than the extra terrestrial based accounts, but no less intriguing.
Aside from the kinds of startling revelations and stunning accusations one would expect from a book about Area 51, there is also a wealth of historical information taken from the declassification of many formerly top secret documents. Annie Jacobsen does an excellent job of presenting the information, and connecting many disparate projects.
One area of declassified documents covered in the book pertains to the U.S. nuclear experiments from Project Crossroads in 1946 through the 1960s and beyond. Many of these nuclear tests were carried out at Groom Lake, and test ranges in Nevada near Area 51.
I personally found this part of the book to be some of the most frightening. Not because of the number or even the size of some of the experiments, but because of the lack of planning and restraint in some cases.
For example, Project Crossroads is a fairly well documented test in which the military took a fleet of decommissioned navy ships and parked them around the Bikini Atoll. They then proceeded to detonate two 23 kiloton nuclear bombs, named Able and Baker. Able was detonated 580 feet above the fleet while Baker was an underwater detonation.
The idea was to determine the effects of atomic bombs on a naval fleet, and to see to what extent a fleet could survive such an attack.
The problem was that very limited thinking had been done as to how to decontaminate the fleet of now radioactive warships. Traditional methods, of lye and sea water scrubbing were not effective since most of the seawater being used was also contaminated.
In addition to the ineffective cleansing protocol, the blasts produced high levels of radioactive Plutonium, which could not be detected by the Geiger counters given to the cleanup crews. This was not discovered until several days after cleanup had begun, and the process of trying to salvage the ships was ended once those in charge realized the magnitude of this previously hidden radioactive threat.
Official Government Documentary (Project Crossroads)
Other experiments detailed include operations Teak, Orange, and Argus.
Teak (3.8 megatons, detonated 76.8 kilometers high), Orange (3.8 megatons, detonated 43 kilometers high),and Argus (1.7 kiloton) were atmospheric blasts. Argus holds the record for the highest altitude nuclear explosion at 335 miles (540 kilometers).
What is most frightening about these atmospheric tests is that the scientists involved were divided into two camps on the likelihood of the outcome. It seems there was dissent upon whether detonating bombs of this magnitude this high in the atmosphere would ignite the atmosphere itself, creating a chain-reaction fireball engulfing the planet.
The tests proceeded, apparently without a clear consensus beforehand.
The tests were so powerful that they are said to have actually frightened the famed former Nazi rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun - a man with a reputation for not being easily unnerved.
When one looks at these experiments through the lens of history, it's easy to be aghast and horrified at the seemingly senseless self destructive nature of mankind. But at the time, the U.S. was very much in the dark about Soviet capabilities and goals as well as the true effect of nuclear weapons.
The U.S. knew that Stalin was developing nuclear weapons, and the prevailing belief was that if the U.S. didn't learn all it could and develop nuclear weapons technology to its fullest, then they would risk annihilation at the hands of the Soviets.
Many other such experiments have proven beneficial to man's understanding of nuclear energy, and have resulted in the creation of much more benign technology. However, some experiments were just shy of disastrous.
Operation HardTack (including Teak)
One of the more sensational bits of lore surrounding Area 51 is focused on the 1969 Lunar Landing. The Moon Landing Hoax conspiracy holds that the Apollo 11 astronauts did not land on the moon and the whole thing was a show put on by NASA and the U.S. government.
Some hoax believers claim that the landing that was televised to millions of viewers on July 20th, 1969 was actually filmed at Area 51. Some have even pointed to film of what appears to be the Apollo 11 astronauts in their spacesuits with a lunar rover in the desert on Earth.
The explanation is much simpler than any conspiracy hoax theory. According to Jacobsen, the Apollo astronauts practiced driving a lunar rover and managing such mundane tasks as changing tires in their spacesuits at the atomic craters of the Groom lake test site. It seems that atomic craters are remarkably similar to lunar craters.
"Hitler's Stealth Fighter"
Another common aspect among many stories surrounding Area 51 and the crashed UFO at Roswell in 1947 is that what crashed was reverse engineered by scientists at Area 51. The conspiracy theories usually point to alien technology being reverse engineered, but according to this book it was much more terrestrial in origin but still alien to the scientists at Area 51.
It is believed that whatever crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 had stealth capabilities. That meant it did not appear on radar and it did not exhibit any undue outward characteristics sufficient to warrant notice by bystanders below - until it crashed.
But if it wasn't extraterrestrial alien technology, then who could have developed this stealth technology?
It seems that this is not as far-fetched as it may at first appear. It just so happens that German aerospace engineers, known as the Horton brothers, designed a stealth flying wing for Adolf Hitler in the last days of WWII. Designs and prototypes of these craft fell into the hands of a certain nation after the fall of the Third Reich, and provided the blueprint for what later crashed in Roswell.
It was from examining this wreckage that the U.S. learned it was in danger of losing it's technological superiority - if it hadn't already done so. According to Jacobsen's account, it was the Roswell crash debris that thrust the U.S. into full throttle R&D to try to outpace the Soviet Union.
The government had cause to be concerned. This was a shot across the bow by the Soviets. A stealth retaliation for America's saber rattling at Project Crossroads.
From this event, the U.S. would go on to develop a long line of super fast, high flying stealth spy planes that would eventually culminate in the B-117 Stealth Bomber. These would include the famous U2 spy plane, Oxcart and many more.
Annie Jacobsen goes into great detail about the programs and development of these technologies, and it is a truly fascinating window into the unsung heroes, public failures and quiet victories of the cold war. Including how the U.S. acquired one of the Soviet's infamous Russian MiG fighter planes, and what they did with it.
Buy the book to read the full details of everything discussed here - and more! Seriously, what you've read here is a fraction of the material covered in this book.
The real reason government cannot admit Area 51 exists?
The book wraps up back where it began, in Roswell 1947 and details the shocking revelation of what else was found in the wreckage.
The true nature of what was in those craft, and what the U.S. government did with the remains is why, in Annie Jacobsen's view, the United States government can never officially acknowledge what crashed in Roswell in 1947 or that Area 51 even exists.
The full details of this revelation alone is chilling, horrifying and deeply deserving of the rich tapestry of lore that has come to personify the mythic Area 51.
Is any of this real?
I've no doubt that much of the historical details of the various government projects pertaining to nuclear testing and spy plane development are as close to the truth as a citizen can get. Jacobsen has made full use of declassified documentation and first hand accounts wherever possible. In my opinion, this book is worth the read for this reason alone.
As to how much of the Roswell crash account is true, we may never know. I will say that she never states those accounts as fact, merely as the most recent assertions by some people "in the know". And whether they're true or not, they do make for some enjoyable speculation.