7 March 2012


Annie Jacobsen. Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base. Orion Books, 2012

This is a mainly straightforward history of the secret American facility known as Area 51, situated in Nevada. Much of the information in it was obtained from interviews with 74 individuals, of whom 32 lived and worked in Area 51. Other information came from official documents, some of which were recently declassified.
There is some fascinating material about the U-2 spy plane project, which was not declassified until 1998. Area 51 was developed to provide a suitable secret area for testing these aircraft. As the U-2s were to fly higher than any existing aircraft, the development process was particularly hazardous.

For example, as the Soviet Union was developing more powerful missiles, it was feared that the U-2s might be shot down after being detected on radar, even though they would be flying at up to 70,000 feet. So a special radar-absorbing paint was created and applied to several U-2s, even though this would appreciably increase the weight of the aircraft and impair its performance. In April 1957, a Lockheed test pilot flew one of these planes for about 90 miles without incident, when it suddenly spun out of control and crashed, killing the pilot, as the paint had caused it to overheat.

A strange side-effect of the early U-2 tests was a series of UFO reports by commercial airline pilots and air traffic controllers which "began to inundate" CIA headquarters. The U-2s were silver-coloured (later painted black despite the increased weight and danger of overheating, apparently) and, as they flew at up to 70,000 feet, whereas commercial airliners in the mid-1950s flew at between 10,000 and 20,000 feet, the pilots reported them as UFOs. As the U-2s were top secret, the commercial aircrew could not be told what they really were.

I don't know if there really were as many reports of the U-2s as UFOs as Jacobsen implies, but it is in her handling of the UFO topic that she goes completely off the rails. Most of the book is an interesting and well-written account of the development and testing of military aircraft, nuclear weapons and, later, the increasingly important drones.

Some reviewers have gleefully pointed out errors in the book, but it must be realised that she had to rely for much of her material on the memories of men who served in Area 51 many years ago, and such memories cannot possibly be perfectly accurate. Although some of the details seem fantastic, at least they are believable. However, as I (and others) have noted, her treatment of the UFO topic is, though "good in parts", rendered absurd by her assertions about the Roswell incident and alleged crashed or captured saucers.

These start with the well-known tales of Bob Lazar. Of course, some of the things which Lazar said were undoubtedly true, but Jacobsen also gives credence to some of the obvious fantasies, such as Lazar being shown a flying saucer, at a facility called S-4, and being told that his job would be to reverese engineer its antigravity propulsion system. There is also the story of Lazar being escorted along a hallway in S-4 by armed guards and being told to look straight ahead, but risking a glance at a small window in which he could see a small alien with a big head between two men in white coats. (That's how to keep your captive aliens secret, folks; just stick them in front of a window and tell people not to look.)

However, the real absurdity is the author's version of the Roswell affair. According to the story she was told, it was not a balloon rig which crashed, but a flying disc, which was not from another planet but from Russia. It was an elaborate hoax devised by Joe Stalin, and contained a crew of children, surgically modified by Josef Mengele. The children did not fly it; it was flown by remote control. The craft's propulsion system was unknown, probably some antigravity device, and the intention was that the children would be mistaken for Martians, involved in an invasion of Earth, and cause widespread panic. Inside the craft was an inscription in Russian. (I'll bet you didn't know that the Martians spoke Russian, did you?) Attempts to reverse engineer the craft's antigravity power plant either failed, or were successful but have been kept secret to this day.

No, I have not made up the contents of the previous paragraph. If you don't believe me, buy the book and read it for yourself. -- John Harney


  1. The people's planet is deepest red!

    1. "Though cowards flinch and skeptics sneer,
      We'll keep red herrings flying here!"

  2. Lazar's story rings true simply because since the dawn of time the easiest way to make people look or listen is to tell them not to look or listen.

    Sadam gave the same order just before walking prisoners past a gristly looking grinder with pieces of blood clotted bone and locks of long human female hair caught up in its teeth.

    The prisoners'd shit their pants so much who needed waterboarding!

    It suggests though even if what Lazar saw was really an alien he was still some sort of psy-ops stooge.

    Ditto the Joe Stalin Roswell 'hoax'.

    Engineers're by definition the physical analogues of computer programmers ie they tell themselves a story...'if I put these types of wings here and this type of engine here...etc etc etc...then this thing should work...'

    But when it doesn't then like programmers they have to keep changing the details in their narrative until things finally work the way they're supposed to ie they essentially back-engineer themselves.

    But since in an environment like Area 51 everything's on a need to know basis they can't resist spotting all the little clues concerning what everyone else's getting up to and coming up with similar but obviously more speculative narratives they may or may not at a later date get a chance to polish up with further data.

    If anything then the Stalin Roswell story's evidence others witnessed something precisely similar to Nick Redfern's sources for BODY SNATCHERS IN THE DESERT interpreting that information however according to their own possibly political and technological predilections.

    But since the Stalin narrative's far more demanding in how much it requires us to suspend our disbelief (eg Stalin inadvertently handed the US the opportunity to back-engineer Soviet anti-gravity) if anything it strengthens Nick's rather more mundane case.

  3. In case anyone thought Roswell was the cream of the saucer crashes, a new book on Aztec is coming out very soon, and we are assured that it will blow Roswell out of the water (or desert). For a preview, see