Area 51 revelations don’t fool believers

It’s enough to make your favorite Martian’s antenna droop in depression.

The spoilsports at the National Security Archive continue to sift and sort through stacks of previously classified documents associated with Nevada’s mysterious and marketable Area 51, and once again they have not found a single page of material that confirms the top-secret base has been hiding little green men and fallen spaceships.

In August, the archive released a report based on declassified documents that acknowledged Groom Lake and Area 51 as a test site for the U-2 spy plane. On Oct. 29, it expanded its impressive Area 51 file with declassified documents that further describe the facility’s role in developing the top-secret stealth programs for the U.S. Air Force beginning in the 1970s.

Based at George Washington University, the archive also revealed that Area 51 was home to Soviet MiG fighters during the Cold War. (To read the report by senior fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson and review the declassified documents, go to

Stealth jets and MiGs, but nary a trace of Mork and Mindy.

Richelson, a prolific author who studies intelligence gathering and national security and documents military and aeronautical history, has been with the archive since 1987. His pursuit of classified paper trail often leads him back to Area 51.

But, alas, not for reasons that would set Steven Spielberg swooning or make George Lucas launch into a flight of fantasy. As Richelson illustrated in his Aug. 16 briefing book, “The Secret History of the U-2 and Area 51,” the real story of the mysterious testing range is as intriguing as anything dreamed up on the Syfy channel.

The U-2 played an important and controversial role in American intelligence-gathering during the Cold War. Studying Soviet MiGs up close was essential to developing reliable defenses.

Declassified documents show Area 51 was where secretly acquired Soviet radar systems were tested. It also was the site of Air Force development programs that didn’t take off.

At the conclusion of his latest study of the documents, Richelson alludes to “additional projects that may have been connected to Area 51.” One was the stealth helicopter that in May 2011 carried Navy SEALS into Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The second intriguing possible connection to the base is the brief mention of a stealth drone called the RQ-170.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out more about them soon.

Area 51 holds a level of fascination with the general public, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Richelson’s continued documentation of the real history of the place is refreshing.

But something tells me he’s not waiting around for praise from the extraterrestrial industrial complex.

“This stuff does, I guess, build up the history of the facility and more and more shows all the different things that went on there that didn’t have to do with people from other planets,” Richelson said Friday in a phone interview.

Although he expects to continue to document the history of Area 51 as part of his larger mission, he doesn’t seem confident he will come across proof of close encounters of anything but the military kind.

But not all hope is lost for believers in UFOs and visitors from other planets.

“It’s part of the process of filling in the blanks of what was going on at Area 51, and at what period of time,” he said. Then, playing along with my line of questioning, added, “Obviously, there’s a lot we don’t know.

“The only way you would possibly convince some of those people is if you could account for every last building and every last activity for the whole period of time, and we’re a long way from doing that.”

I can almost hear the cheers going up at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel and the Alien Research Center outside Hiko on the Extraterrestrial Highway.

Anything less than an irrefutable history will leave enough room for true believers to keep their eyes on the night sky as they sojourn to the edge of Area 51.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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