LAS VEGAS — For decades, Area 51 was the U.S. government’s Cold War-era secret that hid in plain sight, the 5-ton elephant in the Nevada desert that federal officials continually denied (“No, it’s not there”), prompting reams of conspiracy theories.
Well, now it’s official: Area 51 really does exist.
In newly declassified documents, the CIA is acknowledging the existence of the mysterious war test site in central Nevada that has captivated listeners on the far ends of the radio dial, spawning countless UFO conspiracies.
George Washington University’s National Security Archive on Thursday released a copy of the CIA history of the U-2 spy-plane program that was acquired through a public-records request. The report even places the site on a map, near Rachel, Nev., about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
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But hold on to your seat, all you Area 51 buffs: The lengthy report contains no reference to little green men from outer space.
“There is a section on the relationship between the U-2 program being responsible for UFO sightings,” National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson said Friday. “But if people are looking for sections on dead aliens and interspecies contact, they’ll be disappointed. It’s just not there.”
Not everyone was buying that claim. Audrey Hewins, an Oxford, Maine, woman who runs a support group for people like her who believe they have been contacted by extraterrestrials, said she suspects the CIA is moving closer to disclosing there are space aliens on Earth.
“I’m thinking that they’re probably testing the waters now to see how mad people get about the big lie and cover-up,” Hewins said.
Richelson’s quest for answers goes back years. He first reviewed the CIA’s history of the site in 2002, but found all mention of Area 51 redacted. Three years later, he requested another version of the original 1992 report.
Last month he got his reply: a new copy of the 400-page report with all mentions of Area 51 restored.
Richelson says the new document shows the CIA is becoming less secretive about Area 51’s existence, and that bodes well for future information requests about the Cold War weapons race.
“Now you can read in some detail about U-2 missions of the past,” he said. “We always knew there were 24 U-2 missions over the Soviet Union, but it’s nice to have maps and a table with each pilot’s name and each payload.”
The site is known as Area 51 among UFO aficionados because that was the base’s designation on old Nevada test-site maps. The CIA history reveals that officials renamed it “Paradise Ranch” to try to lure skilled workers, who can still be seen over Las Vegas flying to and from the site on unmarked planes.
Beginning with the U-2 in the 1950s, the base has been the testing ground for a variety of top-secret aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, F-117A stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber.
Some believe the base’s Strangelovian hangars also contain alien vehicles, evidence from the “Roswell incident” — the alleged 1947 crash of a UFO in New Mexico — and extraterrestrial corpses.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.