Area 51 is a very odd book On the one hand, much of it is a sane, grounded history of the installation s key role in Cold War nuclear testing and spy plane RD, full of previously undisclosed information based on declassified records and dozens of interviews with people who worked there Jacobsen sticks to that sensible course for about 90 percent of the book But the other 10 percent is kind of, well, nuts Things get weird when she links Area 51 to the Roswell incident Based on a single, unidentified source, she spins a truly amazing tale involving a super duper hi tech remote control stealth Soviet flying saucer developed at Stalin s behest, designed by a couple of ex Luftwaffe aeronautical whiz brothers, and manned by child size aviators who were biologically and or surgically reengineered children created by fugitive Nazi doctor Josef Mengele This type of thinly sourced, credulous reporting wouldn t pass muster at most newspapers No doubt it wouldn t fly at the Los Angeles Times, where Jacobsen works as a contributing editor to its magazine Standards are clearly different in the book world, where an author telling such a tale can confidently claim on the jacket, This book is a work of nonfiction The stories I tell in this narrative are real Well, except for the ones that can t be proved More here. Excellent book I don t know how Annie Jacobsen compiled the half of it Her work is extensive and exhaustive and it s fascinating on all fronts How could it not be, with a subject like this But in connecting the dots of such an unwieldy story, it never bogs down Her research is as satisfying as it is incomplete and disconcerting the few pixels of a much larger picture And she presents it without hype or paranoia, not even when such things could arguably be justified.Lest you think this is 500 pages of UFO nuts not hardly It s our military history, our aviation history, our hubris and folly and wizardry and triumph The nuclear program, the Cold War, the Space Race it all connects in a few hundred square miles of desert And yet, always, Jacobsen keeps this story focused on the human aspect, the interesting people behind these black projects instead of only the black projects themselves It s their foibles and heroics that write history Even history so secret it doesn t officially exist When she broaches the ultimate revelation of the Area 51 bible, it s her focus on the humanity of everyone involved that makes it hit hardest It s or less what I expected, but seeing it in print is something else The kinds of things you would hope would be left to science fiction, and implausible fiction at that.But no The truth of a thing outweighs the fiction And that s just the one pixel Who can imagine the rest In sum this is the book about Dreamland I always wanted to read You discover that the fantastic is true, but the fantastic is human, and the worst sins are our own. I heard an interview with Jacobsen on Fresh Air which intrigued me Then I got a sample chapter to see if it held up to a critical reading, and I was hooked.If all you know about Area 51 is the alien spaceship wacko thing, then you can be forgiven for thinking that is what this is about Rather, this investigative reporter examines the secret, black operations that have gone on here since the beginning of the Cold War And what has piqued my interest the most is her detailed account of how these secrets have been kept from Congress, and sometimes even the President This is a rogue operation, funded by our government, that has had no public oversight That, to me, is much scarier than aliens. I was just listening to Terry Gross interview Jacobsen on Fresh Air, and what I heard has really blown my mind, and I don t use that term, ever I am definitely going to get a hold of this book asap.Jacobsen s final chapter of the book apparently concerns the 1947 Roswell alien landing conspiracy theories Being very secretive but convinced of her source s veracity, she said the crash was of a Soviet flying disc aircraft, inspired by or possibly directly designed by some German engineers, those zany Horton brothers Horton Hears A V 2The inhabitants of the ill fated craft Well, here comes the really icky part surgically or genetically altered children, inspired by the experiments of another German scientist, the infamous Josef Mengele Altered to look like aliens. Apparently US brass got wind of a similar program the Soviets were carrying out, and decided it was too good to not copy B but we re the good guys you say in disbelief Well, who knows, but Jacobsen stands by her story, and she s said to have documented the rest of the book to exhaustive lengths.What is mind blowing is how some of the central plot points of the above story line up with certain key details in Thomas Pynchon s Gravity s Rainbow. Evil, mad Nazis who launch children inside top secret, futuristic aircraft Pynchon just made that bizzare shit up, and now we find out something very much like it actually happened, right here in the good old US of A Not to mention the overall themes of paranoia and media duped masses, drug experiments, corporations that know no law but their own, etc, etc Just remember that it s documented that TP had access to aerospace engineers in the 1950s and 60sTake it from there, conspiracy kiddies Annie Jacobsen is obsessed with secrecy Her other book, Operation Paperclip, deals with the hidden machinations of the US government after WW II to find and import Nazi scientists who had special expertise in rocketry and chemical weapons.This book details the hidden history of Area 51, an ultra secret location officially it doesn t exist in the Nevada desert just next to the atomic weapons testing area Supposedly created by the CIA in 1955 for U 2 flights, Jacobsen discovered it had been set up by the Atomic Energy Commission to conduct tests some might consider to be unethical on animal subjects The secrecy of the Manhattan Project, an effort unknown to Congress and even the Vice President Truman was briefed on it only after he assumed the presidency, was adopted as SOP by the CIA, NSA, and AEC to the point where one might argue the United States had a shadow government run by the military.Jacobsen s entry into this world came by chance when she met Edward Lovick, an 88 year old physicist, who suggested he might have an interesting story for her and connected her with other elderly pilots, engineers and scientists regarding the plane known as Oxcart the A 12 which had been created half a century earlier.Some of the secrecy was arguably quite necessary since it related to aerial surveillance that ostensibly helped keep the world from nuclear holocaust Whether even in hindsight this kind of secrecy justified keeping the president President Clinton was not privy to Area 51 affairs out of the loop is problematic and certainly undemocratic.The UFO conspiracy theories emanating from Area 51 she attributes to some seriously awful human research being done there during the early cold war and the whole UFO nonsense became useful for the Air Force as a cover for its own nefarious activities Who needs nasty aliens when we have the Air Force Area 51 was where the U 2 was developed Richard Bissell of later Bay of Pigs fame was put in charge and everything was so secret and control of the money providing so much power that Curtis LeMay, the Air Force general and SAC commander, was royally pissed off and he was not someone to mess with Eisenhower insisted that the pilot be CIA so as to avoid charges of military complicity should one of the pilots ever be captured The last thing he wanted was to risk charges of hostile action Yet hundreds of Air Force personnel were assigned to the program by Bissell since they had all the expertise Eisenhower, when pushed by LeMay, insisted it remain under CIA control so he could have plausible deniability.Secrecy could cause problems Since they wanted no one to drive to Area 51 or live in Las Vegas, the closest town, a shuttle between Burbank and the area was initiated and workers lived in Burbank No flight plan was listed nor any record of the flights kept So when, inevitably, the C 54 became lost in a snowstorm, and asks for help finding their position, controllers were completely flummoxed they had no record of any plane being in that area The plane crashed on the top of Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas killing some all on board Several interesting side effects resulted from the crash It was the first time the U 2 was used on a mission to help pinpoint the exact location so they could retrieve briefcases and classified documents , and the CIA learned how easy it was to use the public s preconceptions and the media s desire for a story any story to manipulate publicity The press, denied access to the site, made up a story that those killed on board were working on a secret nuclear weapons program, hence all the security It s no wonder UFO sightings proliferated The U 2 was originally silver in color, had an extraordinary wing span, and flew at 70,000 feet during a time when commercial aircraft flew between 10,000 and 20,000 feet The sun glinting off the plane made it look like some kind of fiery cross You have to remember this was a time of great paranoia Americans were terrified of nuclear holocaust and a Russian induced Armageddon I remember being on my uncle s farm in Wisconsin in the late fifties scanning the sky every time we heard a plane, jotting down the characteristics and its direction of flight, so the information my uncle volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol could be phoned in and checked to make sure it wasn t some Russian bomber Even then we thought it odd that a Russian bomber would make it all the way to Wisconsin without dropping any bombs, but logic never plays much of a role in paranoia Politics money and the media all symbiotically created the perfect storm of paranoia in the fifties Time Magazine was terrifying readers with stories of Soviet ICBMs crashing down on American cities Curtis LeMay was locked in a battle with the Defense Department over whether manned bombers were better than ICBMs they could be recalled, missiles could not while he called for a pre emptive strike on Russia and even ordered massive test launches of B 47s from Alaska and Greenland taking them just to Russian airspace risking a Russian missile launch He disdained the overflight research being done at Area 51 but continued to lose officers to both that program and the missile initiative promoted by the Paperclip scientists imported from Germany Those wanting a specific focus on Area 51 will be disappointed as Jacobsen uses it for a springboard to discuss the history and background of such things as the U 2 flights, etc Personally, I loved those details and once again was amazed that we survived the twenty years after WW II without descending into WW III Our arrogance and self righteous behavior was on display over and over Can you imagine the Congressional reaction had the Soviets flown a U 2 like plane over the U.S One interesting, if scary, tidbit is that the physical experiments for the U 2 pilots were designed by Paperclip doctors, i.e., German doctors who had conducted experiments on concentration camp victims Many of those tests buggered the imagination.Project 57 involved another kind of test Assuming that someday an Air Force plane would crash in the United States carrying a nuclear bomb, the scientists wanted to see what would happen Today we would call that a dirty bomb The only area that could guarantee secrecy, was outside the area normally allocated for open air nuclear testing, and wouldn t be used for 25,000 years the half life of plutonium was in Area 51 The book abounds with scientists, who, had they conducted the experiments they did for the other side, would have been labeled evil James Killian, for example Former president of MIT, Kennedy asked him to be head of a super secret internal agency that was hidden even from Congress Killian authorized two extremely dangerous atmospheric 3.2 megaton hydrogen bomb tests, one at a height of 140,000 feet, over the Pacific, i.e in the midst of the ozone layer In order to see what the effects would be on eyesight, hundreds of monkeys were flown, their heads locked into a position where they would have to look at the explosion Their retinas were burned, blinding them painfully The effect on the ozone layer wasn t recorded although I suspect it was far deleterious than aerosol chloroflourocarbons and damage was observed 250 miles away.I could go on Let s just say Jacobsen uses Area 51 discuss a wide range of topics and people related to work done at Area 51 to I won t spoil anything by discussing the flying disc that crashed in 1947, but will whet your curiosity only by suggesting you research the Horton Brothers and Operation Paperclip Or, you could read the book It s a depressing page turner I won t ever believe again anything coming out of Washington or the media I ve always said that if you really want to find out what happened, forget the daily news and wait a decade for the book, or, in this case wait fifty years for some things to be declassified LeMay sent some flights over Russia to test their radar defense Some of these were shot down and those pilots who survived spent the rest of their lives in the Gulag When asked about the provocative nature of the flights, he replied, With a little luck we could have started WW III The CIA was not happy and reported his clandestine activities to Eisenhower in 1956 LeMay s actions, ironically, provided an extra boost to the push for the U 2 as the CIA argued it could provide necessary intelligence about Russian capabilities at far less risk Still Eisenhower worried that one might be shot down triggering a nuclear holocaust Bissell assured the president that could not happen Well, we all remember Gary Powers The CIA, as I note from recent headlines, has a long history of continuing to lie to the president and probably itself. UFO and conspiracy books are a particularly guilty pleasure of mine I believe nothing, but am entertained and thrilled by all of it Jacobsen didn t fail me in this regard She has piled up a fast, heated history of Area 51 and the elements of the Military Industrial Complex which bred the secret base and its matching mystery installations around the world and country Much related here must be true, and most of it is quite reasonable and revelatory stolen technologies, blundering atom bomb and h bomb testing, and the grand architecture of great secrets Jacobsen shows that everything is connected in this vicious and weird world of clandestine Nazi technology, spy planes, satellites, and radiation of all types However, the knot in which she ties this squirming bundle of secrets with one version of the Roswell Crash is unconvincing and arrived at with far less authority than any other part of the book. Area It Is The Most Famous Military Installation In The World And It Doesn T Exist Located A Mere Seventy Five Miles Outside Of Las Vegas In Nevada S Desert, The Base Has Never Been Acknowledged By The US Government But Area Has Captivated Imaginations For Decades Myths And Hypotheses About Area Have Long Abounded, Thanks To The Intense Secrecy Enveloping It Some Claim It Is Home To Aliens, Underground Tunnel Systems, And Nuclear Facilities Others Believe That The Lunar Landing Itself Was Filmed There The Prevalence Of These Rumors Stems From The Fact That No Credible Insider Has Ever Divulged The Truth About His Time Inside The Base Until Now Annie Jacobsen Had Exclusive Access To Nineteen Men Who Served The Base Proudly And Secretly For Decades And Are Now Aged , And Unprecedented Access To Fifty Five Additional Military And Intelligence Personnel, Scientists, Pilots, And Engineers Linked To The Secret Base, Thirty Two Of Whom Lived And Worked There For Extended Periods In Area , Jacobsen Shows Us What Has Really Gone On In The Nevada Desert, From Testing Nuclear Weapons To Building Super Secret, Supersonic Jets To Pursuing The War On TerrorThis Is The First Book Based On Interviews With Eye Witnesses To Area History, Which Makes It The Seminal Work On The Subject Filled With Formerly Classified Information That Has Never Been Accurately Decoded For The Public, Area Weaves The Mysterious Activities Of The Top Secret Base Into A Gripping Narrative, Showing That Facts Are Often Fantastic Than Fiction, Especially When The Distinction Is Almost Impossible To Make SPOILER ALERT Annie Jacobsen concludes this ambitious and mostly very good alternative history epic with a bizarre misinterpretation of Occam s razor that has plenty of readers, UFO buffs and others up in arms, but even so, I don t believe this preposterous final chapter invalidates the good, valuable and fascinating overview of the most secret black project weapons research conducted by the United States in the Nevada desert during the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the War on Terror.The real story of Area 51 tales of the development of stealth fighter and bomber technology, the U 2 spy plane and its variant versions, the refinement of radar, the evolution of spy and fighter drones, the creation of the X 15 rocket plane, the race to achieve mach speed aircraft, the reverse engineering of captured Soviet MiG fighters, the testing of nuclear weapons, and so forth is much interesting than the competing conspiracy theories about alien craft and extraterrestrial beings supposedly captured at Roswell, New Mexico, and carted to the top secret Nevada base Still, even that urban legend is actually plausible than the bizarre tale Jacobsen trots out, in which bear with me here , she posits, Josef Stalin made a deal with Nazi engineers to develop UFOs to overfly America s nuclear tech RD sites and further used hybrid tiny humans engineered by Nazi mad scientist Josef Mengele to pilot them Yes, folks, Jacobsen says that is the main reason Area 51 is to this day denied to exist by the U.S government, and not all the other super secret and plausible black ops programs that have taken place there That strange tale, told only by one sketchy eyewitness, is then claimed to be a perfect example of Occam s razor in action, since it rationally explains the origins of the flying disc that allegedly crashed in Roswell in 1947 Really Methinks the story is just another case of zebras over horses.In any case, it s a great shame that this anticlimactic attempt by the author to tie up loose ends introduced at the beginning of her otherwise well researched book, has tainted the good stuff in the book s other 90 percent Area 51 has become known primarily as an alien base, and not addressing that issue is certainly not an option when discussing Area 51, but Jacobsen s initial level headedness in doing so in context gives way to yet another incredible conspiracy Maybe attributing wacky conspiracies to Area 51 is unavoidable, like some kind of mania.Despite this, the book actually offers a fulsome alternative history of the United States not taught in schools and provides much food for thought about the origins and evolution of the need to know national security state which we are now grappling with in the wake of the recent NSA domestic spying revelations , in which super secretive government and corporate elites are able to hide projects funded by us taxpayers both from us and even from presidents When President Clinton, for instance, tried to get information on nuclear medical experiments performed on military personnel, the mentally disabled and other civilians, he hit stone walls and was basically told that he didn t have a need to know The book does a good job of describing how secret projects are compartmentalized a legacy of the Manhattan Project so no one person knows their totality, but it also raises concerns about the problems of responsibility and accountability that arise therein, and the constant turf battles between the Air Force, the CIA, and the Atomic Energy Commission over the control of Area 51 and its black projects are continually offered by Jacobsen as examples of this dangerous game Stories of the dirty bomb experiments in the desert, the nuking of the ozone layer in the late 1950s, the failure to inform the public of nuclear satellites falling from the sky, and General Curtis LeMay s rogue overflights of fighter planes into the Soviet Union without presidential approval are just some of the outrageous and infuriating cases, among many, of the cavalier behavior of men who are put in charge of dangerous toys and are able to fall back on righteous patriotic justifications for their testosterone follies.The book also offers a clear and concise overview of the military industrial complex, how Lockheed and Raytheon and mysterious companies such as EGG worked hand in glove with America s government, in most cases having just as much or power and influence in what went on than the government itself In one case, a completely unnecessary and ultimately tragic demonstration of jet fighter technology was prompted solely by a corporation s need to have a pretty picture for its annual report.Although much of the book causes one to shake one s head at the immense waste, environmental catastrophes and the sheer arrogance and paranoia of our leaders, it also does honor to the servicemen who risked their lives to test the world s most advanced aerial fighters The interviews with the engineers and pilots who worked at Area 51 are among the strong suits of this book.Although the book is uneven, and even becomes a bit dullish about a quarter of the way in, it recovers until its ludicrous conclusion In any case, being an astute reader means knowing when to be skeptical and when to ponder the credible, and the weaker parts of the book are no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water If you really want to know what your government has been up to, I would highly recommend this book Addendum Check out this very cool but very disturbing animation of the 2,053 known nuclear explosions on planet Earth that occurred from 1945 to 1998 It makes you wonder how we ve managed to survive exposure to this much radiation. When this was first recommended to me, I was afraid it would be another UFO conspiracy tome It is far from that Of course, the author does give her attention to the UFO theories surrounding the mysterious Area 51 and, in the first chapters, teases us with the promise of an explanation By the last chapter, we get that explanation and it is mind boggling and disturbing than any UFO theory could be.But while that may be the author s most sensational claim, this is a book about the real importance of Area 51 bolstered by eye witness testimony and a bevy of newly unclassified material It becomes apparent that Area 51 with all its top secret activities managed to involve itself in practically every major espionage and military event and crisis we know of since the 1950sand many we did not know of until now.This book is than a history of Area 51 It is an examination of cold wart politics and military rivals during the cold wars and how our paranoia affected the leaders of our country It is a history of a dark period in history and one that still continues with different players It is unquestionable that many of the experimental projects of Area 51 were essential to our country But it is also scary just how many of these experiments came very close to national catastrophe Area 51 is essential reading for 20th century history buffs and my pick for best non fiction book of 2011. A great deal has been written about the Nevada Test and Training Range, much of it disinformation, much of it rumor or nonsense Jacobsen s Area 51, based in part on public record, in part on interviews, is an accessible and generally accurate history of the area and what has occurred there since 1951, all of it originally secret, much of it profoundly disquieting.Running as a leit motif throughout the book is reference to what happened outside Roswell, NM in 1947, an event finally explained in the final chapter Here, in a section based upon the alleged testimony of one informant trusted by the author, what has hitherto been a coherent narrative falls apart Roswell, we are told, was indeed near the site of crashed disks, recovered along with bizarre bodies, two of them still barely alive, by the military Neither the crafts nor their occupants were, however, extraterrestrial Rather they had been made to appear that way In fact, they were a psychops project of the Soviets based, like our own rocketry, upon Nazi science This story, as Jacobsen relates it, cannot possibly be true.First, according to all accounts I have encountered, the USSR had no capacity to fly to the SW USA in 1947 If these were Soviet craft, then they must have flown in from Mexico or the sea Whatever the case, Jacobsen writes as if range were no problem, as if they travelled from Siberia, across North America, to our most sensitive military installations.Second, if it were a Soviet psychops intended to emulate the panic engendering Mercury Theatre broadcast of The War of the Worlds, why was Russian writing found on one of the craft and why were they crashed in such a remote area Such being the case the only fear that would be engendered would be in the hearts of the U.S military leadership, fear of technological inferiority and perhaps of the perversity of the communist adversary.Third, if the Soviets actually did have flying disks capable of evading radar detection and of traversing US airspace, why didn t they just use them like we used the U2 If the intention was to spy, then the crashes broke the secrecy and tended to defeat the purpose Surely, if spying was the intention, then the crashes must have been accidents, but Jacobsen doesn t discuss this possibility.Fourth, if the extraordinary disks and the bizarre creatures in them were actually the result of developments in Nazi science, how come these engineering and biological breakthroughs saw so little use or development The German Horten prototypes pictured in the book are nowhere represented as being capable of the antics the New Mexico disks are reported to have achieved Further, the surgical alteration of children a practice the informant claims the USA went on to emulate would seem to serve no practical purpose whatsoever, except perhaps the psychops one discounted above.One could go on and one suspects Stanton Friedman, the Roswell expert, will Yet, despite the thoughtless, self contradictory sensationalism of the author s concluding chapter, the rest of Area 51 is recommended.
Annie Jacobsen is a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist and the New York Times bestselling author of AREA 51, OPERATION PAPERCLIP, THE PENTAGON S BRAIN, PHENOMENA and SURPRISE, KILL, VANISH, coming in spring 2019 She also writes and produces TV Tom Clancy s JACK RYAN and the forthcoming PHENOMENA Amblin Blumhouse , a dramatic series based on her book PHENOMENA A graduate of Princeton University, Ann
- 549 pages
- Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base
- Annie Jacobsen
- 11 February 2019 Annie Jacobsen