July 5, 2011
Recent declassified documents have helped to shed light on the facts behind the myths of Area 51, from the U-2 spy plane missions that helped to unlock the secrets of the Soviet Union in the 1950s to the groundbreaking stealthy A12 that was obsolete before it even first served its country, and the record-breakingly fast recon plane the SR-71 Blackbird, which helped to spot North Vietnamese missile bases in the late 1960s and 1970s; and from the beginnings of stealth technology to the development of the F-117 stealth fighter itself, which was one of the few allied aircraft able to penetrate the air defences around downtown Baghdad and then bomb accurately. Also brought to light was the test flying of “acquired” Soviet MIG fighters in mock combat situations, which led to the founding of the Top Gun pilot programme made famous by the 1980s film of the same name.
The isolation of the base may be one good reason why the Beast of Kandahar was discovered on the opposite side of the world and not in Nevada. Along with the ability to time testing activities for when spy satellites have
already passed the base it also allows for the capacity to “go underground” to avoid prying eyes. Yet for Annie Jacobsen it is the “need to know” principles of the special-access “black” programmes that run out of the base that account for the cloak of secrecy that has been maintained even in the age satellite photography. These principles were developed from the “mother of all black projects”, the Manhattan Project, which saw the creation of the world’s first nuclear bomb during the Second World War.
And sometimes, like in a blockbuster movie, even the President doesn’t need to know.
According to Jacobsen, during the 1994 enquiry into allegations of human radiation experiments during the Cold War, “certain records involving programmes at Area 51 were kept from President Clinton because he didn’t have a need to know”
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