The Pentagon has officially admitted its Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, a long-term government investigation into the UFO phenomenon. Notable UFOlogists have written for decades about government programs including Majestic-12 and Project Blue Book. Given this acknowledgement by the official secret-keepers, are we closer to knowing the truth about Area 51 and possible extraterrestrial encounters?
By S.T. Patrick
After decades of denials, chuckles, and ad hominem attacks on anyone questioning whether or not the United States government has engaged in the study of UFOs, the silence is broken.
Until now, it was easy to label amateur and professional UFOlogists as “the tinfoil hat crew” or “crackpots.” However, the Pentagon has now officially confirmed the existence of a $22 million program that collected, analyzed, and categorized “anomalous aerospace threats”—or “UFOs” in the more common vernacular. According to information released in late December by The Washington Post, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program was just another instance of what has been a long-term government investigation into the UFO phenomenon.
The investigations date back to the 1950s and 1960s, as UFOlogists such as Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist by trade, have known for years. Friedman, educated at the University of Chicago, has written Crash at Corona (1992) about the Roswell incident and Top Secret/Majic (1997) about the Majestic 12 (MJ-12) program that was formed by an executive order signed by Harry Truman.
According to Stanton, who in 1984 received anonymous documents detailing the MJ-12 roster and activities, the program was created in direct response to the Roswell, N.M. UFO crash of 1947. Created to investigate and recover alien (unknown) spacecraft, MJ-12 included such luminaries as Sidney Souers and Hoyt Vandenberg, the first two directors of central intelligence; Roscoe Hillenkoetter, the first director of the CIA; James Forrestal, the first secretary of defense; Vannevar Bush, who headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) during World War II; Donald Menzel, a noted skeptic who Friedman claims was a true believer, and others.
To his credit, Friedman has uncovered as many hoaxes as he has validated incidents he believes to be real. Some of the MJ-12 documents originally made available to Friedman were ones he invalidated as hoaxes. That, however, does not deter his avid belief that other documents, as well as the program itself, were real. Friedman points out that it is a common practice in top-secret intelligence to include a smattering of hoax documents alongside real ones.
MJ-12 was not the only government project looking at UFOs after Roswell. Project Blue Book was a series of United States Air Force studies on unidentified flying objects. It lasted from 1952 to 1970. By the time it had ceased, Project Blue Book had collected 12,618 UFO reports, most that the National Reconnaissance Office characterized as flights of formerly secret reconnaissance planes such as the U-2 and the A-12.
Annie Jacobsen, a former contributing editor to The Los Angeles Times’ magazine, is an author specializing in what has been called “war, weapons, security, and secrets.” She has written Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base (2015), Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America (2014), and The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency (2015), a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Ms. Jacobsen tackled the UFO question regarding Area 51 in a way that may be more controversial than the alien back-engineering theory that has persisted since KLAS-TV Las Vegas journalist George Knapp popularized the phrase “Area 51” while interviewing Bob Lazar in 1989. Lazar claims to have back-engineered alien spacecraft while briefly working at Area 51.
Ms. Jacobsen’s thesis is that Area 51, located in the Nevada desert, has been a vital site for national security and weapons development since its inception. Stealth technology, such as the CIA’s A-12, was developed at Area 51. Early U-2 tests were also conducted at the base. Area 51, Ms. Jacobsen writes, was strategically important during the era of Sputnik, the Bay of Pigs, the lunar landing, and the Vietnam War. It was where America’s most important espionage projects were tested and analyzed. Back-engineering was performed at Area 51, Ms. Jacobsen details, but it was a Soviet MiG and not an alien space craft.
Ms. Jacobsen likens the Roswell crash to the opening shot of the Cold War. She dismisses the alien theories altogether while hypothesizing that the supposed aliens recovered outside of Roswell were actually human guinea pigs, the result of American experimentation gone awry. The UFO rumors, then, were cover stories for the grisly experiments that were conducted on humans.
The official line was to deny even the existence of Area 51, though warning signs, motion- and sound-detection devices, and Wackenhut security lined its outer rim. Government interest in UFOs, Roswell, and Area 51 has leaked in both news and biography. Upon retirement, former CIA director Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter served on the board of directors of the National Investigations Committee for Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), which lobbied against government cover-ups of UFO information from the 1950s through the 1970s.
What we now know is that Area 51, the base also known as “Dreamland,” has been used since the dawn of the Cold War to test aviation that pushed the limits of sight, sound, and detection. Though the Nevada desert can be barren, desolate, and dry, something is, indeed, out there.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent ten years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News” show. His email is [email protected].