Saturday, April 3, 2010

Area 51 (or, Homey Don't Play Dat)

The Cold War is now history, which is a good thing, especially because WE WON. The U.S. government is starting to declassify many records about the period and release some personnel from their old secrecy agreements. As a result of this new openness, men of a certain age are coming forward with their personal accounts, and that brings me to a good piece of oral history in this weekend's LA Times Magazine, The Road to Area 51:

Area 51. It's the most famous military institution in the world that doesn't officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada's high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground.

Then again, maybe not -- the U.S. government refuses to say. You can't drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted -- all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.

-- snip --

"We couldn't have told you any of this a year ago," [Colonel Hugh "Slip" Slater, 87, who was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s] says. "Now we can't tell it to you fast enough." That is because in 2007, the CIA began declassifying the 50-year-old OXCART program. Today, there's a scramble for eyewitnesses to fill in the information gaps. Only a few of the original players are left.

The LA Times is correct that no military institution or facility named Area 51 exists. It's an Officially Certified True Fact that neither the U.S. Air Force nor any other Defense Department entity operates any place by that name. The Air Force can't speak for everyone, of course, and anyway, the place is no longer called Area 51. It's gone through a few names over the years, and is currently known - delightfully - as Homey Airport.

For a place that supposedly doesn't exist, Homey Airport sure gets photographed a lot.

The best thing about stories of Area 51 and Cold War secrecy is the excuse it gives me to embed this old video about Homey D. Clown. Not unlike the U.S. government when people nibble around the edges of its deepest darkest secrets, "Homey don't play dat."

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