Area 51 uncovered
As information from the top secret US military base is declassified, we examine alien conspiracy theories, the Cold War and UFOs with a man who was there
Rumours that the US government had proof of visiting alien life hidden away in a top secret military installation known as Area 51 have persisted for half a century.
One of the most famous secret military bases in the world, Area 51 has been shrouded in secrecy since it was set up during the early years of the Cold War.
Access to the Nevada base has always been highly restricted and those who worked there were sworn not to speak of it.
But now early veterans have spilled the beans for a documentary Area 51: I Was There being broadcast on National Geographic Channel on Sunday.
The documentary combines personal testimonies with recently declassified information, photos and video (some of which can be found above).
Here T.D Barnes, 74, one of the documentary participants and a man who was commissioned to test secret aircraft by the CIA at Area 51 in the late ‘60s, shares his experiences:
I think the people selected were all the same. We weren’t really nosy. There were 23 of us but we protected our own secrets from each other. You didn’t snoop into what each other was doing and we still don’t today because some of it is still classified.
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You didn’t volunteer to tell people what you were doing. You only reported to what we called ‘the customer’, which could be the CIA or it could be any other agency, could be air force foreign technology division.
I decided to talk about my experiences because about eight or ten years ago we started realising that we were losing our people and that the stories of what we did have never been told. When the CIA started declassifying information, I started gathering these stories together.
The more we talked to the historians and the military the more we realised that they simply did not know what we did. A lot of the technical stuff that we did that was classified so the world never knew about it and today they had gone ahead and reinvented the wheel that we had invented back in the 1960s.
For example a lot of [the work I was doing] had to do with high speed flight and the radar- that was one of my specialties. I came from a programme where I was used to dealing with tracking planes so one of the things I did at Area 51 was radar tracking. We were developing the very first stealth plane but we didn’t know what the radar would see when it was flying overhead at 2,200 miles an hour.
They brought me out there because I was used to dealing with high speed radar [monitoring]. The plane would fly overhead and we would look for it with the radar. Technology like that that was really primitive back then, we marvel today they can do the same thing with computers, but we didn’t have computers back then.
When I was in the army I became a specialist in electronic counter measures. The CIA was evaluating the capabilities of the Soviet Union, would we be able to shoot this plane down, that sort of thing. So when the Russians set up camp in Cuba that made it really easy for the CIA to evaluate the equipment.
A lot of activity took place not necessarily at the area [Cuba]. That’s what few people know about. And that less than 5 per cent of all the people working on the programme even knew the CIA was involved.
I was on a special project working for the CIA. I was a consultant/contractor. I left them in 1975 and have always been available for consulting and that sort of thing and they call me up on different things but after that I went into private business, the oil and gas business.
I was loaned out to the Nevada test site [by the CIA] for a period to work on the rig that was drilling the holes for the atomic bomb and I got familiar with the drilling equipment and the geology and that sort of thing.
When I was in the army my wife knew I was working on top secret projects. The wives were very important in the screening process. Anyone who had a wife that was a security risk didn’t get into the programme. They’d vet the wives and families almost as strongly as they did us.
I think the reason [there are so many conspiracy theories] is that for many years no-one knew about Area 51. Then all of a sudden the general public found out that it had been there all these years and it was like “What had they been doing there?” and “Oh, it must be tied in with the aliens”.
We brought some of this on ourselves. For instance the A12 - we flew 2,850 missions out of area 51 from 1952 to 1958. So people were obviously seeing things. Even flying 90,000ft at 2,200 miles an hour, which is faster than a bullet, people would occasionally see it or maybe an airline pilot or people on a commercial airline - and to them it was a UFO.
We were so secret even our own military didn’t know that we existed. No-one knew that we existed. So the air forces started investigating the sightings and they would start getting too close to finding out what we were doing and they would hit that security block where someone said “That’s a top secret programme, make up a story, go home and don’t say another word about it”.
So they would make up a story to explain the UFO sighting and the stories were just not very good and the people just didn’t believe them and rightly so.
The rumours of aliens are not true. It was so primitive back when we drilled the first water wells out there in the desert, you just didn’t have anything, it was just desert. I think it was because it was such a mystery what was going on that’s what attracted the conspiracy theories.
The Soviets had satellites looking at us all the time, every 45 minutes one came over the horizon. If [there had been anything to do with aliens] going on Russia would have certainly known about it.
We got our hands on a Soviet Mig-21 [a jet fighter aircraft], to find out why they were giving us such a rough time and that was exciting. We were flying the enemy’s planes, tracking it with their radar. During the Six-Day War Israel captured a lot of Soviet radar and, of course, that was my area of expertise. We brought them out to Nevada and actually got them operating so that we could see what the Russians were seeing when they would track us.
That was a big part of the Stealth programme, we realised that we needed to have all these various radars scattered around the desert
Some of [the stuff I know] will probably never be declassified. A lot of it is political or based on technical details. A lot of it is just plain political.
I believe in secrecy. There’s a lot of stuff that should never be secret that is, but then when the CIA started declassifying the documents in 2007 they were putting major documents on their website. I told the CIA security people then “Are you crazy, the enemy would love to have this knowledge even though its 50 years old, it’s never been reinvented.” So we started working together on some of the sensitive things. They didn’t realise because they didn’t know enough about what we did.
Secrets don’t stay secret very long now, not like they used to.
Area 51: I Was There premieres on Sunday at 9pm on National Geographic Channel