National Geographic News
Joshua trees and sagebrush along a highway that borders Area 51.

A Joshua tree stands guard along Extreterrestrial Highway in eastern Nevada, along the eastern border of Area 51.

Photograph by Laura Rauch, AP

Melody Kramer

National Geographic

Published August 16, 2013

Until Thursday, the U.S. government had never publicly acknowledged the existence of Area 51—a remote spot in the Nevada desert that has long been associated with conspiracy theories, alien sightings, and talk of tiny spaceships.(See exclusive pictures from Area 51.)

But a newly declassified CIA document—which was written in 1992—shows a map labeled with the name of the remote land parcel, 75 miles from Las Vegas, used to test and develop top-secret U.S. military projects, including the U-2 spy plane. (Related: "How Area 51 Held Secret Craft.")

To learn more about Area 51 and the new information released by the government, we turned to Annie Jacobsen, an investigative journalist and the author of Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base.

What was in this massive 400-page document that was declassified on Thursday?

Very little of it is actually new information. Only one page out of the 400 pages is new information. The rest of the report has been declassified for years. And I know this because I used large parts of it to write about the different surveillance programs that existed at Area 51.

So what's actually new?

What's new is that the National Security Archive at George Washington University filed a Freedom of Information Act request on a page of the document and it was declassified.

It is a map that says Area 51 on it. That really is news—what it means is that a jealously guarded secret—the existence of an area called Area 51, which the government refused to acknowledge the existence of—actually exists.

How was Area 51 referred to in other documents?

Whenever it was described, the words "Area 51" were covered in black ink. No one in the government would talk about what everyone else already knew.

What's interesting is that these incredible spy programs happened out there. The CIA has been declassifying documents about Area 51 since the 1990s, but they have always been told or directed not to reveal the name.

Why do you think that is?

It is still a mystery. I maintain that the Atomic Energy Commission was doing programs out there that required a much higher level of security clearance and those programs had a much higher degree of classification. (Learn more about Area 51 on the National Geographic Channel.)

What's in the rest of the document—the part that was already declassified?

It discusses various programs that existed out at Area 51. One of the first CIA drones ever created was flown out of Area 51 in the 1950s. It looked like a giant eagle and was meant to spy on Soviet hydrofoils that were being hidden in the Caspian Sea.

Why did people think that Area 51 housed alien spaceships?

A lot of it was because of the U-2 planes program that started out of Area 51 in 1955. The U-2 planes were used extensively by the U.S. during the Cold War for reconnaissance missions. They flew at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18 meters)—considerably higher than any other plane in existence at the time.

As soon as test flights began, people wrote letters to their congressmen and to their local mayors saying, "I saw a UFO." But what they saw was the U-2 spy plane.

Why did they mistake the U-2 plane for a UFO?

Two reasons. One, it had an almost vertical takeoff. Anyone who happened to see it gaining altitude would have thought it was very unusual.

The second reason is that it flew so high. At the time, no one believed that airlines could fly that high. Commercial flights were flying 20,000 feet (6 kilometers) in the air. If you saw [a U-2 plane], you were going to think it was a UFO.

Why are we so fascinated with Area 51?

I call it the grassy knoll of Nevada. So many stories surrounded it. People clamor to read about it. It makes it exciting to report on.

Michelle Donovan
Michelle Donovan

It is looking like that. US government found in Rooswell crashed ship, which was given to aliens who came directly to retrieve it for a piece of technology. Apollo 19-20 found ancient old ship crashed on the other side of the Moon, but since aliens knew about it and since there is alot of gold, they come to the agreement to never to come back to Moon again, instead the Mj12 was given more technology, which You see in todays lifes. Its just reengineered and possessed from alien entities. You dont need words or telepathy to understand, they give You a chip in return for gold. ITs easy like that.

Even the kids know the aliens exist and we arent kids anymore. What about UFO's approaching ISS in single ships or with multiple ships in the background, appearing from nowhere and why NASA after such encounter on "ISS live stream" (Google), cuts video and replaces it with loops of previous videos or the inside of ISS? Why the MJ12 is still lying about bad small grey and white aliens with which they signed treaty making our animals and us all frogs for their experiments? And whats more important, when MJ12 with uncover all those technologies that were patented or ree-ngineered from spaceships given/found from aliens. And what about the miliards old spaceship on the other side of the moon, called "Mona Lisa" from the closed and confidential Apollo 19 and Apollo 20 footage? The ship is located in the small crater near Isaac crater and is almost 4miles long, where Russians and american astronauts have found human looking bodies of very old entities? Privately, once I saw an UFO, that was looking like a star, but brighter than Sirius and after some time I adapted myself to the night, the light changed direction West and splitted into 3 lights. In the opinion of the government it can be everything from baloon, to lantern or even supercar, but never UFO. After all of those decades of lies and the kill of J.F. Kennedy, they still lie, cause they are so good at it and they love secrecy.

m s
m s

Interesting that reports from pilots and military servicemen were left out of the reports as to why people thought they saw UFO's. These weren't average people or people with really low IQ scores in the military of all three branches, they were officers. I'm sorry but until they provide ALL of the evidence I won't be convinced.

Wylee Mun
Wylee Mun

18 meters?  Hmmm, that's why your multimillion dollar probes either fly past Mars or crash into the planet...
The mysterious I-Beams with the "strange" markings have been proven to be from a toy store in middle america, one of the lead scientists spoke of as he had picked up a child's toy set, and it is proven in a store catolouge...  the identical material that was filmed in 1947 was shown in the same years catalouge.  He needed to support a part of the spy mission balloons that were being experimented with at the time, which were very sophisticated if you were a hillbilly coming across al of this foreign, completely alien materials and technology, can you imagine if you barely understood how a toothbrush worked and you were presented with this!?!?!

Artur Luiz Cunha Cunha
Artur Luiz Cunha Cunha

A Área 51 foi citada em filme (Caso Roswell) e mostrava um OVNI sendo estudado por cientistas e militares.

Emily Gorham
Emily Gorham

We are not sure yet that aliens really exist, but I think it is possible. We might just have to keeping looking for real evidence.

Otoika Tunde Afehikhu
Otoika Tunde Afehikhu

Are the Spying programs over? I assume there would still be other unknown testing ground maybe spookily named AREA 52!


60,000 feet (18 meters)???

This is another 1 of these sloppily written articles by someone that's never set foot in the real world, traveled outside the US border and seen the other 95% of our planet.
Makes it really hard to accept anything stated in regards to aliens from beyond our planet.


60'000 feet is approximately 20 km

Michel Deschamps
Michel Deschamps

People seem to forget that most of the material related to captured alien vehicles is actually located at Area S-4...among other places (Wright_patterson AFB, Ohio; Fort Belvoir, Kansas, etc) and not necessarily at Groom Lake itself...although there could be stuff out there as well.

And now, we are finding out about "The Tall Whites", a race of extraterrestrials that are somehow "guests" of the ones in charge of keeping the UFO knowledge secret...and are living in an area that is part of the range.

So who knows what else is going on....that has gone on behind our backs for the past 50-60 years or more...??

This secrecy is bull****.  For centuries, the world has been asking itself the same question, time after time: Are we alone in the Universe??

It sickens me to think that some few people in government..or some agency somewhere...knows the answer to that question, and isn't telling us.

Check out my historical website for the truth about the UFO phenomena:

The evidence exists in many forms, including documents and eyewitness accounts by former military and civilian officials.

The time for the Truth is now...and let's get rid of the deception, secrecy and lies that we are being spoon-fed.

Either way, the truth as a way of surfacing...eventually!

God Bless!

Michel M. Deschamps
UFO Researcher, Historian and Archivist

N. Quazi
N. Quazi

It's declassified because they've moved all the alien carcasses to Area 52.

Craig Busse
Craig Busse

Doesn't "Area 51" imply the existence of at least 50 other "Areas"?

Aji Saka
Aji Saka

if people think that was an UFO, who will have advantages from that?

Anthony Massie
Anthony Massie

@T H It rounds to 18 km. They accidentally left out a k, and they will revise it.

Richard Lantz
Richard Lantz

@Craig Busse"Area 51" got it's name from the airspace grid location. As a pilot, we have grids that are all numbered. Area 51 is the airspace grid number that covers not only the Groom Lake facility, but areas around it as well. The name became a bit of a legend, when commercial, and private pilots were forbidden to fly in that particular air grid. There are others that commercial, and private pilots can't fly over (and will be chased out by F-16s) but those were all known military bases. Area 51 was the only one that wasn't a known base (technically, it's not a "base", but rather, a research facility run mostly by "Skunkworks" (Lockheed) and a few other private corporations, but, with government oversight, as the facility was used for the creation of experimental aircraft (as well as used to THOROUGHLY screw with the Soviets) What does that mean? Well, Soviet spy satellites would fly over, and we would hide our planes, but, their thermal imaging could see the cold area on the ground where the plane was, and get an idea of shape... so, we started painting weird aircraft designs on the tarmac, so their satellites would get strange designs of things that did not, and would not exist... the Russians would then spend countless rubles to try to copy these joke designs they thought we were building. There are hundreds of other areas, but, to see them all, you would have to look at an aviation "airspace map" from the 1950s or 60s, and you'll see all of the area grid squares, including Area 51 (which, in that respect, has always been on those maps) Oh yeah, and those who worked there tended to call it "Groom Lake", or "Dreamland"... only pilots, and conspiracy enthusiasts ever called it "Area 51".


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