Area 51 'declassified' in U-2 spy plane history

Satellite image of Groome Lake and area 51 Area 51, so-named for its designation on a 1950s-era map, surrounds a dry lake bed, Groom Lake

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The CIA has officially acknowledged the secret US test site known as Area 51, in a newly unclassified internal history of the U-2 spy plane programme.

The document obtained by a US university describes the 1955 acquisition of the Nevada site for testing of the secret spy plane.

It also explains the site's lingering association with UFOs and aliens.

The remote patch of desert surrounding Groom Lake was chosen because it was adjacent to a nuclear testing facility.

"The U-2 was absolutely top secret," Chris Pocock, a British defence journalist and author of histories of the programme, told the BBC.

"They had to hide everything about it."

The U-2 plane, developed to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is still flown by the US Air Force.

Reports of UFOs

The document, a secret 1992 internal CIA history of the U-2 programme, was originally declassified in 1998 with heavy redactions.

Many of the blacked-out details were revealed this month after a public records request by the National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington DC.

The site was selected for the U-2 programme in 1955 after an aerial survey by CIA and Air Force staff.

According to the history, President Dwight Eisenhower personally signed off on the acquisition.

Officials from the CIA, Air Force and Lockheed, the contractor building the U-2, began moving into the facility in July 1955.

While a lengthy account of the development of the U-2 spy plane programme, the history also attempts to shed light on the public's fascination with the Area 51 site and its lingering associations with extra-terrestrials and UFOs.

It notes that testing of the U-2 plane in the 1950s - at altitudes much higher than commercial aeroplanes then flew - provoked "a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs)".

"At this time, no one believed manned flight was possible above 60,000 feet, so no one expected to see an object so high in the sky," note authors Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach.

'Inclination towards secrecy'

The original request for the redacted portions of the history was made in 2005. It was released to the National Security Archive several weeks ago.

Jeff Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive, said the long period of secrecy was notable because of the extent people across the world were already aware of Area 51's existence.

Mr Richelson speculates the CIA must have recently made a conscious, deliberate decision to reveal Area 51's existence and origins.

"There is a general inclination towards secrecy," he said, and the many US agencies and non-US governments involved in the U-2 programme would have had a say in the declassification process.

"As far as I can tell, this is the first time something must have gone to a high-enough level to discuss whether or not to formally acknowledge Area 51's existence," he said


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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    When is the BBC going to have detailed 'storys' on other government cover-ups?

    Gulf of Tonkin
    Pearl Harbour

    All this 'story' proves is that governments hide the truth, and it's prostitute media help in every way their told.
    A non story, and all those who risked lives and careers to speak out have been silenced or rediculed by the very same media.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    @BBC. And?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @heigy2 I am proud to believe in ufo's because I am not naive to what goes on in the World around me and what can exist in the heavens above. In turn 1000,s of year old artefacts with pictures of space craft and space suits fascinates me. If you honestly believe men in black suits do not exist and have never existed then you are naive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @12. Tony Martin - travel at light speed for particles with mass is not possible when travelling through 3d space. Quantum entanglement appears to show there is another route, in that information appears to be transmitted at a speed of at least 10,000 times the speed of light (and, more probably, instantaneously). If our space is warped in 4d then other shortcuts across 3d space might be possible.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    19. briblogg

    This is farcical BBC, absolutely farcical.
    Oh, I don't know, I find it an entertaining read on a Saturday morning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Sorry, Tony (#12), the fact that the speed of light cannot be exceeded is a consequence of special relativity theory and has nothing to do with particles in space, although these could make very high-speed travel more dangerous. To achieve the speed of light would require an infinite amount of energy. The knowledge that I cannot just pop over and look at Gliese 581c I also find quite frustrating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    When the CIA officially acknowledges the truth behind 911 will be the day i look forward to.

    Unfortunately it won't happen in our lifetime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    My brother ran a daily sandwich van service for the workers out in Area 51 for several years. There were no security checks, nothing different from all the other work-places he delivered to.

    Now he finds out that it was all officially denied- should he be worried?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    So today's up-to-the-minute news is something that has been known about by the whole world for the last 50 years.

    This is not news, not worth the time it took to write it, not worth the space given on all news media and definitely not a subject worthy of a HYS slot.

    This is farcical BBC, absolutely farcical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    If this is based on an American conspiracy theory perhaps you should tell us what that conspiracy is because I haven't got a clue.

    If we are declassifying could you tell us if the British Army closed the airports when they ousted Harold WIlson?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Makes me laugh that is you think UFO's are real then you are pigeonholed as a nutter or a conspiracy theorist.
    Seen many official documents that can't explain things away perhaps 5% of sightings.
    Does that now qualify me as a conspiracy theorist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    In another sixty years, I wonder what will be revealed about today's international policy?
    I would love to read those headlines, wouldn't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    For over 50 years the American Government denied the existence of Area 51. In turn persons who came forward with information regarding what truly goes on there found there employment history erased from the system! Fortunately many of the former generals based there are disclosing stories of Alien activity!...

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Hardly a news story,as anyone interested or not knew that Area 51 existed,the fact that the CIA have finally acknowledged this fact after decades of the public being aware of this demonstrates the absurd lengths that Governments will take to deny or not admit the blindingly obvious,hardly fills the citizen full of confidence!?
    Surely Egypt should be covered by HYS in an ongoing manner!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    With all this talk about space travel and aliens I did a google on the possibility of faster than light speed.
    I discovered that, due to the friction in space from various particles, that to propel just one electron close to the speed of light would need the energy from just about the entire Universe.
    It means that interplanetary journeys are almost impossible unless done at a very low speeds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    First Christopher Biggins comes out as gay.

    Then the CIA admit area 51 exists.

    Whatever next, the BBC acknowledges its liberal left bias?


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