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June 03, 2011

My Trip Inside Area 51

Crossposted from

Okay, so right off the bat know: they didn't talk about aliens. Which was a shame, because the crowd at the Santa Monica Public Library was Ready for Contact. They were, in fact, aching for it, them and their kids, and got kinda belligerent when it didn't happen. (After all, 64 years is a long time to wait.) The jittery guy next to me—who smelled of stale weed and had something in his breast pocket that clinked every time he shifted in his seat—actually left in a huff when it was clear the Grays were not going to be invited to this lecture.

But you could tell that by glancing at the stage. These people weren't ufologists, they were octogenarians, secret soldiers in the Cold War: Bob Murphy, a mechanic at the base beginning in 1952; Ken Collins, a CIA pilot who flew the A-12 Oxcart (a variant of the SR-71 Blackbird); Edward Lovick, a CIA physicist who "invented stealth technology" (somehow I think that might've been a team effort); and Wayne Pendleton, who was in charge of Area 51's radar range. Plus, of course, the author of the book Area 51, LA Times reporter Annie Jacobsen.

Area 51 has gotten a lot of press, mainly off of one seven-page section which reports the claim that Stalin sent over a saucer-shaped aircraft piloted by genetically engineered children, as the World's Most Convoluted and Useless Psy-Op. When this was brought up, the author was rather curt, saying that it was essentially external to the book—one source, which she believes to be valid, but could not verify. Putting on my publishing x-ray specs, I suspect Jacobsen turned in a sober, mildly interesting manuscript that did not discuss Roswell, and her publisher rightly insisted that the UFO crash was the sizzle to this steak. So Jacobsen added this outrageous, completely unverifiable account—which, as usual, has no possible ramifications for the contemporary American reader. When Jon mentioned this "Stalin did Roswell" theory to me, I immediately thought, "limited hangout"—an intelligence term for a partial disclosure of information that satisfies external curiosity without addressing the larger questions. And indeed these larger questions were not even raised last night, when Dr. Lovick, the panel's expert, said he "didn't know why anybody would even attempt a circular airframe."

All this leads us back to an old problem: for the better part of 60 years, the government has claimed what crashed at Roswell was a weather balloon. Now we have this "reliable source" giving us another theory. If this source is right, then the government has been lying. If the source is wrong, then Jacobsen's own credibility is cast in serious doubt. Whatever the outcome—the government has an incredibly strong commitment to misleading its citizens, or our media is being played like a fiddle—we're the ones getting screwed.

I don't mean to be too hard on Jacobsen—it's basically one woman against the entire military-industrial complex—but with that asymmetry, forgive me if I don't think she was in charge. Last night, Jacobsen was nothing if not professional, gliding the conversation effortlessly through the U2 program, the development of its much faster and cooler replacement, and the scads of A-bomb tests that were held next door, with a few splashes of Cold War color along the way. I particularly liked Collins' story about downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. After Powers was exchanged for a Red spy and returned to the US, he had dinner at Collins' house. Powers talked about being thrown in the Lubyanka, the USSR's most famous prison; while there he met a Lithuanian prisoner.

"How long have you been in?" the airman asked.
"Seven years," the Lithuanian answered.
"What crime did you commit?"
"They haven't told me yet."

Boy am I glad we don't live in a country where people are detained indefinitely without charge! Thank GOD we won the Cold War, huh? All that secrecy and defense money was totally worth it.

Jacobsen did address the other Area 51 conspiracies, namely that the moon landings were faked there, and that there's a system of tunnels linking the base to other bases in the area. Her explanation for the moon landing theory I found totally plausible: the craters created by underground nuke tests were structurally similar to the ones found on the Moon, so astronauts went there to practice. And indeed there are tunnels linking the bases—which of course you'd expect. As usual, however, "conspiracy theories" were treated as something worth ridicule, instead of what they really are: a completely rational, predictable response to a world where people in authority are always lying to you. If Roswell was a bad idea of Stalin's, why not release that file? If not in 1947, how about in 1977, when detente was in full swing? Both sides of the Cold War could have a good giggle at a monstrous leader neither approved of anymore. It's not deviant psychology that spurs conspiracy theories like the ones that have sprung up around Area 51—its the cult and culture of government secrecy for its own sake. Making fun of conspiracy theorists is blaming the victim, and that's ugly, especially when it's cloaked in a supposed respect for "the truth."

Though it was an enjoyable hour and fifteen minutes and everybody seemed genuinely nice, nothing I heard made me want to read Jacobsen's book, the gist of which seems to be, "Area 51 is a secret government base where the CIA and Air Force ran reconnaissence missions, developed new aircraft, and reverse-engineered MiGs." In other words, what every 12-year-old who's read about the Skunkworks already knows. Only to the mainstream press is this information worth a book. It changes the story of the Cold War not one little bit. It's actually more interesting as a way to judge just how ineffective the press has been—here in the land of the free, it's taken us 60 years for the MSM to recognize the existence of something that…obviously exists.

But this isn't just the press' fault—everybody onstage took the necessity of massive government secrecy as a given, and nobody in the audience was ready to challenge them on this. Except for one guy—when we were breaking up, a male voice shouted, "What about Roswell?"

Nobody answered.

—Mike Gerber

Posted at June 3, 2011 03:55 PM

It is basically "one woman against the military industrial complex" is probably why we speak MOMCOM.

Posted by: Dredd at June 3, 2011 04:33 PM

This Annie Jacobson?

Posted by: davidly at June 3, 2011 05:45 PM

My recollection from the interview with Jacobson on Fresh Air is that she does cover Roswell in those few conspiracy-theory-laden pages of the book, suggesting based on her source that the "aliens" were biologically-modified small humans engineered by Josef Mengele and that the crash was inspired by Stalin's fascination with the War of the Worlds incident. She was actually kind of persuasive.

Posted by: Peter Sachs Collopy at June 3, 2011 07:05 PM

Was it around here that somebody paraphrased Mark Twain as saying that the difference between fact and fiction is that fiction has to be believable?

Posted by: n e at June 3, 2011 08:40 PM

"They got a ranch they call number fifty-one..."

Posted by: Amandasaurus at June 3, 2011 08:45 PM

This reminds me of an irksome reaction I heard to the first season of the TV show X-Files way back when. Someone said on the radio that because the Cold War had ended, TV was turning away from historical villains like Nazis and Soviets, and instead making up boogiemen and aliens and monsters. Missing the point of the show completely, which was that Cold War secrecy WAS THE MONSTER, Mr. Radio Idiot.

Posted by: rm at June 3, 2011 11:15 PM

Has anybody read the Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories? I was thinking of picking it up at the lieberry today, but opted for some other things this time around. Looks like a good book, though.

Posted by: godoggo at June 3, 2011 11:50 PM

lol @ not living in a country where people are held indefinitely without charge.

Posted by: Amandasaurus at June 4, 2011 01:02 AM

By the way, isn't that mike gerber guy a fine writer? And funny--he should do parodies!

For those truly interested in the social phenomenon of crazy conspiracism, let me wax boring: Going way back, pre-World War I up through World War II, there was already a lot of intelligence world interest in magic,hyponitism, the occult, and all that spooky stuff. As examples, Harry Houdini did some intelligence work, and John Wilkie, the Director of the Secret Service from the Spanish American War through the whole Teddy Roosevelt Administration and Taft's Presidency, was a good amateur magician and hypnotist. This intel interest in such areas was even more common among the Brits, who were running most of the world, and Ian Fleming learned to write his hilarious plots during work for British intel during WWII, where he had a role in some intel schemes that have become public lately. The intel pros have always used and recognized the value of magicians and hypnotists and the utility of such people and their shadowy networks of friends and colleagues, and they have always recognized that mysterious occult crap is a really good cover for mundane work that needs to be kept very secret.

The use of deception realloy took off in the Cold War, when nothing was too crazy to do, and I'm sure Mike is right about the military using Area 51 for secret military purposes that had nothing to do with aliens. (Not that weird things didn't happen there because the military is full of folks with a screw loose.) I can't remember which former spook said it at the moment, but in any event the point seems fairly common sensical to me: If you don't want people to believe something happened, use crazy, unreliable people in your schemes and involve them in whacky cover stories, because if they later talk about what they did, no one will believe or even pay any attention to them. All you have to do is laugh a lot whenever anyone asks questions and refer to the dubious quality of the source of the information. (This is much preferable to killing people.)

As for what's going on now, Good Lord, I assume it must be really amazing, because we have something like 25 secret intelligence agencies trying to keep themselves busy, the media has been fully lobotomized, and everyone is gullible and infused with blind homicidal rage from watching a lifetime of vicious, stupid crap on TV while having a million neglected human needs.

Fortunately, the government will protect us, because they have our best interests at heart, and evil people never rise to powerful public positions here in the United States. Plus, even if such evil people could rise to powerful positions outside elected politics, we have civilian rule, and our government is controlled by self-interested elected politicians who can prevent misconduct by all agencies of the government, including those protected from any meaningful oversight by the security apparatus. Besides, nothing really bad can happen anyway, because too many people would find out, so those tempted to do something really dastardly know they probably couldn't get away with it, and it would be far too risky for them to try.

So everybody relax and go back to ignoring your lying eyes and the remaining rational thought centers in your brains. You'll be happier.

Posted by: n e at June 4, 2011 08:49 AM

I guess that would be a "no" then. Incidentally, didn't anybody appreciate "lieberry?" 'Cause when I go there, I usually like to walk down to the Grand Central Market and have some BERRIES. Plus it's full of LIES.

Posted by: godoggo at June 4, 2011 10:49 AM

Thanks, NE; you are too kind. When Jon heard I might be going to listen to Jacobsen speak, he insisted that I forgo "Nights of Cabiria" and the NBA Finals, and write something about it for him. So I was sitting there in the back scribbling notes. Hope it interested everybody.

Godoggo, I haven't read the Rough Guide, but if it's a UK production, you might get a clearer view of the US stuff like JFK; not for nothing were Nigel Turner and Anthony Summers able to do good work.

But the conspiracy primer that I unhesitatingly recommend is Vankin and Whalen's 80 Greatest Conspiracies. It gives you really interesting (and really funny) synopses of the major stuff, with sources for further reading if you're so inclined. They strike just the right balance between taking the possibility of conspiracies seriously, and cracking a smile when the theory is, well, pretty out there.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at June 4, 2011 12:23 PM

NE: (n.e.?) What if they really are just Occultists, true believers?
I, myself, have been window shopping the Druid Religion of late. I've noticed Druids don't seem to have much in the way of Crusades or inner faith fighting as in Ireland. They don't seem to be much into pamphlet outreaches, TV/radio prophesy air time, or door to door proselizing. Spying???? Seems like too public a venue these dayz for such a mind-your-own-business type of religion.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 4, 2011 01:02 PM

You do get to kill people, though.

Posted by: godoggo at June 4, 2011 02:39 PM

i.e. Druids were into human sacrifice, for those who miss my sense of humor.

Posted by: godoggo at June 4, 2011 06:34 PM

goboggo: WELL NOW!!! I'm wondering why the hell they didn't tell me???

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 4, 2011 07:25 PM

Sorry, I guess I'd interpreted the extended silence as general disapproval or distaste or disgust or something.

Posted by: godoggo at June 4, 2011 07:33 PM


Posted by: rob payne at June 5, 2011 11:46 AM

I thought the stuff found at Roswell was weather balloon wreckage.

Posted by: Jenny at June 5, 2011 10:06 PM

Druids were into human sacrifice? Now I definitely admire them. Did they eat the victims too? I hate wasteful religions. I think if you're gonna kill someone, you should either eat 'em or feed 'em to the crocs or something.

By the way, godoggo, it's no longer possible to disgust an American except by hugging an arab.

Of course there are plenty of real occultists, Mike M, and intel agencies have always used REAL occultists, along with pretty much everybody else. Why make up craziness when real craziness is so abundant?

Mike G, I am not too kind--you are too kind. By the way, did you notice anybody watching you and taking notes while you were scribbling your notes? I would get a kick out of that.

Sorry,got to go watch some hoops now. . .

Posted by: n e at June 5, 2011 10:11 PM

n e, you are not allowed to pretend you are N E.

Posted by: awesome guy at June 5, 2011 11:16 PM

awesome guy

I am bi-capitalizational, which is common among us sophisticated Turing machines. I can also be funny when I try really hard, though I'm told by one particularly hostile kid that people are actually laughing AT me. I don't believe that, because people are good at heart. So thank you for your kindness, and bless you.

Posted by: n e at June 6, 2011 06:18 AM


I have found all "Greatest Conspiracy Hits of all Time" books confusing, and I'm sure I've looked at that Vankin book, though if Mike praises it, it must be good, because he is omnisciepotentous, which is as close as anyone can get to that other thing because God has been on such a long bathroom break that it seems likely he is smoking weed out back.

Godoggo, I have not read or heard of The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories, but I will not countenance disrespect to libraries. I will not have it! The "lies" section is much smaller there than it is in most places, and they will help you seek out obscure editions of little truths from all over the place if you're up to doing some reading. Then if you enjoy speculation and being called a nutcase, you can form your own whacky opinions. Go for it.

Posted by: N e at June 6, 2011 06:59 AM

While we're talking about Druids, I would like to recommend the work of John Michael Greer, whose blog The Archdruid Report is not about druidry per se but perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society. He's very reasonable, thoughtful, a good explainer.

If I were looking for a new religion, I'd find Buddhism or Quakerism tempting. Right now, I'm attending a Church of Rome parish under deep cover (i.e., I do as the Romans do), with my spouse, a lifelong Catholic, although she knows I do so with a Unitarian attitude.

His Humanness Devananda of the People's Catholic Church
(also doing business in some markets as the Sentient Beings Unitarian Universalist Association)

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 6, 2011 09:42 AM

Speaking of whacky opinions, I'm reading and occasionally commenting on a blog where people gather who believe that Sarah Palin did NOT give birth to her alleged son Trig Palin. I believe there are very good reasons to conclude that. Here's a recent post I put there, in the thread



From the comment of Anon 4:32 : "Due to my job, there are certain medical specificities which I don't feel comfortable speaking about. What I feel VERY free to speak of: anyone who is NOT the parents. And I know at this point nobody even needs to hear it...but Sarah Palin did not give birth to ANY child in 2008."

This statement increases my confidence in the reliability of the testimony of Anon 4:32, because it shows a concern about not violating the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) - something a health professional would want to bear in mind. Trig or his mother might be a patient of Anon 4:32 or the patient of a close colleague; Sarah Palin, definitely not a patient.

HIPAA, in criminalizing the violation of patient confidentiality, is drawing a line between the public and the private sphere. I suggest considering this issue a bit further. Is Babygate the story of Trig? Do we care which young girl or middle-aged housewife is his mother, who his father is and the relationship of the father to the mother, the circumstances of his conception, whether a crime or multiple crimes were involved, intoxication with legal or illegal substances, coercion, whether somebody videotaped it, whether the federal tobacco tax had been paid on the cigarettes smoked in the afterglow of the sex act?

All of these are part of the Story of Trig. I suggest, however, that they are not part of Sarah Palin's Babygate Hoax. The Babygate Hoax does not begin with Trig - it begins with the idea of Sarah Palin faking a pregnancy for political gain. Trig becomes a public figure when Sarah Palin announces she is pregnant. It is the hoax that matters in terms of the political life of our Republic (Latin: res publica, the "public thing/affair"; contrasted with res privata, "private affair.")

Clearly the Story of Trig intersects with the Babygate Hoax. But there are aspects of each that are not involved in the other. The drama, possibly the tragedy, of his actual conception and birth - these are part of the Story of Trig, but not integral to the Babygate Hoax. The extent to which the McCain campaign was aware that Sarah Palin had NOT given birth to a child in 2008: this is part of the Babygate Hoax, not integral to the Story of Trig.

In other words, to some extent Trig figures in a private melodrama; to some extent, he is a tool in a conspiracy to control our country. It is the second aspect of his life, not the first, that is relevant from a historical standard. The inception of new life without benefit of a socially sanctioned marriage is one thing. The manipulation of the public by fraud, to perpetuate and intensify the exploitation of the sheeple, is something on a larger scale of immorality.

With regard to politics and history as a series of lies, I want to underline Bobcat Logic's reminding us of the Nixonian "modified limited hang-out" - an admission of a bit of the truth, with the intention to conceal the rest. I suggest that Frank Bailey's book, "Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin," is exactly that.

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at June 6, 2011 09:56 AM

The gods tempt people for which they are most weak. Artificial Intelligence will create desire in people's minds for the following sins:::
1. Alcohol
2. Drugs
3. Preditory "earning"
4. Homosexuality
5. Gambling
6. Something for nothing/irresponsibility (xtianity)
7. Polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny (Islam)
Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today's modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO.
It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL "Second Coming of Christ", while the "fake" Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
What I teach is the god's true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian "consolation prize" of "1000 years with Jesus on Earth" begins.

Your job as a future mother is to learn the god's ways and to help your child understand despite the negative reinforcement and conditioning of today's society. Without consciousous parents the child will have no hope, and may even exaserbate their disfavor by becoming corrupted in today's environment.
Your ultimate goal is to fix your relationship wiith the gods and move on. You don't want to be comfortable here, and the changes in Western society in the last 100 years has achieved just that.
1000 years with Jesus is the consolation prize. Don't be deceived into thinking that is the goal.

The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god's positioning proves they work to prevent people's understanding.
How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
I believe much as the Noah's Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for "1000 years with Jesus on Earth".
In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine "cures" aging, the "manufacture" of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to "die off", literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet's history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial "apple" of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
Which one is it? Probably both:::
One transitions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to their Chosen One.

You are faced with a lifetime to work and prepare for your next chance. Too many will waste this time, getting stoned, "Hiking!", working, etc.

Posted by: Gas has to fall to $1.50 a gallon or I will never go gambling again. at June 6, 2011 01:09 PM

Ah mistah charley, Unitarian Roman Catholicism is almost as appealing to me as Druidism, and the Trig Hoax sure would be a beauty, though I haven't followed it as much as I'd like if I weren't busy, which is true even if it seems implausible.

I'm not sure a "modified limited hang-out" was really so much Nixonian as Langley though, and Sarah Palin, well, she's just above average in the out-for-herself and total-lier department, and that goes for her wingnut-cult-crazy supporters too. Nothing new thereabouts.

The basic problem is that nobody cares about the truth, because the truth, as Neitzsche replied when someone told him that art is truth, we have art to escape truth. Then again, Neitzsche was a buzz killer, and everything will probably start to look up one of these centuries.

Posted by: n E at June 6, 2011 09:15 PM

By the way, since this post is tangentially about our secret government, here's a post by Peter Dale Scott that touches intelligently upon much of the past 50 years of history for those who want to take a whack at it. (It by no means explains all--that would cover too much ground and way too much is secret for that to be done.

Posted by: n E at June 7, 2011 05:55 AM

n E posted

Very interesting. Thanks.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 7, 2011 09:33 AM

Anyways, here's a conspiracy book that was among what I checked out from the lyebarry, which looks as though it might be of interest to N.e. in light of a recent discussion, as well as his general penchant for that sort of thing: Our Daily Meds: How the Parmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs, by Melody Peterson. Also I got The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It by Marcia Angell, who used to be the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, but I think the Peterson book is better (and it's got an Angell blurb on the back, even). Scary stuff.

Posted by: godoggo at June 8, 2011 02:30 AM

I'm pretty sure I read a Phillip K. Dick short about jets faked up as ufos and piloted by children. Just a coincidence I'm sure...

Posted by: Josh at June 8, 2011 03:47 PM

There is no way that Mengele "engineered" mini-humans in a weird plan to instill hysteria. Couldn't happen. As a writer purportedly providing a history, she has the duty to question her sources, not blindly copy bizarre theories.

Isn;t she the hysteric who insisted a band of travelling musicians be arrested because they looked all Mooslimy and everything? My god, people, you are treating her SERIOUSLY. She is a LOON.

"For those who don’t live in a parallel universe, the fact that DNA is the carrier of heredity for most terrestrial lifeforms was established in the fifties, which (*counting on my fingers*) came after 1947. So Mengele or anyone else could not have engaged in any form of targeted genetic engineering; that only became possible, in its crudest form, in the eighties. If “genetic” is intended to mean plain ol’ interbreeding, humans take a bit more than two years (the interval from the time the Russians walked into Berlin till the Roswell crash) to 1) produce children, 2) have the children grow into teenagers and, just as crucially, 3) reliably reproduce traits."

Posted by: Brian M at June 8, 2011 07:05 PM

I don't jump for the usual conspiracy theories. "BUINGS" is what she called them, My Mom. She was big on the alien theme as are others in my family. I've probably heard every variant of many different stories but have yet to see PROOF of some sort.
BUT, that said I WILL carry a loaded pistol to ANY Druid Revivals should I ever get invited to attend.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 8, 2011 08:26 PM

Good lord, I hope I'm not thought to take anything about aliens and UFOs seriously, though I loved Men in Black and don't have anything against people who do take that stuff seriously. That's not nearly as delusional as thinking that nothing weird and improbable ever happens.

Posted by: N E at June 8, 2011 09:43 PM

It's June. When is Dr. Datesman going to write again?

Posted by: Amandasaurus at June 10, 2011 11:06 PM