JED - January 2012 - (Page 38)

book review By Kernan Chaisson AREA 51: AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF AMERICA’S TOP SECRET MILITARY BASE It was a special evening at The International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, last year, when Annie Jacobsen released her history of the most famous military installation that has never officially existed. The book release event teamed up with the National Geographic Channel for the world premier screening of its new documentary, Area 51 Declassified. The audience included Area 51 veterans, some of whom provided personal testimonies that helped Jacobsen tell what really went on at the top-secret location in the Nevada desert. Never officially acknowledged to exist and hidden carefully from prying eyes in space, this CIA/DOD test area north of Las Vegas, NV, was home to some of the most advanced and farreaching airplane developments in history. Area 51 Declassified is the first book based on eyewitnesses to this history. Jacobsen had exclusive, unprecedented access to nearly 70 men who served there or were associated with the Groom Lake, NV, facility for decades. The film and book recognize those who contributed so much to the Cold War effort, the “quiet warriors” who would have remained unknown had not the book and film been made possible when then Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, approved a 2007 release of the classified records of the place. Today’s activities at Groom Lake remain highly classified. Ms. Jacobsen pulls a lot of information together, most of it not well known outside the very tight Area 51 CIA and Air Force communities. This book delivers a history of activities and developments up to Panetta’s lifting the veil of secrecy and includes many neverbefore-seen photos of activities there. It is an excellent counterbalance to the conspiracy-theory and rumor-ridden books about Dreamland that gather dust on bookshelves and sit in desk drawers around the country. Area 51 was on The New York Times bestseller list for 14 straight weeks. At the book release event, Gene Potete, a pioneer in electronic warfare (EW), made the point that in those days the government employees and contractors worked together in a non-adversarial relationship where “getting the job done right” took precedence over profit. The U-2 and Oxcart programs were brought in on time or early and within or under budget – and by engineers using slide rules. Describing the ELINT and SIGINT efforts adds to the fascinating tales of how these spy planes came about. All through the development, EW was always playing a role, the book shows. The role in other well-known listening programs will be new information for many. One of the most interesting discussions was on Area 52, the Tonopah Test Range. One theory is that Area 52 was developed as a decoy for Area 51; but the opposite is closer to the truth. As some of those involved know, the Tonopah location was picked because it was more convenient and better-suited for getting the F-117 battle-ready than busy Area 51. It turned out that Dreamland was a convenient distraction, as the F-117 was born at the edge of the Red Flag combat training area. The facility, with its technical and communications enhancements was a very useful location. Practical road access made it easier to get there. Keeping highly classified Nighthawk operations and very public Red Flag missions sorted out with no 38 The Journal of Electronic Defense | January 2012 hints of the hyper-secret program leaking proved challenging. The whole idea of Area 51 has long piqued the public’s curiosity about what went on there. It generated a cottage industry of books, “experts,” “witnesses” and strange but lively festivals along the back access roads to the Nevada Test Site; festivals loaded with strange-looking folk who share increasingly wild, UFOobsessed theories about aliens, flying saucers and Lord-knows what-all – usually fueled by large amounts of beer. The grizzled crowds and alien-costumed fold provided a bit of comic relief for the hardworking scientists working up-range. Sneaking into the surrounding mountains to sneak a look at the base is a continual annoyance to security forces. It also creates safety issues for those who possessed more misguided curiosity than desert skills. The restricted flight zones proved a bugaboo for careless (or sometimes a little too curious) pilots flying Red Flag missions. “Busting the Box” usually brought a crew’s participation in Red Flag to an abrupt and inglorious end. a Area 51, ISBN 978-0-316-13294-7, is published by Little, Brown and Company.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - January 2012

The View From Here
Conferences Calendar
Courses Calendar
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
US IRCM Market Forecast
USMC Moves Out on Air-Land EW
Book Review
EW 101
AOC News
Views from the AOC Convention
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look

JED - January 2012