How Area 51 became a hotbed for conspiracy theories

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

That’s the motto for visitors to a Nevada city known for decades as a destination for shady characters and debauchery.

But news of what happened on July 7, 1947, in Roswell, New Mexico, and later during the 1950s at the Nevada Test and Training Range outside Las Vegas, did not stay confined. By the 1970s and 1980s, the rumors found their way into the American collective consciousness and entrenched themselves as definitive proof of aliens, launching government conspiracies known as “The Roswell Incident” and “Area 51.”

According to the Smithsonian, the Roswell Daily Record reported the news of a “flying saucer” on July 8, 1947. More than 75 years later, the public remains fascinated by the possibility that aliens not only crashed in Roswell, but also that the US Army collected the remains to conduct alien experiments and cover up their existence from the American people.

And while Roswell isn’t anywhere near Area 51, which wasn’t even active until the mid-1950s, the two are inextricably linked due to the perceived alien connection.

However, due to the top-secret nature of the military tests, the US government was not particularly interested in debunking the UFO rumors, which in turn spread unchecked.

“[…] it was better from an Air Force perspective that there was a crashed ‘alien’ spacecraft than telling the truth,” Roger Launius, former curator of space history at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, told the Smithsonian. “What was really going on [with Roswell] it was something called Project Mogul.”

The purpose of Project Mogul was to search the upper atmosphere for signs of reverberations from nuclear test explosions using high-altitude balloons with radar sensors and detectors.

A 1994 NSA report apparently confirmed that the “Roswell Incident” was related to Project Mogul, not an Army alien cover-up.

“Several surviving project personnel were located and interviewed, including the sole surviving person who recovered the debris from the original Roswell site in 1947, and the former officer who initially identified the wreckage as a balloon,” according to the NSA. “Comparison of all the information developed or obtained indicated that the material recovered near Roswell was consistent with a balloon device and most likely from one of the previously unrecovered Mogul balloons.”

The report also noted that no mention of “alien bodies” was made.

But the secrecy of additional spy plane and nuclear tests has been conducted in the American Southwest for the past 75 years, further fueling rumors of an alien conspiracy.

Needing a covert location to develop aircraft, “Area 51” was ultimately selected by CIA officer Richard Bissell, who was tasked with developing the U-2 aircraft program.

Because the U-2 was a covert spy plane intended for reconnaissance missions in the USSR, secrecy was of the utmost importance. However, as a result of the lack of transparency, UFO sightings by locals leaked out and all manner of alien conspiracies broke out.

What made matters worse was that the US government refused to acknowledge the existence of Area 51 at all. It wasn’t until 2013, when the George Washington University National Security Archive obtained and posted online declassified CIA documents, that any official mention of the site was made.

Despite the most recent transparency regarding the Roswell and Area 51 story, in June 2019, a survey by YouGov found that 54% of American adults believe the government “probably” knows more about UFOs. of what it reveals.

But why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, do so many still believe that Area 51 is a hotbed of alien activity?

For one thing, the tight military security around the base has contributed to an air of charm, leaving prying eyes wondering, “What don’t you want us to see?”

That question came to a head in June 2019, when a prank event on Facebook called “Raid Area 51, they can’t stop us all” suggested thousands amassed along the Area 51 fence to storm the gates. and find the aliens.

The US Air Force, which took over leadership of Area 51 from the CIA in 1978, was forced by the scale of the event to note that while the intruders would not find any evidence of aliens, the field of Nevada Test and Training at Nellis Air Force Base known as Area 51 “is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft.”

The public affairs officer who addressed inquiries about the use of deadly force against intruders wrote: “In practice, we do not discuss specific security measures, but any attempt to illegally gain access to military installations or military training areas is dangerous.” .

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Sarah Sicard is a senior editor at Military Times. She previously served as Digital Editor for Military Times and Editor for Army Times. Her other work can be found in National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose and Defense News.