The first book based on interviews with the scientist, pilots, and engineers—74 in total—who provide a unprecedented and sometimes horrifying look into a critical chapter in American history
AREA 51 sits inside of the largest government-controlled land parcel in the United States, the Nevada Test and Training Range. It’s a little smaller than Connecticut, three times the size of Rhode Island, and more than twice the size of Delaware. It is the most famous military installation in the world and the most secret. But when we say secret, what do we mean? This example from the prologue of Annie Jacobsen’s AREA 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base (Little, Brown; On sale May 17, 2011) is a perfect illustration of top secret black operations:
Building the atomic bomb was the single most expensive engineering project in the history of the United States. It began in 1942, and by the time the bomb was tested, inside the White Sands Proving Ground in the New Mexico high desert on July 16, 1945, the bomb’s price tag, adjusted for inflation, was $28,000,000,000. The degree of secrecy maintained while building the bomb is almost inconceivable. When the world learned that America had dropped an atomic weapon on Hiroshima no one was more surprised than the U.S. Congress, none of whose members had had any idea it was being developed. Vice President Harry Truman had been equally stunned to learn about the bomb when he became president of the United States, on April 12, 1945. Truman had been the chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program when he was vice president, meaning he was in charge of watching how money was spent during the war, yet he’d had no idea about the atomic bomb until he became president and the information was relayed to him by two men: Vannevar Bush, the president’s science adviser, and Henry L. Stimson, the nation’s secretary of war. Bush was in charge of the Manhattan Project, and Stimson was in charge of the war.
The Manhattan Project employed two hundred thousand people. It had eighty offices and dozens of production plants spread out all over the country, including a sixty-thousand-acre facility in rural Tennessee that pulled more power from the nation’s electric grid than New York City did on any given night. And no one knew the Manhattan Project was there. That is how powerful a black operation can be.
Everything that goes on at Area 51 is a black operation, and most of what goes on at the Nevada Test and Training Range is classified. These operations take place in the name of national security and they all involve cutting-edge science.
Annie Jacobsen’s seminal and news-breaking AREA 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base (Little, Brown; On sale May 17, 2011) is the first book based on recently declassified documents and, perhaps more important, on interviews with firsthand eyewitnesses to base history—seventy-four individuals linked to the secret base, thirty-two of whom lived and served the base proudly and secretly for extended periods of time. Jacobsen reveals for the first time what really goes on in the Nevada desert, from testing nuclear reactions to building super-secret supersonic jets to pursuing the War on Terror. Filled with formerly classified information that has never been accurately decoded for the public before, AREA 51 weaves the mysterious activities of the top-secret base into a gripping narrative, showing that facts are often more fantastic than fiction, especially when the distinction is almost impossible to make.
In the thousands of pages of declassified memos and reports, the term “Area 51” is always redacted, or blacked out. That is one of the many reasons that Jacobsen’s eye-witness interviews are so important. They provide context, confirm details, and connect dots in a way that has never before been possible.
The pages of Annie Jacobsen’s AREA 51 are filled with breaking news, but the cumulative effect of the base’s history is truly alarming. It is a history that demonstrates how humans, even very smart, very patriotic humans, when given a nearly unlimited budget and little or no oversight, can produce major innovations in war craft and spy craft but show little consideration of the grossly negligent and monstrous results. Today at Area 51 billions of our tax dollars are being consumed in the name of national security, but to what end, good or evil, we (and that “we” often includes our congress and our president) have no idea.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANNIE JACOBSEN is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine and an investigative reporter whose work has also appeared in the National Review and the Dallas Morning News. Her two-part series “The Road to Area 51” in the Los Angeles Times Magazine broke online reader records and remained the “most popular/most emailed” story for ten consecutive days.