The Truth Is Out There: The Real Cover-Up At Area 51

250px-Wfm_area_51_landsat_geocover_2000Below is my column today in the Los Angeles Times. The column follows the recognition of the name for Area 51, which produced a great deal of media coverage.

Last week, the U.S. government declassified a report about a secret facility in Nevada. Such declassifications are nothing new but, from the report’s 400 pages, two words immediately jumped out: Area 51. The government had finally acknowledged the name of a controversial base in the desert north of Las Vegas where it conducted top-secret research.

The document’s release will do little to quash the glut of Area 51 conspiracy theories about recovered alien spaceships and government cover-ups. But the real cover-up there has nothing to do with UFOs. Area 51 was more than a national security site; it was also an alleged crime scene, and at least two good men may have died from what occurred there. They were not hurt by aliens but by their own government, which refused to declassify information they needed to understand what had happened to them.

During the 1990s, I represented Area 51 workers in two lawsuits. The suits, which forced the first official recognition of the base — though not its name — were the first against a “black facility,” one whose very existence is denied by the government. Over the course of the litigation, the contents of my office were classified, I was threatened with arrest, workers and their families were threatened with prosecution and we had to go as far as Moscow to find images to prove the existence of the base.

Area 51, as the newly declassified material makes clear, was a test site for Cold War technology, including the U-2 spy plane. But it was also, according to people who worked there, a hazardous waste site, at which classified equipment and materials were disposed of in an illegal and extremely dangerous manner.

When workers at Area 51 first came to me in the 1990s, they described how the government had placed discarded equipment and hazardous waste in open trenches the length of football fields, then doused them with jet fuel and set them on fire. The highly toxic smoke blowing through the desert base was known as “London fog” by workers. Many came down with classic skin and respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to burning hazardous waste. A chief aim of the lawsuits was to discover exactly what the workers had been exposed to so they could get appropriate medical care.

The first hurdle was the government’s refusal to acknowledge even the existence, let alone the name, of the facility. We supplied pictures of the base. We supplied affidavits from workers at the base. We even submitted pictures of planes taking off in Las Vegas and then the same planes landing at Area 51. At one point, I offered to drive the judge personally to the base and point at it from a mountaintop. (The government then acquired the mountaintop and barred the public.) Ultimately, the government confirmed the existence of the base only after we located Russian satellite pictures. It turned out that the Russians had a virtual catalog of pictures of Area 51 for public sale. You just needed a credit card.

That did not end the bizarre character of the litigation. My office was off-limits to anyone but myself. I was forced to meet with my clients in seedy motels and garages to avoid their being arrested. My last memory of one client, Wally Kasza, was of him sitting in a car in a Las Vegas garage with his oxygen tank and medications. He had only weeks to live but wanted me to promise to continue to fight to hold the government accountable.

In the end, we prevailed in demonstrating that the government had acted in violation of federal law. However, the government refused to declassify information about what it had burned in the trenches, which meant that workers (and their doctors) still didn’t know what they had been exposed to. The government also refused to acknowledge the name of the base.

The burning at Area 51 was in all likelihood a federal crime. But the government escaped responsibility by hiding behind secrecy: How could the law be applied at a place that did not exist for the burning of unknown things? Of course, Kasza did exist, as did his colleagues, including another worker who died, Bob Frost. But when they became sick — with rashes, racking coughs or dreadful skin conditions — they were barred from telling doctors where they worked or what they had been exposed to. After Frost’s death, an analysis of tissue samples from his body found unidentifiable and exotic substances that one of the nation’s premier scientists could not recognize.

The newly released report doesn’t clear up those questions, and it comes after the statute of limitations has passed for any crimes that may have been committed there. The report also contradicts statements given to the court in our case. Most notably, in 1995, the government’s lead counsel, Col. Richard Sarver, told Judge Philip Pro: “Your honor, there is no name. There is no name for the operating location near Groom Lake.” Hiding behind that fiction allowed government officials to avoid accountability for these unlawful operations.

The officials responsible for those alleged crimes have now retired. But the truth is still out there. The question is whether anyone really wants to know it.

Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, was lead counsel in the Area 51 litigation.

Los Angeles Times August 20, 2013

73 thoughts on “The Truth Is Out There: The Real Cover-Up At Area 51”

  1. I just read your column and immediately thought about almost getting stationed in Nevada at their Navy base in the mid 1990’s and reading an article in a think the Navy Times during this time. It made me feel so great full that I licked Oakland CA over Fallon Nevada, after reading about all of the children of military families dieting from cancer. My daughter was in her early teens then and she would have been stationed there with me. I attributed it to all the atomic bomb testing. I would imagine that Area 51 probably had a lot to do with it. All of those poor children. I think I remember at least one family loosing more than one child to cancer. I retired soon after and don’t know if this is still occurring, or if they began changing their disposal procedures after that.

  2. UFO’s, mmmmm, see how they sparkle. I’m sure the families of those men whose lives were cut short by exposure to toxic substances are big fans of the “X Files”.

    Rachel Maddow made the point that when you continue that which everyone knows to be true, you lose credibility. Intentional or not, the government could hardly have picked a better “secret” to reveal, because of the reflexive association of Area 51with aliens; the distractions are built in.

    I don’t believe in aliens, at least I don’t believe we have the means to hold them someplace like Area 51. I suspect that the real use for area 51 was for landing top secret planes, testing experimental fuels, and exploding ordinance. At some point, it became a handy place to dump trash. Really toxic trash.

    Most of the government’s research and development is conducted at universities across the country, or the world , for that matter.

    Aliens could hardly be more exploitative than our large corporations.

  3. The concept that another civilization out there in space is likely more advanced than we are, is not necessarilly so. Of course, I love Queen singer’s speech to a packed auditorium on space last year (he is an astronomist, Brian May) titled: ‘What are we doing in space?!’ Indeed, our leaders are too immature & ready to war instead of communicate, but there are sugestions & data out there indicating that the Illuminati’s reign is limited & some say that friendly aliens are assisting on this. (no proof personally)

  4. Lazar is supposed to be a physicist. If there really is a stable isotope of element 115, and we have some quantity of it, I think the most natural question for a physicist to ask is “how many neutrons does it take to stabilize 115?” Or equivalently, “what is the mass number of 115?” which gives the total number of nucleons (115 is the number of protons, nucleons include both the number of protons and the number of neutrons).

    With an example quantity that would be easy to discover in most labs, and the answer would the key to future production of it: knowing the neutron-proton recipe for stability is the first step in figuring out how to manufacture the substance. If I heard that one number, I would never forget it. If the material exists the odds of its atomic mass not being known are essentially zero; and if your job as a physicist is to reverse engineer the spaceship you would have to know it.

    I don’t know if Lazar has claimed a mass for 115, but for various reasons I doubt it. If Lazar cannot tell us the mass of 115, then I think he is a fraud; playing on long extant speculations that such high-proton elements exist and physics equations suggest there might be a “stable island” of such high-proton elements. Experimentalists have been trying to make them for decades; the fact that somebody did make 115 does not corroborate his story, it was quite likely to happen sooner or later.

    I think he is a fraud engaged in a “Baffle them with Bullshlt” operation; learn enough about nuclear physics to claim something that physicists cannot disprove. But he forgets, in order for his story to be coherent, his claimed “special knowledge” has to be coherent too, and it isn’t: A physicist whose job was to work with an element with these magical properties would know everything about it; its mass, its spin, its half-life, etc, all committed to memory.

  5. Tony,

    I had actually figured that out already. 😀 But thanks for being thorough.

  6. Gene: So I forgot to mention, at the end of the first season they reveal it is the elder Alec that built the time travel device and purposely chose Keira and sent her into the past, they show him on a screen selecting her (by picture) and downloading something to her embedded brain hardware. Then they show it was him that smuggled his time travel device to the Liber8 crew in 2077 that is scheduled for execution. Keira’s being sent to the past looked like an accident, but it was deliberate.

  7. Lazar has some credibility problems, but I will say he’s been consistent in his story. If he had say some stable 115 to back up his claim? It might be a different story.

  8. Tony,

    Well then. I may have to give Contnuum another shot. I’m sure I can catch it On Demand. Thanks for the synopsis/review.

  9. Gene: To me the trick with Continuum is that the hero was raised in the corpocracy and swallowed it whole. In 2077, those against the corpocracy (“Liber8”) have no tactic left to them but terrorism, and as a result they attracted a lot of psychopaths and sociopaths that would seize on any excuse for war and killing.

    So she is, in 2077, a non-philosophical good cop, hunting down real terrorists that have been killing real innocents, and (similar to drugs today, from a good-cop perspective) her perspective is that the rules are the rules, the law is the law, and the lack of freedom of speech, the violation of what we consider Rights are necessary to keep citizens safe from the terrorists. She grew up acclimated to fascism.

    So the story (to me, this is my own analysis) is a story of Change for Keira. She is the stranger in a strange land, deposited near the beginning of the corpocracy, so she can see why Liber8 turned to violence. She is being changed by Carlos (the good cop that still believes in Rights) and the young Alec.

    The elder Alec (the top of the pyramid in 2077) warns his younger self (the boy genius in 2013), via an encrypted message in Keira’s hardware that only the young Alec would be able to read that they made a mistake and he mustn’t repeat it.

    But the message is purposely vague, which makes me suspect it has to be to avoid a time-loop issue, and is one of the many suggestions I see that this particular time-travel has happened before, and Alec is repeatedly trying to re-engineer the future away from the fascist model that he helped create. (There are several other time travelers too, both from her era and in this season, from significantly beyond 2077, with better tech, landing in various times, some several decades before 2013).

    So the deeper story isn’t about Keira, it is about Alec’s redemption and preventing his mistakes, presumably those that led to fascism, which his younger self rejects. He wants to prevent the violence of terrorism, he has the tech to do it, but he doesn’t know how to stop the psychopaths and simultaneously halt the march to fascism, and isn’t even sure it is possible, that is his struggle.

    Keira’s struggle is between her own developing conscience (she is seeing, with Carlos’ sense of right and wrong, that the anti-corporatists sometimes have a valid point), and her worry about preserving the future existence of her child; if she changes the future too much she worries her child won’t be born. Yet, out of conscience, she has already changed the future a few times (and knows it). For example, she killed a serial killer in 2013 that, from the 2077 perspective, had numerous victims after 2013.

    There may be problems with the acting or technicalities, but overall I find the storyline pretty decent, and I can root for characters stumbling toward enlightenment and redemption. Plus there is the mystery of Escher’s agenda, the far-future time travelers and whatever they are up to, and what the rules of their time-travel are (the writers claim they have specific rules about what can and cannot be done by time travelers, so I want to figure out what they are before they tell me in script).

  10. Mr Turley research the name Phil schneider he is one of the workers who helped to build area 51 and told his story to colleges and on the net after he was almost killed. then became sick with cancer. he had maybe 6 months to live and they found his body one day. shot in the right temple though mr schneider was left handed………

  11. Tony,

    I tried to like Continuum, really I did, but I had huge problems rooting for a hero that works(ed? – I’m not sure now since I quit watching at about episode six) for a future fascist/corporatist police state. I did, however, love her suit and tech enhancements as an idea. I liked the casting overall, especially since they used some favorites from past Canadian produced shows like “Stargate”. I have kind of a love/hate thing going on with Falling Skies. They’ve done a couple of things that as a writer make want to pull my hair out, but it is entertaining. I like Noah Wiley and most of the cast (big fan of Wil Patton’s work over the years), but the kid cast as his oldest son irritates me. Can’t say why. He just does. Probably how he’s written. I’m sure he’s just lovely in person. However, I love Haven. I have such a gigantic crush on Emily Rose (I know she’s not a redhead but she is just as adorable as she can be), I like Eric Balfour and thought he was under utilized in Six Feet Under, and their location is mind blowing gorgeous (I’m sure the winters are brutal, but the summer looks spectacular). Under the Dome I’m getting in to (I think I’m an episode behind on the DVR) but my biggest issue is Dean Norris. I’m so used to him being Hank on Breaking Bad, the Big Jim Rennie character is just taking some getting used to. It’s one of the few King books I haven’t read too, so I’m appreciating the “new story smell”.

    You’re spot on about B5. It may be the first series where the characters had arc. Which is one of the things I really appreciate about Breaking Bad as well. Strong arcs in that one. As much as I love Trek, I do have to concede the characters are largely static.

  12. Gene: Yeah, Ellison is popular on my shelf too.

    I guess now I like Continuum, and Falling Skies, and Under the Dome. Haven will be coming back in a month. They don’t have the depth of character planning that MSJ had, however (although Under the Dome and Haven both benefit from Stephen King’s expertise).

    I suspect that these (like many shows) there just is no plan; they wing it from season to season. MSJ had five year character arcs planned for all major characters in Babylon 5 before he wrote episode one; he had his themes and a schedule to explore. Plus he was a superhuman writer, he wrote 85% of the episodes, and I think 100% of the first three seasons.

    Which I think contributed heavily to consistency and coherency in the characters and story line; it is far more difficult to achieve that with several writers.

    One of the things MSJ did with B5, which was different for a series, was even having character arcs. In shows like Star Trek (or many other episodic shows) the characters do not change or develop at all, they are static. Guest characters change, the situation changes, but Spock is Spock, Kirk is Kirk, and at the end of the series no main character is a significantly different person than they were at the beginning. That is still the default formula with most new series.

    With MSJ people changed, relationships changed, ambitions are met, defeat and surrender are realized, it felt more like real life.

    Plus, Straczynski via B5 introduced me to the term “testosterone poisoning,” which had me giggling for weeks.

  13. Tony,

    I like MJS a lot, but what really thrilled me was his using his buddy Harlan Ellison as a B5 consultant (and even giving him a cameo as a PsiCorps agent). Ellison is probably my favorite modern author in any genre. He’s the only guy who ever made me physically break into a sweat reading some of his stories. Visceral stuff.

  14. brucespoint,

    For once, I have to agree with one of your postings. I’m certainly in the Brin/Hawking camp about telling everyone “Hey! We’re over here!” Less broadcasting, more listening.


    Yeah. I’m pretty bummed out about Leonard. He is one of my favorites. But as Buddha said, “Everything that has a beginning has an end.” At least Elmore’s middle was filled with fantastic writing that lives on.

  15. Gene, Thanks for the info and reading suggestion. When I was young I read a lot of science fiction. As I aged, I read less and less fiction of all genre. There is always so much nonfiction I want to read. It’s not that I don’t like fiction, I do. But, we all have priorities. With the death of Elmore Leonard I have on less fiction author that I would read. If you know Leonard’s work, go to The Onion and look @ his obit. I know Leonard is laughing his ass off. hopefully Dennis Lehane is in good health.

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