The Truth Is Out There: The Secrets Of Area 51 Have A More Earthly And Lethal Story

Below is my column in Los Angeles Times on the growing number of people pledging to “storm Area 51.” What they could find is far more unnerving than alien parts in jars.

Here is my column:

For UFO believers and conspiracy theorists, discovering the secrets of Area 51, a tightly guarded military installment in the Nevada desert, has always seemed like the ultimate — if nearly impossible — quest. For decades, there have been rumors of a massive federal cover-up to disguise the fact that captured aliens and their spacecraft are being held at the facility.

Recently, the campaign to unlock Area 51’s mysteries has gotten a huge boost from a Facebook campaign, launched as a joke, that is soliciting participants to storm the facility on Sept. 20. Nearly 2 million people have said they will turn out.

While the gate-stormers are unlikely to come back with alien souvenirs, they are right that the government is trying to hide something. There are secrets at Area 51 that should be dragged into public view, and the public has every reason to distrust the government’s statements about the site.

In the late 1990s, I represented workers at Area 51 who were suffering from health issues and trying to find out what toxic substances they had been exposed to on the base. The case ultimately led to the government acknowledging the existence of the site, where highly classified research into next-generation aircraft systems was conducted.

The military has long benefited from the rumors about UFOs at Area 51. If people were busy imagining jars of alien body parts and intergalactic portals, they were not thinking about the real reason the military kept the base shrouded in secrecy long after foreign powers had discovered its existence through satellite photographs.

The workers I represented were suffering from serious illnesses they believed were caused by repeated exposure to the burning of highly toxic materials at Area 51, and the government certainly didn’t want questions asked about that. Two of the workers — Robert Frost and Wally Kasza — have since died. The likely cause of their deaths was as outrageous as it was unnecessary.

For years, Area 51 was a “black facility,” meaning the government wouldn’t acknowledge its existence. Such a designation can be a real benefit for officials who want to ignore environmental and worker safety laws. At Area 51, employees have said, Air Force officials regularly ordered toxic material to be burned in open trenches the length of football fields. Rather than arranging for proper disposal, they simply doused mountains of toxic debris with jet fuel and set it alight, the employees said. Many of those working outside, like Frost and Kasza, developed classic symptoms of toxic exposure. But at Area 51, Air Force officials were able to hide any wrongdoing behind a veil of national security.

That looked like it might change when Frost died. A beloved supervisor, he suffered before his death from a skin condition that is often a symptom of exposure to toxic substances. After he died, others on the base contacted me, and that began the long litigation over Area 51.

I had to meet secretly with my clients in seedy motels and other locations to avoid troubles for them. Testing of the tissues from workers showed chemicals that were unknown to doctors.

We did not sue for damages, just information. Our first challenge was to force acknowledgment that the base even existed. We next had to establish that the government was violating environmental laws. The workers could then, we hoped, learn about the chemicals that were in their systems.

The litigation accomplished something that had previously been unheard of, establishing not only that a black facility existed but that it was in violation of environmental laws requiring disclosure of information about the handling of certain toxic substances. We hoped this would lead to discovering what the workers were exposed to, but there we hit a wall. Then-President Clinton stepped in and issued a waiver exempting Area 51 from such disclosures.

What was even more painful for the families was that the same week that Clinton signed that despicable order, he also held a national news conference apologizing for the actions of his predecessors in exposing workers in the same general area to nuclear testing and then covering up the harm to workers and military personnel. Even as he enjoyed praise for his empathy, Clinton barred Area 51 workers from obtaining the same information.

The denial of the existence of Area 51 was always absurd. We were able to take pictures of the base from a nearby mountain. And when we secured foreign satellite imagery of the base and threatened to call on the military attache to the Russian Embassy to tell the American people about the base, the government finally relented and confirmed its existence, calling it “the operating location near Groom Lake.”

Area 51 is an example of a culture of government secrecy that continues to erode any trust in information by the public. In the absence of actual information, rumors and conspiracy theories have flourished. The base has become a bit of American social kitsch, a secret base that whose claim of invisibility or nonexistence was so absurd that it became a beloved icon of Americana. Anheuser-Busch recently declared, for example, that it would provide “free Bud Light to any alien that makes it out” of the facility.

If history is any judge, it might be easier for an alien to make it out of Area 51 than the truth.

30 thoughts on “The Truth Is Out There: The Secrets Of Area 51 Have A More Earthly And Lethal Story”

  1. JT said:

    “The litigation accomplished something that had previously been unheard of, establishing not only that a black facility existed but that it was in violation of environmental laws requiring disclosure of information about the handling of certain toxic substances. We hoped this would lead to discovering what the workers were exposed to, but there we hit a wall. Then-President Clinton stepped in and issued a waiver exempting Area 51 from such disclosures.

    “What was even more painful for the families was that the same week that Clinton signed that despicable order, he also held a national news conference apologizing for the actions of his predecessors in exposing workers in the same general area to nuclear testing and then covering up the harm to workers and military personnel. Even as he enjoyed praise for his empathy, Clinton barred Area 51 workers from obtaining the same information.”

    It’s shameful…and it bears restating.

  2. There are real areas where National Security demands compete secrecy. The world is a dangerous place and there is always a bad guy who wants to take us down. Now it is China. My 50+ year career was working mainly as a contractor with the DOD and I spent 13 years of that time traveling to 57 countries and living in three of them. The claim of National Security is very much overused but some, like Area 51 were needed.

    1. “There are real areas where National Security demands compete secrecy.”

      Actual UFO’s that appear to be from another world is not one of them, but that’s what they do…it’s kept a secret.

    2. People are tired of hearing this, but it’s true:

      “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

      And we need a lot of it, now.

  3. Highlighting one of the more important points made by JT:

    “Area 51 is an example of a culture of government secrecy that continues to erode any trust in information by the public. In the absence of actual information, rumors and conspiracy theories have flourished.”

    There’s a saying: “You’re only as sick as the secrets you keep.”

    By that measure, the U.S. is on life-support.

  4. The story about the burning of toxic chemicals out in the open at Area 51 is old news, but I never knew JT did the legal work…kudos!

    On the topic of UFO’s(now that JT has brought it up), I’m certain he knows almost nothing about the evidence for the claim that they are real.

    1. My Dad worked on an experimental aircraft once that was far ahead of its time. They did a test flight under cover of darkness. The officers came upon a man pulled over next to a cornfield, literally tearing his hair out, eyes wild. He was beside himself that he’d seen a UFO. That’s how many of these stories get started. Although, of course, the government has always kept an eye out on the sky.

      To be sure, it would be a catastrophe if we ever made contact with an alien life form. The demise of the Martians in War of the Worlds was likely based upon so many Native Americans having no resistance to the commonplace diseases of Europeans, with devastating results.

      Whatever immune system an alien, sentient or not, would have developed would be totally different than our own. If there was extreme convergent evolution, the pathogens would be completely different. Even if alien life consisted of single celled organisms, loosing them into our own environment could be catastrophic.

      Vibrio cholera evolved in a marine environment, where it feeds on the chitin in crustacean shells. It has the ability to essential steal genetic information from competing bacteria in order to become more resistant to its environmental challenges. Colonizing the human gut, which causes cholera, was a bit of an accident to which the bacteria adapted. The disease itself is caused by the release of a toxin that V cholera uses to fight against the competing bacteria in the human gut. The best adapted bacteria don’t kill their hosts. Cholera kills us, due to its defense mechanism in order to survive in a non marine environment with increased bacterial competition, but it does not die out, because the progression of the disease allows transmission to a new host.

      Who knows what the consequences would be of an alien bacteria, or the like, adapting to an Earth environment or human host.

      1. People always mistake military craft for alien spacecraft, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t incredible cases that leave little room for an earthly explanation. It’s those cases(and knowing the full history) that makes me believe that they are here. Most people know jack about UFO’s.

        1. Most people know jack about UFO’s.

          The paid trolls on this forum….definite UFOs
          Ultra Freak Out
          Undeniably Fanciful Observation
          Unbearable Flatulent Odor

          😉

  5. The military should never have disposed of toxic waste in such a manner. Rather than destroy it in open pits, in a manner guaranteed to sicken workers, a better solution would have been to create a safe, discrete disposal system for classified substances from black projects. That may well be something the military could not contract out.

    I’ve asked my Dad for years about Area 51, but he won’t tell me anything without proof it’s been declassified. Apparently, all that training about how to handle classified information, made more of an impression on him than it did Hillary Clinton.

  6. JT don’t do it. The priest got zapped. Better let Wash DC know fast

    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.

  7. In the absence of actual information, rumors and conspiracy theories have flourished.

    They also flourish when there’s a boatload of information. The people whose minds work this way will continue to harbor these notions no matter what raw material those ‘minds’ have to process. The thing ‘more information’ does is persuade confused people on the margins. Confused people on the margins aren’t the sort of obsessives who devote much thought to this sort of thing.

  8. I cannot figure why the military cannot be bothered to dispose of toxic waste according to spec.

  9. Seems to me, at best, the workers had a federal worker’s compensation case for an occupational disease from toxic exposure. They were entitled to benefits for their medical expenses and reimbursement for wages lost on occasion of their exposure. Why they would have been entitled to sensitive classified information is a mystery to me. We can sympathize with their plight but forcing the government to reveal national security secrets seems more vindictive than compensatory.

    1. If there were some medical treatment necessity for disclosure, but then they must have had Air Force or Army personnel who were being treated on base. They should have been entitled to the same on-base medical treatment. For instance, I’ve heard that you can’t touch the surface of a stealth fighter with your bare hands because it’s toxic AF.

      1. You heard wrong. The RAM is hazardous while it is being applied, and when it is being destroyed. A person can climb all over those aircraft in day to day operations and suffer no ill effects.

    2. “We can sympathize with their plight but forcing the government to reveal national security secrets seems more vindictive than compensatory.”

      There’s no longer any question: Mespo727272 drank the Kool-Aid.

      As many people know, there’s a problem with overclassification.

      1. Anonymous:

        I’d have to know a lot more before classifying this situation as “over-classified.” Wouldn’t you or does omniscience run in your family?

        1. “Wouldn’t you or does” omniscience run in your family?”

          No. But access to classified information does.

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