“There's nothing secret about Area 51," said former Area 51 CIA agent Gene Poteat.
The panel of current and former CIA staffers who spoke at the Atomic Testing Museum October 9 had their tongues in their cheeks when talking about Nevada's rock star of military bases: Area 51. No secrets here, they told the crowd. It's all out in the open.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that secrets can be kept,” said CIA chief historian Dr. David Robarge.
It's been nine years since Robarge was assigned to declassify information about the amazing aircraft built for the CIA and tested at Area 51.
T.D. Barnes, a longtime CIA radar expert at Area 51, helped spread the word by posting photos and documents about the work that helped win the Cold War.
CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-1990
The fact is, secrets can be kept, and the CIA has always been good at it. Barnes says he couldn't tell his own wife where he worked.
“If you didn't have a need to know, you didn't get in,” he said.
For more than half a century, CIA has grappled with secrecy concerning UFOs. After a nationwide wave of sightings in 1952, the agency convened the so-called Robertson Panel, which spent all of 12 hours studying UFO cases and concluded UFOs are not a threat to national security.
But, the panel found the reporting of UFOs might be, so the agency recommended a policy of debunking UFO sightings. For years, the CIA denied any interest in UFOs at all, but it now admits that was a lie. Documents obtained via public records laws show it continued to collect UFO information at least into the 1970s.
During the event at the Atomic Testing Museum, a filmmaker named Jeremy Corbell asked if the agency is still interested. Robarge said it is not.
Robarge told the audience about a CIA report written a few years ago in which the agency claimed most of the UFO reports of the 1950s and 1960's were caused by spy planes from Area 51, including the gangly U-2.
“He found a 75 percent correlation between black projects and UFO sightings,” Dr. Robarge said.
Dr. Bruce Maccabee, a long-time physicist for the U.S. Navy, says such a claim is flat out preposterous.
“It is preposterously still preposterous,” he said.
When the CIA first made its claim a few years ago, Dr. Maccabee did what most journalists never bothered to do. He checked. Did the number of UFO reports suddenly jump when the U-2 started flying? No.
“The number of sightings before and after 1955 were essentially the same,” Dr. Maccabee said. “There was no impact on the sighting rate due to the sudden start of U-2 flights.”
In a book he wrote, Maccabee notes that UFO sightings were much higher in the years before the U-2 or SR-71 were even built. To point out the obvious, the spy planes don't exactly look like flying saucers. They don't behave like the craft in UFO reports which hover over cars or homes or land in backyards.
There were UFO sightings long before those planes ever flew and long after they stopped. The CIA, he says, is trying to pull a fast one again.
The CIA employees and contractors who toiled in secrecy at Area 51 helped win the Cold War. They did so, in part, by using disinformation and cover stories, even with their own families. It is an agency known for relying on subterfuge and misdirection, but not a lot of truth.
The I-Team asked Dr. Robarge whether the CIA encouraged the belief that some of its spy planes might have been UFOs. He said the agency wasn't allowed to say anything to encourage such speculation, but added they didn't do anything to discourage it either.