Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 5:35 AM
For decades conspiracy nuts have been competing with paranormal kooks to divine what top secrets the U.S. government was hiding within the confines of Area 51.
Area 51, of course, is the place – located about 125 miles northwest of Las Vegas – that was to The X-Files what Washington, DC is to House of Cards. Most notably, it is where many believed the government was detaining and experimenting on extraterrestrials. Never mind that it is far more likely that, in any such Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the aliens would be more like Europeans coming to conquer the “New World” than like lost sheep coming to the slaughter….
Well, the secrets of Area 51 are no more. Because, perhaps fearing it’s only a matter of time before some agent pulls a Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, the CIA released documents detailing exactly what has been going on there all these years:
Area 51 was merely a testing site for the government’s U-2 and OXCART aerial surveillance programs. The U-2 program conducted surveillance around the world, including over the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
(CNN, August 16, 2013)
In other words, all of those flying saucers and other UFO sightings that so fascinated people throughout much of the 20th century were nothing more than military boys playing with their toys.
Of course, this will come as no surprise to anyone who bothered to read any of the many reliable accounts over the years about the activities at Area 51. I can cite, for example, Annie Jacobesen’s bestselling book, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base … with “military” being the operative word.
Hell, even the extraterrestrial myth surrounding the “Roswell UFO incident” in 1947 stems from nothing more than an all too terrestrial military accident, which is well documented. But just imagine how many civilian sightings there might’ve been of the military’s flying saucer-looking stealth bomber during this plane’s top-secret testing phase. What’s more, it’s easy to see how civilians, coming across debris from crashes during the testing phase of this and similar aircrafts would assume it must have been from some alien spacecraft.
I appreciate, of course, that many people are simply too vested in the myth of UFOs and space aliens, or too disillusioned by the reality of NSA spying, to believe the government even when it purports to be coming clean.
Whatever the case, these CIA releases actually affirm what most of us in Washington, DC have always believed; namely, that what passes for top secret is more often than not so mundane as to be downright boring. Have you tried reading any of the much-ballyhooed WikiLeaks disclosures? Trust me, a third-rate spy novel is far more riveting, to say nothing of the stuff of John le Carré.
Mind you, if Area 51 were truly a site of other-worldly secrets, which successive presidents have deemed too sensitive for public disclosures, I would hope the agency responsible for keeping those secrets could do a better job than the NSA has done of keeping secret its civilian spying programs.
Because, unlike Julian Assange and all of his WikiLeaks enablers, I do not believe the public has a right to know all government secrets, or about everything it does. That’s why we have “top secret” classifications and secret agents who do covert operations, no?
Area 51 aside, I feel obliged to stress that, if the NSA must submit to adversarial court proceedings before it can spy on Americans for national security reasons (as advocates for civil liberties are demanding), then surely the press should be required to do no less before it can publish government secrets that could compromise that security.
After all, the Guardian’s Glen Greenwald is reveling in worldwide fame and critical acclaim for serializing government secrets as if they were titillating excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey. So it’s only a matter of time before every journalist begins chasing after government secrets like greyhounds chasing after rabbits. In fact, cognitive dissonance in journalism now clearly holds that betraying national security is pursuit of Pulitzers is no vice.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the ignorance inherent in people venting outrage over the NSA collecting communications data in a thankless effort to protect them from terrorist attacks, while blithely allowing social media and credit card companies to collect (and track) far more personal data just to sell them stuff.
This is why passing off public opinion polls on what the NSA does as news is rather like passing off Duck Dynasty as entertainment.
After all, the vast majority of those polled are probably too ignorant to even know what NSA stands for (Nothing’s Secret Anymore…? Ha!), let alone offer any intelligent opinion on what the U.S. should do to further its national security interests.