For more than four decades, an unusual alliance of mainstream lawyers, conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts has tried to find out just what is going on at Groom Lake, Nev. — the top-security Air Force facility better known to fans of “The X-Files” as Area 51. Now they will have to wait at least another year after President Bush reissued an executive order Wednesday barring the disclosure of any information about the site.
In the continuation of a drama played out every Sept. 18 since 1995, Bush signed the order to make sure that lawyers pursuing hazardous-waste claims against the Environmental Protection Agency could not get their hands on classified information about the site, which lies in the middle of a remote stretch of desert 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
The government did not even acknowledge the existence of the site until the mid-1990s, when it had to begin responding to workers’ claims of injuries resulting from hazardous waste practices.
Even now, all the Air Force will say is that the area is used “for the testing of technologies and systems training for operations critical to the effectiveness of U.S. military forces and the security of the United States.” It insists that “specific activities and operations ... both past and present, remain classified and cannot be discussed.”
Although exasperated government lawyers say nothing nefarious is going on at Groom Lake, they have gone to herculean lengths to make sure no one knows what is going on at Groom Lake.
President Dwight Eisenhower began the process all the way back in 1955, when he issued an executive order restricting airspace over the site. Then, in 1995, President Bill Clinton raised the stakes by issuing an order clamping down on discussion or release of any information whatsoever.
That was about the time attorneys for former government workers began taking their rejected medical claims to court. Those lawyers believe the government is trying to keep the site secret to avoid having to admit it mishandled hazardous materials, exposing the workers to toxic fumes when it allegedly dumped poisonous resins into open pits and burned them in the 1970s and ’80s.
The ultimate cover-up?
There is another group, however, that thinks something else entirely is going on at Groom Lake — something spooky, something otherworldly.
To this group, the site is known as Area 51, the nexus of the greatest government cover-up in history. It is, they say, where the government studies alien spaceships, where it keeps captured unidentified flying objects stored in underground bases, and where it conducts autopsies on aliens.
Writers for “The X-Files” were able to dredge up numerous scripts from stories that have built up since May 1989, when a physicist named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television station about nine alien flying saucers he said were being held near Groom Lake by a rogue agency of the federal government.
Lazar claimed that the government was studying the propulsion system of the spacecraft, which were flown to Earth from the Zeta Reticuli star system. According to Lazar, the Reticulans have been overseeing human evolution for a hundred centuries, and since they were found out, they have been cooperating with the U.S. government on a direct exchange of technology.
The government, to the extent that it has commented at all, says Lazar’s account is utter nonsense.
More prosaically, mainstream scientists suggest, the government simply wishes to limit its liability as it establishes the Nevada Test Site at nearby Yucca Mountain as a storage repository for hazardous nuclear waste. Those alleging an extraterrestrial conspiracy say instead that Yucca Mountain was chosen precisely so federal researchers could have unfettered access to its stored nuclear energy sources via a secret underground tunnel.
In any event, the government has argued that it cannot say anything about Area 51, and it has fought workers’ lawyers zealously in court to keep government documents about the site sealed. One of those lawyers, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, described the courtroom jousting with federal lawyers as “otherworldly.” And every year since Clinton issued his executive order in 1995, the White House has reaffirmed the cloak of secrecy on Sept. 18.
Presumably, as Agent Mulder would have it, “the truth is out there.”
Just don’t ask the president.