The chances of anyone looking for it there are slim

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

I read and enjoyed Annie Jacobsen’s Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins, so I was paying attention when she announced her new book, Nuclear War: A Scenario, and I caught this interview, which actually meanders through all of her related books:

She mentions that most of her first book, Area 51, got much less attention than a small section on UFOs. Most of the book is a well researched summary of what we know about classified programs like the U-2, its successor the A-12, better known in its later Air Force configuration, the SR-71, and the F-117, and that small section on UFOs has to rely on much sketchier evidence:

Of the seventy-four individuals interviewed for this book with rare firsthand knowledge of the secret base, thirty-two of them lived and worked at Area 51.

Area 51 is the nation’s most secret domestic military facility. It is located in the high desert of southern Nevada, seventy-five miles north of Las Vegas. Its facilities have been constructed over the past sixty years around a flat, dry lake bed called Groom Lake. The U.S. government has never admitted it exists.

Key to understanding Area 51 is knowing that it sits inside the largest government-controlled land parcel in the United States, the Nevada Test and Training Range. Encompassing 4,687 square miles, this area is just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut—three times the size of Rhode Island, and more than twice as big as Delaware. Set inside this enormous expanse is a smaller parcel of land, 1,350 square miles, called the Nevada Test Site, the only facility like it in the continental United States.


Two early projects at Groom Lake have been declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency: the U-2 spy plane, declassified in 1998, and the A-12 Oxcart spy plane, declassified in 2007. And yet in thousands of pages of declassified memos and reports, the name Area 51 is always redacted, or blacked out. There are only two known exceptions, most likely mistakes.


According to most members of the black world who are familiar with the history of Area 51, the base opened its doors in 1955 after two CIA officers, Richard Bissell and Herbert Miller, chose the place to be the test facility for the Agency’s first spy plane, the U-2. Part of Area 51’s secret history is that the so-called Area 51 zone had been in existence for four years by the time the CIA identified it as a perfect clandestine test facility. Never before disclosed is the fact that Area 51’s first customer was not the CIA but the Atomic Energy Commission. Beginning in 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission used its parallel system of secret-keeping to conduct radical and controversial research, development, and engineering not just on aircraft but also on pilot-related projects—entirely without oversight or ethical controls.

That the Atomic Energy Commission was not an agency that characteristically had any manner of jurisdiction over aircraft and pilot projects (their business was nuclear bombs and atomic energy) speaks to the shadowy, shell-game aspect of black-world operations at Area 51. If you move a clandestine, highly controversial project into a classified agency that does not logically have anything to do with such a program, the chances of anyone looking for it there are slim.

Jacobsen contends that Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 fake-newscast adaptation of The War of the Worlds profoundly influenced authorities in the US and around the world:

“Thousands of persons believed a real invasion had been unleashed. They exhibited all the symptoms of fear, panic, determination to resist, desperation, bravery, excitement or fatalism that real war would have produced,” which in turn “shows the government will have to insist on the close co-operation of radio in any future war.” What these military men were not saying was that there was serious concern among strategists and policy makers that entire segments of the population could be so easily manipulated into thinking that something false was something true. Americans had taken very real, physical actions based on something entirely made up.


America was not the only place where government officials were impressed by how easily people could be influenced by a radio broadcast. Adolf Hitler took note as well. He referred to the Americans’ hysterical reaction to the War of the Worlds broadcast in a Berlin speech, calling it “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.” It was later revealed that in the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had also been paying attention. And President Roosevelt’s top science adviser, Vannevar Bush, observed the effects of the fictional radio broadcast with a discerning eye. The public’s tendency to panic alarmed him, he would later tell W. Cameron Forbes, his colleague at the Carnegie Institution.

This leads us to Roswell, New Mexico:

During the first week of July 1947, U.S. Signal Corps engineers began tracking two objects with remarkable flying capabilities moving across the southwestern United States. What made the aircraft extraordinary was that, although they flew in a traditional, forward-moving motion, the craft—whatever they were—began to hover sporadically before continuing to fly on. This kind of technology was beyond any aerodynamic capabilities the U.S. Air Force had in development in the summer of 1947. When multiple sources began reporting the same data, it became clear that the radar wasn’t showing phantom returns, or electronic ghosts, but something real. Kirtland Army Air Force Base, just north of the White Sands Proving Ground, tracked the flying craft into its near vicinity. The commanding officer there ordered a decorated World War II pilot named Kenny Chandler into a fighter jet to locate and chase the unidentified flying craft. This fact has never before been disclosed.

Chandler never visually spotted what he’d been sent to look for. But within hours of Chandler’s sweep of the skies, one of the flying objects crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Immediately, the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or JCS, took command and control and recovered the airframe and some propulsion equipment, including the crashed craft’s power plant, or energy source. The recovered craft looked nothing like a conventional aircraft. The vehicle had no tail and it had no wings. The fuselage was round, and there was a dome mounted on the top. In secret Army intelligence memos declassified in 1994, it would be referred to as a “flying disc.” Most alarming was a fact kept secret until now—inside the disc, there was a very earthly hallmark: Russian writing. Block letters from the Cyrillic alphabet had been stamped, or embossed, in a ring running around the inside of the craft.

In a critical moment, the American military had its worst fears realized. The Russian army must have gotten its hands on German aerospace engineers more capable than Ernst Steinhoff and Wernher Von Braun—engineers who must have developed this flying craft years before for the German air force, or Luftwaffe.

This would be a much more reasonable hypothesis, if the cutting-edge craft had crashed near Soviet-controlled territory. All of this is sourced from “Interview with EG&G engineer.” EG&G was a defense contractor out of MIT that had worked on the Manhattan Project.

The first thing they did was initiate the withdrawal of the original Roswell Army Air Field press release, the one that stated that a “flying disc… landed on a ranch near Roswell,” and then they replaced it with the second press release, the one that said that a weather balloon had crashed—nothing more.


The first order of business was to determine where the technology had come from. The Joint Chiefs of Staff tasked an elite group working under the direct orders of G-2 Army intelligence to initiate a top secret project called Operation Harass. Based on the testimony of America’s Paperclip scientists, Army intelligence officers believed that the flying disc was the brainchild of two former Third Reich airplane engineers, named Walter and Reimar Horten—now working for the Russian military. Orders were drawn up. The manhunt was on.


The brothers were the inventors of several of Hitler’s flying-wing aircraft, including one called the Horten 229 or Horten IX, a wing-shaped, tailless airplane that had been developed at a secret facility in Baden-Baden during the war. From the Paperclip scientists at Wright Field, the Army intelligence investigators learned that Hitler was rumored to have been developing a faster-flying aircraft that had been designed by the brothers and was shaped like a saucer. Maybe, the Paperclips said, there had been a later-model Horten in the works before Germany surrendered, meaning that even if Stalin didn’t have the Horten brothers themselves, he could very likely have gotten control of their blueprints and plans.


A records group of more than three hundred pages of Army intelligence documents reveals many of the details of Operation Harass. They were declassified in 1994, after a researcher named Timothy Cooper filed a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. One memo, called “Air Intelligence Guide for Alleged ‘Flying Saucer’ Type Aircraft,” detailed for CIC officers the parameters of the flying saucer technology the military was looking for, features which were evidenced in the craft that crashed at Roswell.

Extreme maneuverability and apparent ability to almost hover; A plan form approximating that of an oval or disc with dome shape on the surface; The ability to quickly disappear by high speed or by complete disintegration; The ability to group together very quickly in a tight formation when more than one aircraft are together; Evasive motion ability indicating possibility of being manually operated, or possibly, by electronic or remote control.


A former Messerschmitt test pilot named Fritz Wendel offered up some firsthand testimony that seemed real. The Horten brothers had indeed been working on a flying saucer–like craft in Heiligenbeil, East Prussia, right after the war, Wendel said. The airplane was ten meters long and shaped like a half-moon. It had no tail. The prototype was designed to be flown by one man lying down flat on his stomach. It reached a ceiling of twelve thousand feet. Wendel drew diagrams of this saucerlike aircraft, as did a second German informant named Professor George, who described a later-model Horten as being “very much like a round cake with a large sector cut out” and that had been developed to carry more than one crew member. The later-model Horten could travel higher and faster—up to 1,200 mph—because it was propelled by rockets rather than jet engines. Its cabin was allegedly pressurized for high-altitude flights.

Horten H.IX V2 before a test flight


The next batch of solid information came from a rocket engineer named Walter Ziegler. During the war, Ziegler had worked at the car manufacturer Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW, which served as a front for advanced rocket-science research. There, Ziegler had been on a team tasked with developing advanced fighter jets powered by rockets. Ziegler relayed a chilling tale that gave investigators an important clue. One night, about a year after the war, in September of 1946, four hundred men from his former rocket group at BMW had been invited by Russian military officers to a fancy dinner. The rocket scientists were wined and dined and, after a few hours, taken home. Most were drunk. Several hours later, all four hundred of the men were woken up in the middle of the night by their Russian hosts and told they were going to be taking a trip. Why Ziegler wasn’t among them was not made clear. The Germans were told to bring their wives, their children, and whatever else they needed for a long trip. Mistresses and livestock were also fine. This was not a situation to which you could say no, Ziegler explained. The scientists and their families were transported by rail to a small town outside Moscow where they had remained ever since, forced to work on secret military projects in terrible conditions.


And then, six months into the investigation, on March 12, 1948, along came abrupt news. The Horten brothers had been found. In a memo to the European command of the 970th CIC, Major Earl S. Browning Jr. explained. “The Horten Brothers have been located and interrogated by American Agencies,” Browning said. The Russians had likely found the blueprints of the flying wing after all. “It is Walter Horten’s opinion that the blueprints of the Horten IX may have been found by Russian troops at the Gotha Railroad Car Factory,” the memo read. But a second memo, entitled “Extracts on Horten, Walter,” explained a little more. Former Messerschmitt test pilot Fritz Wendel’s information about the Horten brothers’ wingless, tailless, saucerlike craft that had room for more than one crew member was confirmed. “Walter Horten’s opinion is that sufficient German types of flying wings existed in the developing or designing stages when the Russians occupied Germany, and these types may have enabled the Russians to produce the flying saucer.”

The Soviets never went on to develop a flying wing, but another superpower did.

Jacobsen summarizes the Roswell incident near the end of her book:

The flying craft that crashed in New Mexico, the myth of which has come to be known as the Roswell Incident, happened in 1947, sixty-four years before the publication of this book. Everyone directly involved in that incident—who acted on behalf of the government—is apparently dead. Like it does about Area 51, the U.S. government refuses to admit the Roswell crash ever happened, but it did—according to the seminal testimony of one man interviewed over the course of eighteen months for this book. He participated in the engineering project that came about as a result of the Roswell Incident. He was one of the elite engineers from EG&G who were tasked with the original Area 51 wicked engineering problem.

In July of 1947, Army intelligence spearheaded the efforts to retrieve the remains of the flying disc that crashed at Roswell. And as with other stories that have become the legends of Area 51, part of the conspiracy theory about Roswell has its origins in truth. The crash did reveal a disc, not a weather balloon, as has subsequently been alleged by the Air Force. And responders from the Roswell Army Air Field found not only a crashed craft, but also two crash sites, and they found bodies alongside the crashed craft. These were not aliens. Nor were they consenting airmen. They were human guinea pigs. Unusually petite for pilots, they appeared to be children. Each was under five feet tall. Physically, the bodies of the aviators revealed anatomical conundrums. They were grotesquely deformed, but each in the same manner as the others. They had unusually large heads and abnormally shaped oversize eyes. One fact was clear: these children, if that’s what they were, were not healthy humans. A second fact was shocking. Two of the child-size aviators were comatose but still alive.

Everything related to the crash site was sent to Wright Field, later called Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio, where it all remained until 1951. That is when the evidence was packed up and transported to the Nevada Test Site. It was received, physically, by the elite group of EG&G engineers. The Atomic Energy Commission, not the Air Force and not the Central Intelligence Agency, was put in charge of the Roswell crash remains. According to its unusual charter, the Atomic Energy Commission was the organization best equipped to handle a secret that could never be declassified. The Atomic Energy Commission needed engineers they could trust to handle the work that was about to begin. For this, they looked to the most powerful defense contractor in the nation that no one had ever heard of—EG&G.

The engineers with EG&G were chosen to receive the crash remains and to set up a secret facility just outside the boundary of the Nevada Test Site, sixteen miles to the northwest of Groom Lake, approximately five and a half miles north of the northernmost point where Area 12 and Area 15 meet. A facility this remote would never be visited by anyone outside a small group with a strict need-to-know and would never have to be accounted for or appear on any official Nevada Test Site map. These five men were told there was more engineering work to be done, and that they would be the only five individuals with a set of keys to the facility. The project, the men were told, was the most clandestine, most important engineering program since the Manhattan Project, which was why the man who had been in charge of that one would function as the director of this project as well.

Vannevar Bush had been President Roosevelt’s most trusted science adviser during World War II. He held engineering doctorates from both Harvard University and MIT, in addition to being the former vice president and former dean of engineering at MIT. The decisions Vannevar Bush made were ostensibly for the good of the nation; they were sound. The men from EG&G were told that the project they were about to work on was so important that it would remain black forever, meaning it would never see the light of day. The men knew that a secrecy classification inside the Atomic Energy Commission charter made this possible, because they all worked on classified engineering projects that were hidden from the rest of the world. They understood born classified meant that no one would ever have a need-to-know what Vannevar Bush was going to ask them to do. The operation would have no name, only a letter-number designation: S-4, or Sigma-Four.


There was the crashed craft that had been sent by Stalin—with its Russian writing stamped, or embossed, in a ring around the inside of the craft. So far, the EG&G engineers were told, no one working on the project when it had been headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had been able to discern what made Stalin’s craft hover and fly. Not even the German Paperclip scientists who had been assigned to assist. So the crashed craft was job number one. Reverse engineer it, Vannevar Bush said. Take it apart and put it back together again. Figure out what made it fly.

But there was the second engineering problem to solve, the one involving the child-size aviators. To understand this, the men were briefed on what it was they were dealing with. They had to be. They were told that they, and they alone, had a need-to-know about what had happened to these humans before they were put in the craft and sent aloft. They were told that seeing the bodies would be a shocking and disturbing experience. Because two of the aviators were comatose but still alive, the men would have to transfer them into a Jell-O-like substance and stand them upright in two tubular tanks, attached to a life-support system. Sometimes, their mouths opened, and this gave the appearance of their trying to speak. Remember, the engineers were told, these humans are in a comatose state. They are unconscious; their bodies would never spark back to life.

Once, the children had been healthy humans. Not anymore. They were about thirteen years old. Questions abounded. What made their heads so big? Had their bodies been surgically manipulated to appear inhuman, or did the children have genetic deformities? And what about their haunting, oversize eyes? The engineers were told that the children were rumored to have been kidnapped by Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi madman who, at Auschwitz and elsewhere, was known to have performed unspeakable experimental surgical procedures mostly on children, dwarfs, and twins. The engineers learned that just before the war ended, Josef Mengele made a deal with Stalin. Stalin offered Mengele an opportunity to continue his work in eugenics—the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase desirable, heritable characteristics—in secret, in the Soviet Union after the war. The engineers were told that this deal likely occurred just before the war’s end, in the winter of 1945, when it was clear to many members of the Nazi Party, including Mengele, that Nazi Germany would lose the war and that its top commanders and doctors would be tried and hanged for war crimes.


Mengele’s victims included Jewish children, Gypsy children, and people with severe physical deformities. He removed parts of children’s craniums and replaced them with bones from larger, adult skulls. He removed and transplanted eyeballs, and injected people with chemicals that caused them to lose their hair. On Mengele’s instruction, an Auschwitz inmate, a painter named Dina Babbitt, made comparative drawings of the shapes of heads, noses, mouths, and ears of people before and after the grotesque surgeries Mengele performed. Another inmate doctor forced to work for Mengele, named Dr. Martina Puzyna, recounted how Mengele had her keep detailed measurements of the shapes and sizes of children’s body parts, casting those of crippled children—particularly their hands and heads—in plaster molds. When Mengele left Auschwitz, on January 17, 1945, he took the documentation of his medical experiments with him. According to his only son, Rolf, Mengele was still in possession of his medical research documents after the war.

The EG&G engineers were told that part of Joseph Stalin’s offer to Josef Mengele stated that if he could create a crew of grotesque, child-size aviators for Stalin, he would be given a laboratory in which to continue his work. According to what the engineers were told, Mengele held up his side of the Faustian bargain and provided Stalin with the child-size crew. Joseph Stalin did not. Mengele never took up residence in the Soviet Union. Instead, he lived for four years in Germany under an assumed name and then escaped to South America, where he lived, first in Argentina and then in Paraguay, until his death in 1979.

When Joseph Stalin sent the biologically and/or surgically reengineered children in the craft over New Mexico hoping it would land there, the engineers were told, Stalin’s plan was for the children to climb out and be mistaken for visitors from Mars. Panic would ensue, just like it did after the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. America’s early-warning radar system would be overwhelmed with sightings of other “UFOs.” Truman would see how easily a totalitarian dictator could control the masses using black propaganda. Stalin may have been behind the United States in atomic bomb technology, but when it came to manipulating the people’s perception, Stalin was the leader with the upper hand. This, says the engineer, is what he and the others in the group were told.

For months I asked the engineer why President Truman didn’t use the remains from the Roswell crash to show the world what an evil, abhorrent man Joseph Stalin was. I guessed that maybe Truman didn’t want to admit the breach of U.S. borders. For a long time, I never got an answer, just a shaking of the head. Here was the engineer who had the answer to the riddle inside the riddle that is Area 51, but he was unwilling to say more. He is the only one of the original elite group of EG&G engineers who is still alive. He said he wouldn’t tell me more, no matter how many times I asked. One day, I asked again. “Why didn’t President Truman reveal the truth in 1947?” This time he answered.

“Because we were doing the same thing,” he said. “They wanted to push science. They wanted to see how far they could go.”

Again, the small sections on UFOs are wildly different from the rest of the book.

In a recent interview with Lex Fridman, 13 years after the book came out, she doesn’t quite walk back her claims about the Roswell flying saucer being a Soviet hoax, but she reveals who that anonymous source was to explain why he was so credible. It was Al O’Donnell, the technical expert who had wired most of the atomic bombs used in atmospheric tests, right after World War 2, while that was still allowed.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Bullshit, every word, bullshit.

    I suppose you believe Biden won the 2020 election, too.

  2. Roo_ster says:

    What BS wrote: Complete baloney. Hard to believe anyone with discernment could swallow that mess.

  3. Mike in Boston says:

    Let’s cut Al O’Donnell some slack.

    You’ve done some real stuff you can’t talk about, you’re retired, bored stiff and time hangs heavy. Then some eager young girl starts pumping you for stories, hanging on your every word. Are you telling me you’re not going to spin some good yarns, occasionally pursing your lips and keeping mum so she cajoles you for more?

  4. Phileas Frogg says:


    No slack for uncoerced lies. If you’re so bored, and you did some real stuff, just tell the truth and buckle up.

    Promise the boredom will end. Probably fast.

  5. Jim says:

    An Austrian artist from the nineteenth century continues to paint our conceptual horizons.

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