What Is Known About Area 51?


Quick Answer

Though the exact purpose of Area 51 has not been disclosed, there are several declassified facts concerning the military airbase. For example, the existence of Area 51 was not acknowledged until 2013 in a classified report. The classified report contained information on the first 20 years of Area 51 operations after a professor at George Washington University sent a freedom of information request.

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Full Answer

Area 51 is the only location worldwide that the CIA has banned from being photographed from space. During a Skylab flight in 1974, photographs were accidentally taken of the Area 51 site, which prompted a national security debate. The CIA ultimately decided to keep the image classified until later documents were released.

Typically, any references to Area 51 were removed from government documents; however, in 1967, there was an overlooked portion of a government memo that remained uncensored. The memo had information about deploying surveillance aircraft from the base to spy over North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. At the time, the memo did not receive widespread attention.

Area 51 was also used as a site for learning the technology of hostile aircraft. The first foreign plane to be tested was a Russian craft called the MiG21, which was initially captured by Israel in 1966. Aircraft investigations involved trying to find weak points within the design, so the U.S. military could use the weaknesses to their advantage during combat. Additionally, Soviet radar systems were acquired at Area 51 in 1970. Since the 1970s, the base stopped dissecting captured aircraft, though another site is now in charge of the task.

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