Mainstream news organizations across the country blasted out an unorthodox, if not downright provocative, headline on May 11: “White House Has No Plans to Release Area 51 Information.”
During that day’s regular media briefing, the White House press secretary responded to questions about flying saucers, space aliens and America’s best-known, most notorious “secret” base. It felt like a scene from the impending sequel to Independence Day.
The White House press corps, not exactly known for its interest in topics that resonate more than 10 feet beyond the Beltway, was reluctantly and sarcastically responding to an unexpected development—the emergence of UFO secrecy as an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. Although opinion surveys have consistently shown that more than three-quarters of Americans believe the government is withholding information about UFOs, politicians and mainstream journalists have mostly avoided the issue, except to make wisecracks about it.
But in this election season, something changed. The issue of flying saucer secrecy hasn’t just been discussed, it’s been embraced by the Hillary Clinton campaign. It turns out that Nevada’s colorful UFO history is a principal factor in this unusual turnaround.
Remember the second, short-lived campaign of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich? His 2008 presidential bid was a long shot at best, but it came to a screeching halt after a journalist in one of the early debates asked a question about Kucinich’s interest in UFOs. Kucinich explained that he had once seen something unusual in the sky, an object he could not identify, though he pointedly stopped short of declaring that Earth was being invaded by flesh-eating reptilians. Political journalists chortled and snickered. Their subsequent neener-neener articles helped to slam the door on whatever slim hopes Kucinich may have had.
In 2016, UFOs are not exactly front and center, but the issue of government secrecy has at least emerged from the shadows.
Former President Bill Clinton has spoken publicly many times about his attempts to get to the bottom of UFO secrecy during his two terms in office. In recent talk-show appearances, he acknowledged sending emissaries to Area 51’s military base to find out if it housed a stash of crashed saucers. But even he didn’t dare to campaign on the issue.
His wife, however, is another matter. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, former White House chief of staff John Podesta, has pointedly challenged journalists to bring up the UFO issue when interviewing Secretary Clinton. In an interview earlier this year with Las Vegas political reporter Steve Sebelius, Podesta said he had helped to convince Mrs. Clinton that an effort is needed to declassify UFO records that he believes are unnecessarily hidden in the bowels of government.
“We should declassify as much as we can so that people can have their legitimate questions answered and so there can be more discussion about unexplained aerial phenomena without people who are in public life being ridiculed,” Podesta said. He made similar statements to CNN and other national media outfits. Sure enough, when his candidate was asked the loaded UFO question in multiple interviews, including a national TV appearance with former Las Vegan Jimmy Kimmel, she didn’t back away from it.
Among other things, Mrs. Clinton said she thinks it is possible our planet has been visited, vowed to “get to the bottom” of the UFO mystery, and said she would find out what’s going on at Area 51.
Clinton’s interest in UFOs is not new, but her public stance certainly is. It has generated a flurry of straightforward (and slightly snarky) news articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, Times of London, Huffington Post and dozens of other publications. Her opponents are still scratching their heads, trying to figure out what sneaky angle the Clintons are pursuing, whether secret polling numbers might have inspired this strategy or whether the Clintons are out of their minds.
As the reporter who is directly responsible for much of the flying saucer lore surrounding Area 51, I’m still waiting for someone to wake me up. It feels like a dream. Back in 1989, our news reports about the top-secret testing facility 100 miles north of Las Vegas essentially put Area 51 on the map. Outside of Nevada or aviation buffs, few people around the world had ever heard of Groom Lake or the once-secret technological marvels that have been developed in its classified hangars and off-limits runways.
Our interviews with a bespectacled scientist named Bob Lazar changed everything. Lazar claimed he had worked on flying saucers in secret hangars at a place dubbed S4 south of Groom Lake. At first, our news stories were ignored by the military, ridiculed by my fellow journalists and scoffed at by UFO muckety-mucks. But the Lazar saga took on a life of its own with the public.
Suddenly, people began showing up on the outskirts of Area 51 by the busload. The Rachel Bar and Grill changed its name to the Little A’Le’Inn. Governor Bob Miller designated Highway 375 as the Extraterrestrial Highway. The Las Vegas Stars baseball team became the Las Vegas 51s. Mainstream news organizations poked fun and made jokes, yet every major news organization in the world has beaten a path to Area 51’s door. Thousands of stories have been written, along with dozens of Area 51-related books. Major motion pictures and network TV programs incorporated the Area 51 legend into their plots. Alien-themed products from T-shirts to Christmas ornaments to beef jerky appropriated the Area 51 name. There are Area 51 rock bands, video games, cocktail lounges and assorted gadgets. Even now, nearly 27 years after the Lazar story broke, people with binoculars still visit the exterior of the base every single day.
And yes, even the Kardashians have visited the place.
The Area 51 story has surfaced in other ways. Earlier this year, a spacecraft built in North Las Vegas was launched from Cape Canaveral atop a Space X rocket. It rendezvoused with and was attached to the International Space Station, and will be inflated then tested over the next two years. The craft, known as a BEAM, was made by Bigelow Aerospace, a company that features the profile of a space alien on its headquarters. Company president and founder Bob Bigelow has a lifelong interest in UFOs, a fact that will soon be included in a major story by 60 Minutes. Like many other Nevadans, Bigelow’s interest in UFOs and government secrecy intensified after the stories about Area 51 first broke on local TV. In several interviews, Bigelow has told me that other professionals in the aerospace world are likewise interested in UFOs, but don’t discuss it openly for fear of ridicule.
Rumors about alien technology being tested in the Nevada desert also inspired another UFO-related venture. Rock star Tom DeLonge, who co-founded pop-punk band Blink-182, has turned his longtime casual interest in flying saucer mythology into a multimillion-dollar, multimedia empire. Like many other UFO enthusiasts, DeLonge has made the trek to Groom Lake to check out what might be flying around in the skies out there in the desert. But he has also used his celebrity status to gain entry to secret corridors, including the offices of defense contractors who have been on the inside of Area 51 for decades.
In recent news articles, including interviews with me, DeLonge has acknowledged the creation of a team of inside players, including persons still employed in military realms, with the aim to make public once-classified materials about UFOs and related mysteries. His critics are tempted to write it off as the rantings of a mere musician, but in just the past year, DeLonge created a company, To the Stars … , that has sponsored at least six books, three motion pictures and a series of UFO-related documentary films. He says he wants to create platforms for the gradual release of UFO secrets, including the dark technology that was developed and tested at Groom Lake.
If the government really did have alien technology hidden in the Nevada desert, my guess is that it was moved somewhere else a long time ago. Too many people have focused their attention on the activities in and around Area 51 for comfort, not only the UFO faithful, but also news cameras, foreign spies, congressional investigators and now presidential candidates. In UFO circles, the general belief is that the Lazar story may have been concocted in order to detract attention from something else that was under way in Area 51, perhaps some contraption that only looks like a flying saucer made by the Lockheed Skunk Works or other contractor.
Well, maybe, but whoever came up with that plan is likely working in the frozen tundra of rural Alaska by now. If the plan was to detract attention from some other secret project that is under way out there, it failed miserably. Area 51 is still a vital installation with billions of government infrastructure dollars invested and thousands of employees. The people who run the facility do not want to be the focus of public attention because it limits their ability to operate in secrecy, so having UFO enthusiasts camped outside every day and night, armed with binoculars and video cameras, is not what anyone had in mind.
UFO secrecy will undoubtedly be raised again during the presidential campaign. It seems like a perfect 30-second attack ad that almost writes itself. If Hillary Clinton is elected, will she follow through and declassify UFO documents? Her husband tried to do that but didn’t succeed. Chances are, whatever deep, dark secrets that may once have been in the files of military agencies have either been destroyed or moved into the hands of contractors, far removed from the purview of the Freedom of Information Act or a prying president.
But if it happens, if the next president gets into office and perhaps assigns John Podesta or someone like him to the job of ferreting out UFO secrets, and if someone actually manages to locate a few dusty files in some dank dark office of the Pentagon, then Nevadans can take a small bow, knowing that the impetus for such developments started right here in our backyard.
George Knapp is the chief investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. His news reports about UFOs and Area 51 have generated media interest all over the world.