New Area 51 documents recently released detail Cold War operations at the Nevada base. They also show the high level of secrecy that surrounded the facility for decades. More than 60 documents on the Groom Lake base have been publicly declassified, most dating to the 1960s and 1970s.
One of the largest revelations made by the new documents involve a highly secretive Area 51 operation focused on dissecting stolen Soviet MiG fighter jets, reports NBC News. Military engineers hoped to learn all they could about the Soviet war machine, including its strengths and its vulnerabilities. Military officials hoped they could use the information to improve US aircraft and to give US fighter pilots an edge in combat.
Area 51 has gained an almost mythical reputation for supposedly housing alien bodies and their crashed spacecraft. Unfortunately for alien conspiracy theorists, the declassified documents don't mention any of those types of operations. However, the documents show that military officials took a very serious interest in the secrecy of the Nevada base. Perhaps it was the cone of silence dropped over Area 51 that led many Americans to get carried away with their imaginations?
The new declassified information shows the huge concern US intelligence officials had about hiding Area 51 from their Soviet foes. Several tests were conducted to try to estimate what Soviet spying could gather on the base, reports WebProNews. This included flying a U-2 spy plane over the area and trying to snap images of Area 51 from space using then-classified spy satellites in the early 1960s. Extreme care was taken to try to prevent any knowledge of these tests being conducted from getting out. When it was found that Soviet satellites could probably view Area 51, building large hangars were built to hide the covert operations there.
Another revelation shows the debate over an image accidentally taken by NASA astronauts in 1974. Despite apparently getting direct orders to not to, Skylab 4 astronauts "inadvertently" snapped a picture of the Groom Lake facility. The picture became the subject of review by several US intelligence agencies.
As then CIA director, William Colby, wrote in a memo, included among the declassified documents, Soviet spy craft could likely see Area 51's exterior already. Eventually it was not classified, instead quietly being placed in NASA's Skylab image collection, apparently without notice from the public.
The documents also mention a proposal to build decoy heat sources at Area 51, in an attempt to fool Soviet infrared imaging.