Very Secret, Very Cool: The Mysteries of Area 51
Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 6:45 p.m.
For decades, the aerial surveillance programs of the CIA were shrouded in mystery by both design and necessity. Unfortunately, their clandestine nature and spectacular technological achievements combined to add fuel to conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials at a time when popular culture experienced a surge in interest in the topic.
CIA historian Brent Geary tells the story behind the mythology of Area 51, the agency’s secret southern Nevada flight-test site for the development of the U-2 and A-12 reconnaissance craft in the mid-1950s. These test planes flew higher than commercial airliners, and air-traffic controllers—unaware of the testing—began to report seeing unidentifiable objects, as did commercial pilots flying below them. Because secrecy was paramount to keeping the planes’ development hidden from the Soviets, the Air Force released cover stories that resulted in a hurricane of conspiracy theories about Area 51 and the existence of alien life.
In a fascinating program, Geary explores the contributions these planes made to the history of American aviation, Cold War–era intelligence, foreign policy, and—inadvertently—popular culture.