CIA’s Declassified Documents Reveals Secrets About Area 51 and UFOs

The CIA has released a 355-page document which officially acknowledges that Area 51 in Nevada does exist, and the agency comes clean about their weather balloon cover stories. The document covers the U-2 and SR-71 spyplane programs and Project OXCART, the aerial reconnaissance programs, from 1954 to 1974.

Nope, no revelations about extraterrestrial spacecraft or alien bodies hidden at the base, but a really grainy map showing the location of Area 51 is included.

While Area 51 has been the subject of fascination for conspiracy theorists and paranormal enthusiasts — and is entrenched in UFO-ology and pop culture — the newly declassified information (with surprisingly few redactions) admits the base was a top-secret aircraft testing facility for Cold War reconnaissance of the Soviet Union.

That UFO sightings increased during the times of the flight tests was an unexpected side effect, the document says:

High-altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect-a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). In the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet and military aircraft like the B-47s and B-57s operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet. Consequently once U-2s started flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet, air-traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports.

The document also explains Project Blue Book and other frequently associated UFO story staples. The job of Project Blue Book was actually to figure out when civilians were reporting UFOs that were actually U-2s and then work out how to keep that from happening again.

Why did people on the ground and even other pilots report “shiny” UFOs? The document explains that the U-2s silver wings were at the right altitude that when the ground below, or even planes flying at a lower altitude were in darkness, the U-2 was in sunlight and its silver wings would glint in the sunlight:

Such reports were most prevalent in the early evening hours from pilots of airliners flying from east to west. When the sun dropped below the horizon of an airliner flying at 20,000 feet. the plane was in darkness. But, if a U-2 was airborne in the vicinity of the airliner at the same its horizon from an altitude of 60,000 feet was considerably more distant, and being so high in the sky, its silver wings would catch and reflect the ray of the sun and appear to the airliner pilot 40,000 feet below to be fiery objects. Even during the daylight hours, the silver bodies of the high-flying U-2s could catch the sun and cause reflections or glints that could be seen at lower altitudes and even on the ground. At this time, no one believed manned flight was possible above 60,000 feet, so no one expected to see an object so high in the sky.

A handwritten document about the U-2 spyplane design that was included in the information released by the CIA about test flights and Area 51.

But then, not all the UFO reports were explained by U-2 flights.

Air Force investigators then attempted to explain such sightings by linking them to natural phenomena. BLUE BOOK investigators regularly called on the Agency’s Project Staff in Washington to check reported UFO sightings against U-2 flight logs. This enabled the investigators to eliminate the majority of the UFO reports, although they could not reveal to the letter writers the true cause of the UFO sightings. U-2 and later OXCART flights accounted for more than one-half of all UFO reports during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s.

In the document, the CIA admits the weather balloon stuff was just a cover story, but it was the standard operating procedure for how to explain away the sightings as well as debris from any crashes. However, this cover story ended up having disastrous results in May of 1960 when the crash of a U-2 in Russia and the subsequent capture of pilot Gary Powers set in motion a pattern of mistrust between the US and USSR that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

After the plane and the pilot went missing, and with the fate of the plane and pilot unknown, the CIA had NASA release a statement that they had a weather airplane that went off course over the Soviet Union because the pilot had passed out due to a loss of oxygen. That story was quickly proven to be a hoax when the USSR produced the crashed U-2 plane and the pilot, who survived the crash and who had admitted to spying.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in 2005 by Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives. Originally, the CIA had released a heavily redacted document with all mention of Area 51 blacked out. This new document reveals pretty much everything except names of military personnel and private citizens involved.

Richelson has pointed out that the location of Area 51 was not a particularly well-kept secret. Its location appears in satellite imagery like Google Maps and Google Earth, as well as in books on aerial surveillance.


You can wade through the 355 page document here.
If you enjoy military and aircraft history, its a great read. One interesting fact revealed is that President Eisenhower wanted the pilots of these planes to be non-US citizens. “It was his belief that, should a U-2 come down in hostile territory, it would be much easier for the United States to deny any responsibility for the activity if the pilot was not an American,” the document reports.

And while I have this chance, I’m going to share a great graphic going around Twitter on how to identify any strange light in the sky you may see:

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

View Comments

  • No true conspiracy nut is going to believe this is real. They'll just consider it another government coverup and read way too much between the lines.

    • You're right, but for those of us who never really believed anyway it's still very interesting. A secret base that everyone could see, but the government said wasnt there. It's kinda funny. I bet that place has tons more secrets.

      • Or this is the old one and the reason they revealed it is because they've made a new one that they've moved all of their operation to at a secret loctaion.
        I'm not a conspiracy-nut, it just doesn't make sense that the most secret base in the country was revealed and they didn't move the important stuff.

        • Maybe its importance has dwindled since there is no longer any Cold War, and all the top secret stuff doesn't need to be kept secret anymore.

          • But the cold war cant be the only classified imformation they have. I mean there must be some other classified information and technology that they dont want want the public to know about.

        • If I recall they started testing all the really sensitive aircraft at place called "the barnyard" in Montana clear back in the 80's.

          That was right around the time when the people who were interested in what they were doing there changed from the tinfoil hat crowd to mainly aviation buffs.

    • Most of those tinfoil hat fools have never been in the Military. They have no clue just how important OPSEC is.

  • I wonder if any 'enhanced interrogation' has taken place at Area 51? Supposedly, those kinds of activities were kept limited to foreign bases - outside of US legal jurisdiction.. But who's nose? A windowless 737 lands and a group of hooded and handcuffed prisoners are marched into a hanger... and no one would know?

  • So we are supposed to believe that all the extreme secrecy and denials of even the existence of Area 51 was all over a well known Cold War spy plane that anyone can go see and read about in the Air and Space museum? If the U2 recon plane was so super secret how was it that an Irish pop band knew of it's existence as early as 1978 and named their band after it? Personally I don't believe in E.T.U.F.O.s other than meteors or comets and terrestrial UFO sightings near bases such as Area 51 are obviously secret man-made tech being tested. But I don't need any alleged sightings to know that more was going on there than a cover-up of a single plane, much less one that represents WWII technology and hasn't been a secret for decades. Even the much more advanced unmaned Predator Drone recon aircraft that's now over a decade old has never been shrouded in secrecy.

    • U2 need to go back to their blues roots and revisit The Joshua Tree. To this day it is still their best album.

  • If the U2 recon plane was so super secret how was it that an Irish pop band knew of it's existence as early as 1978 [...]?

    Well, the cat was out of the bag after the 1960 U-2 incident.

    [...] and named their band after it?

    Well, according to Bono, the U2 band name origin comes from "thoughts of interactivity with the audience... as in 'you too'."

  • cover up obviously. Just as simple as that they should of told us about the aliens they've been running test on iv'e seen them with my own eyes.

  • The Soviet government didn't waste any time and didn't have any problems uncovering the 1960 U-2 plane crash CIA cover-up. If the Moon landings were such a hoax then, why didn't the Soviets blow the whistle? What a marvelous opportunity for the Soviet Union that would have been, to crash US's world reputation and fame! Do you really beleive they would have let that one pass by?

  • This is the biggest mystification and lie ever. Can you believe CIA if they lie with everything to public everyday? I can't. Program Prism is an example. UFO is another. From 1960 until today U2 is not the spacecraft people have seen all the time, it was fast moving, changing directions in millisecond by 90 degrees, disappearing and appearing again in the sky (some type of inter-dimensional gravity drive?). Today there are some scientists who has began research on ideas such warp drive and anti-gravity drive. . U2 doesn't have that capability, any human made aircraft don't. Of course assuming some governments on that planet doesn't cooperate with aliens on basic exchange technology for power and ruling. CIA never says the true, any agency working for any government also. These report may be written cartoon magazine for mass media, If they are trustworthy why not to seat and speak by open debate in TV with specialist of UFO sightings, archaeologists (specialists of ancient history) . They will never do that because simply after all those facts around they had to say, yes they exist. I knew about AREA 51 since I had 10 years, and there was many like me. They haven't say anything new or anything secret. The funny thing is how media works. They must say what they have to, they are not allowed to do any further investigation. Are they scared of sth to do open debate? Someone would disappear if such discussion has began?

    • The 90 degree change in angle is probably due to two satellites that are traveling perpendicular to each other, and are both reflecting glinting sunlight at the right times. They simply appears as one object that has changed direction.

      I have seen this happen and was able to spot the two satellites afterwards with binoculars.

      • I agree it may happen, but as some coincidence rather that observed objects in the sky. Why UFO skeptics always say others are blind. Do you think that other people are so stupid they don't know it may be some kind reflection in the sky caused by satellites? If it was first of all it can not be all the time as satellites crossing is rare situation, but there are many observed objects in the sky that acts like not any known object on this plane, no satellites, no reflection but yes an unidentified object. Second many witnesses can see some strange shape space crafts like those seen on sf movies. some are oval other are triangle or another shape. #rd if something accelerate quiet quickly after changing rapidly direction in opposite w ay like 180 degrees you are definitely sure it is not satellite, weather balloon of another p...of ...crap we are told. Satellites don't change directions for 180 degrees and after don't disappear. Better satellites are extremely hard to be seen in the sky by open eye. People are talking about object which can be compared to be seen as something in size of couple centimeters or more when you scale it to size of you hand. Sometimes those objects are quiet well visible as UFO's are quiet close to witnesses, sometimes 1000 meters or less. Satellites? Joke.

  • I am the furthest thing from an "alien conspiracy theorist". But I have seen an object in the sky that is not covered by that "flow chart". I don't believe it will ever be "identified" to my satisfaction. The flow chart needs arrows below "Is it moving?" for "Is it moving along a predictable course?" "Yes", follow the current "Is it moving?". "No" .... well ... ? It was 1979 when I saw this in Tucson, AZ, I was studying undergrad astronomy and physics curricula at UA at the time. I saw a starlike object overhead that moved steadily, much like a satellite ... and turned at angles, seemingly randomly. So it would cross, say, 5 deg on a E-W course, then 14 deg N, then 8 deg SW ... and so on. At the time I knew what constellations I had seen it pass through. I no longer remember. By most standards this was one really boring "UFO". It didn't look like something out of a 50's sci-fi or "Close Encounters". But it was really, truly "unidentified" and to this day, as far as I'm concerned, "unidentifiable". Nothing I know of could move like this did.

  • Finally we might now get all of these conspiracy theorists to stop complaining. As you've now read, it's a rehearsal studio for U2 where the only crime against humanity was anything they produced after Achtung Baby.

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