BY JONATHAN VALANIA Annie Jacobsen writes about national security for the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday Magazine. Recently, she published a fascinating and expansive history of Area 51, which is sort of the Land Of Oz for conspiracy theorists, UFOologists and national security buffs alike. According to Jacobsen, it is also the incubator and proving ground for most if not all of the gee-whiz top secret surveillance hardware, aircraft and weaponry deployed by the national security state and ground zero for more than 100 above and below ground nuclear bomb tests. But it is the final chapter of the book that has sparked the most controversy with its jaw-dropping claims that the infamous UFO crash at Roswell was actually a Nazi-designed flying saucer piloted by children surgically disfigured to look like ETs, sent by Stalin to trigger mass hysteria in the U.S. a la War Of The Worlds. Furthermore, Jacobsen alleges that U.S. scientists spent decades reverse engineering the spacecraft and its mutant pilots — some of which survived the crash and persisted in a coma. Her single, anonymous source for all is a man she claims is the last surviving member of the team that worked with the Roswell remains. Recently, we called upon the author to explain…
PHAWKER: One of the first things I wanted to ask you about that I haven’t read or seen touched upon in any of the other interviews that I’ve encountered is this very intriguing line about Howard Hughes having a secret hangar at Area 51 and what exactly he was doing out there is still classified. Can you elaborate on that at all?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: I wish I could, that’s one of the few details in the book that that’s all I got. That came to me from Jim Freidman who worked as the liaison between Area 51 and Hughes’s people in the hotel. Jim Freidman was the guy who would let Hughes’s people know when a nuclear bomb test was going off twenty-four hours before the test, so he was at about twenty-two hours advance notice on the rest of the population. He [Hughes] was apparently deathly afraid of nuclear weapons and he thought the world would end, so said Jim Freidman, and so he would skedaddle out of town in advance of the weapons test, but what exactly he was doing at Area 51 in that hangar of his is unknown. Of course Hughes Aircraft was a big defense contractor, but that is actually of great mystery still.
PHAWKER: Can you talk a little about the Atomic Energy Commission and the enormous power it wielded back in the post-World War II era and the secrets that, by design, it witheld from everyone, including succeeding presidents.
ANNIE JACOBSEN: The Atomic Energy Commission, now called the Department of Energy, has always enjoyed its own system of secret keeping, which I found very surprising when I first began reporting it. That is not the way the Constitution is set up but it is the way the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was written and it gave the Atomic Energy Commission its own secret keeping that runs parallel to the presidential system which is what the Department of Defense worked under. The argument for it was this idea of nuclear power immediately after the war was so volatile and so uncontrollable that its secrets needed to be kept in a manner—and this is where we get the phrase “born classified”—all the nuclear secrets, and that included everything with timing and firing and alpha measurements and so on, needed to be able to be kept on lock down essentially with the AEC and no one else could have access to that. Scholars who study this call that an unanswerable authority, and I certainly felt that same way when I was researching the AEC and its secret keeping ability, the way that they were able to for example conduct medical experiments on humans under the aegis of AEC work was very scary and spooky and that remains the case to this day and many of their records remain classified under that rubric of AEC secrets but they actually have a lot more to do with other issues and they should never have been classified at all in that way in my opinion.
PHAWKER: And The Department of Energy is still responsible for maintaining that secrecy?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: Yes.
PHAWKER: OK. Just to clarify, there are classified secrets that the DOE currently holds that not even the president of the United States could not access?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: That is the information that I got when I was reporting the book and, certainly, when you read the way in which the classification systems work for the AEC, it makes that clear. In other words, anyone in the government can be considered…it can be written that they don’t have a need-to-know about a certain program and so unless they are able to prove that they require a need-to-know, that is the case and I certainly write about one of those cases in my book.
PHAWKER: Let’s jump forward to the most controversial aspect of the book. That is the assertion that one of your sources told you the alleged UFO crash at Roswell was in fact a Nazi-designed flying saucer type vehicle piloted by some sort of mutant child-like human beings that had either been genetically or surgically altered to look like aliens or people from outer space. This is something that Stalin put into place, for the people who haven’t read the book, and the idea behind this was to scare the hell out of the American people and create a panic in much the way that Orson Welles’s World War II radio broadcast had, correct?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: Well, there are a couple of important backstory distinctions that I would like to make. In summary, it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around that many different archetypes of evil, so to speak. What I write about in the book at length are two issues. One of them has to do with propaganda and black propaganda, and the other has to do with Operation Paper Clip which was the program which was initiated by president Truman immediately after the war to pillage the quote unquote great minds of Nazi Germany and bring them over to us to work on our science programs and that specifically dealt with airplane programs and aerospace programs. The best example is of course Wernher von Braun who was Hitler’s rocket designer during the war and then came here and designed missiles for us and is largely accredited with getting man to the moon. And so, Wernher von Braun was not alone. We brought over hundreds of Nazis with varying degrees of complicity in the Holocaust, some of which were deported and sent home, some of which stayed here. The Soviets did the same. They too pillaged Third Reich scientists for their own programs. It was very controversial and secretive at the time and even Albert Einstein, when he found out about it, was horrified and he went to president Truman and he said, look, having Third Reich former Nazi scientists in the employ of the United States is a very bad idea and they’re not fit for American citizenship, but Truman didn’t listen to that and went ahead and so did the Russians. The idea was that the real threat after WWII was the Soviets and that whatever it took to beat the Soviets back was going to be more important than people’s roles in WWII. Much of Project Paperclip—most of Project Paperclip is still classified. There’s an interesting statistic I report in the book that, in 1999 the Associated Press determined that there are over 600 million classified documents about Project Paperclip and about 100,000 of them have been declassified in the eleven or twelve years since. That’s a lot of information that’s still secret, and from what I learned in my reporting, a lot of those documents pertain to Area 51. They speak to Aerospace programs that former Nazis worked on that were then tested out of Area 51. The information that came to me from one of my sources was that in fact a flying shaped saucer crashed in New Mexico in 1947—now known as the famous Roswell incident. The equipment was shipped to Wright-Patterson Air force Base and then in 1951 it was brought to Area 51. The source I use in the book—the only source I keep anonymous—was one of five engineers who worked to reverse engineer that flying craft at Area 51. I stand by the veracity of this source—as you said it’s obviously garnered quite a bit of controversy among people. Certainly, what I relay in the book… and I do it very clearly, in a manner that makes it clear to the reader that I am relaying information that was related to me by a single source. I even switch to the first person in the last seven pages of my book to make that clear distinction between the way I report that and the way I report the first 367 pages of my book. I absolutely believe that what my source tells me that he was witness to is in fact the truth. So I made a decision to report it that way and I stand by that.
PHAWKER: Just to clarify: what is even more appalling—assuming this is all true—than that is that we continued this kind of experimentation up to the late 80s, correct?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: I tried to make it very clear in my book as much as I just quote from my source, so the lack of additional detail comes from the fact that the source was only willing to tell me certain details and he chose to withhold others. What I write about in the book…I clearly distinguish between what the source (and so does the source) was privy to, in other words he received the equipment and he also received the bodies of those child-sized aviators you referenced earlier and that I wrote about in the book. He worked on that program for two weeks and he was an eyewitness to them. Then after that, he, being the EG&G engineer that he was, worked to understand what it was that he had worked on for those two weeks, and mindful of the fact that when you are a q-cleared nuclear scientist, you are working in an incredibly strict need-to-know environment (the q-clearance allows employees to handle nuclear secrets) and that your need-to-know is limited to what it is that your superiors choose that you need to know. Vannevar Bush was the superior on the project, same as he’d been superior on the Manhattan Project, so the information that I talk about, about where this flying disc came from and where the five child aviators came from is information that is second hand to this source as he was told. Again, he stands by the truthfulness of that information. Many people have since speculated about that may be disinformation and there’s all kinds of theories and as is the nature of people who…when you read something that’s controversial and hard to wrap your mind around, I think its normal to try and figure out for yourself what might have gone on, and I think that’s what a lot of people have been doing with regards to the last seven pages of my book.
I haven’t answered your question, but I’m going to because what you asked me was about this idea that perhaps…you asked me about the suggestion by the engineer that we worked on the same program and that is something that I write in the book. I asked the source if this flying disc really came from Russia with these child-sized aviators in it who were the product of the horrific Soviet human experimentation program, surgically altered humans made to look like aliens, as the engineer was told, why on earth didn’t Truman make this announcement to the public to show what an abhorrent man Stalin was? And the answer my source gave me was , because we made the decision to do the same thing. While that is impossible, if you love the country, to believe, at first glance, when you read my book and put into context what the AEC had done in terms of the human experiments, what its system of secret keeping allowed it to do, and this notion that the whole of Area 51 exists to push science and technology further and faster than the Russians, it does make a kind of wicked sense that scientists could make the decision that, if the Soviets were capable of doing something, we too needed to be capable of doing that, otherwise they were winning in the science race.
PHAWKER: Just to play devil’s advocate here, what would be the scientific value of creating these bizarre, mutant child-sized creatures to operate a spaceship other than the shock value of trying to pass them off as aliens and try to startle the American public?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: That’s certainly a question I had asked well, and as I write in the book, my source’s answer to me was that I didn’t have a need-to-know.
PHAWKER: Going back to Stalin’s intentions, not that I expect you to be able to answer this, but what was he hoping to accomplish once they had panicked the United States?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: I wrote a little more about that in the book. I encourage anyone that’s interested in what we’re talking about to read because 400 pages +100 pages of notes hopefully gives you those answers, but again I couldn’t possibly imagine putting myself in the shoes of Josef Stalin, nor would I want to.
PHAWKER: Fair enough. I also watched this ABC news report where they claim to have tracked down your source and they characterize him as a sweet old man who may not be so credible or reliable anymore. Is there anything you’d like to clarify form that broadcast?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: Protecting the anonymity of my source has and always will be paramount to me because that’s honoring my work to him, but I have seen him since and he does stand by everything written in the book.
PHAWKER: And what about this T. D. Barnes fellow who apparently cooperated with the book and is now claiming that he feels swindled with the ending chapter of the book?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: Again, I would never want to place myself in anybody else’s shoes about why they say certain things, so I would say you can certainly ask him.
PHAWKER: In your estimation, would you be one of these people who think that secret military activity could explain the majority of UFO sightings in the latter half of the twentieth century?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: Well I certainly write a lot about UFO sightings and UFOs being unidentified flying objects and how they link up to Area 51. One example I write about is that in the middle of the 1950s when the U-2 was flying out of Area 51, according to the CIA , it accounted for more than half of the UFO sightings on the West Coast. That same problem later happened in the 1960s when the A-12 Oxcart, the CIA mach-3 spy plane that was a precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird, when that was flying out of Area 51, there was the same issue with lots of UFO sightings. I interviewed Commander Slater in the book. He was in charge of Area 51 during Oxcart and he told me these great stories which I relay in the book about commercial pilots flying over Nevada and looking up and seeing the Oxcart at 90,000 feet, seeing it whiz by at mach-3, and many of the passengers in the plane seeing that same thing and drawing a very logical conclusion which was, that must be a UFO, since no one had any idea that plane existed. And commander Slater would get a call when that pilot would report that to the FAA. Slater would have to call the FBI and the FBI would meet the place wherever, say LAX, and make the pilots and all the passengers sign inadvertent disclosure agreements saying that they wouldn’t ever say anything about what they saw. And you can imagine how that would foster the idea that, well we must have seen a UFO.
PHAWKER: It would be useful for the government if they were wanting to keep military aerospace research secret. It’s a useful cover story to have people speculating that this is little green men from other planets all the time, correct?
ANNIE JACOBSEN: I write about that in the book. I think it’s endlessly fascinating because you have this idea of information and disinformation and using information and half-truths to perpetuate a myth or giving straight-out misinformation. The Soviets were doing this constantly. It was a hallmark of their work against the United States government during the Cold War. In fact they’re the ones that came up with the world’s worse disinformation and the CIA became so alarmed and ultimately paranoid about Soviet disinformation that one of its most legendary players, a man by the name of James Jesus Angelton, he created this very famous concept called the Wilderness of Mirrors, and that was the idea that the Soviets might be able to defeat the Americans through all this propaganda and disinformation they were feeding our way and that the West would become ensnared and lost by sort of looking into the looking glass and seeing back reflections, and being completely unable to distinguish between what is truth and what is lies. This is an essential theme in my book and UFOs are one element of that puzzle. On that note I have to get to another appointment.