Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Area 51: Teen Commies from Outer Space!

(with due props to Douglas Kenney, National Lampoon co-founder)

Driving to work earlier this week, I heard Terry Gross of Fresh Air (NPR) interview Annie Jacobsen about her new book, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base. Jacobsen is a national security reporter, which means she is used to facing stonewalling and secrecy and therefore well aware that she must triple-check her information. It all sounded like sober investigative reporting, until it got to the coda. Bear with me, grasshoppahs, because the truth is definitely way out there.

As you know, Bobs, Area 51 is a military installation in Nevada next to the Yucca Flats where most of the US nuclear tests have been conducted. Area 51 was the home of the U-2 and Oxcart military aircraft testing programs and its resident experts appear to have reverse-engineered Soviet MiGs. Some conspiracy lovers opine that the lunar landing was “faked” there. Not surprisingly, its specifics are heavily classified, including an annually-renewed presidential EPA exception to disclosing (ab)use of toxic agents. People in the ostensibly free world can’t even get decent aerial pictures of it — which of course did not deter satellites of other nations, but who cares for rationality where national security is concerned?

To UFO believers, Area 51 is also the facility that analyzed whatever crashed near Roswell in 1947. Which is where Jacobsen’s theory comes in, backed by a single anonymous source. She proposes that the Roswell object was neither a weather balloon nor an alien spacecraft but a remotely flown Soviet craft based on prototypes by the Horten brothers, aircraft designers and Nazi party members. This part is old news, since this possibility was already considered in cold war US investigations.

Jacobsen’s addition (asserted with a completely straight face and demanding to be taken seriously) is that this craft contained “genetically/surgically altered” teenagers engineered by Josef Mengele at the command of that other monstrous Joseph, Stalin. The modifications had produced uniform results of “abnormally large heads and eyes” etc. The goal was to scare the US and weaken its defenses by a repetition of the panic created by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds 1938 broadcast.

Got that? I can safely bet that Hollywood agents are bidding frantically for the rights to the screenplay even as we speak. And so they should — it’s a guaranteed blockbuster. It has everything: UFOs, Nazis, Frankenstein monsters, government conspiracies… It ties so many loose ends together so neatly that it’s irresistible.

I will leave to other experts the issues of quoting a single anonymous source and the previous debunkings of similar Area 51 “insiders” like Robert Lazar et al. The part that made me laugh out loud was the “genetically/surgically altered” cherry on top of that fabulous cake. To her credit, Gross pressed Jacobsen on this, only to get a rewinding of the tape without any real explanation beyond “I trusted my Cigarette-Smoking Man because I spent two years talking to him.”

For those who don’t live in a parallel universe, the fact that DNA is the carrier of heredity for most terrestrial lifeforms was established in the fifties, which (*counting on my fingers*) came after 1947. So Mengele or anyone else could not have engaged in any form of targeted genetic engineering; that only became possible, in its crudest form, in the eighties. If “genetic” is intended to mean plain ol’ interbreeding, humans take a bit more than two years (the interval from the time the Russians walked into Berlin till the Roswell crash) to 1) produce children, 2) have the children grow into teenagers and, just as crucially, 3) reliably reproduce traits.

Starvation or breaking of bones during childhood can lead to stunting (as Toulouse-Lautrec’s case demonstrates) but I know of no surgery that can increase head size — hydrocephalus kills its sufferers in rather short order. Grafting was so primitive back then that it’s unlikely its recipients would have survived long enough for a transatlantic trip. The only scenario I can envision that would result to anything remotely tangential to Jacobsen’s contention is if the Soviets used youngsters suffering from growth factor or growth hormone deficiencies — genetic conditions that arise without the intervention of experimentation.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know the idiocies that military and “intelligence” agencies are capable of — from marching soldiers to ground zero well after the consquences of radioactive fallout had become obvious, to the frightening abuses of MK-ULTRA, to the Stargate “Jedi warriors” who stared at spoons and goats. But all these are extensively documented, as well as compatible with the technology available at the time they occurred. Jacobsen’s theory is as grounded as the alien craft alternative it purports to debunk. Pity that Gross didn’t invite a biology undergrad to the program.

My theory (and I’ll be happy to talk to Hollywood agents about it) is that the engineered youngsters decided to defect, commandeered the craft and crashed it while drunk on freedom and contraband beer. I even have my own impeccable source: the small store owner at the outskirts of Roswell who sold them the beer. Smoking Parodies and drinking his regular shot of Colt 45 from an oil can, he confided wistfully: “They just wanted to see the Vegas shows, like any kid their age.”

Images: top, Independence Day — the alien craft secreted and reverse-engineered in Area 51; bottom, another possible explanation for the Roswell crash: abduction lesson troubles (from Pixar’s Lifted).

27 Responses to “Area 51: Teen Commies from Outer Space!”

  1. Jim F. says:

    > [T]his craft contained “genetically/surgically altered” teenagers
    > engineered by Josef Mengele. . . The goal was to scare the US and
    > weaken its defenses by a repetition of the panic created by Orson Welles’
    > War of the Worlds 1938 broadcast.

    Whereas Ms. Jacobsen’s goal is to scare the US by a repetition of
    the, um, panic created by the movie _The Boys from Brazil_?

  2. Athena says:

    We’re due for a remake of that, aren’t we? Now that bin Laden has been killed, thereby negating the terrorism threat (/snerk), we must think of other things to make us panic!

  3. zarpaulus says:

    What, like clones of Osama?

  4. Athena says:

    Plenty of those around already — just not genetic ones.

  5. Phiala says:

    I heard the same interview, and had much the same reaction. It did make me want to read the book, if only to see whether the story was more coherent in writing. And of course, it would make a fabulous thriller.

    I think she gave enough information about her anonymous sources that someone willing to do the legwork could track him down.

  6. Athena says:

    Agreed — not many people fit the description she gave. I don’t doubt this person exists, nor that he worked in Area 51. This does not mean that he told Jacobsen anything that corresponds to reality.

  7. Sue Lange says:

    Why would NPR give airtime to this sort of thing? I mean with a straight face and all. And why are we working so hard to keep NPR alive?

  8. Athena says:

    Well, the rest of the book is a sober exposé of the work that went on in Area 51. What I cannot fathom is why an investigative journalist would insist on presenting such a theory as fact and how the coda got cleared by non-fiction editors. NPR is not the only place that interviewed the author — she has been all over the place. Given the topic, who can blame them? After all, they are trying to attract viewers to survive.

  9. Walden2 says:

    The author was also interviewed by John Stewart on The Daily Show. He pretty much gave her a free ride and the book sales publicity her agent no doubt went to great lengths to make happen.

    I bet if someone called Stewart on why he didn’t grill her over this too-lame-to-even-be-bad-science-fiction nonsense, the DS host would whip out his “I’m just a comedian and my Comedy Central series is just entertainment” card faster than you can say Project Mogul. However this seldom seems to stop Stewart and his staff from often getting pretty in-depth and serious about researching and tearing apart political news. A double standard between science and just about everything else brought on by social pressures and our public education system.

    Our one hope is that some day the Government will just get totally sick of the whole Roswell myth (and it has become an American myth) and reveal all just to shut up the so-called UFO researchers and credible public. Of course these things never stop or shut up the fringe crowds and outright nutjobs, but it will be a big relief to the various government agencies involved and the few remaining humans on this planet to still subscribe to rational thinking and science.

  10. riley couger says:

    First off, thanks for mentioning Mr. Kenney, a true comic genius that chose to leave us much too early.
    When I heard the interview another thing struck me and pointed me toward searching information about the author. When she was talking to Terry Gross she said she was shocked to hear about all the open air, above ground testing. I’m not sure of her age, but…haven’t the consequences of those tests been heavily documented. I remember first hearing about them in the 60’s. When she came up with the Mengele star children I was stopped cold. It is right up there with Richard Nixon pulling the trigger behind the fence on the grassy knoll in Dallas. A quick search of the internet pulled up this tidbit about the author’s version of reality conflicting with reality’s version.

  11. Walden2 says:

    About the real Dr. Mengele: He spent his last days mainly hiding in constant fear of being rightfully snagged by the Israelis like they did with Eichmann in 1960. He died of some natural cause one year after The Boys from Brazil came out.

    By all accounts he was nothing like the overconfident monster with a huge cloning laboratory and rich mansion at his disposal as portrayed by Gregory Peck. Sadly I am sure a lot of people think that what happened in the 1978 film is how things really played out.

    Now we have a book with all this nonsense about Area 51 being legitimized by the so-called media. So now there will be even more false romanticizing of people in that story who deserve nothing but condemnation.

  12. Benjamin Nead says:

    Thanks you for a thoughtful examination of the genetics aspect of this story. It is entirely too easy to simply dismiss the entire Roswell episode – and, indeed, some would include Area 51 – as nonsense.

    I listened to the entire Fresh Air interview and, perhaps because I’ve been casually keeping up with Area 51 gossip and Atomic Test Range history for over a decade now, didn’t find anything there that hadn’t been documented to a certain degree before. I’ll have to check out the book and see if there is anything really new on those subjects.

    But, yes, the Roswell story most certainly got a complete makeover in Jacobsen’s book, with the Stalin/Mengele connection. I was intrigued to hear about the involvement (or the involvement of the technology) of German aviation pioneers Reinmar and Walter Horton. Although I doubt their flying wing crafts could hover, their clever designs from the end of WWII – even the jet powered ones – were assembled from plywood and glued/painted with charcoal-based chemical, giving them a radar-defeating stealth characteristic long before the US had (or completely understood) the technology.

    Could such a craft have been smuggled into northern Mexico and flown across the border in 1947? I think it could have. It would have been most certainly covered up by the US, as any sort of Soviet incursion at that time would have generated mass hysteria.

    Also . . . both the US government and UFO promoters acknowledge that it was a severe thunderstorm that brought down whatever it was (a weather balloon, Soviet flying wing or alien spaceship . . . take your pick.) Thus, your tongue-in-cheek Hollywood scenario of the drunken mutant kids going AWOL at the end of your piece is the only place where you lose the plot with me.

  13. Athena says:

    Larry — you’re right in both your complaints and your facts. I didn’t bother pointing out what happened to Mengele, because that’s quite well known (The Boys from Brazil nothwithstanding).

    Riley — I knew about the episode you linked to but didn’t realize who the reporter was. That puts a totally different complexion on things!

    Benjamin — obviously the kids weren’t experienced in flying, so the thunderstorm overwhelmed their ability to steer! *laughs*

  14. Walden2 says:

    Perhaps ironically, Stephen King’s latest novel, Under the Dome, is about **SPOILERS** the equivalent of alien teenagers trapping a little town in Maine under the equivalent of a clear drinking glass like a colony of ants and seeing what happens to the residents. This whole teenagers and spaceship thing made me think of that for whatever reason.

  15. zoamchomsky says:

    Leave it to the Sarah Palin of reportage to reinterpret a Roswell-myth scenario even more demented, darkly bizarre and utterly preposterous than the 1950 “crashed saucer and little alien bodies” of Frank Scully.

  16. Walden2 says:

    Here is another review on this book, also pretty much denouncing it all around:

  17. Athena says:

    Based on a Leaden Age SF story? Well, at least that’s consistent with the age of her so-called source: he probably fed her one of his favorite stories. Either to pull her leg, or because he is confusing it with reality. Bogus either way.

  18. oldworldunltd says:

    I also was one of those who became intrigued after catching a piece of the “fresh air” Terry Gross interview. Terry alluded that ms. Jacobsen’s book ending appeared somewhat outrageous (and indeed terry did laugh). Terry asked her to speak about this ending briefly. A quick library search of ms jacobsen informed me that she did indeed have some credentials… (terror in the sky not withstanding) and so I gave it a shot.

    The very first indications that something might not be right, ( I bought the audio version, unabridged) were the following:

    She began immediately trying to convince (us or herself?) that this was a real book of facts, not fictional, real live sources who lived and worked at area 51, at least 32 of them she interviewed personally etc etc. So the, “this is not fiction, believe me, I’m trying to be credible”…. Stance, wears thin almost immediately.

    Then it gets worse, mispronunciations of common words… i.e.: Comparta – mentalized, for compartmentalized, wedder for whether, and minusha- ee – for minutiae, were laugh out loud funny.

    There were also insertions of emotions supposedly felt by those clandestine agents and scientists (and their families) she was allegedly chronicling. How could she know that? Did she sleep in their bedrooms? Unprofessional.

    Her naïveté in believing blindly that the men who supplied her with what she deemed factual historical data, had to be the truth, just because they said so. She states in the book that misinformation and disinformation are the secret agency’s hallmarks. What makes her think they’d then dish it all out to her?

    Lastly, if I ever hear the term “need to know” again, I may have to kill someone. Yes, she uses it that much.

    I had wanted to quickly get to the end of her book, because I wanted to know about the “child sized aviators – big eyed, big headed alien like humans, the disk crashing, Roswell, and Stalin – Horten bros. etc.

    On I pushed listening during my daily commute, determined to glean interesting and unknown facts about area 51, the CIA, NASA, ARPA, and any other clandestine agencies served up by “factual accounts”.

    At book end, I was forced to admit it was no more than tabloid, money hungry journalism at best. I really tried, but no matter how I attempted to justify to myself that “ We were reading words set down by a serious and credentialed NY Times best selling author”, I couldn’t not laugh.

  19. Liam says:

    Had you read the book when you posted this? If so, how would you account that the almost-400-page book, is then accompanied by 32 percent more pages of citations of sources, documents, recently declassified information, and other points of proof, not opinion?

    And you would also know that the villain of the book — if there is one — is not Mengele, who did mostly surgical, not genetic experiments, but our own Atomic Energy Commission, and its power to keep secrets from even congress and the president. Surely you have some distrust yourself of our own so-called Department of Energy.

    Be as cynical as you like. But read the books first, along with its reference material. It’s possible to learn that the truth is stranger than fiction, and that there may be more worlds under our sun than you might have ever dreamed.

  20. Athena says:

    You may have noticed I listed several real scary projects that the US government was involved in. I should have included the Tuskegee and Central America syphilis injections. However, when an author states that leprechauns exist and insists that a book containing analyses of their anatomy is non-fiction, it is unlikely I will read it as fact. Science fiction, perhaps — but there are far better SF books out there.

  21. Walden2 says:

    Roswell that ends well, part 2

    Dwayne Day follows up on a critique of a new book about Area 51 with an analysis of the research that went into that book, and the flaws associated with it.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

  22. Athena says:

    I thought both parts of his critique were excellent.

  23. Walden2 says:

    Well, now it HAS to be true:

    Wait a minute – a quote from the article:

    “Full disclosure before we storm the barricades: Brandon is promoting The Cryptos Conundrum, a new novel that his website describes as a “sci-fi, political conspiracy thriller about CIA’s cover-up of the Roswell UFO crash.”

    And we wonder why the general public doesn’t know what is really going on in the Universe.

  24. Athena says:

    This quote is even better, I think: “One of the boxes had a single word written on it: Roswell. “I took the box down, lifted the lid up, rummaged around inside it, put the box back on the shelf, and said, ‘My God, it really happened!’” Research done, case closed! I mourn for our frontal cortex.

  25. Walden2 says:

    Maybe he can get a job with the arsenic bacteria folks. :^)

  26. Athena says:

    Great idea! *snerk*