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On April 7, 1952, Life Life magazine published its cover story t.i.tled "There Is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers." The sixteen-page feature article began with the exclusive Air Force reveal. Above the byline, it read "The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation; here LIFE offers some scientific evidence that there is a real case for interplanetary saucers." The article made its case well, with the takeaway being that UFOs really could be from out of this world. But there was a second reason the Air Force partic.i.p.ated in the UFO convention. The CIA's Psychological Strategy Board had urged the National Security Council to "monitor private UFO groups [such] as the Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators in Los Angeles," and because of this, the Air Force officers had been placed at the magazine published its cover story t.i.tled "There Is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers." The sixteen-page feature article began with the exclusive Air Force reveal. Above the byline, it read "The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation; here LIFE offers some scientific evidence that there is a real case for interplanetary saucers." The article made its case well, with the takeaway being that UFOs really could be from out of this world. But there was a second reason the Air Force partic.i.p.ated in the UFO convention. The CIA's Psychological Strategy Board had urged the National Security Council to "monitor private UFO groups [such] as the Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators in Los Angeles," and because of this, the Air Force officers had been placed at the UFO convention in Los Angeles UFO convention in Los Angeles through backdoor recommendations at the CIA. through backdoor recommendations at the CIA.

The CIA was particularly interested in one specific individual on the Civilian Saucer Investigations panel, and that was a German Paperclip scientist named Dr. Walther Riedel. Seated front and center at the UFO conference at the Mayfair Hotel, Dr. Riedel was a study in contradiction. When Riedel smiled, a close look revealed that he had fake front teeth-his own had been knocked out in 1945 at the Stettin Gestapo prison in Germany. Riedel had been a prisoner there for several weeks with fellow Peenemunde rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, and during the war, Riedel had served as the chief of Hitler's V-2 missile-design office. The American soldiers guarding Riedel at the Stettin Gestapo prison roughed him up after Army intelligence agents pa.s.sed along information stating that in addition to designing the V-2, Dr. Riedel had been working on Hitler's bacteria bomb Dr. Riedel had been working on Hitler's bacteria bomb. It was in the harsh interrogation that followed that Riedel lost his front teeth.

At the end of the war, Riedel, like Wernher Von Braun, desperately wanted to be hired by the U.S. military so he could work on rocket programs in the United States. Germany no longer had a military, let alone a rocket research program, which meant Riedel was out of a job. The Russians were known to hate the Germans; they treated their pillaged scientists like slave laborers. An offer from the Americans was the best game in town, even if their soldiers had broken your teeth first.

In January of 1947, Dr. Riedel became a Paperclip. His past work in chemical rockets and bacteria bombs was whitewashed in the name of science. The caveat for Riedel's prosperous new life, as opposed to his possible prosecution at Nuremberg, was that he would comply with what the U.S. military asked of him. But Riedel's rogue UFO-promoting behavior only a few years later ill.u.s.trates that in certain situations, the Paperclips had the upper hand. Here was Riedel at the saucer convention, stirring up UFO hysteria. He partic.i.p.ated in the Life Life magazine article and was quoted saying that he was "completely convinced that [UFOs] have an out-of-world basis." If that did not engender what CIA director Bedell Smith called hysterical thinking, what would? Riedel was not just any old rocket scientist going on the record with America's most popular magazine. When asked about his profession, he told magazine article and was quoted saying that he was "completely convinced that [UFOs] have an out-of-world basis." If that did not engender what CIA director Bedell Smith called hysterical thinking, what would? Riedel was not just any old rocket scientist going on the record with America's most popular magazine. When asked about his profession, he told Life Life magazine that he was "engaged in secret work for the U.S." magazine that he was "engaged in secret work for the U.S."

What is publicly known about Dr. Riedel's American career is that he had begun at Fort Bliss, in Texas, as part of the V-2 rocket team, but after only a few years he was mysteriously traded by the government to work as an engineer for North American Aviation. There were rumors of "problems" There were rumors of "problems" with other Paperclip scientists at White Sands Missile Range. Once Riedel was in the private sector, he had a considerably longer leash, given that the government was not signing his paycheck anymore. Clearly he was valuable to North American Aviation: the company made him director of rocket-engine research. But from the moment he left government service, Riedel was a serious thorn in the CIA's side. A year after the UFO conference, the CIA was still keeping close tabs on Dr. Riedel. In early 1953, the Agency trailed Riedel to one of his lectures in Los Angeles. There, they were shocked to learn that the Paperclip scientist and his UFO-minded colleagues were " with other Paperclip scientists at White Sands Missile Range. Once Riedel was in the private sector, he had a considerably longer leash, given that the government was not signing his paycheck anymore. Clearly he was valuable to North American Aviation: the company made him director of rocket-engine research. But from the moment he left government service, Riedel was a serious thorn in the CIA's side. A year after the UFO conference, the CIA was still keeping close tabs on Dr. Riedel. In early 1953, the Agency trailed Riedel to one of his lectures in Los Angeles. There, they were shocked to learn that the Paperclip scientist and his UFO-minded colleagues were "going to execute a planned 'hoax' over the Los Angeles area in order to test the reaction and reliability of the public in general to unusual aerial phenomena." Mention of a planned hoax went up the chain of command at the CIA and over the Los Angeles area in order to test the reaction and reliability of the public in general to unusual aerial phenomena." Mention of a planned hoax went up the chain of command at the CIA and set off alarms in its upper echelons set off alarms in its upper echelons. In a secret memo dated February 9, 1953, decla.s.sified in 1993, the CIA's director of the Office of Scientific Intelligence expressed outrage over the company Riedel now kept. But because he was no longer a Paperclip, there was little the CIA could do except follow his moves and those of the men he a.s.sociated with.

The CIA had also been trailing a colleague of Riedel named George P. Sutton trailing a colleague of Riedel named George P. Sutton, a fellow North American Aviation rocket scientist and ufologist. When Sutton gave a lecture ent.i.tled "Rockets Behind the Iron Curtain," the CIA was shocked to learn that the flying saucer group seemed to know more about UFO sightings inside the Soviet Union than the entire team of CIA agents who had been tasked with monitoring that same information.

Ever since Bedell Smith had taken office in 1950, he'd expressed frustration over how little information the CIA was able to get on UFO reports inside Russia. Joseph Stalin, it appeared, kept all information about UFOs out of the press. Between 1947 and 1952, CIA a.n.a.lysts monitoring the Soviet press found only one single mention of UFOs, in an editorial column that briefly referred to UFOs in the United States. So how did Riedel's group know more about Soviet UFO reports than the CIA knew?

Sufficiently concerned, the CIA instructed Riedel's Paperclip handlers to get him in line. His handler "suggested politely and perhaps indirectly to Dr. Riedel that he disa.s.sociate himself from official membership on CSI." But the obstinate scientist refused to cease and desist. What the consequences were for Riedel remains unclear. Whether or not Riedel and his fellow ufologist pulled off their hoax and how he and his colleagues were able to so freely gather information about Soviet UFOs and Soviet rockets behind the Iron Curtain is secreted away in Riedel's Project Paperclip file, most of which remains cla.s.sified, even after more than fifty years.

By 1957, according to the CIA monograph "CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs," the U-2s accounted for more than half of all UFO sightings reported in the continental United States. Odarenko had been unsuccessful in his bid to be "relieved" of his UFO responsibilities and instead got to work creating CIA policy regarding UFOs. He sent a secret memo to the director of the Office of Scientific Intelligence outlining how he believed the Agency should handle reports of UFOs Agency should handle reports of UFOs: Keep current files on UFOs: "maintain current knowledge of sightings of unidentified flying objects."

Deny that the CIA kept current files about UFOs by stating that "the project [was] inactive."

Divide the explainable UFOs, meaning the U-2 flights, from the inexplicable UFOs: "segregate references to recognizable and explainable phenomena from those which come under the definition of 'unidentified flying objects.'"

The Agency's concerted effort to conceal from Congress and the public its interest in UFOs would, in coming decades, open up a Pandora's box and cause credibility issues for the CIA. "The concealment of CIA interest [in UFOs] contributed greatly to later charges of a CIA conspiracy and cover-up," wrote Gerald K. Haines, the historian for the National Reconnaissance Office and someone who is often introduced as the CIA's expert on the matter. But to get the UFO monkey off his back, Allen Dulles began a "psychological warfare" campaign of his own. When letters came in from concerned citizens about the sightings, the CIA's policy was to ignore them. When letters came in from UFO groups, the CIA's policy was to monitor the individuals in the group. When letters came in from congressmen or senators, such as the one from Ohio congressman Gordon Scherer in September of 1955, the CIA's policy was to have Director Dulles write a polite note explaining that UFOs were a law enforcement problem and the CIA was specifically barred from enforcing the law. The notes certainly portray Allen Dulles as an arrogant public servant Allen Dulles as an arrogant public servant, but they are prized by UFO collectors, who say they prove the CIA's sinister cover-up of extraterrestrial UFOs. Regardless of alleged CIA policy, the public's fascination with UFOs proved more formidable than the CIA had ever bargained for; average citizens simply could not get enough information about mysterious objects streaking across the skies. And the more information they were given, the more they wanted to know and the more questions they asked. It didn't take long for the public to become convinced that the CIA was covering something something up, which, of course, it was. up, which, of course, it was.

CHAPTER FIVE.

The Need-to-Know Everything that happens at Area 51, when it is happening, is cla.s.sified as TS/SCI, or top secret/sensitive compartmented information-an enigmatic security policy with protocols that are also top secret protocols that are also top secret. "TS/SCI cla.s.sification guides are also cla.s.sified," says Cargill Hall, historian emeritus for the National Reconnaissance Office; this government espionage agency is so secret that even its name was cla.s.sified top secret from the time it was founded, in 1958, to its decla.s.sification, in 1992. In 2011, most Americans still don't know what the NRO is or what it does, or that it is a partner organization routinely involved with Area 51, because that is cla.s.sified information.

Information cla.s.sified TS/SCI ensures that outsiders don't know what they don't know and insiders know only what they have a need-to-know. Winston Churchill famously said of Russia, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." The same can be said about Area 51. In the lesser-known second part of Churchill's phrase, he said, "But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." Facing a totalitarian government like the Soviet Union's, where secrets are easily kept, Area 51 had to mirror Soviet secrecy techniques in order to safeguard the U-2. It was in America's national interest to do so because human intelligence was failing. "We obtain little significant information from cla.s.sical covert operations inside Russia," bemoaned the president's science advisers bemoaned the president's science advisers in a secret 1954 national security report in which they gunned for "science and technology to improve our intelligence take." in a secret 1954 national security report in which they gunned for "science and technology to improve our intelligence take."

They got what they wanted at Area 51. By using Soviet-style secrecy protocols for its own operation, and putting these tactics in place out in the Nevada desert, the CIA felt it could give its archenemy a run for its money regarding the element of surprise. Even Air Force transport crews had no idea where they were going when they went to the base. A cla.s.sified-missions pilot would fly to a set of coordinates over the Mojave Desert and contact a certain UHF frequency called Sage Control Sage Control. There, a voice at the other end of the radio would deliver increasingly more specific coordinates, ending with a go-ahead to land at a spot nestled inside a circle of mountains where no airstrip was supposed to exist. Only when the aircraft was a few hundred feet off the ground would runway lights flash on.

CIA pilots were kept equally in the dark. Carefully culled from Strategic Air Command bases at Turner Air Force Base, in Georgia, and Bergstrom Air Force Base, in Texas, the men had no idea who they were going to be working for when they signed on. In retrospect it seems easy to recognize the hand of the CIA, but this was not the case in late 1955 when the Agency was just seven years old. "It was like something out of fiction," "It was like something out of fiction," Hervey Stockman recalls. "I was given a date and told to be at Room 215 at the Austin Hotel and knock on that door at exactly 3:15. So I went down there at the appointed time and knocked on the door. An extremely good-looking guy in a beautiful tweed opened it and said, 'Come on in, Hervey...' That was my first introduction to the Agency." Hervey Stockman recalls. "I was given a date and told to be at Room 215 at the Austin Hotel and knock on that door at exactly 3:15. So I went down there at the appointed time and knocked on the door. An extremely good-looking guy in a beautiful tweed opened it and said, 'Come on in, Hervey...' That was my first introduction to the Agency."

Hervey Stockman was one of America's most accomplished pilots. He was as fearless as he was gentle, a man who fell in love with airplanes the first time he flew one for the Army Air Corps, shortly after leaving the comforts of Princeton University to fight the n.a.z.is in the Second World War. By the time he arrived at Area 51 for training, part of the first group of seven U-2 fliers called Detachment A, he had already flown 168 combat missions in two wars, World War II and Korea.

Area 51 "was the boonies," Stockman says. "We lived in trailers, three to a trailer as I recall. We couldn't write or call home from out there at Groom Lake." When Stockman's group arrived in January of 1956, there were "probably fifty or so people on the site." The trailers were in walking distance from the hangars, and "there was a training building, which was also a trailer," right next door, which was where Stockman spent most of his time. He remembers the mess hall as being one of the only permanent structures besides the hangars on base. "It was just all desert out there," Stockman remembers. On occasion, wild horses roamed onto the lake bed looking for water or food. "To get to civilization you were pretty dependent on aircraft. There was some road traffic but it was very carefully watched. Security people everywhere."

The ident.i.ties of the pilots were equally concealed. "We all had pseudonyms. Mine was Sampson... I hated the name Sampson so I asked, Can I use the name Sterritt? I said, 'Sterritt fits me better. I'm a little guy and Sterritt is more my speed.' They said, 'Feel free. If you want to be Sterritt, you're Sterritt.' But for their record keeping I was Sampson. The records are still there... in the bas.e.m.e.nt. And they're under the name Sampson. The Agency was very smart about all of that." The pilots were watched during their time off, not so much to see what the men might be up to as to make sure KGB agents were not watching them. Detachment A pilots were given apartments in Hollywood, California, where they officially lived. During weekends they socialized at the Brown Derby Restaurant. "It was a gathering spot and the security people could keep an eye on us there," Stockman explains. Come Monday morning, when it was time to return to Area 51, the Derby was the rendezvous spot because "it was one of the few places that was always open at five a.m." The majority of the Derby clientele had been up all night; the six very physically fit, clear-eyed pilots with their Air Force haircuts, accompanied by two CIA handlers in sport jackets and bow ties, must have been a sight to behold. From there, the group drove the Cahuenga Pa.s.s through the Hollywood Hills to the Burbank airport, where they boarded a Lockheed airplane headed for the secret base. "At the time, we did not know of Lockheed's involvement in the program," Stockman explains. "Even that was concealed from us. We were called 'drivers.' There were a lot of reasons for it. At the time, I don't think any of us really understood why, but that's essentially what we were. We were just, by G.o.d, drivers. We were not glory boys." The drivers did not have a need-to-know about anything except how to fly the airplane. Stockman once asked his superiors what the policy would be if he were shot down and captured. "Effectively, we were told that if we were captured and we were pressed by our captors, we could tell them anything and everything. Because of our lowly position as 'drivers' we didn't know very much." He said that during training even the name "Groom Lake was not part of our lexicon."

Across the world, the Russians were busy working on their own form of espionage. If Area 51 had a Communist doppelganger, it was a remote top secret facility forty miles northeast of Moscow called NII-88 NII-88. There, a rocket scientist named Sergei Korolev-the Soviet Union's own Wernher Von Braun-was working on a project that would soon shame American military science and propel the arms and s.p.a.ce race into a sprint. Fearing the CIA would a.s.sa.s.sinate Russia's key rocket scientist, Stalin declared Sergei Korolev's name a state secret Stalin declared Sergei Korolev's name a state secret, which it remained until his death, in 1966. Sergei Korolev was only referred to as Chief Designer, not unlike the way Richard Bissell was known to employees outside the CIA only as Mr. B. Just as insiders called Area 51 the Ranch, NII-88 was known to its scientists as the Bureau. Like Area 51, NII-88 did not exist on the map. Before the Communist Revolution, NII-88 had been a small village called Podlipki, same as the Groom Lake area had once been a little mining enclave called Groom Mine. Both facilities began as outcroppings of tents and warehouses, accessible only to a short list of government elite. Both facilities would develop into multimillion-dollar establishments where multibillion-dollar espionage platforms multibillion-dollar espionage platforms would be built and tested, each having the singular purpose of outperforming what was being built on the other side. would be built and tested, each having the singular purpose of outperforming what was being built on the other side.

In 1956, all the CIA knew of NII-88 was that it was the place where Russia kept dozens of its captured German scientists toiling away on secret science projects. These men were Russia's version of America's Paperclip scientists Russia's version of America's Paperclip scientists, and they included the four hundred German rocket scientists who'd been plied with alcohol and then seized in the middle of the night-just as former Messerschmitt pilot Fritz Wendel had said.

The CIA first learned about NII-88's existence in late 1955, when the Soviets decided they had milked their former Third Reich scientists for all they were worth and began sending them back home. When the CIA learned of Russia's repatriation program, the Agency leaped at the intelligence opportunity and initiated a program called Operation Dragon Return Operation Dragon Return. CIA officers were dispatched to Germany to hunt down the scientists who had been working in Russia, and the information gleaned from the returnees was considerable. It included technical data on Russian advances in radio technology, electronics, and armaments design. But to the CIA's great frustration, when it came to NII-88, the repatriated German scientists claimed to have no clear idea about what was really going on there. It seemed that NII-88, like Area 51, worked with strict need-to-know protocols, and the German scientists hadn't been cleared with a need-to-know. All the Germans could tell the CIA agents debriefing them was that Moscow's top scientists and engineers were developing something there that was highly cla.s.sified. Unlike in America, where German rocket scientists were put in charge of America's most cla.s.sified missile program at White Sands Missile Range, German scientists in Russia had been relegated to the second tier. With no hard facts about the extraordinary technological enterprise that was under way at NII-88, the CIA was left guessing. The speculation was that the Russians were developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, that could reach the United States by traveling over the top of the world.

The missile threat needed to be addressed, and fast. By 1956 Americans were constantly being reminded about this foreboding Red menace by the media. A January 1956 issue of Time Time magazine made Soviet missile technology its big story. The cover featured a drawing of an anthropomorphic rocket, complete with eyeb.a.l.l.s and a brain, carrying a nuclear bomb and bearing down on a major U.S. city. The magazine's a.n.a.lysts declared that in a little more than five years, Russians would be winning the arms race. The editors went so far as to prophesize a nuclear strike on the Pacific Ocean that would send a "cloud of radioactive death drift[ing] downwind" over America. Making the threat seem worse was the fact that there was no end to the confidence and bravado projected by the Soviet premier. "We're making missiles like sausages," Nikita Khrushchev declared on TV. If Russia succeeded in making these ICBMs, as was feared, then Russia really could place a nuclear warhead in the missile's nose and strike anywhere in the United States. "I am quite sure that we shall have very soon a guided missile with a hydrogen-bomb warhead which would hit any point in the world," Khrushchev boasted shortly after the magazine made Soviet missile technology its big story. The cover featured a drawing of an anthropomorphic rocket, complete with eyeb.a.l.l.s and a brain, carrying a nuclear bomb and bearing down on a major U.S. city. The magazine's a.n.a.lysts declared that in a little more than five years, Russians would be winning the arms race. The editors went so far as to prophesize a nuclear strike on the Pacific Ocean that would send a "cloud of radioactive death drift[ing] downwind" over America. Making the threat seem worse was the fact that there was no end to the confidence and bravado projected by the Soviet premier. "We're making missiles like sausages," Nikita Khrushchev declared on TV. If Russia succeeded in making these ICBMs, as was feared, then Russia really could place a nuclear warhead in the missile's nose and strike anywhere in the United States. "I am quite sure that we shall have very soon a guided missile with a hydrogen-bomb warhead which would hit any point in the world," Khrushchev boasted shortly after the Time Time magazine article appeared. magazine article appeared.

While the Soviets were concentrating efforts on advancing missile technology, the powerful General LeMay had convinced the Joint Chiefs of Staff that long-range bombers were a far better way for America to go to war. LeMay was not shy about expressing his disdain for missiles; he brazenly opposed them. LeMay's top research-and-development commander, General Thomas S. Power, told Pentagon officials that missiles "cannot cope with contingencies" "cannot cope with contingencies" the way bomber pilots could. Another one of LeMay's generals, Clarence S. Irvine, stated, "I don't know how you show... teeth with a missile." While the Joint Chiefs were deciding whether it was better to build up America's a.r.s.enal with missiles or bombers, the nuclear warheads continued to roll off the production lines at Sandia, in New Mexico, with astonishing speed. Ten years earlier, in 1946, the U.S. nuclear stockpile had totaled two. In 1955, that stockpile had risen to 2,280 nuclear bombs. The reason for LeMay's opposition to the missile programs was obvious: if the Pentagon started pumping more money into missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, LeMay's bombers would lose importance. As it was, he was already losing money and men to the overhead reconnaissance nonsense being spearheaded by the CIA's Richard Bissell over at Area 51. the way bomber pilots could. Another one of LeMay's generals, Clarence S. Irvine, stated, "I don't know how you show... teeth with a missile." While the Joint Chiefs were deciding whether it was better to build up America's a.r.s.enal with missiles or bombers, the nuclear warheads continued to roll off the production lines at Sandia, in New Mexico, with astonishing speed. Ten years earlier, in 1946, the U.S. nuclear stockpile had totaled two. In 1955, that stockpile had risen to 2,280 nuclear bombs. The reason for LeMay's opposition to the missile programs was obvious: if the Pentagon started pumping more money into missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, LeMay's bombers would lose importance. As it was, he was already losing money and men to the overhead reconnaissance nonsense being spearheaded by the CIA's Richard Bissell over at Area 51.

In early 1956, the Air Force retaliated against Khrushchev's war of words with the kind of response General Curtis LeMay knew best: threat, intimidation, and force. LeMay scrambled nearly a thousand B-47 bombers LeMay scrambled nearly a thousand B-47 bombers in a simulated attack on Russia using bomber planes that were capable of carrying nuclear bombs. Air Force pilots took off from air bases in Alaska and Greenland, charged over the Arctic, and flew to the very edge of Soviet borders before U-turning and racing home. This must have been a terrifying experience for the Soviets, who had no idea that LeMay's bombers were planning on turning around. Further provoking them, on March 21, 1956, LeMay's bomber pilots began flying in a simulated attack on Russia using bomber planes that were capable of carrying nuclear bombs. Air Force pilots took off from air bases in Alaska and Greenland, charged over the Arctic, and flew to the very edge of Soviet borders before U-turning and racing home. This must have been a terrifying experience for the Soviets, who had no idea that LeMay's bombers were planning on turning around. Further provoking them, on March 21, 1956, LeMay's bomber pilots began flying top secret missions as part of Operation Home Run top secret missions as part of Operation Home Run, cla.s.sified until 2001. From Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, LeMay sent modified versions of America's fastest bomber, the B-47, over the Arctic Circle and into Russia's Siberian tundra to spy. The purpose was to probe for electronic intelligence, or ELINT, seeing how Soviet radar worked by forcing Soviet radars to turn on. Once the Soviets started tracking LeMay's bombers, technicians gathered the ELINT to decipher back home. Asked later about these dangerous provocations, LeMay remarked, "With a bit more luck, we could have started World War III."

Sam Pizzo worked as a navigator during the SAC espionage operation, planning flights over nuclear facilities, missile sites, naval installations, and radar sites. The 156 missions took place from March 21 to May 10, 1956, where the Russian landscape meets the Arctic Ocean, which made for total darkness twenty-four hours a day. The temperature outside varied between 35 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sam Pizzo recalls those Cold War missions: "Ambarchik, Tiksi, Novaya Zemlya, these were the territories we covered. This was the real deal. Our missions were not twelve miles off the coastline, to study electromagnetic wave propagation [as was reported]. We went in." An undetermined number of pilots were shot down. Several were believed to have survived their bailouts, only to be taken prisoner and thrown into the Russian gulags. Everyone knew that suffering a gulag imprisonment was a fate worse than death. The missions were so top secret, Pizzo explained, that very few people at Thule had any idea where the pilots were flying. As a navigator, Pizzo was among the elite group who charted the pilots' paths. Flying over the Arctic required a very specific expertise in navigation, a different skill set than was used anywhere else on the globe. At the top of the world, the magnetic field fluctuates radically, which means compa.s.ses simply do not work. Instead, navigators like Sam Pizzo used celestial shots of the North Star and drew maps accordingly. This was a skill that Pizzo would later use when he was recruited for work at Area 51.

As Operation Home Run continued, the CIA worried that General LeMay's aggressive missions were a national security threat. "Soviet leaders may have become convinced that the U.S. actually has intentions of military aggression in the near future," a nervous CIA panel warned the president in the winter of 1956. And President Eisenhower's science advisers told him that flying U-2s over Russia could not wait. The Agency's Russian nuclear weapons expert Herbert Miller, the man who accompanied Bissell on that first scouting trip to Area 51, explained that no other program "can so quickly bring so much vital information at so little risk and so little cost." that the U.S. actually has intentions of military aggression in the near future," a nervous CIA panel warned the president in the winter of 1956. And President Eisenhower's science advisers told him that flying U-2s over Russia could not wait. The Agency's Russian nuclear weapons expert Herbert Miller, the man who accompanied Bissell on that first scouting trip to Area 51, explained that no other program "can so quickly bring so much vital information at so little risk and so little cost."

The CIA planned to have the first U-2 flights photograph the facilities where the Agency believed Russia was building its bombers, missiles, nuclear warheads, and surface-to-air missiles. And the U-2 pilots would seek out the location of the elusive facility called NII-88. Having completed pilot training at Area 51, four pilot detachments were ready to go, fully prepared to penetrate deep into denied Soviet territory. There, they would be able to photograph half of the Soviet Union's 6.5-million-square-mile landma.s.s. But it had to happen fast.

President Eisenhower was gravely concerned. "I fear if one of these planes gets shot down [we run] the risk of starting a nuclear war," he wrote in his White House journal. Richard Bissell promised the president Richard Bissell promised the president that there was no chance of shooting down the U-2 and very little chance of tracking it. Besides, if the U-2 did get shot down, Bissell said, it would most likely disintegrate on impact with the ground, killing the pilot and destroying the airplane. that there was no chance of shooting down the U-2 and very little chance of tracking it. Besides, if the U-2 did get shot down, Bissell said, it would most likely disintegrate on impact with the ground, killing the pilot and destroying the airplane.

The Moscow air show on June 24, 1956, foreshadowed the breaking of promises made to the president. In a show of ceremony, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev invited air force generals from twenty-eight foreign delegations, including General Nathan Twining, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff. For all the fanfare and bravado of the bombers and fighter jets sweeping across the skies, the more significant event occurred a few hours later, at a wooden picnic table in Gorky Park. There, General Twining and the leaders of the British and French delegations sat and listened to Khrushchev deliver a long-winded speech. Partway through, the Soviet premier raised his vodka gla.s.s and made a toast "in defense of peace." Years later, retired Russian colonel Alexander Orlov related Alexander Orlov related what happened next: "In the midst of his toast [Khrushchev] turned to General Twining and said, 'Today we showed you our aircraft. But would you like a look at our missiles?'" Shocked by the offer, General Twining said, "Yes." Khrushchev shot back, "First show us your aircraft and stop sending intruders into our airs.p.a.ce." Khrushchev was referring to the bombers sent over the Arctic Circle by General LeMay. " what happened next: "In the midst of his toast [Khrushchev] turned to General Twining and said, 'Today we showed you our aircraft. But would you like a look at our missiles?'" Shocked by the offer, General Twining said, "Yes." Khrushchev shot back, "First show us your aircraft and stop sending intruders into our airs.p.a.ce." Khrushchev was referring to the bombers sent over the Arctic Circle by General LeMay. "We will shoot down uninvited guests. We will get all of your [airplanes]. They are flying coffins!"

It was a terribly awkward moment underscored by the mercurial Soviet leader's abrupt shift in tone, from applauding peace to talking about shooting down American airplanes. General Twining had been set up for a confrontation. Things got worse when Khrushchev looked around the picnic table for reactions and saw a U.S. military attache pouring his drink under a bush. "Here I am speaking about peace and friendship, but what does your military attache do?" Khrushchev shouted at Amba.s.sador Charles Bohlen, then demanded that the attache drink a penalty toast. Once the man had swallowed his vodka, he got up and quickly left the picnic. If Khrushchev thought the Americans were trying to insult him in the park, he would be even more enraged he would be even more enraged two weeks later when he learned the CIA had sent a U-2 directly over the Kremlin to take photographs of the house in which Nikita Khrushchev slept. two weeks later when he learned the CIA had sent a U-2 directly over the Kremlin to take photographs of the house in which Nikita Khrushchev slept.

Area 51 had a Washington, DC, complement for the U-2 program, an office on the fifth floor of an unmarked CIA facility at 1717 H Street. This served as the command center for Project Aquatone's first, secret missions over the Soviet Union. It was from this clandestine facility that, shortly before midnight on July 3, 1956, Richard Bissell made a historic telephone call over a secure line. He reached the U-2's secret base in Wiesbaden, West Germany, and gave the commander the authorization to proceed. There, in a nearby room, Hervey Stockman sat breathing pure oxygen from a ventilator as a flight surgeon monitored the levels of nitrogen in his blood. Outside the door, CIA men armed with machine guns CIA men armed with machine guns stood guard. Given the time difference, where Stockman was sitting it was already the following morning, making it the anniversary of America's independence. The nation was 180 years old. If all went well, Stockman was about to become the first pilot to penetrate the Iron Curtain's airs.p.a.ce. He would fly all the way to Leningrad, around the coast, and back down, putting him forever in the record books as the first man to fly over the Soviet Union in a U-2. stood guard. Given the time difference, where Stockman was sitting it was already the following morning, making it the anniversary of America's independence. The nation was 180 years old. If all went well, Stockman was about to become the first pilot to penetrate the Iron Curtain's airs.p.a.ce. He would fly all the way to Leningrad, around the coast, and back down, putting him forever in the record books as the first man to fly over the Soviet Union in a U-2.

Stockman and his U-2 took off from Wiesbaden a little after 6:00 a.m., the pilot and his airplane moving skyward in a dramatic incline. The U-2 rose at a remarkable fifteen thousand feet a minute, so steep a gradient that for airmen on the ground who were unfamiliar with the airplane, it must have looked like Stockman was about to pitch back and stall. Halfway to alt.i.tude, Stockman briefly let the fuselage even out, allowing his body fluids and the fluids in the fuel tanks to expand and adjust. Once, a U-2 pilot had ascended too quickly, and his fuel tanks exploded. The pilot was killed. After a few additional minutes of ascent, Stockman arrived at cruising alt.i.tude. The sky above him was black and he could see stars. Below him, the Earth curved. It would be an eight-and-a-half-hour journey without a sip of water or a bite of food. In the U-2's camera bay, Stockman transported a five-hundred-pound Hycon camera fitted with the most advanced photo lenses ever devised in America. To prove how accurate the camera was, Bissell had sent a U-2 from Groom Lake on a flight over President Eisenhower's Pennsylvania farm. From thirteen and a half miles up, the U-2's cameras were able to take clear photographs of Eisenhower's cows Eisenhower's cows as they drank water from troughs. as they drank water from troughs.

After several hours, Stockman approached Russia's submarine city Stockman approached Russia's submarine city. "I was supposed to turn the cameras on when I reached Leningrad," Stockman recalls. "I was to fly along photographing the naval installations there as well as a couple of airfields that were all part of what we had been led to believe might hold long-range Soviet bombers." But there were no long-range bombers to be found. The famous bomber gap, it turned out, was false. What Stockman filmed on the first overflight into Russia provided the CIA with critical facts on an issue that had previously been the subject of contentious debate. Russian weapons expert Herbert Miller wrote a triumphant memo Herbert Miller wrote a triumphant memo to Eisenhower after the film in Stockman's camera was interpreted, explaining just how many "new discoveries have come to light." Stockman's flight provided the Agency with four hundred thousand square miles of coverage. "Many new airfields previously unknown, industrial complexes of a size heretofore unsuspected were revealed... Fighter aircraft at the five most important bases covered were drawn up in orderly rows as if for formal inspection on parade." What astonished Miller was just how current the information was. "We know that the guns in the anti-aircraft batteries sighted were in a horizontal position rather than pointed upwards and 'on the ready.' We know that some harvests were being brought in, and that the small truck gardens were being worked." They denoted "real intentions, objectives and qualities of the Soviet Union." Hervey Stockman explains it this way: "What it portrayed was that as a people they were not all geared up to go to war. They were leading a normal Russian life, so that behind this 'Iron Curtain' there wasn't all this beating of drums and movement of tanks and everything that was envisioned. They were going about their way over there." to Eisenhower after the film in Stockman's camera was interpreted, explaining just how many "new discoveries have come to light." Stockman's flight provided the Agency with four hundred thousand square miles of coverage. "Many new airfields previously unknown, industrial complexes of a size heretofore unsuspected were revealed... Fighter aircraft at the five most important bases covered were drawn up in orderly rows as if for formal inspection on parade." What astonished Miller was just how current the information was. "We know that the guns in the anti-aircraft batteries sighted were in a horizontal position rather than pointed upwards and 'on the ready.' We know that some harvests were being brought in, and that the small truck gardens were being worked." They denoted "real intentions, objectives and qualities of the Soviet Union." Hervey Stockman explains it this way: "What it portrayed was that as a people they were not all geared up to go to war. They were leading a normal Russian life, so that behind this 'Iron Curtain' there wasn't all this beating of drums and movement of tanks and everything that was envisioned. They were going about their way over there."

Stockman's photos made the CIA ecstatic and justified the entire U-2 program, as a flurry of top secret memos dated July 17, 1956, revealed. "For the first time we are really able to say that we have an understanding of what was going on in the Soviet Union, on July 4, 1956," Miller wrote. But as beneficial as Stockman's flight was for the CIA, the results proved disastrous for President Eisenhower's relationship with Nikita Khrushchev. Despite Bissell's a.s.surances to the contrary, the U-2s were tracked by the Soviets' air-defense warning systems from the moment they hit the radar screens. Once the film from Stockman's flight was developed, CIA photo interpreters determined that the Soviets had attempted more than twenty interceptions of Stockman's mission. "MiG-17 and MiG-19 fighters were photographed desperately trying to reach the U-2, only to have to fall back to an alt.i.tude where the air was dense enough for them to restart their flamed-out, oxygen-starved engines," photo interpreter Dino Brugioni told Air and s.p.a.ce Air and s.p.a.ce magazine after the U-2 program was decla.s.sified, in 1998. magazine after the U-2 program was decla.s.sified, in 1998.

When Khrushchev learned the Americans had betrayed him, he was furious. After the picnic at Gorky Park, Khrushchev had agreed to spend the Fourth of July at Spaso House, the official residence of Amba.s.sador Charles Bohlen, located just down the street from the Kremlin. When Khrushchev learned that while he had been celebrating the American Independence Day with the country's amba.s.sador, a U-2 had been soaring over Russia, he was humiliated. "The Americans [are] chortling over our impotence," Khrushchev told his son, Sergei Khrushchev told his son, Sergei, a twenty-one-year-old aspiring missile designer. But in addition to the personal affront they caused Khrushchev, the U-2 overflights greatly embarra.s.sed the Soviet Union's military machine. Soviet MiG fighter jets couldn't get a shot anywhere near Hervey Stockman's U-2, which flew miles above the MiG performance ceiling, just as Colonel Leghorn had predicted. In 1956, the land-based Soviet surface-to-air missiles could not get a shot up high enough to knock the airplane out of the sky. America's spy plane had flown over Russia with impunity. And if that fact became known, the Soviet Union would look weak.

Weighing the options-embarra.s.s his own military, embarra.s.s the American president, or say nothing-Khrushchev chose to remain silent, at least as far as the international press was concerned. As a result, the first U-2 overflights were kept secret between the two governments. But they seriously strained already tenuous relations. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to stop all overflights inside the Soviet Union until further notice. Even worse, the president told Richard Bissell that he had "lost enthusiasm" for the CIA's aerial espionage program "lost enthusiasm" for the CIA's aerial espionage program.

Back at Area 51, Bissell had a lot to worry about. Concerned that his U-2 program was going to be canceled by the president, he hired a team to a.n.a.lyze he hired a team to a.n.a.lyze the probability of a Soviet shoot-down of the U-2. The news was grim: the Soviets were advancing their surface-to-air missile technology so rapidly that in all likelihood, within eighteen months they would be able to get their SA-2 missile up to seventy thousand feet. Bissell decided that the only way to keep his program aloft was to hide the U-2 from Soviet radar by inventing some kind of radar-absorbing paint. Bissell shared his idea with Lockheed's Kelly Johnson, who told him that the probability of a Soviet shoot-down of the U-2. The news was grim: the Soviets were advancing their surface-to-air missile technology so rapidly that in all likelihood, within eighteen months they would be able to get their SA-2 missile up to seventy thousand feet. Bissell decided that the only way to keep his program aloft was to hide the U-2 from Soviet radar by inventing some kind of radar-absorbing paint. Bissell shared his idea with Lockheed's Kelly Johnson, who told him that painting the U-2 was a bad idea painting the U-2 was a bad idea. Paint was heavy, and the U-2 flew so high because of how light it was, Johnson explained. The weight that paint would add to the aircraft would result in a loss of fifteen hundred feet of alt.i.tude. Bissell didn't want to hear that. So he went to the president's scientific adviser James Killian and asked him to put together a group of scientists who could make the CIA some radar-absorbing paint. These scientists, who worked out of Harvard University and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and were called the Boston Group, told Bissell they could get him what he wanted. It was a radical idea that had never been tested before. The scientists and engineers at MIT prided themselves on meeting challenges that other scientists believed were impossible.

There was a second serious problem facing Richard Bissell in the summer of 1956 and that was General LeMay. Impressed with the spy plane's performance, LeMay was now angling for control of the airplane. Under a program called Project Dragon Lady, LeMay ordered a fleet of thirty-one U-2s specifically for the Air Force. To keep the program secret from Congress, the Air Force transferred money over to the CIA Air Force transferred money over to the CIA, which meant that while working to head off LeMay's usurpation, Bissell simultaneously had to act as the go-between between the Air Force and Lockheed for the slightly modified U-2s. With these new Air Force airplanes came a demand for more "drivers," which meant the arrival of two new groups of pilots at Area 51-those picked for CIA missions and others chosen for Air Force ones. Among those selected Among those selected for Air Force missions was Anthony "Tony" Bevacqua. for Air Force missions was Anthony "Tony" Bevacqua.

"I may have been the only U-2 pilot at Area 51 who never made a model airplane as a kid," Bevacqua recalls. Instead, he had spent all his time devouring books. His obsessive reading of paperbacks, usually those by Zane Grey or Erle Gardner, helped offset his fear that he be unable to read English, like his father. The son of Sicilian immigrants, Bevacqua was the youngest pilot to fly the U-2 at Groom Lake, which he did in the winter of 1957 at the age of twenty-four. But before the handsome, vibrant Bevacqua wound up at the CIA's secret base, he was the roommate of another dashing young pilot whose name would soon become known around the world.

Before the two fighter pilots arrived at Area 51 to fly the U-2, Bevacqua and Francis Gary Powers were a couple of type A pilots with the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia. They lived in a rented four-bedroom house situated two miles from the main gate. Both had been flying F-84 fighter jets for almost two years when one day Powers, whom everybody called Frank, just up and disappeared. "There were rumors that Frank had gone off on some kind of secret program," Bevacqua says, "but this was just talk, not something you could really sink your teeth into." A few months later Bevacqua was approached by a squadron leader and asked if he wanted to volunteer for "an interesting flight program."

"About what?" Bevacqua asked. The recruiter said he could not say, only that it would involve flying and that Bevacqua would have to leave the Air Force but could later return. The program, he was told, needed "a volunteer." It was important, the recruiter said, a mysterious edge to his voice. Bevacqua signed on.

He was flown to the Berger Brothers Company, located in a nondescript building in New Haven, Connecticut, not far from Yale University, that was filled with seamstresses making girdles and bras. What was he doing in there? he wondered. He was led through the workstations and into a back room. The unlikely supplier had a perfect cover for CIA-contract work: making ladies' underwear. In reality, the company, later renamed the David Clark Company, had already proven itself thousands of times over. During World War II, it made parachutes for U.S. Army Air Forces and Navy pilots.

In a clandestine back room, behind the bra.s.siere a.s.sembly lines, Tony Bevacqua was fitted for a high-alt.i.tude flight suit specifically tailored for his physique. For the duration of his contract, Bevacqua would be required to maintain his weight within ounces. An ill-fitting suit could mean death for a pilot and the inevitable loss of an airplane. Bevacqua understood the concept of need-to-know and was aware that it prohibited him from asking any questions about what the suit was for. But he knew enough about partial-pressure suits to realize that whatever aircraft he was going to be piloting was going to be flying very high indeed.

His next stop was Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for a battery of physical and psychological procedures. There, Bevacqua underwent a series of endurance tests. Some were familiar but others he found thought-provokingly strange. All U-2 pilots were put into the high-alt.i.tude chamber to simulate the experience of sitting in a c.o.c.kpit in a flight suit that your life depended on. At 63,000 feet, blood boils because there is not enough pressure to sustain oxygen in the bloodstream. There was another test called the Furnace in which U-2 pilots were left in a room that was significantly hotter than a hot sauna. Bevacqua was spared that one but he did have liquids pumped into his every orifice, first water and then some kind of mineral oil. Many U-2 pilots were hooked up to odd machines and others were given electroshock. Bevacqua got what he called the dreaded corpse test instead. He recalled how he "was put in a small s.p.a.ce, my arms crossed over my chest like I was in a casket at a morgue. It was absolutely impossible for me to move my extremities. I was told to hyperventilate for as long as I could."

Bevacqua surmised that he would be chosen for the prestigious, top secret a.s.signment only if he was able to pa.s.s every test. He wanted the job badly and was entirely willing to push himself physically to the edge. "I came within a breath of pa.s.sing out during the corpse test," he explains. "After they said I could breathe, the attendants then pulled at my arms and legs but there was no way they could move or bend my extremities. As I breathed oxygen back into my body my cheeks loosened and then the rest of my body gradually returned to normal." After a few minutes Bevacqua's vital signs stabilized. "Apparently, this test was to see if I would have a seizure," he explains.

The next test was a freezing experiment. "I was asked to put my arms in a bucket of ice for as long as I could stand it. I don't remember what happened exactly. Probably good that I don't. I remember that I felt like a guinea pig." Unknown to Bevacqua or the rest of America, the division of the aviation medicine school at Wright-Patterson aviation medicine school at Wright-Patterson that was responsible for testing the U-2 pilots was run by Project Paperclip doctors, doctors with controversial histories. The Air Force had been willing to turn a blind eye to the scientists' past work in order to get where it wanted to go in the future, which was the upper atmosphere and outer s.p.a.ce. The work that these Paperclip doctors had done during the war would later become a shameful stain on the Air Force record. that was responsible for testing the U-2 pilots was run by Project Paperclip doctors, doctors with controversial histories. The Air Force had been willing to turn a blind eye to the scientists' past work in order to get where it wanted to go in the future, which was the upper atmosphere and outer s.p.a.ce. The work that these Paperclip doctors had done during the war would later become a shameful stain on the Air Force record.

In 1980, journalist Linda Hunt published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists revealing publicly for the first time that several of the nation's leading German American aeros.p.a.ce doctors had revealing publicly for the first time that several of the nation's leading German American aeros.p.a.ce doctors had previously worked at n.a.z.i concentration camps previously worked at n.a.z.i concentration camps. There, they had obtained aviation medicine data by conducting barbaric experiments conducting barbaric experiments on thousands of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and other people considered disposable. Many newspaper articles and medical papers followed, doc.u.menting how Project Paperclip came to be and raising important questions about how much the government had known about the scientists' sordid pasts. The issues were well reported but often ignored by the public because of the heinous subject matter involved. The idea that the American military and its intelligence agents would overlook war crimes and crimes against humanity in the name of advancing American science was, and continues to be, an odious one. It is likely that this is the reason why the federal government has never fully decla.s.sified the Operation Paperclip files. In 1999, a government panel released 126,000 pages of previously cla.s.sified doc.u.ments on former German Paperclips, but the panel also revealed that there were over on thousands of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and other people considered disposable. Many newspaper articles and medical papers followed, doc.u.menting how Project Paperclip came to be and raising important questions about how much the government had known about the scientists' sordid pasts. The issues were well reported but often ignored by the public because of the heinous subject matter involved. The idea that the American military and its intelligence agents would overlook war crimes and crimes against humanity in the name of advancing American science was, and continues to be, an odious one. It is likely that this is the reason why the federal government has never fully decla.s.sified the Operation Paperclip files. In 1999, a government panel released 126,000 pages of previously cla.s.sified doc.u.ments on former German Paperclips, but the panel also revealed that there were over six hundred million still-cla.s.sified six hundred million still-cla.s.sified pages waiting "for review." No significant release has occured since. pages waiting "for review." No significant release has occured since.

In March of 1957, Bevacqua finally pa.s.sed his tests and arrived at Area 51, where the living conditions had improved. The canvas tents had been upgraded to Quonset huts. There were working showers. The mess hall had been expanded, and someone had built a makeshift bar. But the protocols for flying were as undeveloped as they'd been when Ray Goudey and others were first figuring out how to get the U-2 to fly high. The training that Tony Bevacqua experienced at Area 51 was unlike anything he had ever seen on an Air Force base. The CIA method to train pilots on the U-2 was as radical and as unorthodox U-2 was as radical and as unorthodox as an Air Force pilot could imagine. At Turner Air Force Base, Bevacqua had learned to fly F-84s the Air Force way. That meant first diligently studying the aircraft manuals, then practicing in a flight simulator, then practicing in a trainer, and finally going up in the airplane with an instructor. At Area 51, there was no manual for the U-2, no flight simulator, no trainer, and no instructor. "The original U-2s had only one seat and one engine, which meant the CIA instructor pilot gave you a lesson with your feet on the ground," Bevacqua explains. Flying this strange and secret spy plane came without a morsel of bureaucracy, never mind basic rules, making the overall experience profound. "You were basically given a talk by an instructor pilot. Then you were given a piece of cardboard with a checklist on the front side, and fuel and oxygen graphs on the back. Then it was time to fly. And that was that." as an Air Force pilot could imagine. At Turner Air Force Base, Bevacqua had learned to fly F-84s the Air Force way. That meant first diligently studying the aircraft manuals, then practicing in a flight simulator, then practicing in a trainer, and finally going up in the airplane with an instructor. At Area 51, there was no manual for the U-2, no flight simulator, no trainer, and no instructor. "The original U-2s had only one seat and one engine, which meant the CIA instructor pilot gave you a lesson with your feet on the ground," Bevacqua explains. Flying this strange and secret spy plane came without a morsel of bureaucracy, never mind basic rules, making the overall experience profound. "You were basically given a talk by an instructor pilot. Then you were given a piece of cardboard with a checklist on the front side, and fuel and oxygen graphs on the back. Then it was time to fly. And that was that."

Coupled with the secrecy protocols, the experience for pilots at Area 51 verged on sublime. No one but his old roommate from Turner AFB, Francis Gary Powers, knew who Tony Bevacqua really was. At Area 51 he went by only a pilot number and his first name. His family members had no idea where he was, nor would they find out about his secret missions for decades to come. As for future a.s.signments, very few people were told where Air Force pilots were headed in the U-2-including the pilots themselves. What everyone knew was that pilots who got shot down over enemy territory were almost always tortured for information. This meant that the less you knew as a pilot, the better it was for everyone involved.

Bevacqua couldn't wait for an a.s.signment. For this small group of pilots-only 25 percent of candidates pa.s.sed the physical tests-a U-2 mission carried with it a sacred sense of national pride. Tony Bevacqua was living the American dream and protecting it at the same time. He was not someone who ever forgot for a moment how lucky he was. "Always make the most of your opportunities," Bevacqua's Italian-speaking father had told him as a child. Tony Bevacqua had done just that. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity. He was one of America's most important spy plane pilots. He was helping to save the free world.

By the winter of 1957, the Boston Group had completed what Richard Bissell wanted in radar-absorbing paint. Bissell received the paint and gave it to Lockheed engineers at Area 51. He asked them to coat the fuselage of several U-2s with it, which they did. Bissell understood that Kelly Johnson disapproved of the radar-absorbing-paint program, which he said made his U-2s "dirty birds." But Bissell was under too much presidential pressure to deal with the watchful eye of Kelly Johnson at this point. To measure how the dirty birds performed against radar, Bissell hired a different company to measure the radar returns, the defense contractor EG&G.

EG&G is an enigma in its own right. Beginning in 1947, EG&G was the most powerful defense contractor in the nation that no one had ever heard of. In many ways, this still remains the case in 2011. The early anonymity was intended. It was cultivated to help make secret-keeping easier. Originally called Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier, EG&G had once been a small engineering company run by three MIT professors. In 1927, Dr. Harold "Doc" Edgerton invented stop-motion photography, which utilized another of his patented inventions, the strobe light. Edgerton's famous stop-motion photographs Edgerton's famous stop-motion photographs include one of a bullet pa.s.sing though an apple, a drop of water splashing on a countertop, and a hummingbird frozen in flight. Edgerton was fond of saying that his career began because he wanted to make time stand still. EG&G got its first known set of defense contracts during World War II, when Doc Edgerton's strobe lights and photographer's flashbulb were used to light up the ground during nighttime aerial reconnaissance missions, rendering the age-old flare obsolete. Thanks to Doc Edgerton, fliers like Colonel Richard Leghorn were able to photograph Normandy before D-day. include one of a bullet pa.s.sing though an apple, a drop of water splashing on a countertop, and a hummingbird frozen in flight. Edgerton was fond of saying that his career began because he wanted to make time stand still. EG&G got its first known set of defense contracts during World War II, when Doc Edgerton's strobe lights and photographer's flashbulb were used to light up the ground during nighttime aerial reconnaissance missions, rendering the age-old flare obsolete. Thanks to Doc Edgerton, fliers like Colonel Richard Leghorn were able to photograph Normandy before D-day.

Kenneth J. Germeshausen worked in high-energy pulse theory at MIT. He held more than fifty patents, including a number in radar. Together with the company's third partner, Herbert Grier, Germeshausen developed the firing system for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs. The Manhattan Project contracts came to the three professors because of their affiliation with Vannevar Bush, the former dean of engineering at MIT and later the man in charge of the Manhattan Project. worked in high-energy pulse theory at MIT. He held more than fifty patents, including a number in radar. Together with the company's third partner, Herbert Grier, Germeshausen developed the firing system for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs. The Manhattan Project contracts came to the three professors because of their affiliation with Vannevar Bush, the former dean of engineering at MIT and later the man in charge of the Manhattan Project.

In addition to the firing systems on the nuclear bombs, which were based on a simple signal-switching relay system called the DN-11 relay, EG&G handled the defense contract to take millions of stop-motion photographs of nuclear bomb explosions in the Pacific and at the Nevada Test Site. It was from these photographs, and from these photographs only, that EG&G scientists could determine for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense the exact yield, or power, of an exploded nuclear bomb. For decades a great majority of the most highly cla.s.sified engineering jobs the most highly cla.s.sified engineering jobs related to nuclear weapons testing went to EG&G. In the 1960s, when special engineering teams were needed to clean up deadly radioactive waste that was the result of these nuclear tests, the contracts went to EG&G as well. They were trusted implicitly, and EG&G's operations were quintessential black. They also had other businesses, such as radar testing. In the early 1950s, EG&G ran a radar-testing facility approximately thirty miles south of Area 51, at Indian Springs. Very little information is known about that period or about what EG&G was working on, as the data remains cla.s.sified in EG&G's unique Restricted Data files. At Bissell's behest, in 1957 related to nuclear weapons testing went to EG&G. In the 1960s, when special engineering teams were needed to clean up deadly radioactive waste that was the result of these nuclear tests, the contracts went to EG&G as well. They were trusted implicitly, and EG&G's operations were quintessential black. They also had other businesses, such as radar testing. In the early 1950s, EG&G ran a radar-testing facility approximately thirty miles south of Area 51, at Indian Springs. Very little information is known about that period or about what EG&G was working on, as the data remains cla.s.sified in EG&G's unique Restricted Data files. At Bissell's behest, in 1957 EG&G agreed to set up a radar range EG&G agreed to set up a radar range on the outskirts of Area 51 to measure radar returns for the dirty-bird project. In a CIA monograph about the U-2, decla.s.sified in 1998, the EG&G tracking station just outside Groom Lake is alleged to be "little more than a series of radar sets and a trailer containing instrumentation" where engineers could record data and a.n.a.lyze results. And yet the exact location of this "small testing facility" has been redacted from the otherwise decla.s.sified U-2 record. Why? The key term is on the outskirts of Area 51 to measure radar returns for the dirty-bird project. In a CIA monograph about the U-2, decla.s.sified in 1998, the EG&G tracking station just outside Groom Lake is alleged to be "little more than a series of radar sets and a trailer containing instrumentation" where engineers could record data and a.n.a.lyze results. And yet the exact location of this "small testing facility" has been redacted from the otherwise decla.s.sified U-2 record. Why? The key term is EG&G. EG&G. Giving away too much information about EG&G could inadvertently open a can of worms. No one but an elite has a need-to-know where any exterior EG&G facilities are located at Area 51-specifically, whether they are located outside the blueprint of the base. Giving away too much information about EG&G could inadvertently open a can of worms. No one but an elite has a need-to-know where any exterior EG&G facilities are located at Area 51-specifically, whether they are located outside the blueprint of the base.

And so, in April of 1957, with EG&G radar specialists tracking his aircraft's radar returns, Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker took one of the newly painted U-2s to the skies over Groom Lake. His orders were to see how high he could get the dirty bird to climb. Sieker took off from Area 51 and flew for almost ninety miles without incident when suddenly, in a valley near Pioche, the Boston Group's paint caused the airplane to overheat, spin out of control, and crash. Sieker was able to eject but was killed when a piece of the spinning aircraft hit him in the head. Kelly Johnson was right. It was a bad idea to try to retrofit the U-2. CIA search teams took four days to locate Sieker's body and the wreckage of the plane. The crash had attracted the watchful eye of the press, and the U-2's cover story, that it was a weather research plane, wore thin. Halfway across the country, a headline at the took one of the newly painted U-2s to the skies over Groom Lake. His orders were to see how high he could get the dirty bird to climb. Sieker took off from Area 51 and flew for almost ninety miles without incident when suddenly, in a valley near Pioche, the Boston Group's paint caused the airplane to overheat, spin out of control, and crash. Sieker was able to eject but was killed when a piece of the spinning aircraft hit him in the head. Kelly Johnson was right. It was a bad idea to try to retrofit the U-2. CIA search teams took four days to locate Sieker's body and the wreckage of the plane. The crash had attracted the watchful eye of the press, and the U-2's cover story, that it was a weather research plane, wore thin. Halfway across the country, a headline at the Chicago Daily Tribune Chicago Daily Tribune read "Secrecy Veils High-Alt.i.tude Research Jet; Lockheed U-2 Called Super Snooper." read "Secrecy Veils High-Alt.i.tude Research Jet; Lockheed U-2 Called Super Snooper."

A pilot was dead, and the camouflage paint had made the U-2 more dangerous, not more stealthy. Bissell knew he needed to act fast. He was losing control of the U-2 spy plane program and everything he had created at Area 51. His next idea, part genius and part hubris, was to pet.i.tion the president for an entirely new spy plane. The CIA needed a better, faster, more technologically advanced aircraft that would break scientific barriers and trick Soviet radars into thinking it wasn't there. This new spy plane Bissell had in mind would fly higher than ninety thousand feet and have stealth features built in from pencil to plane. Bissell was taking a major gamble with his billion-dollar request. Bringing an entirely new black budget spy plane program to the president's attention at a time when the president was upset with the results of the previous work done at Area 51 was either madness or brilliance, depending on one's point of view. But just as Richard Bissell began presenting plans for his radical and ambitious new project to the president, a national security crisis overwhelmed the country. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched the world's first satellite, a 184-pound silver orb called Sputnik 1. This was the secret that Sergei Korolev had been working on at Area 51's Communist doppelganger, NII-88.

At first, the White House tried to downplay the fact that the Soviets had beat the Americans into s.p.a.ce. Eisenhower, at his country home in Pennsylvania for the weekend, didn't immediately comment on the event. But the following morning, the New York Times New York Times ran a headline of half-inch-high capital letters across all six columns, a spot historically reserved for the declarations of war. ran a headline of half-inch-high capital letters across all six columns, a spot historically reserved for the declarations of war.

SOVIET FIRES EARTH SATELLITE INTO s.p.a.cE; IT IS CIRCLING THE GLOBE AT 18,000 MPH; SPHERE TRACKED IN 4 CROSSINGS OVER U.S. SOVIET FIRES EARTH SATELLITE INTO s.p.a.cE; IT IS CIRCLING THE GLOBE AT 18,000 MPH; SPHERE TRACKED IN 4 CROSSINGS OVER U.S.

A satellite launch meant the Russians now had a rocket with enough propulsion and guidance to hit a target anywhere in the world. So much for the Paperclips Wernher Von Braun and Ernst Steinhoff being the most competent rocket scientists in the world. "As it beeped in the sky, Sputnik 1 created a crisis of confidence that swept the country like a windblown forest fire," Eisenhower's science adviser James Killian later recalled. British reporters at the Guardian Guardian warned, "We must be prepared to be told [by Russia] what the other side of the moon looks like." French journalists homed in on America's "disillusion and bitter[ness]" at the crushing s.p.a.ce-race defeat. The French underscored America's scientific shame. "The Americans have little experience with humiliation in the technical domain," read the article in warned, "We must be prepared to be told [by Russia] what the other side of the moon looks like." French journalists homed in on America's "disillusion and bitter[ness]" at the crushing s.p.a.ce-race defeat. The French underscored America's scientific shame. "The Americans have little experience with humiliation in the technical domain," read the article in Le Figaro. Le Figaro. Because members of the public had no idea about the CIA's U-2 spy plane program, they believed that with Sputnik, the Russians could now learn all of America's secrets, while America remained in the dark about theirs. For twenty-one days, Sputnik circled the Earth at a speed of 18,000 mph until its radio signal finally faded and died. Because members of the public had no idea about the CIA's U-2 spy plane program, they believed that with Sputnik, the Russians could now learn all of America's secrets, while America remained in the dark about theirs. For twenty-one days, Sputnik circled the Earth at a speed of 18,000 mph until its radio signal finally faded and died.

In deciding the best course of action, the president turned back to his science advisers. In the month following Sputnik, a new position was created for James Killian-special a.s.sistant to the president for science and technology-and for the next two years Killian would meet with the president almost every day. This became a defining moment for Richard Bissell. For as depressing as his Area 51 prospects had seemed only a month before, the news of Sputnik was, ironically for the CIA, a harbinger of good news. James Killian adored Richard Bissell; they'd been friends for over a decade. Immediately after the Russians launched Sputnik, Killian and Bissell found themselves Killian and Bissell found themselves working closely together again. Only this time, they weren't teaching economics to university students. The two men would work hand in glove to launch America's most working closely together again. Only this time, they weren't teaching economics to university students. The two men would work hand in glove to launch America's most formidable top secret billion-dollar spy plane formidable top secret billion-dollar spy plane, to be built and test-flown at Area 51. Advancing science and technology for military purposes Advancing science and technology for military purposes was now at the very top of the president's list of priorities. With James Killian on his side, Bissell inadvertently found himself in the extraordinary position of getting almost whatever he wanted from the president of the United States. And as long as what Richard Bissell built at Area 51 could humiliate the Russians and show them who was boss, this included a bottomless budget, infinite manpower, total secrecy, and ultimate control. was now at the very top of the president's list of priorities. With James Killian on his side, Bissell inadvertently found himself in the extraordinary position of getting almost whatever he wanted from the president of the United States. And as long as what Richard Bissell built at Area 51 could humiliate the Russians and show them who was boss, this included a bottomless budget, infinite manpower, total secrecy, and ultimate control.

CHAPTER SIX.

Atomic Accidents Richard Bissell once said that setting up Area 51 inside a nuclear testing facility kept the curiosity-seekers at bay. With Operation Plumbbob, a 1957 atomic test series that involved thirty consecutive nuclear explosions involved thirty consecutive nuclear explosions, he got more than he bargained for. With the arms race in full swing, the Department of Defense had decided it was just a matter of time before an airplane transporting an atomic bomb would crash airplane transporting an atomic bomb would crash on American soil, unleashing a radioactive disaster the likes of which the world had never seen. In the twenty-first century, this kind of weapon would be referred to as a dirty bomb. on American soil, unleashing a radioactive disaster the likes of which the world had never seen. In the twenty-first century, this kind of weapon would be referred to as a dirty bomb.

The dirty bomb menace posed a growing threat to the internal security of the country, one the Pentagon wanted to make less severe by testing the nightmare scenario first. The organization needed to do this in a controlled environment, away from the urban ma.s.ses, in total secrecy. No one outside the project, absolutely no one, could know. Officials from the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project decided that the perfect place to do this was Area 51 the perfect place to do this was Area 51, inside the Dreamland airs.p.a.ce, about four or five miles northwest of Groom Lake. If the dirty bomb was set off outside the legal perimeter of the Nevada Test Site, secrecy was all but guaranteed. As far as specifics were concerned, there was an apocalyptic prerequisite the likes of which no government had ever dealt with before. Weapons testers needed "a site that could be relinquished for 20,000 years relinquished for 20,000 years."

Code-named the 57 Project, and later Project 57, the Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Air Force, and EG&G would work together to simulate an Air Force airplane crash involving an XW-25 nuclear warhead-a crash in which radioactive particles would "accidentally" be dispersed on the ground. The land around the mock crash site would be contaminated by plutonium, which, according to scientists, would take 24,100 years to decay by half. At the time, scientists had no idea what accidental plutonium dispersal in open air would do to beings and things in the element's path. The 57 Project was a test that would provide critical data to that end. There were further prerequisites, ones that had initially narrowed the possibilities of usable land to that within the Nevada Test Site. The place needed to contain "no preexisting contamination," "no preexisting contamination," to be reasonably flat, and to cover approximately fifty square miles. Ideally, it would be a dry lake valley, "preferably a site where mountain-valley drainage currents would induce large amount of shear," or flow. It had to be as far away as possible from prying eyes, but most important, it had to be a place where there was no possibility that the public could learn that officials were even considering such a catastrophic scenario, let alone preparing for one. It was decided that in press releases the 57 Project would only be referred to as to be reasonably flat, and to cover approximately fifty square miles. Ideally, it would be a dry lake valley, "preferably a site where mountain-valley drainage currents would induce large amount of shear," or flow. It had to be as far away as possible from prying eyes, but most important, it had to be a place where there was no possibility that the public could learn that officials were even considering such a catastrophic scenario, let alone preparing for one. It was decided that in press releases the 57 Project would only be referred to as "a safety test," "a safety test," nothing more. With a doctor named James Shreve Jr. in charge of things, the project had an almost wholesome ring to it. nothing more. With a doctor named James Shreve Jr. in charge of things, the project had an almost wholesome ring to it.

One dry lake bed originally considered was Papoose Lake, located six miles due south of Groom Lake, also just outside the test site. But soil samples taken by weapons planners revealed the earth there already had trace amounts of plutonium, owing to previous nuclear explosions conducted inside the test site in 1951, 1952, and 1953, five miles to the west at another dry lake bed called Frenchman Flat. Further complicating matters, Papoose Lake was the subject of contention between the Atomic Energy Commission and two local farmers, the Stewart brothers. The dispute was over eight dead cows dispute was over eight dead cows that had been grazing at Papoose Lake in March of 1953 when a twenty-four-kiloton nuclear bomb called Nancy was detonated nearby. Nancy sent radioactive fallout on livestock across the region, including those grazing at Papoose Lake. Sixteen of the Stewart brothers' horses died from acute radiation poisoning, along with their cows. that had been grazing at Papoose Lake in March of 1953 when a twenty-four-kiloton nuclear bomb called Nancy was detonated nearby. Nancy sent radioactive fallout on livestock across the region, including those grazing at Papoose Lake. Sixteen of the Stewart brothers' horses died from acute radiation poisoning, along with their cows. The commission had paid the Stewarts The commission had paid the Stewarts three hundred dollars for each dead horse but stubbornly refused to pay the men for the dead cows. Instead, a lieutenant colonel from the Army's Veterinary Corps, Bernard F. Trum, wrote a long, jargon-filled letter to the farmers stating there was "nothing to indicate that [the blast] was the actual cause of the [cows'] deaths." Instead, the commission insisted the cows' deaths were "text book cases... of vitamin-A deficiency." three hundred dollars for each dead horse but stubbornly refused to pay the men for the dead cows. Instead, a lieutenant colonel from the Army's Veterinary Corps, Bernard F. Trum, wrote a long, jargon-filled letter to the farmers stating there was "nothing to indicate that [the blast] was the actual cause of the [cows'] deaths." Instead, the commission insisted the cows' deaths were "text book cases... of vitamin-A deficiency."

Shamelessly, the commission had a second doctor, a bovine specialist with Los Alamos, to certify in writing that "Gra.s.s Tetany" or "general lack of good forage" had killed the cows, not the atomic explosion over the hill. To add insult to injury, the Atomic Energy Commission told the Stewart brothers that its Los Alamos scientists had subjected their own cows to atomic blasts in New Mexico during the original Trinity bomb test in 1945. Those cows, the commission stated, were "burnt by the radioactivity over their entire dorsum and yet have remained in excellent health for years." In essence, the commission was saying, Our nuked cows are alive; yours should be too.

The Stewart brothers remained unconvinced and requested a note of explanation they could understand. In 1957, as weapons planners were determining where to hold Project 57, the dispute remained unresolved. Fearing that any attention brought to Papoose Lake might ignite the unresolved Stewart brothers' controversy, officials crossed the Papoose Lake land parcel off the location list.

The focus narrowed to a large, flat expanse in the Groom Lake valley, the same valley where the CIA was running its U-2 program. There, to the northwest of Area 51, lay a perfect sixteen-square-mile flat parcel of land-relatively virgin territory that no one was using. A record search determined that all grazing rights to the area had been "extinguished," meaning that local farmers and ranchers were already prohibited from allowing their livestock to roam there. Then weapons-test planners made an aerial inspection of Groom Lake aerial inspection of Groom Lake. Colonel E. A. Blue joined the project's director, Dr. Shreve, in an overhead scout. In a cla.s.sified memo, the two men joked about how they spotted a herd of cows roaming around the chosen site, "60 to 80 cattle who hadn't gotten the word," "60 to 80 cattle who hadn't gotten the word," and that "somehow information must be gotten to them and their masters." Gallows humor for cows. and that "somehow information must be gotten to them and their masters." Gallows humor for cows.

A land-use deal between the Department of Defense, which controlled the area for the Air Force, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the civilian organization that controlled the test site, was struck. As it was with the rest of the loosely defined Area 51, this desired land parcel lay conveniently just outside the legal boundaries of the Nevada Test Site, to the northeast. This allowed the 57 Project to fall under the rubric of a military operation, which could a.s.sist in shielding it from official Atomic Energy Commission disclosures, the same way calling it a safety test did. Anyone with oversight regarding unsafe nuclear tests simply didn't know where to look. In the end, the land designation even allowed Project 57 to be excluded from official Nevada Test Site maps excluded from official Nevada Test Site maps. As of 2011, it still is.

In March of 1957, workers cordoned off the area in preparation for Project 57. The nuclear warhead was flown nuclear warhead was flown from Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico to the Yucca Lake airstrip at the test site and transferred to Building 11, where it would remain in storage until explosion day. Since it needed its own name for record-keeping purposes, officials decided to designate it Area 13. from Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico to the Yucca Lake airstrip at the test site and transferred to Building 11, where it would remain in storage until explosion day. Since it needed its own name for record-keeping purposes, officials decided to designate it Area 13.

Richard Mingus was tired. The twenty-four-year-old Ohio native had been working double shifts at the Sands hotel for three years and four months, ever since he returned home from the front lines of the Korean War. Newly married, Mingus and his wife, Gloria, had their first baby on the way. The Sands was the most popular spot on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the place where high rollers and partygoers went for entertainment, where they could hear the Rat Packers sing in the Copa Room. The restaurant at the Sands was a first-cla.s.s operation, with silver service delivered from over-the-shoulder trays. Richard Mingus was proud to work there. Once he even got to wait on Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher. But by the summer of 1956, the novelty of hearing celebrity singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. perform had taken a backseat to the financial uncertainty that comes with a waiter's life. When he'd learned Gloria, the light of his life, was pregnant, Mingus became elated. Then economic insecurity settled in. In addition to having a little one on the way, Mingus supported his widowed mother back east.

Looking back, Mingus reflects on that time in his life. "You can never guess what the future holds," he says. That summer, life dealt Richard and Gloria Mingus a cruel blow. Gloria delivered prematurely, and their baby died in the hospital. They were without health insurance, and the bills accompanying the tragedy left Richard Mingus overwhelmed. Gloria became despondent. "I needed a solid job. And one that came with hospital benefits," Mingus explains. "It was time for me to find a profession. So I asked one of the waiters at the Sands if he knew about anything." Mingus learned the federal government was hiring security guards. The following morning he drove over to Second Avenue and Bonanza Street to apply.

There, Mingus stood in a long line of about a hundred other applicants for what seemed like hours. The Nevada Test Site, which was a sixty-five-mile commute to the northwest, had jobs. Rumors were those jobs paid well. The atomic tests, which had begun five years earlier, in 1951, had brought tens of millions of dollars in business to the Las Vegas economy. For the most part, Las Vegas as a city had endorsed the tests because they were such an economic boon. And yet it had been more than a year since the last atomic test series, which was called Operation Teapot and which was made up of twelve nuclear bomb explosions, including one that was dropped from an airplane. Controversies about fallout, particularly debates involving strontium-90, the deadly by-product of uranium and plutonium fission, had made their way into the public domain. For a while, there was even talk among locals that the test site could get shut down. Standing in line, Mingus got the sense that closing down the test site was far from reality. And he was right-weapons planners were gearing up for the largest atomic bomb test series ever to take place in the continental United States.

Mingus stood in line for a long time. Finally, a sergeant took his fingerprints and asked him if he had any military background. When Mingus said he'd served in Korea, the sergeant nodded with approval and sent him into a separate room. Las Vegas in the 1950s was a town made up largely of gamblers, swindlers, and fortune seekers. The fact that Mingus was a former soldier with an honorable discharge made him an ideal candidate for what the government was after: good men who could qualify for a Q clearance, which was required for a job involving nuclear weapons. Mingus filled out paperwork and answered a battery of questions. In just a few hours, Mingus was, tentatively, offered a job. Exactly what the job entailed, the recruiter could not say, but it paid more than twice what the best local waiters made during a stellar night at the Sands. Most important to Mingus, the job came with health insurance-Gloria's dream. He could begin work as soon as his security clearance came in. That process could take as long as five months.

Richard Mingus had no idea that he was about to become one of the first Federal Services security guards a.s.signed to Area 51. Or that the very first nuclear test he would be asked to stand guard over would be Project 57-America's first dirty bomb.

From the first atomic explosions of Operation Crossroads, in 1946, until the Nevada Test Site opened its doors, in 1951, America tested its nuclear weapons on atolls and islands in the Pacific Ocean. There, in a vast open area roughly twice the size of the state of Texas, the Pentagon enjoyed privacy. The Marshall Islands were a million miles away from the American psyche, which made secret-keeping easy. But the Pacific Proving Ground Pacific Proving Ground was a long haul for the Pentagon in terms of moving more than ten thousand people and millions of tons of equipment back and forth from the United States for each test series. Guarding these military a.s.sets en route to the Pacific required a near-war footing. The ship carrying the nuclear material also carried the lion's share of the nation's nuclear physicists, scientists, and weapons engineers. The precious cargo required constant air cover and an escort by destroyer battleships while it was a long haul for the Pentagon in terms of moving more than ten thousand people and millions of tons of equipment back and forth from the United States for each test series. Guarding these military a.s.sets en route to the Pacific required a near-war footing. The ship carrying the nuclear material also carried the lion's share of the nation's nuclear physicists, scientists, and weapons engineers. The precious cargo required constant air cover and an escort by destroyer battleships while it made its zigzag course made its zigzag course across the ocean. When Dr. Edward Teller, the Hungarian emigre and father of the hydrogen bomb, began across the ocean. When Dr. Edward Teller, the Hungarian emigre and father of the hydrogen bomb, began arguing for an atomic bombing range arguing for an atomic bombing range in America to make things easier on everyone, there was hardly a voice of dissent from Washington. Officials at the Pentagon, the in America to make things easier on everyone, there was hardly a voice of dissent from Washington. Officials at the Pentagon, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, and the Atomic Energy Commission all agreed with Teller and began encouraging the president to authorize a continental test site.

Science requires trial and error, Dr. Teller explained. As nuclear bombs grew more powerful, as weapons went from kilotons to megatons, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were struggling with discrepancies between theoretical calculations-equations made on paper-and the actual results the weapons produced. If the Pacific Proving Ground was the Olympic stadium for nuclear bombs, the scientists needed a local gym, a place to keep in shape and try out new ideas. Nevada would be perfect, everyone agreed. It was only a two-hour plane ride away from Los Alamos in New Mexico, as compared to the weeklong journey it took to get people to the Pacific Proving Ground.

In 1950, a top secret feasibility study code-named Project Nutmeg code-named Project Nutmeg determined for President Truman that a huge area in southern Nevada, one of the least populated areas in the nation not situated on a coastline, was the most ideal place in the continental United States to test nuclear weapons. The Nevada Test and Training Range quickly became 4,687 square miles of government-controlled land. " determined for President Truman that a huge area in southern Nevada, one of the least populated areas in the nation not situated on a coastline, was the most ideal place in the continental United States to test nuclear weapons. The Nevada Test and Training Range quickly became 4,687 square miles of government-controlled land. "The optimum conditions as to meteorological, remote available land and logistics" can be found there, the study explained. Even more convenient, there was an airstrip located just seven miles from the entrance of the test site, at a government-owned airfield called Indian Springs. as to meteorological, remote available land and logistics" can be found there, the study explained. Even more convenient, there was an airstrip located just seven miles from the entrance of the test site, at a government-owned airfield called Indian Springs.

Before the Nevada Test Site was a nuclear bombing range it had been an animal sanctuary. In the 1930s, the Department of the Interior made the region a wildlife reservation. Herds of antelope and wild horses roamed the high-desert landscape with mountain lions and bighorn sheep. Kit fox and sidewinder rattlesnakes were more prevalent there than anywhere else in the country. Centuries earlier, Native Americans lived in the caves in the mountains. They left behind magnificent paintings and ornate petroglyphs on the caves' rock walls. In the mid-1800s, settlers built silver- and copper-mining camps, giving the local geography colorful names such as Skull Mountain, Indian Springs, and Jacka.s.s Flats. But by 1942, America had entered World War II, and the entire region was withdrawn from public access for War Department use. The Army set up a conventional bombing range across what would later include the Nevada Test Site, Area 51, and the Nellis Air Force Base. It was an ideal place to train aerial gunners, far from people and resplendent with flat, dry lake beds, which were perfect for target practice and for landing airplanes. After the war ended, the bombing range was closed and its buildings were allowed to deteriorate. But the Army hung on to the land rights for possible future use. That future use became clear when 1,350 acres, or about one quarter of the restricted area, was parceled off and called the Nevada Test Site. On January 27, 1951, at 5:45 a.m., an Air Force B-50D bomber dropped the first atomic bomb on U.S. soil, onto a dry lake bed called Frenchman Flat, inside the Nevada Test Site.

Edward Teller loved the closeness of Nevada and referred to the bombs being set off there as "quickie" tests. Almost immediately, a second nuclear laboratory, called the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Livermore, was created by the Atomic Energy Commission with the goal of fostering compet.i.tion the goal of fostering compet.i.tion with the Los Alamos nuclear lab. Shortly before the creation of Livermore, scientists at Los Alamos had started to challenge the military establishment regarding what the future of the nuclear bomb should or should not be. Uninterested in what the creators of the atomic bomb had to say, the Department of Defense pushed back by developing Livermore. Compet.i.tion fosters productivity; the greater the rivalry, the more intense the compet.i.tion will be. Indeed, it did not take long for a fierce compet.i.tion to develop between the two outfits, with Los Alamos and Livermore fighting for weapons contracts and feasibility-study awards. Dreaming up prototypes for new weapons was how contracts were won. Dr. Teller argued for the need to experiment with certain "boosters," like the radioactive isotope of hydrogen tritium, which could further enhance yield. If a scientist or his lab could make a strong enough case for the necessity of testing such a thing, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and the Atomic Energy Commission could easily allocate money for it. The goal was singular: get the highest-yield bombs to fit inside the smallest packages, ideally ones that could be put into the nose cone of a missile designed by Wernher Von Braun. with the Los Alamos nuclear lab. Shortly before the creation of Livermore, scientists at Los Alamos had started to challenge the military establishment regarding what the future of the nuclear bomb should or should not be. Uninterested in what the creators of the atomic bomb had to say, the Department of Defense pushed back by developing Livermore. Compet.i.tion fosters productivity; the greater the rivalry, the more intense the compet.i.tion will be. Indeed, it did not take long for a fierce compet.i.tion to develop between the two outfits, with Los Alamos and Livermore fighting for weapons contracts and feasibility-study awards. Dreaming up prototypes for new weapons was how contracts were won. Dr. Teller argued for the need to experiment with certain "boosters," like the radioactive isotope of hydrogen tritium, which could further enhance yield. If a scientist or his lab could make a strong enough case for the necessity of testing such a thing, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and the Atomic Energy Commission could easily allocate money for it. The goal was singular: get the highest-yield bombs to fit inside the smallest packages, ideally ones that could be put into the nose cone of a missile designed by Wernher Von Braun.

In five short years, from January 1951 to January 1956, a total of forty-nine nuclear bombs were exploded at the Nevada Test Site, bringing the worldwide total for atmospheric nuclear explosions by the United States to eighty-five. Which is when Richard Mingus joined the security force at the Nevada Test Site and Area 51, just in time for Operation Plumbbob, the largest, most ambitious series most ambitious series of nuclear weapons tests in the United States so far. The first test scheduled in the thirty-test Plumbbob series was Project 57. of nuclear weapons tests in the United States so far. The first test scheduled in the thirty-test Plumbbob series was Project 57.

In the flat Nevada desert, Richard Mingus took to work in top secret nuclear security like a fish to water. He loved the formal protocols and the way everything was ordered. "I developed a reputation for being tough," Mingus recalls. From the checklists to the radio codes, everything at the Nevada Test Site and at Area 51 worked with a military precision that Mingus thrived on. What others may have found monotonous, spending long hours guarding nuclear weapons in a vast desert-landscape setting, Mingus found challenging. He pa.s.sed the pistol training with flying colors. He studied the manuals with such intensity, he ended up scoring in the top 90 percent of all the trainees. His excellence earned Mingus a position as one of only five men chosen to guard the top secret base over the hill from Yucca Flat. For employees of Federal Services, Incorporated, the first thing learned was that the facility was to be referred to only as Delta site. The radio channel on which Mingus and his colleagues spoke could be heard by guards all over the test site. The code was important; it was Delta, nothing more Delta, nothing more. Mingus remembered how everything at Area 51 worked with top secret/sensitive compartmented information protocols. "Even my sergeant wasn't cleared to go over the hill to Delta. He was my superior but he didn't have a need-to-know what I was doing over there," Mingus explains. "So I was very curious the first time driving out there, looking out the window... wondering what's ahead. When we got there, it was not very fancy at all. Just an airstrip in the desert. Later, we were told the place was also called Watertown but never to use that word. Over the radio we always referred to our position at Delta, never anything else." That first day at Delta, aka Area 51, Richard Mingus and his four colleagues were met by a CIA security representative at the west-facing perimeter gate. "He drove us into the area. We went straight to the admin building, which was just a little wooden structure with a patch cord telephone system sitting there on a desk. The sergeant looked at me, pointed to a chair, and said, 'd.i.c.k, that's your post.'" A surge of intimidation swept over Mingus. "A country boy like me, I looked at the phone system and I thought, This is the hottest spot on the post, the place where all the communication from the CIA comes in. I had never used a switchboard before and I knew if I wanted to keep my job I'd have to learn real fast. As it turns out, there was plenty more time to learn. The phone almost never rang. 'Thirty-two thirty-two,' that's how I answered the telephone. There were not many calls. And when someone did call, they would almost always ask for the same person, a [generic] name like Joe Smith, the code name for the commander at the base."

At Area 51, Mingus and his colleagues rotated through four sentry posts: the administration building, the top of a seventy-five-foot water tower, and the east and west gates. The gate positions were used to control access to Area 51 by land. On more than one occasion, Mingus turned away what he calls "overly curious Air Force," individuals who "just because they had rank, they thought they should be able to come on in." Mingus denied access to anyone not badged for Area 51. "A few times things got real tense. We worked on strict orders and it was my job to keep people out." The water-tower post at the facility was used by guards to keep an eye on the sky. "We were on the lookout for a rogue helicopter or small aircraft, that type of thing," Mingus recalls. During this time, the security guards got to know many of the U-2 pilots. "They'd fly low enough over me so I could see their faces in the c.o.c.kpit. They got a kick out of flying over our security posts. They'd buzz over us and after they landed they'd always make a joke about not wanting us sleeping on the job."

Richard Mingus had been guarding Area 51 for a little over a month when the Los Alamos scientists and the EG&G engineers began their final preparations for Project 57 at Area 13. A supervisor at the Nevada Test Site asked Mingus if he was willing to work some considerable overtime for the next few weeks. He had been requested to serve as the guard to keep both Area 51 and Area 13 secure. Considerable overtime meant double-time pay, and Mingus agreed. Finally, a shot date of April 3 was chosen. Shot, Shot, Mingus quickly learned, was commission-speak for "nuclear detonation." As was required by an agreement between the Atomic Energy Commission and the State of Nevada, the Department of Defense prepared a simple statement for the press. "A highly cla.s.sified safety test [is] being conducted by Dr. James Shreve Jr., in April 1957," read the Mingus quickly learned, was commission-speak for "nuclear detonation." As was required by an agreement between the Atomic Energy Commission and the State of Nevada, the Department of Defense prepared a simple statement for the press. "A highly cla.s.sified safety test [is] being conducted by Dr. James Shreve Jr., in April 1957," read the Las Vegas Sun. Las Vegas Sun. The public had no idea the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission would be simulating an airplane crash involving an XW-25 nuclear warhead by initiating a one-point detonation with high explosives at Area 13. Neither did any of the U-2 program partic.i.p.ants living in Quonset huts just a few miles to the east. Scientists predicted the warhead would release radioactive plutonium particles, but because a test like Project 57 had never been conducted before, The public had no idea the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission would be simulating an airplane crash involving an XW-25 nuclear warhead by initiating a one-point detonation with high explosives at Area 13. Neither did any of the U-2 program partic.i.p.ants living in Quonset huts just a few miles to the east. Scientists predicted the warhead would release radioactive plutonium particles, but because a test like Project 57 had never been conducted before, scientists really had no clear idea scientists really had no clear idea of what would happen. of what would happen.

Workers set up four thousand fallout collectors around a ten-by-sixteen-square-mile block of land. These galvanized steel pans, called sticky pans, had been sprayed with tacky resin and were meant to capture samples of plutonium particles released into the air. Sixty-eight air-sampler stations equipped with millipore filter paper were spread over seventy square miles. An accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon in an urban area would be far more catastrophic than one in a remote desert area such as Groom Lake, and the Department of Defense wanted to test how city surfaces would respond to plutonium contamination, so mock-ups of sidewalks, curbs, and pavement pieces were set out in the desert landscape. Some fourteen hundred blocks of highway asphalt and wood float finish concrete were fabricated and set around on the ground. To see how automobiles would contaminate when exposed to plutonium, cars and trucks were parked among the juniper bushes and Joshua trees. As zero day got closer, Mingus saw preparations pick up. Giant air-sampling balloons were tethered to the earth and floated over Area 13 at various elevations; some were five feet off the ground and others a thousand feet up, giving things a circus feel. Nine burros, 109 beagles, 10 sheep, and 31 albino rats were put in cages and set to face the dirty bomb. EG&G's rapatronic photographic equipment would record the radioactive cloud within the first few microseconds of detonation. A wooden decontamination building was erected just a few hundred yards down from Mingus's post. It was nothing fancy, just a wooden shack " four thousand fallout collectors around a ten-by-sixteen-square-mile block of land. These galvanized steel pans, called sticky pans, had been sprayed with tacky resin and were meant to capture samples of plutonium particles released into the air. Sixty-eight air-sampler stations equipped with millipore filter paper were spread over seventy square miles. An accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon in an urban area would be far more catastrophic than one in a remote desert area such as Groom Lake, and the Department of Defense wanted to test how city surfaces would respond to plutonium contamination, so mock-ups of sidewalks, curbs, and pavement pieces were set out in the desert landscape. Some fourteen hundred blocks of highway asphalt and wood float finish concrete were fabricated and set around on the ground. To see how automobiles would contaminate when exposed to plutonium, cars and trucks were parked among the juniper bushes and Joshua trees. As zero day got closer, Mingus saw preparations pick up. Giant air-sampling balloons were tethered to the earth and floated over Area 13 at various elevations; some were five feet off the ground and others a thousand feet up, giving things a circus feel. Nine burros, 109 beagles, 10 sheep, and 31 albino rats were put in cages and set to face the dirty bomb. EG&G's rapatronic photographic equipment would record the radioactive cloud within the first few microseconds of detonation. A wooden decontamination building was erected just a few hundred yards down from Mingus's post. It was nothing fancy, just a wooden shack "stocked with radiation equipment and protective clothing, shower stalls... with a three-hundred-fifty-gallon hot-water supply and a dressing room with benches and hangers for clothes." Shortly before shot day, workers installed a "two-foot-wide wooden approach walk" and covered it with kraft paper.

Shot day came and went without the test. All nuclear detonations are subject to the weather; Mother Nature, not the Pentagon's Armed Forces Special Weapons Project officers, had final say regarding zero hour. Mother Nature's emissary Mother Nature's emissary at the test site was Harold "Hal" Mueller, a meteorologist from UCLA. In the case of Project 57, there was one weather problem after the next. It was April in the high desert, which meant heavy winds, too much rain, and thick clouds. For several days, snow threatened the skies. In the second week of April, the winds were so intense that a blimp moored twelve miles south, at Yucca Flat, crashed and deflated. On April 19, one of the at the test site was Harold "Hal" Mueller, a meteorologist from UCLA. In the case of Project 57, there was one weather problem after the next. It was April in the high desert, which meant heavy winds, too much rain, and thick clouds. For several days, snow threatened the skies. In the second week of April, the winds were so intense that a blimp moored twelve miles south, at Yucca Flat, crashed and deflated. On April 19, one of the Project 57 balloons broke loose Project 57 balloons broke loose, forcing General Starbird to issue a telegram notifying Washington, DC, of a potential public relations nightmare. The balloon had sailed away from Area 13 and was headed in the direction of downtown Las Vegas. "A twenty-three foot balloon towing two hundred feet one eighth inch steel aircraft cable escaped Area 13 at 2255 hours April 19 PD," read Starbird's terse memo. His "best estimate is that balloon will self-rupture and fall within boundaries of the Las Vegas bombing and gunnery range," and thereby go unnoticed. But General Starbird and everyone else involved knew if the balloon were to escape the test site's boundaries, the entire Plumbbob series was at risk of cancellation. Lucky for Starbird, the balloon crash-landed inside the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The concept of using balloons in nuclear tests was first used in this series. In thirteen of the thirty Plumbbob explosions scheduled to take place in spring and summer of 1957, a balloon would be carrying the nuclear device off the ground. Before balloons were used, expensive metal towers had been constructed to hold the bomb, towers that guards like Richard Mingus spent hours tossing paper airplanes from. "You needed something to keep your mind off the fact that the bomb you were standing next to was live and could flatten a city," Mingus says. To get weapons test engineers like Al O'Donnell up that high-the towers were usually three hundred, five hundred, or seven hundred feet tall-in order to wire the bomb, rudimentary elevators had to be built next to the bomb towers; these were also very expensive. A balloon shot was far more cost-effective and also produced a lot less radioactivity than vaporizing metal did. For the public, however, the safety and security of hanging nuclear bombs from balloons raised an obvious question: What if one of the balloons were to get away?

Finally, during the early-morning hours of April 24, the weather cleared and the go-ahead was given for Project 57. At 6:27 a.m., local time, the nuclear warhead in Area 13 was hand-fired by an employee from EG&G hand-fired by an employee from EG&G, simulating the plane crash without actually crashing a plane. Mingus remembers the day because "it was just a few days after Easter, as I recall. Finally a good weather day. I don't remember snow but I do remember I had to get muddy to get to my post. Area 13 was way out in the boondocks. Barely any people around because it was a military test, not AEC. There wasn't much traffic and from where I was parked in my truck, I could see a mile down the road. I remember it was cold and I had my winter coat on. No radiation-protection gear." The predicted pattern of fallout was to the north fallout was to the north. When the dust from the small radioactive cloud settled, plutonium had spread out over 895 square acres adjacent to Groom Lake. Mingus says, "It wasn't spectacular. It didn't have a big fireball. But it involved an extreme amount of radiation, which made it nasty. I remember how dirty it was."

The bomb was indeed dirty. Plutonium, if inhaled, is one of the most deadly elements known to man. Unlike other radiation that the body can handle in low dosages, such as an X-ray, one-millionth of a gram of plutonium will kill a person if it gets in his or her lungs. According to a 1982 Defense Nuclear Agency request for an uncla.s.sified "extract" of the original report "extract" of the original report, most of which remains Secret/Restricted Data, Project 57 tests confirmed for the scientists that if a person inhales plutonium "it gets distributed princ.i.p.ally in bone and remains there indefinitely as far as human life is concerned. One cannot outlive the influence because the alpha half-life of plutonium-239 the alpha half-life of plutonium-239 is of the order of 20,000 years." These findings came as a result of many tests performed on the dead burros, beagles, sheep, and albino rats that had been exposed to the dirty bomb. So why wasn't Richard Mingus dead? is of the order of 20,000 years." These findings came as a result of many tests performed on the dead burros, beagles, sheep, and albino rats that had been exposed to the dirty bomb. So why wasn't Richard Mingus dead?

The same report revealed that "air samplers indicated high airborne concentrations of respirable plutonium remarkably far downwind respirable plutonium remarkably far downwind." Plutonium is a poison of paradox. It can be touched without lethal effects. Because it emits alpha particles, the weakest form of radiation, plutonium can be blocked from entering the body by a layer of paper or a layer of skin. Equally incongruous is the fact that plutonium is not necessarily necessarily lethal if ingested. "Once in the stomach, its stay in the body is short, for [particles] are excreted as an inert material with virtually no body a.s.similation," read another report. In other words, plutonium is deadly for humans and animals only if particles reach the lower respiratory tract. lethal if ingested. "Once in the stomach, its stay in the body is short, for [particles] are excreted as an inert material with virtually no body a.s.similation," read another report. In other words, plutonium is deadly for humans and animals only if particles reach the lower respiratory tract.

Mingus never breathed any particles into his lungs as he kept watch for ten to twelve hours at a time on a desolate stretch of land between Area 13 and Area 51, guarding two of the most cla.s.sified projects in postWorld War II American history: Projects 57 and Aquatone, the U-2. As the weeks wore on and Project 57's plutonium particles settled onto the desert floor, Mingus watched men from Sandia, Reynolds Electric and Engineering Company, and EG&G go in and out of the contamination site. They'd put on face masks and seal areas on their bodies where their clothing met their skin by using household tape. They pa.s.sed by a small metal sign that read DO NOT ENTER, CONTAMINATED AREA DO NOT ENTER, CONTAMINATED AREA so they could swap out trays, feed the animals that were still alive, and remove the dead and dying ones. They replaced spent millipore paper with fresh strips and then headed back down to the laboratory and the animal morgue inside the Nevada Test Site. Meanwhile, Mingus watched overhead as the U-2 pilots made their final test flights, putting in as many flight hours as they could before their missions became real. Soon these pilots would be dispatched overseas, where they would be stationed on secret bases and fly dangerous missions that technically did not exist and that the public would not learn about for decades. so they could swap out trays, feed the animals that were still alive, and remove the dead and dying ones. They replaced spent millipore paper with fresh strips and then headed back down to the laboratory and the animal morgue inside the Nevada Test Site. Meanwhile, Mingus watched overhead as the U-2 pilots made their final test flights, putting in as many flight hours as they could before their missions became real. Soon these pilots would be dispatched overseas, where they would be stationed on secret bases and fly dangerous missions that technically did not exist and that the public would not learn about for decades.

Data obtained as a result of Project 57 confirmed for the Department of Defense what it already knew. "Plutonium has a 24,000 year half-life. It does not decay." Once plutonium embeds in soil, it tends not to move. "There are few instances of plutonium depletion with time. There is little tendency for the plutonium to change position (depth) in soil with time." Provided a person doesn't inhale plutonium particles, and provided the plutonium doesn't get into the bloodstream or the bones, a person can pa.s.s through an environment laden with plutonium and live into his eighties; Richard Mingus is a case in point.

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Area 51 Part 2 summary

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