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The captured pilots became a purposeful part of Communist propaganda campaigns against the West. The POWs were beaten, tortured, chained, and dragged out in front of cameras, often forced to denounce the United States. If the Communists wanted to create unrest at home, which they did, they succeeded by using captured pilots for their own propaganda gains. All across America, opposition to the war was on the rise. The White House and the Pentagon fought back with propaganda and erroneous facts. "We are beginning to win this struggle," Vice President Hubert Humphrey boasted on NBC's Today Today show in November of 1967. While closed-door hearings for the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed that U.S. bombing campaigns were having little to no effect on winning the war, Humphrey told America that more Communists were laying down arms than picking them up. That our anti-Communist "purification" programs in Vietnam were going well. Later that same month, America's top commander, General Westmoreland, dug his own grave. He told the National Press Club that the Communists were "unable to mount a major offensive." That America might have been losing the war in 1965, but now America was winning in Vietnam. In an interview with show in November of 1967. While closed-door hearings for the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed that U.S. bombing campaigns were having little to no effect on winning the war, Humphrey told America that more Communists were laying down arms than picking them up. That our anti-Communist "purification" programs in Vietnam were going well. Later that same month, America's top commander, General Westmoreland, dug his own grave. He told the National Press Club that the Communists were "unable to mount a major offensive." That America might have been losing the war in 1965, but now America was winning in Vietnam. In an interview with Time Time magazine, Westmoreland taunted the Communists by calling them weak. magazine, Westmoreland taunted the Communists by calling them weak. "I hope they try something because we are looking for a fight," "I hope they try something because we are looking for a fight," he declared. Which is exactly what he got. At the end of January, the Communists pretended to agree to a three-day cease-fire to celebrate the new year, which in Vietnamese is called Tet Nguyen Dan. Instead, it was a double-cross. On January 31, 1968, the Communists launched a surprise attack on the U.S. military and the forces of South Vietnam. The notorious Tet Offensive stunned the Pentagon. It also resulted in violent antiwar protests. The Tet Offensive was a major turning point in America's losing the Vietnam War. he declared. Which is exactly what he got. At the end of January, the Communists pretended to agree to a three-day cease-fire to celebrate the new year, which in Vietnamese is called Tet Nguyen Dan. Instead, it was a double-cross. On January 31, 1968, the Communists launched a surprise attack on the U.S. military and the forces of South Vietnam. The notorious Tet Offensive stunned the Pentagon. It also resulted in violent antiwar protests. The Tet Offensive was a major turning point in America's losing the Vietnam War.

It was at this same time that another major crisis occurred, one in which Oxcart played a secret role, the precise details of which were only made public in 2007. On the foggy morning of January 23, 1968, approximately two thousand miles to the northeast of Vietnam, the U.S. Navy ship USS Pueblo Pueblo sailed into icy waters off the coast of North Korea and dropped anchor. The sailed into icy waters off the coast of North Korea and dropped anchor. The Pueblo Pueblo's cover story was that it was conducting scientific research; really, it was on an espionage mission it was on an espionage mission, a joint NSA-Navy operation with the goal of gathering signals intelligence, or SIGINT. In addition to the regular crew, there were twenty-eight signals intelligence specialists working behind locked doors in a separate and restricted part of the vessel. Parked 15.8 miles off North Korea's Ung-do Island, technically the Pueblo Pueblo was floating in international waters. was floating in international waters.

North Korea's Communist regime did not see it that way. The ship was close enough to be eavesdropping on Wonson harbor, which made it an open target for the North Korean People's Army, the KPA. After one of the Pueblo Pueblo's crew members picked up on radar that a KPA ship was approaching fast, Pueblo Pueblo's captain, Lloyd M. Bucher, went up to the bridge to have a look around. Through his binoculars, Bucher saw not just a military ship but one with its rocket launchers aimed directly at the Pueblo. Pueblo. Bucher ordered certain flags to be raised, ones that indicated the USS Bucher ordered certain flags to be raised, ones that indicated the USS Pueblo Pueblo was on a surveying mission, something the North Koreans obviously already did not buy. Within minutes, Chief Warrant Officer Gene Lacy spotted several small vessels on the horizon: torpedo boats coming from Wonson. Next, was on a surveying mission, something the North Koreans obviously already did not buy. Within minutes, Chief Warrant Officer Gene Lacy spotted several small vessels on the horizon: torpedo boats coming from Wonson. Next, two MiG-21 fighter jets appeared on the scene two MiG-21 fighter jets appeared on the scene.

Captain Bucher now had a national security nightmare on his hands. His boat was filled with thousands of cla.s.sified papers, cryptographic manuals, and encryption machines. Most significantly, the Pueblo Pueblo carried a KW-7 cipher machine, which was the veritable Rosetta stone of naval encryption. carried a KW-7 cipher machine, which was the veritable Rosetta stone of naval encryption. The captain considered sinking his ship The captain considered sinking his ship, which would take forty-seven minutes, but later explained that he knew if he had done so a gun battle was certain to ensue. Most of the Pueblo Pueblo's life rafts would be shot at and destroyed. Without life rafts, the men would die in the icy waters in a matter of minutes, Bucher was certain. He made the decision to flee.

The North Korean ship raised a flag that signaled "Heave to or I will open fire on you." Captain Bucher raised a signal flag in response: "Thank you for your consideration. I am departing the area." But the North Koreans opened fire. Bucher himself was. .h.i.t, taking shrapnel in his foot and backside. As the Pueblo Pueblo took off, the North Koreans continued to fire, killing a U.S. sailor named Duane Hodges. Meanwhile, behind the secret door, SIGINT specialists smashed cipher equipment with axes and shoved doc.u.ments into a small incinerator there. Despite the speed at which the a.n.a.lysts worked to burn the secret papers, took off, the North Koreans continued to fire, killing a U.S. sailor named Duane Hodges. Meanwhile, behind the secret door, SIGINT specialists smashed cipher equipment with axes and shoved doc.u.ments into a small incinerator there. Despite the speed at which the a.n.a.lysts worked to burn the secret papers, 90 percent of the doc.u.ments survived 90 percent of the doc.u.ments survived. Sixty-one minutes after being shot, Captain Bucher was no longer in control of his ship. The North Korean People's Army stormed the Pueblo Pueblo and took the captain and his eighty-two crew members hostage. For the first time in 160 years, an American vessel had been seized by a foreign nation. The timing could not have been worse. America was already losing one war. and took the captain and his eighty-two crew members hostage. For the first time in 160 years, an American vessel had been seized by a foreign nation. The timing could not have been worse. America was already losing one war.

President Johnson was outraged. Within hours of the Pueblo Pueblo's capture, the Pentagon began secretly preparing for war Pentagon began secretly preparing for war against North Korea. The following day, McNamara summoned the war council to lay out plans for a ground attack. "Our primary objective is to get the men of the against North Korea. The following day, McNamara summoned the war council to lay out plans for a ground attack. "Our primary objective is to get the men of the Pueblo Pueblo back," McNamara said, emphasizing just how secret his plan was to remain: "No word of the discussion in this meeting should go beyond this room." A stunning air attack over North Korea was laid out. An estimated fifteen thousand tons of bombs would be dropped from the air to complement the ground a.s.sault. Given the huge numbers of soldiers and airmen fighting in Vietnam, the war with North Korea would require a call-up of the reserves. A ma.s.sive U.S. strategic airlift was set in motion, designated Operation Combat Fox. That the North Vietnamese were just six days from launching the sneak attack called the Tet Offensive was not yet known. A war with North Korea over the USS back," McNamara said, emphasizing just how secret his plan was to remain: "No word of the discussion in this meeting should go beyond this room." A stunning air attack over North Korea was laid out. An estimated fifteen thousand tons of bombs would be dropped from the air to complement the ground a.s.sault. Given the huge numbers of soldiers and airmen fighting in Vietnam, the war with North Korea would require a call-up of the reserves. A ma.s.sive U.S. strategic airlift was set in motion, designated Operation Combat Fox. That the North Vietnamese were just six days from launching the sneak attack called the Tet Offensive was not yet known. A war with North Korea over the USS Pueblo Pueblo would have been a war America could ill afford. would have been a war America could ill afford.

Richard Helms suggested an Oxcart be dispatched from nearby Kadena to photograph North Korea's coast and try to locate the USS Pueblo Pueblo before anyone even considered making a next move. As it stood, immediately after the before anyone even considered making a next move. As it stood, immediately after the Pueblo Pueblo's capture, there was no intelligence indicating exactly where the sailors were or where the ship was being held. Richard Helms counseled the president that if the goal was to get the eighty-two American sailors back, a ground attack or air attack couldn't possibly achieve that end if no one knew where the USS Pueblo Pueblo was. A reconnaissance mission would also enable the Pentagon to see if Pyongyang was mobilizing its troops for war over the event. Most important of all, it would give the crisis a necessary diplomatic pause. was. A reconnaissance mission would also enable the Pentagon to see if Pyongyang was mobilizing its troops for war over the event. Most important of all, it would give the crisis a necessary diplomatic pause.

Three days after the Pueblo Pueblo's capture, on January 26, Oxcart pilot Jack Weeks was dispatched on a sortie from Kadena to locate the missing ship. From the photographs Weeks took on that overflight, the United States pinpointed the pinpointed the Pueblo Pueblo's exact location as it floated in the dark-watered harbor in Changjahwan Bay. Before completing his mission but after taking the necessary photographs, Jack Weeks experienced aircraft problems. When he got back to base, as it floated in the dark-watered harbor in Changjahwan Bay. Before completing his mission but after taking the necessary photographs, Jack Weeks experienced aircraft problems. When he got back to base, he told his fellow pilots about the problems he told his fellow pilots about the problems he'd had on the flight but not about his photographic success; detailed information regarding the USS he'd had on the flight but not about his photographic success; detailed information regarding the USS Pueblo Pueblo was so highly cla.s.sified, was so highly cla.s.sified, very few individuals had any idea very few individuals had any idea that Weeks's mission had delivered photographs that had prevented war with North Korea. that Weeks's mission had delivered photographs that had prevented war with North Korea.

"The [Oxcart] quickly located the captured Pueblo Pueblo at anchor in Wonson harbor," President Johnson's national security adviser Walt Rostow revealed in 1994. " at anchor in Wonson harbor," President Johnson's national security adviser Walt Rostow revealed in 1994. "So we had to abandon any plans to hit them with airpower. All that would accomplish would be to kill a lot of people including our own. But the [Oxcart's] photo take provided proof that our ship and our men were being held. The Koreans couldn't lie about that." The Pentagon's secret war plan against North Korea was called off. Instead, negotiations for the sailors' return began. But the ever-suspicious administration, now deeply embroiled in political fallout from the Tet Offensive, worried the Pueblo Pueblo incident could very well be another Communist double cross. What if North Korea was secretly mobilizing its troops for war? Three and a half weeks later, on February 19, 1968, Frank incident could very well be another Communist double cross. What if North Korea was secretly mobilizing its troops for war? Three and a half weeks later, on February 19, 1968, Frank Murray was a.s.signed to fly Oxcart's second mission over North Korea Murray was a.s.signed to fly Oxcart's second mission over North Korea. Murray's photographs indicated that North Korea's army was still not mobilizing for battle. But by then, the Pueblo Pueblo was on its way to Pyongyang, where it remains today-the only American naval vessel held in captivity by a foreign power. Captain Bucher and his men were prisoners of North Korea for eleven months, tortured, put through mock executions, and made to confess espionage before finally being released. In 2008, was on its way to Pyongyang, where it remains today-the only American naval vessel held in captivity by a foreign power. Captain Bucher and his men were prisoners of North Korea for eleven months, tortured, put through mock executions, and made to confess espionage before finally being released. In 2008, a U.S. federal judge determined a U.S. federal judge determined that North Korea should pay sixty-five million dollars in damages to several of the that North Korea should pay sixty-five million dollars in damages to several of the Pueblo Pueblo's crew, but North Korea has yet to respond.

A year had pa.s.sed since Black Shield began. It was springtime on Kadena again. On days off Ken Collins and fellow pilot Jack Weeks would slip into their canvas shoes and swimming trunks and head out to the beach. The drive into the countryside was beautiful and relaxing, with its tropical bamboo forests and small ponds. Camellias and j.a.panese apricot trees were in bloom. There were beautiful sunsets to watch There were beautiful sunsets to watch over the East China Sea. "We had a different rapport, Jack and I, than the other pilots, I think. We did more than just get along. Jack Weeks and I became friends," Collins says. over the East China Sea. "We had a different rapport, Jack and I, than the other pilots, I think. We did more than just get along. Jack Weeks and I became friends," Collins says.

When the two pilots weren't at the beach, Collins and Weeks would take the 1129th Special Activities Squadron staff car, "an old clunker of a station wagon," and head into Kozu, a sprawling little city of cement-block high-rises and crooked telephone poles. "Jack and I had kids who were about the same age. We'd head into Kozu and buy these little plastic airplanes and remote-control tank models which we intended to bring home to our kids. But sometimes we'd get bored back in Morgan Manor and open up the toy packages and end up making the little tank models for ourselves," Collins recalls. "We had a lot of fun doing that." Life's simple pleasures during the Vietnam War.

The Agency's six Oxcart pilots-Mele Vojvodich Jr., Jack W. Weeks, J. "Frank" Murray, Ronald J. "Jack" Layton, Dennis B. Sullivan, and Kenneth B. Collins-had collectively flown twenty-nine missions collectively flown twenty-nine missions: twenty-four over North Vietnam, three over North Korea, and two over Cambodia and Laos. Countless surface-to-air missile sites had been located and destroyed as a result. Despite Pentagon fears, the photographs never located a single surface-to-surface missile able to reach American forces on the ground. "We also flew overhead during Air Force bombing raids, using our jamming systems on the bird using our jamming systems on the bird to mess with the Communists' antiaircraft systems," Murray recalls. But for all the success of the CIA's Oxcart program, the reality was that the Air Force's Blackbird, the SR-71, was finally ready to deploy. The CIA could no longer compete with the Pentagon for Mach 3 missions, and the Oxcart program reached its inevitable end. "Even if you didn't have a 'need-to-know,' it was obvious when the SR-71 Blackbirds started showing up," Collins recalls. to mess with the Communists' antiaircraft systems," Murray recalls. But for all the success of the CIA's Oxcart program, the reality was that the Air Force's Blackbird, the SR-71, was finally ready to deploy. The CIA could no longer compete with the Pentagon for Mach 3 missions, and the Oxcart program reached its inevitable end. "Even if you didn't have a 'need-to-know,' it was obvious when the SR-71 Blackbirds started showing up," Collins recalls. The Blackbirds were arriving on Kadena to take Oxcart's place The Blackbirds were arriving on Kadena to take Oxcart's place. The Air Force version of the Oxcart, with its two seats and reconnaissance/strike modifications, had officially won the battle between the CIA and the Air Force over anything with wings.

Back in Washington, behind closed doors, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told President Johnson he no longer believed the war in Vietnam could be won. This did not sit well with the president, and in February of 1968, Robert McNamara stepped down. In his place came a new secretary of defense named Clark Clifford who "reaffirmed the original decision to end the A-12 program and mothball the aircraft." The men from the 1129th began packing up to head home to Area 51. The missions were over. The drawdown phase had begun. and mothball the aircraft." The men from the 1129th began packing up to head home to Area 51. The missions were over. The drawdown phase had begun.

Jack Weeks and Denny Sullivan were each given the a.s.signment of flying an A-12 Oxcart back to Area 51; Collins was scheduled to do final engine tests from Kadena. But during the last weeks of the program, Jack Weeks became ill Jack Weeks became ill, so Collins stepped in, completing back-to-back rotations in Weeks's place. With the schedule change, it would now be Collins and Sullivan who would fly the A-12s home, with Weeks doing the final engine check, on June 4, 1968, and not Collins, as originally planned.

Collins and Sullivan returned to Area 51 to keep up on proficiency flying in preparation for their final transcontinental flights. When it was time to return to Kadena, they flew from Groom Lake to Burbank in a Lockheed propeller plane and then took a commercial flight from the West Coast all the way to Tokyo. "That night, we had dinner in the Tokyo Hilton," Collins remembers. "We finished up dinner and were heading back up to the rooms when we heard on the radio that Bobby Kennedy had been a.s.sa.s.sinated in Los Angeles." Stunned, Collins went downstairs to buy a newspaper, the English-language version of the Tokyo Times. Tokyo Times. "There, in the lower right-hand corner of the paper, a small article caught my eye. The headline read something like 'High-Alt.i.tude Crash of a U.S. Air Force Airplane.' Well, that was enough to get my attention. I had a terrible feeling I knew what 'high-alt.i.tude' meant." "There, in the lower right-hand corner of the paper, a small article caught my eye. The headline read something like 'High-Alt.i.tude Crash of a U.S. Air Force Airplane.' Well, that was enough to get my attention. I had a terrible feeling I knew what 'high-alt.i.tude' meant."

The following day, Collins and Sullivan flew to the island of Kadena. An Agency driver picked them up at the airport. As soon as the door shut and the men were alone, the driver turned around and said solemnly, "We lost an airplane."

"We lost a pilot," Collins said.

It was former U-2 pilot Tony Bevacqua who was a.s.signed to fly the search mission for Jack Weeks and his missing airplane. After Bevacqua had left Groom Lake After Bevacqua had left Groom Lake, in 1957, he'd spent the next eight years flying dangerous U-2 reconnaissance missions and atomic sampling missions all over the world, from Alaska to Argentina. During the Vietnam War, Bevacqua flew SR-71 reconnaissance missions over Hanoi. (On one mission, on July 26, 1968 mission, on July 26, 1968, the photographs taken from the camera on his Blackbird show two SA-2 missiles being fired up at him.) But no single mission would stay with him into old age like the mission he was asked to fly on June 5, 1968, looking for Jack Weeks.

Bevacqua had arrived on Kadena the month before, having been selected to fly the Air Force version of the Oxcart, the SR-71. "All I had been told that day was that someone was missing," Bevacqua remembers. "I didn't have a need to know more. But I think I knew that the pilot was CIA." The downed pilot, he learned, might be floating somewhere in the South China Sea, approximately 520 miles east of the Philippines and 625 miles south of Okinawa. "As I set out, my heart was pumped up and I was thinking, Maybe I will find this guy. I remember antic.i.p.ation. Hopeful antic.i.p.ation of maybe seeing a little yellow life raft floating somewhere in that giant sea." Instead, Bevacqua saw nothing but hundreds of miles of open water. "It was like looking for a drop of water in the ocean," Bevacqua remembers. The day after the mission, Bevacqua went to the photo interpreters to ask if they'd found anything on the film. "They said, 'No, sorry. Not a thing.' And that was the end of that," Bevacqua explains.

Jack Weeks was gone. Vanished into the sea. Neither his body nor any part of the airplane was ever recovered. "Fate is a hunter," Collins muses, recalling the destiny of his friend Jack Weeks. "I was supposed to be flying that aircraft that day but Jack got sick and we switched in the rotation. Jack Weeks went down. I'm still here."

The 1129th Special Activities Squadron had reached its end. The CIA held a special secret ceremony at Area 51 The CIA held a special secret ceremony at Area 51 for the remaining Oxcart pilots and their wives. Some of the pilots had their pictures taken with the aircraft but did not receive copies for their sc.r.a.pbooks or walls. "The pictures went into a vault," says Colonel Slater. "We were told we could have copies of them when, or if, the project got decla.s.sified." Roger Andersen recalls how quickly the operation rolled up. "By that time, in 1968, there were a lot of other operations going on at Area 51, none of which I had a need-to-know." Andersen had the distinction of flying the last Project Oxcart support plane, a T-33, back to Edwards Air Force Base. "Flying out of Area 51, I knew I'd miss it up there," Andersen says. "Even after all these years, and having lived all over the world, I can say that Area 51 is unlike anywhere else in the world." For certain, there would be no more barrel rolls with Colonel Slater over Groom Lake. for the remaining Oxcart pilots and their wives. Some of the pilots had their pictures taken with the aircraft but did not receive copies for their sc.r.a.pbooks or walls. "The pictures went into a vault," says Colonel Slater. "We were told we could have copies of them when, or if, the project got decla.s.sified." Roger Andersen recalls how quickly the operation rolled up. "By that time, in 1968, there were a lot of other operations going on at Area 51, none of which I had a need-to-know." Andersen had the distinction of flying the last Project Oxcart support plane, a T-33, back to Edwards Air Force Base. "Flying out of Area 51, I knew I'd miss it up there," Andersen says. "Even after all these years, and having lived all over the world, I can say that Area 51 is unlike anywhere else in the world." For certain, there would be no more barrel rolls with Colonel Slater over Groom Lake.

The men moved on. If you are career Air Force or CIA, you go where you are a.s.signed. Ken Collins was recruited by the Air Force into the SR-71 program. Because the A-12 program was cla.s.sified, no one in the SR-71 program had any idea Collins had already put in hundreds of hours flying in the Mach 3 airplane. "It left many in the SR-71 program confused. It surprised many people when it appeared I already knew how to fly the aircraft that was supposedly just built. They didn't have a need-to-know what I had spent the last six years of my life doing. They didn't learn for decades," not until the Oxcart program was decla.s.sified, in 2007.

Frank Murray volunteered to fight on the ground, or at least low to the ground, in Vietnam. "During Black Shield, no one had any idea where I'd been. Quite a few people thought maybe I'd dodged the war. I decided to go back in and fly airplanes in combat in Vietnam." In November of 1970, Murray was sent to the Nakhon Phanom Air Base on the Mekong River across from Laos, where he volunteered to fly the A-1 Skyraider-a propeller-driven, single-seat airplane that was an anachronism in the jet age. "It flew about a hundred and sixty-five miles per hour at cruise," says Murray. "I went from flying the fastest airplane in the world to the slowest one. The Oxcart taxied faster than the A-1 flew." Because the Skyraider flew so slow, it was one of the easiest targets for the Vietcong. One in four Skyraiders sent on rescue missions was shot down. "We got shot at often but the Skyraider had armaments and I shot back." In his one-year tour of duty, Murray, the squadron commander, flew sixty-four combat missions. The Skyraider's most famous role was as the escort for the helicopters sent in to rescue wounded soldiers from the battlefield. "Our mission was to support the Jolly Green Giants. We pulled quite a few wounded Green Berets out of the battlefield that year."

Colonel Slater was a.s.signed to the position of vice commander of the Twentieth Tactical Fighter Wing at the Wethersfield Air Force Base in England. By all accounts, he was well on the way to becoming a general in the U.S. Air Force. Then tragedy struck. Colonel Slater's eldest daughter, Stacy, was in Sun Valley, Idaho, on her honeymoon when the private plane she was flying in with her husband struck a mountain peak and crashed. Stranded on the side of a frozen mountain for twenty-four hours, Stacy Slater Bernhardt was paralyzed from the waist down. The recovery process was going to be long and painful, and the outcome was entirely unknown. "My wife, Barbara, and I needed to be with our daughter, with our family, so I requested to be transferred back to the United States," Colonel Slater says. For Slater, a career military man, the decision was simple. "Love of country, love of family."

Back in America, and after many months, his daughter recovered with near-miraculous results (she learned to walk with crutches). Colonel Slater was a.s.signed to Edwards Air Force Base, where he began flying the Air Force's attack version of the Oxcart, the YF-12, which comes equipped to carry two 250-kiloton nuclear bombs. "I loved it," Slater says, always the optimist. "I enjoyed working for the CIA, but no matter how old I get, I will always be a fighter pilot at heart."

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

The MiGs of Area 51 To engineer something is to apply scientific and technical know-how to create an ent.i.ty from parts. To reverse engineer something is to take another manufacturer's or scientist's product apart with the specific purpose of learning how it was constructed or composed. The concept of reverse engineering is uniquely woven into Area 51 legend and lore, with conspiracy theorists claiming Area 51 engineers are reverse engineering alien s.p.a.cecraft inside the secret base. Historically, reverse engineering has played an important role at Area 51, as exemplified in formerly cla.s.sified programs, including one from the late 1960s and 1970s, to reverse engineer Russian MiGs.

It began one scorching-hot morning in August of 1966 when an Iraqi Air Force colonel named Munir Redfa Iraqi Air Force colonel named Munir Redfa climbed into his MiG-21 fighter jet at an air base in southern Iraq and headed toward Baghdad. Redfa then made a sudden turn to the west and began racing toward Jordan. Iraqi ground control notified Redfa that he was off course. climbed into his MiG-21 fighter jet at an air base in southern Iraq and headed toward Baghdad. Redfa then made a sudden turn to the west and began racing toward Jordan. Iraqi ground control notified Redfa that he was off course.

"Turn back immediately," he was told. Instead, Redfa began flying in a zigzag pattern. Recognizing this as an evasive maneuver, an Iraqi air force commander told Colonel Redfa if he didn't turn back at once he would be shot down. Defying orders, Redfa switched off his radio and began flying low to the ground. To avoid radar lock, in some places he flew as low as seven hundred and fifty feet. Once he was at alt.i.tude, he was told. Instead, Redfa began flying in a zigzag pattern. Recognizing this as an evasive maneuver, an Iraqi air force commander told Colonel Redfa if he didn't turn back at once he would be shot down. Defying orders, Redfa switched off his radio and began flying low to the ground. To avoid radar lock, in some places he flew as low as seven hundred and fifty feet. Once he was at alt.i.tude, Redfa flew over Turkey Redfa flew over Turkey, then toward the Mediterranean. But his final destination was the enemy state of Israel. There, one million U.S. dollars was waiting for him in a bank account in Tel Aviv.

Six hundred miles to the west, the head of the Israeli air force, Major General Mordechai Hod, waited anxiously for Munir Redfa's MiG to appear as a blip on his own radar screen. When it finally appeared, General Hod scrambled a group of delta-wing Mirage fighters to escort Redfa to a secret base in the Negev Desert. It was a groundbreaking event. Israel was now the first democratic nation to have in its possession a Russian-made MiG-21, the top gun fighter not just in Russia and its Communist proxies but throughout the Arab world.

The plan had been years in the making. Four years, to be exact, dating back to 1963, when Meir Amit first became head of the Mossad. Amit sat down with the Israeli air force Amit sat down with the Israeli air force and asked them what they would consider the single greatest foreign-intelligence contribution to national security. The answer was short, simple, and unanimous: bring us an MiG. The enemy air forces of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq all flew Russian MiGs. Before Redfa's defection, the Mossad had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to acquire the airplane. In one case, an Egyptian-born Armenian intelligence agent known as John Thomas was caught in the act of espionage. His punishment was death; he and several coconspirators were hanged in an Egyptian public square. and asked them what they would consider the single greatest foreign-intelligence contribution to national security. The answer was short, simple, and unanimous: bring us an MiG. The enemy air forces of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq all flew Russian MiGs. Before Redfa's defection, the Mossad had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to acquire the airplane. In one case, an Egyptian-born Armenian intelligence agent known as John Thomas was caught in the act of espionage. His punishment was death; he and several coconspirators were hanged in an Egyptian public square.

For years, Mossad searched for a possible candidate for defection. Finally, in early 1966, they found a man who fit the profile in Munir Redfa, a Syrian Christian who had previously expressed feelings of persecution as a religious minority in a squadron of Muslims. Mossad dispatched a beautiful female intelligence agent to Baghdad on a mission. The agent worked the romance angle first, luring Redfa to Paris with the promise of s.e.x. There, she told Redfa the truth about what she was after. In return for an Iraqi air force MiG, Redfa would be paid a million dollars and given a new ident.i.ty and a safe haven for himself and his family. Redfa agreed.

With an MiG now in their possession, the Israelis set to work understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the aircraft in flight. If it ever came to war, the Israelis would be uniquely prepared for air combat. Which is exactly what happened in June of 1967. What Israel learned from Munir Redfa's MiG ultimately allowed them to overpower the combined air forces of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan during the Six-Day War.

Back in Washington, CIA chief Richard Helms was briefed on Redfa's story by James Jesus Angleton James Jesus Angleton, the man running the CIA station in Tel Aviv. Angleton was a Harvard- and Yale-educated intelligence officer who had been in the espionage business for twenty-five years. Angleton, who died in 1987, remains one of the Agency's most enigmatic and bellicose spies Agency's most enigmatic and bellicose spies. He is famous within the Agency for many things, among them his idea that the Soviet propaganda machine worked 24-7 to create an ever-widening "wilderness of mirrors." "wilderness of mirrors." This wilderness, Angleton said, was the product of a myriad of KGB deceptions and stratagems that would one day ensnare, confuse, and overpower the West. Angleton believed that the Soviets could manipulate the CIA into believing false information was true and true information was false. The CIA's inability to discern the truth inside a forest of Soviet disinformation would be America's downfall, Angleton said. This wilderness, Angleton said, was the product of a myriad of KGB deceptions and stratagems that would one day ensnare, confuse, and overpower the West. Angleton believed that the Soviets could manipulate the CIA into believing false information was true and true information was false. The CIA's inability to discern the truth inside a forest of Soviet disinformation would be America's downfall, Angleton said.

James Jesus Angleton allegedly had as many enemies inside the Agency as inside the KGB, but Richard Helms trusted him. Helms and Angleton had known each other since World War II, when they worked in the OSS counterintelligence unit, X-2 when they worked in the OSS counterintelligence unit, X-2. In the 1960s, in addition to acting as the liaison between the CIA and the FBI, Angleton controlled the Israeli "account," which meant he provided Helms with almost everything Helms knew about Israel.

During the course of negotiating the deal to get the MiG, the details of which remain cla.s.sified, Angleton acquired additional information regarding Israel that he provided to Helms, and that Helms provided to the president. This included seemingly prophetic information about the Six-Day War before the Six-Day War began. The Israelis had been telling the State Department that they were in great danger from their Middle East neighbors when really, Helms explained to the president, Israel had the tactical advantage. Israel was playing the weak card in the hope of winning American military support. Helms also said that he'd recently met with a senior Israeli official whose visit he saw as "a clear portent that war might come at any time." Coupled with Angleton's a.s.sessment, Helms said this meant most likely in a matter of days. When Israel launched an attack three days later, Helms's status with President Johnson Helms's status with President Johnson went through the roof. "The subsequent accuracy of this prediction established Helms's reputation in the Johnson White House," wrote a CIA historian. went through the roof. "The subsequent accuracy of this prediction established Helms's reputation in the Johnson White House," wrote a CIA historian.

The story of Redfa's defection made international headlines when it happened, in 1966. But what didn't make the news But what didn't make the news was what happened once Israel finished with the MiG: the Soviet-made fighter was shipped to Area 51. Colonel Slater, who was commander of Area 51 at the time, remembers how "it arrived in the middle of the night, hidden inside a C-130 [cargo plane], hand-delivered by Israeli intelligence agents." What had been a major coup for Israel was now an equally huge break for the United States. To the Israelis, the MiG was the most dangerous fighter in the Arab world. To the Americans, this was the deadly little aircraft that had been shooting down so many American fighter pilots over Vietnam. The Russians had been supplying the North Vietnamese with MiG-21 aircraft and MiG pilot training as well. Now, with an MiG at Area 51, Agency engineers once again had high-value foreign technology in their hands. "We could finally learn how to beat the MiG in air-to-air combat," Colonel Slater explains. was what happened once Israel finished with the MiG: the Soviet-made fighter was shipped to Area 51. Colonel Slater, who was commander of Area 51 at the time, remembers how "it arrived in the middle of the night, hidden inside a C-130 [cargo plane], hand-delivered by Israeli intelligence agents." What had been a major coup for Israel was now an equally huge break for the United States. To the Israelis, the MiG was the most dangerous fighter in the Arab world. To the Americans, this was the deadly little aircraft that had been shooting down so many American fighter pilots over Vietnam. The Russians had been supplying the North Vietnamese with MiG-21 aircraft and MiG pilot training as well. Now, with an MiG at Area 51, Agency engineers once again had high-value foreign technology in their hands. "We could finally learn how to beat the MiG in air-to-air combat," Colonel Slater explains.

The path to Area 51 is different for everyone. For T. D. Barnes it began in 1962 when the CIA wanted him to go to Vietnam to be an "adviser" there. Barnes was just back from Bamburg, Germany, where he'd been deployed during the Berlin Wall crisis, tasked with running Hawk missile sites along the border with Czechoslovakia. It had been two years since he'd worked on the CIA's Project Palladium out of Fort Bliss.

"I said I'd go work for the Agency. But I had this dream of becoming an Army officer, which meant going through officer training school first. The Agency and the Army agreed and sent me to officer school." There, during survival training Barnes ripped open his knees and got a rare blood disease. "It just about nearly killed me. I was never going to do combat. I'm lucky I didn't die," says Barnes. He recovered but because of the blood disability, he couldn't go to Vietnam for the CIA. This also meant that after ten years of service, his military career was over. Barnes and his wife, Doris, moved home to Oklahoma and bought a house there with a yard for their two little girls, and one day when Doris was reading the cla.s.sified Doris was reading the cla.s.sified section of the local newspaper, she found an advertis.e.m.e.nt of interest. "A contractor called Unitech was looking for telemetry and radar specialists that could work on a project involving s.p.a.ce," Barnes recalls. section of the local newspaper, she found an advertis.e.m.e.nt of interest. "A contractor called Unitech was looking for telemetry and radar specialists that could work on a project involving s.p.a.ce," Barnes recalls.

Barnes figured Unitech was harvesting resumes. "Getting a list of people who might be qualified to work on a highly specialized kind of a project if a contract were to materialize with, say, NASA down the road." Barnes told Doris it wasn't worth the phone call. Doris said to call anyway. "Within two days our house was on the market, we were packed up, and we were traveling to this little one-horse town in the Mojave Desert called Beatty." Beatty, Nevada. Population somewhere around 426, depending on who wants to know.

In 1964, Beatty, Nevada, was one strange town Beatty, Nevada, was one strange town. Situated 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, it lay on a strip of land between Death Valley and Nevada's atomic bomb range. Beatty had one sheriff-he was eighty years old, was a great shot with a rifle, and was missing most of his teeth. Beatty also had nine gas stations, eleven churches, an airstrip, and a wh.o.r.ehouse called the Vicky Star Ranch. Behind the facade, Beatty housed a collection of three- and four-letter federal agencies, many of which were working different angles on various overt and covert operations there. "n.o.body knew what anybody else in Beatty was really doing there and since you didn't have a need-to-know you didn't ask," recalls Barnes. Forty-five years later he still hadn't "figured out what the service stations or the churches were a cover for."

How Beatty worked and who was running whom left much to the imagination. "When Doris and I drove into town that first day," Barnes recalls, "we pulled up to the service station to get some gas. One of the town characters, a semi-homeless person everyone called Panamint Annie, walked up to us and leaned against our car. She looked at me-it was summer-and she said, 'Well, it's hotter than h.e.l.l's hubs, now isn't it, Barnes?' I thought, How the h.e.l.l does she know my last name?" Technically, Barnes had been recruited by Unitech. It turned out they had a contract with the National Aeronautics and s.p.a.ce Administration, or NASA, after all. "But there were lots of other agencies in Beatty who were working in the dark," Barnes says. "Unitech was the sign on the door."

America's s.p.a.ce agency set up shop in Beatty in the mid-1960s in order to develop programs that would help get man to the moon. But before NASA landed on Earth's nearest celestial body, they had to conquer s.p.a.ce, and to do so, they needed help from the U.S. Air Force. And before NASA conquered s.p.a.ce, they had to get to the edge of s.p.a.ce, which was why Barnes was in Beatty. He was hired to work on NASA's X-15 rocket plane, a prototype research vehicle that looked and acted more like a missile with wings than an airplane. Each day, Barnes got picked up for work by a NASA employee named Bill Houck, who drove a federal van around town and made a total of ten stops to retrieve all the members of the secret team. They would drive out to the edge of town and begin the short trek to the top of a chaparral-covered mountain where one hangar that was roughly the size of a tennis court, three trailers, and a number of radar dishes made up the NASA high-range tracking station at Beatty. Day after day, the ten-man crew of electronics and radar wizards manned state-of-the-art electronic systems, tracking the X-15 as it raced across the skies above the Mojave, from the Dryden Flight Research Center in California up toward the edge of s.p.a.ce. Once, the airplane was forced to make an emergency landing on a dry lake bed not far from Beatty. There was a rule prohibiting transport trucks to haul cargo through Death Valley after dark on weekends, which meant the X-15 rocket had to spend the night in Barnes's driveway. His daughters, ages five and eight, spent the weekend running circles around the James Bondlooking rocket ship parked out front cheering "Daddy's s.p.a.ceship!" "Daddy's s.p.a.ceship!" No one else in Beatty said a thing. No one else in Beatty said a thing.

To get into the air, the X-15 was jettisoned off a B-52 mother ship, after which its rocket engine would launch it into the atmosphere like a missile until it reached the edge of s.p.a.ce. Touching the tip of s.p.a.ce, the X-15 would then turn around and "fly" home, getting up to speeds of Mach 6. That kind of speed made for an incredibly b.u.mpy ride. In a matter of months, Barnes became a hypersonic-flight-support expert. He monitored many things, including telemetry, and was always amazed watching how each of the pilots responded differently to physical stress. "We knew more about what was going on with the pilots' bodies than the pilots knew themselves. From Beatty, we monitored everything. Their heart rates, their pulse, and also everything going on with the pilot and the plane." In case of an accident, NASA had emergency crews set up across California, Nevada, and Utah on various dry lake beds where the X-15 could land if need be where the X-15 could land if need be. One of those lake beds was Groom Lake. Barnes says, "From watching my radars, I knew something was going on over there at Groom. I could see things on my radar I wasn't supposed to see. One of those 'things' went really, really fast. Later, when I was briefed on Oxcart, I figured out what I had been watching. But at the time, I didn't have a need-to-know so I didn't say anything about what I saw at Groom Lake and n.o.body asked."

The X-15 was an exciting and fast-paced project to work on, with groundbreaking missions happening twice a week. As it was with so many of the early projects involving high-speed and high-alt.i.tude flight, many different agencies were involved in the program, not just NASA. The Air Force funded a large part of the program. The CIA didn't care about s.p.a.ce travel but they were very interested in the ram-jet technology on the X-15, something they had wanted to use on their own D-21 drone. "Everyone monitored each other, technology-wise," Barnes says. To keep the various parties in the loop, there was a designated radio network set up for everyone involved in the project. "There were people from Vandenberg Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, Dryden, and CIA monitoring what was going on all day long."

Even though he was only twenty-seven years old, Barnes was the most senior radar specialist in Beatty. And almost immediately he noticed there seemed to be a major problem with the radar. "We tracked the X-15 with radar stations at Edwards, in California, and at Ely, in Nevada. My radar in Beatty was fine but I noticed there was a problem at Edwards and Ely. When the X-15 was parked on the tarmac at either place, the radars there read that it was at an alt.i.tude of two thousand feet instead of being on the ground."

Barnes got on the radio channel and told mission control at the Dryden Flight Research Center about the problem. Dryden blamed it on the radar at Beatty, even though Barnes's radar agreed with the airplane's. Over the radio network, Barnes argued his point. The site manager in Beatty was horrified that Barnes dared to challenge his superiors and shot Barnes a dirty look. and told mission control at the Dryden Flight Research Center about the problem. Dryden blamed it on the radar at Beatty, even though Barnes's radar agreed with the airplane's. Over the radio network, Barnes argued his point. The site manager in Beatty was horrified that Barnes dared to challenge his superiors and shot Barnes a dirty look. Back down, Back down, he mouthed silently. Barnes complied. But just a few weeks later, when he learned that the X-15 was going through a fitting and there weren't going to be any flights for three weeks, Barnes seized the moment. "Now would be a good time to fix your radar problem," Barnes said into the radio network. There were dozens of senior officials listening in. "There was silence on the channel," Barnes remembers. "My site manager whirled around on his chair and glared at me. 'You're on your own, Barnes,' he said. Another one of the other guys, Bill Houck, leaned over to my station, gave me a big old grin and a thumbs-up. But Dryden still wouldn't listen to me. They said the problem was inherent to the radar. That it couldn't be fixed." he mouthed silently. Barnes complied. But just a few weeks later, when he learned that the X-15 was going through a fitting and there weren't going to be any flights for three weeks, Barnes seized the moment. "Now would be a good time to fix your radar problem," Barnes said into the radio network. There were dozens of senior officials listening in. "There was silence on the channel," Barnes remembers. "My site manager whirled around on his chair and glared at me. 'You're on your own, Barnes,' he said. Another one of the other guys, Bill Houck, leaned over to my station, gave me a big old grin and a thumbs-up. But Dryden still wouldn't listen to me. They said the problem was inherent to the radar. That it couldn't be fixed."

By now, Barnes had gotten friendly with the X-15 pilots. Even though they had never met in person, a great rapport had developed between them; understandable, given how much time they spent communicating on headset during flights. Barnes cared about the pilots' safety more than he cared about what his site manager perceived to be insubordination on his part. So Barnes told Dryden exactly what he believed was true. "I've been in radar long enough to know there's no such thing as an inherent problem in radar," Barnes said. "I agree with the airplane. If you don't fix your radar, you're gonna kill one of the pilots one of these days."

There was a deathly silence on the network. Back at Dryden, the communication had been overheard by the pilots who were in the pilots' lounge. X-15 pilot "Joe Walker got on a headset and said, 'Effective immediately, there will be no X-15 flights until the radar problem is fixed.'" Now Dryden had no choice but to get on it. First, they flew up to the Beatty tracking station in a T-33, where they flew calibration flights to compare radar data with the airplane's altimeter. At Ely, they did the same thing. Barnes was right. The radar at Beatty was correct. Though both agreed with their data, the Dryden Flight Research Center and the Ely tracking station were off by two thousand feet. The radars were torn down and rea.s.sembled, to no avail. It was finally discovered that they were vintage radars, left over from World War II, and they had never been retrofitted with the field modification the way the radar at Beatty had. Unitech got a huge Christmas bonus, and no one got killed.

Of major significance for Barnes was that somewhere off in the black operations ether a man named John Grace had been listening as the whole scenario went down. John Grace worked for the CIA, and Barnes's name rang a bell. Grace asked his staff to look into this Barnes character, the man whose unique confidence in radar had wound up saving the day. Grace wanted to get Barnes hired for a project that would be coming to Groom Lake-something that even Barnes had been in the dark on back then.

Working at Beatty meant running multiple jobs, and there was a second aircraft Barnes was in charge of tracking-the XB-70. This experimental program was all that remained of General LeMay's once-beloved B-70 bomber now that it had been canceled by Congress, despite four billion dollars invested. The X X in front of in front of B-70 B-70 indicated that the bomber was now an experimental test bed for supersonic transport. It was a behemoth of an airplane, the fastest-flying six-engined aircraft in the world. On June 8, 1966, the mission for the day was a photo op with the XB-70 as the centerpiece. An F-4, an F-5, a T-38, and an F-104 would fly in formation alongside. Barnes was in charge of monitoring telemetry, radar, and communications from the Beatty tracking station. "General Electrics had built the engines on all six airplanes flying that day," Barnes says. "They wanted a photograph of all their aircraft flying in a tight formation for the cover of their shareholders' meeting manual that year." indicated that the bomber was now an experimental test bed for supersonic transport. It was a behemoth of an airplane, the fastest-flying six-engined aircraft in the world. On June 8, 1966, the mission for the day was a photo op with the XB-70 as the centerpiece. An F-4, an F-5, a T-38, and an F-104 would fly in formation alongside. Barnes was in charge of monitoring telemetry, radar, and communications from the Beatty tracking station. "General Electrics had built the engines on all six airplanes flying that day," Barnes says. "They wanted a photograph of all their aircraft flying in a tight formation for the cover of their shareholders' meeting manual that year."

It was a clear day, with very little natural turbulence in the air. The six aircraft took off from Dryden and headed west. About thirty minutes later, the pilots began getting into formation over the Mojave Desert. Barnes was monitoring data and listening on headphones. Using his personal Fischer recording system, Barnes was also taping the pilot transmissions. For this particular photo op, the X-15 pilot, Joe Walker, whom Barnes had gotten to know well, was flying in the F-104. Walker was on the right wing of the aircraft and was trying to hold his position when turbulence by the XB-70's six engines made him uncomfortable. "Walker came on the radio and spoke very clearly," Barnes recalls. "He said, 'I'm opposing this mission. It is too turbulent and it has no scientific value.'"

Only a few seconds later, a catastrophic midair collision occurred a catastrophic midair collision occurred. "We heard the pilots screaming, 'Midair! Midair! And I realized at first the XB-70 didn't know it had been hit," Barnes remembers. Joe Walker's F-104 had slammed into the much larger airplane, caught fire, and exploded. On the XB-70, both vertical stabilizers had been shorn off, and the airplane began to crash. Continuing to pick up speed, the XB-70 whirled uncontrollably into a flat spin. As it headed toward the ground, parts of the aircraft tore loose. One of the XB-70 pilots, Al White, ejected. The other, Major Carl Cross, was trapped inside the airplane as it slammed into the desert floor. There, just a few miles from Barstow, California, it exploded into flames.

"It was so d.a.m.n senseless," Barnes says. "A d.a.m.n photograph." The worst was yet to come. "A lot of people blamed Joe Walker. Easy, because he was dead. There was, of course, the tape of him saying he was opposing the mission. That the vortex on the d.a.m.n XB-70 was sucking him in. Bill Houck, the NASA monitor at our station, asked me to give him the tape recording to send to Dryden. Once NASA got a hold of it," Barnes says, "someone there quietly disposed of it."

The XB-70 tragedy more or less closed down the program, and the X-15 rocket plane program was finishing up as well. For Barnes, life in Beatty was nearing an end, but one afternoon, Barnes received a phone call. A man identifying himself as John Grace wanted to know if he'd like to come work on an "interesting project" not far away. "Grace said it would be a commute from Las Vegas," Barnes says. Grace told Barnes he would have to get a top secret clearance first. Whatever it was, it sounded exciting. Barnes told Grace, "Sign me up." T. D. Barnes was officially on his way to Groom Lake.

In March of 1968, his top secret clearance finally in place, Barnes learned his new employer was going to be EG&G. He was instructed by a "handler" to arrive at a remote, unmarked hangar at McCarran Airport for his first day at work. There, Barnes was met by a man who shook his hand and escorted him into a small Constellation airplane. "They didn't say anything to me about where we were going and I knew enough about black operations not to ask. It was a nice, quiet ride in the airplane. Just before we landed at Area 51, I heard the pilot say to the copilot, 'They've got the doughnut out.' Then the pilots quickly closed all the curtains on the airplane so when we landed I couldn't see a thing. I wondered what the doughnut was. I didn't ask. I was taken to the EG&G Special Projects building and introduced to our group. The boss said, 'What's your first name?' I said, 'T.D.' He said, 'Not anymore. You're Thunder out here.'" Later that first day, Barnes was taken inside one of the hangars at Area 51. "They opened the door. There sat a Russian MiG. They said, 'This here's the doughnut.' I got a chuckle about that. The pilots who'd brought me to the area had no idea that the whole reason I'd been brought in was because of the doughnut."

Munir Redfa's MiG had been nicknamed the doughnut because the jet fighter's nose had a round opening in it, like a doughnut's. It was the first advanced Soviet fighter jet ever to set its wheels down on U.S. soil. Colonel Slater, overseeing Black Shield in Kadena at the time, remembers getting a call in the middle of the night from one of his staff, Jim Simon. "Simon called me up all excited and said, 'Slater, you are not going to believe this!' He told me about the MiG. How it landed at [Area] 51 in the middle of the night, hidden inside a cargo plane. How it was accompanied by someone from a foreign government. Simon couldn't get over it and I couldn't wait to see it," Slater remembers. Oxcart pilot Frank Murray remembers the excitement of seeing it as well. During Operation Black Shield Murray was on rotation between Area 51 and Kadena when he was taken into the secret hangar to have a look at the MiG. "It was a tiny little sucker, considering how deadly it was," Murray says. "We couldn't believe we had a captured one up there at the Ranch."

T. D. Barnes and the EG&G Special Projects Group at Area 51 got to work reverse engineering Colonel Redfa's MiG reverse engineering Colonel Redfa's MiG-taking it apart and putting it back together again. All the engineers knew that this was the best way to really understand how something had been built. The EG&G Special Projects Group appeared to have advance expertise in this technical process of reverse engineering aircraft. At the time, no one knew why, and Barnes, new to the EG&G engineering team, knew better than to ask. He was excited to get to work. "We broke the MiG down into each of its individual pieces. Pieces of the c.o.c.kpit, the gyros, oscillograph, fuel flow meter, radio... everything. Then we put it back together. The MiG didn't have computers or fancy navigation equipment." Still, Barnes and his crew were stumped. How was it that this Soviet plane was beating the supposedly more capable U.S. fighters in air-to-air engagements? No one could explain why. So a second program was conceived, the MiG's Have Doughnut tactical phase. During the Have Doughnut, the MiG would begin flying tactical missions against U.S. airplanes in the skies over Groom Lake. The Air Force said it wasn't interested but the Navy leaped at the chance.

"Breaking it down was the first step in understanding the aircraft. But it was by sending the MiG flying that we really figured out how it maneuvered so d.a.m.n fast," Barnes says. Test pilots flew a total of 102 MiG missions Test pilots flew a total of 102 MiG missions over Groom Lake. Mock air battles between the MiG and American fighter jets were a daily event for a period of six weeks during the spring of 1968. The program (not including its Area 51 locale) was decla.s.sified by the U.S. Air Force Foreign Technology Division in October of 1997 and by the Defense Intelligence Agency in March of 2000. "We learned that you had to sneak right up on it and shoot it down before it had a chance to maneuver. That was the key. Get it on the first chance you get. There were no second chances with a MiG," Barnes explains. Constant flying takes a toll on any aircraft, but with a captured enemy airplane this proved especially challenging. "Since no spare parts were available, ground crews had to reverse engineer the components and make new ones from raw materials," Barnes says. "But when both phases were over, the technical and the tactical ones, we'd unlocked the secrets of the MiG." over Groom Lake. Mock air battles between the MiG and American fighter jets were a daily event for a period of six weeks during the spring of 1968. The program (not including its Area 51 locale) was decla.s.sified by the U.S. Air Force Foreign Technology Division in October of 1997 and by the Defense Intelligence Agency in March of 2000. "We learned that you had to sneak right up on it and shoot it down before it had a chance to maneuver. That was the key. Get it on the first chance you get. There were no second chances with a MiG," Barnes explains. Constant flying takes a toll on any aircraft, but with a captured enemy airplane this proved especially challenging. "Since no spare parts were available, ground crews had to reverse engineer the components and make new ones from raw materials," Barnes says. "But when both phases were over, the technical and the tactical ones, we'd unlocked the secrets of the MiG."

There were repercussions from the Soviets. "The fact that we had a MiG at Area 51 infuriated the Russians," explains Barnes. "They retaliated by sending more spy satellites overhead at Area 51, sometimes as often as every forty-five minutes." Up to this point, the Soviets had gotten used to monitoring the routine activity at the base, which consisted primarily of takeoffs and landings of the Oxcart and a few drones. But once the MiG showed up, the U.S. Air Force Foreign Technology Division appeared on the scene too, and with them came various models of Soviet-built radar systems captured in the Middle East. And once the Soviets discovered engineers at Groom Lake were testing these foreign radar systems, they again decided to monitor the situation more closely from overhead.

The newly acquired Soviet radar systems started cropping up around the western edges of the Groom dry lake bed and also around Slater Lake, which was about a mile northwest of the main hangars. Technical evaluation of the radar was quickly a.s.signed to Barnes. He requested a Nike missile system and was surprised at just how quickly his request was filled. "I think the CIA went and got a Nike missile system at my old stomping ground, Fort Bliss, just about the very next day," Barnes says. With radars scattered all over the range, including acquisition radar that rotated and searched for incoming targets, a geek like Barnes had a field day. "We used the Nike to track the MiGs and other airplanes to evaluate their ECM against X-band radar." What Barnes did not know was that these radar systems were being acquired for the upcoming radar cross-section a.n.a.lysis of an Air Force plane in the works. The Russians had no idea what the Air Force was dreaming up either, but they were duly angry about the captured radars that were now sitting in the hills overlooking Groom Lake.

"We were pinned down," says Barnes. For weeks on end, the Special Projects Group couldn't turn on a single radar system; the Russians were monitoring the area that intensely. Barnes and his group pa.s.sed the time by playing mind games with the Soviets. They painted strange shapes on the tarmac, "funny-looking impossible aircraft," which they then heated up with portable heaters to confuse the Soviets who were shooting infrared satellite pictures of the work going on there. "We got a kick out of imagining what the Russians thought of our new airplanes," Barnes says. With all the time on their hands, Barnes and his group of twenty-three electronics specialists began dreaming up other ways to entertain themselves. They made up riddles. They placed bets. They played with mixed chemicals that made their tennis sneakers glow in the dark. They rewired the Special Projects motor pool car so it would give the first guy to drive it a series of low-voltage shocks. They rigged up a tall TV antenna on top of their living quarters, hoping to draw reception from Las Vegas. Instead, they tapped into an international channel broadcast out of Spain. "For many months, all we watched were bullfights in Madrid," Barnes recalls.

This was a group of highly trained specialists gathered to pioneer radar technology, so when they finally ran out of practical jokes and bullfights, their attention turned back to problem solving. They started to occupy themselves by examining minutiae on printouts from radar returns. In a serendipitous way, this led to a technological breakthrough at Groom Lake. The EG&G Special Projects Group figured out they could identify specific types of aircraft by the tiniest nuances in the patterns their radar signatures left on various radar systems. This was made possible by the group's unusual advantage of having two things at their disposal: several bands of radar, which allowed them to compare results, and an entire fleet of military aircraft, which were to be used in the tactical phase of the exploitation of the MiG.

What would normally have been a technical endeavor to determine electronic countermeasures against enemy aircraft became a major breakthrough in the further development of stealth technology. From studying the minutiae, Barnes and his fellow radar experts identified what the enemy could and could not see on their radars back home. This information would eventually be shared with Lockheed during radar testing at Area 51, as Lockheed further developed stealth. Technology was doing for humans what humans had forever been trying to do for themselves; to spy on the enemy means to learn as much about him as he knows about himself. That was the technical breakthrough. There was a tactical breakthrough as well. The ultrasecret MiG program at Area 51 gave birth to the Top Gun fighter-pilot school gave birth to the Top Gun fighter-pilot school, a fact that would remain secret for decades. Officially called the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, the program was established a year after the first MiG arrived, in March of 1969, and based out of Miramar, California. Instructor pilots who had fought mock air battles over Groom Lake against Munir Redfa's MiG began training Navy pilots for sorties against Russian MiGs over Vietnam. When these Top Guntrained Navy pilots resumed flying in Southeast Asia, the results were radically different than the deadly nine-to-one ratio from before. The scales had tipped The scales had tipped. Now, American pilots would begin shooting down North Vietnamese pilots at a ratio of thirteen to one. The captured Soviet-made MiG-21 Fishbed proved to be an aerial warfare coup for the United States. And what followed was a quid pro quo. To thank the Israelis for supplying the United States with the most prized and unknowable aircraft in the a.r.s.enal of its archnemesis, America began to supply Israel with jet fighters to a.s.sist Israel in keeping its rivals at bay.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

Meltdown The idea behind a facility like Area 51 is that dangerous top secret tests can be conducted there without much scrutiny or oversight. To this end, there is no shortage of death woven into the uncensored history of Area 51. One of the most dangerous tests ever performed there was Project 57, the dirty bomb test that took place five miles northwest of Groom Lake, in a subparcel called Area 13. And yet what might have been the one defensible, positive outcome in this otherwise shockingly outrageous test-namely, lessons gleaned from its cleanup-was ignored until it was too late.

Unlike the spy plane projects at Groom Lake, where operations tend to have clear-cut beginnings and ceremonious endings, Project 57 was abandoned midstream. If the point of setting off a dirty bomb in secret was to see what would happen to see what would happen if an airplane carrying a nuclear bomb crashed into the earth near where people lived, it follows that serious efforts would then be undertaken by the Atomic Energy Commission to learn how to clean up such a nightmare scenario after the catastrophe occurs. No such efforts were initially made. if an airplane carrying a nuclear bomb crashed into the earth near where people lived, it follows that serious efforts would then be undertaken by the Atomic Energy Commission to learn how to clean up such a nightmare scenario after the catastrophe occurs. No such efforts were initially made.

Instead, about a year after setting off the dirty bomb, the Atomic Energy Commission put a barbed-wire fence around the Area 51 subparcel, marked it with HAZARD/DO NOT ENTER/NUCLEAR MATERIAL HAZARD/DO NOT ENTER/NUCLEAR MATERIAL signs, and moved on to the next weapons test. The bustling CIA facility five miles downwind would be relatively safe, the nuclear scientists and the weapons planners surmised. Alpha particles are heavy and would rest on the topsoil after the original dust cloud settled down. Furthermore, almost no one knew about the supersecret project, certainly not the public, so who would protest? The closest inhabitants were the rank and file at the CIA's Groom Lake facility next door, and they also knew nothing of Project 57. The men there followed strict need-to-know protocols, and as far as the commission was concerned, all anyone at Area 51 needed to know was to not venture near the barbed-wire fence marking off Area 13. signs, and moved on to the next weapons test. The bustling CIA facility five miles downwind would be relatively safe, the nuclear scientists and the weapons planners surmised. Alpha particles are heavy and would rest on the topsoil after the original dust cloud settled down. Furthermore, almost no one knew about the supersecret project, certainly not the public, so who would protest? The closest inhabitants were the rank and file at the CIA's Groom Lake facility next door, and they also knew nothing of Project 57. The men there followed strict need-to-know protocols, and as far as the commission was concerned, all anyone at Area 51 needed to know was to not venture near the barbed-wire fence marking off Area 13.

And yet the information gleaned from a cleanup effort would have been terribly useful, as was revealed eight years and eight months after Project 57 unfurled. On the morning of January 17, 1966, a real-life dirty bomb crisis occurred over Palomares, Spain. A Strategic Air Command bomber flying with four armed hydrogen bombs bomber flying with four armed hydrogen bombs-with yields between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons-collided midair with a refueling tanker over the Spanish countryside.

On the morning of the accident, an Air Force pilot and his six-man crew were partic.i.p.ating in an exercise that was part of Operation Chrome Dome, something that had begun in the late 1950s as part of Strategic Air Command. In a show of force inherent to the military doctrine of the day-something called mutual a.s.sured destruction, or MAD-airplanes regularly circled Earth carrying thermonuclear bombs. The idea behind MAD was that if the Soviet Union were to make a sneak attack on America, SAC bombers would already be airborne SAC bombers would already be airborne to strike back at Moscow with nuclear weapons of their own, thereby a.s.suring the mutual destruction of both sides. to strike back at Moscow with nuclear weapons of their own, thereby a.s.suring the mutual destruction of both sides.

That morning, the bomber lined up with the tanker and had just begun refueling when, in the words of pilot Larry Messinger, "all of a sudden, all h.e.l.l seemed to break loose" and the two aircraft collided. There was a ma.s.sive explosion and the men in the fuel tanker were instantly incinerated. Somehow Messinger, his copilot, the instructor pilot, and the navigator managed to eject from the airplane carrying the bombs. Their parachutes deployed, and the men floated down, landing in the sea. The four nuclear bombs-individually powerful enough to destroy Manhattan-also had parachutes, two of which did not deploy. One parachuted bomb landed gently in a dry riverbed and was later recovered relatively intact. But when the two bombs without parachutes. .h.i.t the earth, their explosive charges detonated, breaking open the nuclear cores. Nuclear material was released at Palomares in the form of seemed to break loose" and the two aircraft collided. There was a ma.s.sive explosion and the men in the fuel tanker were instantly incinerated. Somehow Messinger, his copilot, the instructor pilot, and the navigator managed to eject from the airplane carrying the bombs. Their parachutes deployed, and the men floated down, landing in the sea. The four nuclear bombs-individually powerful enough to destroy Manhattan-also had parachutes, two of which did not deploy. One parachuted bomb landed gently in a dry riverbed and was later recovered relatively intact. But when the two bombs without parachutes. .h.i.t the earth, their explosive charges detonated, breaking open the nuclear cores. Nuclear material was released at Palomares in the form of aerosolized plutonium aerosolized plutonium, which then spread out across 650 acres of Spanish farmland-consistent with dispersal patterns from the Project 57 dirty bomb test. The fourth bomb landed in the sea and became lost. Palomares was then a small fishing village and farming community located on the Mediterranean Sea. As fortune would have it, January 17 was the Festival of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Palomares, which meant most people in the village were at church that day and not out working in the fields.

Five thousand miles away, in Washington, DC, President Johnson learned President Johnson learned of the disaster over breakfast. He'd been sitting in his bedroom sipping tea and eating melon and chipped beef when a staffer from the White House Situation Room knocked, entered, and set down a copy of his daily security briefing. On the first page, the president read about the war in Vietnam. On the second page he learned about the Palomares incident. The daily brief said nothing about widespread plutonium dispersal or about the lost thermonuclear bomb. Only that the "16th Nuclear Disaster Team had been dispatched to the area." The "16th Nuclear Disaster Team" sounded official enough, but if fifteen nuclear disaster teams had preceded this one or existed concurrently, no record of any of them exists in the searchable Department of Energy archives. In reality, the group was ad hoc, meaning it was put together for the specific purpose of dealing with the Palomares incident. An of the disaster over breakfast. He'd been sitting in his bedroom sipping tea and eating melon and chipped beef when a staffer from the White House Situation Room knocked, entered, and set down a copy of his daily security briefing. On the first page, the president read about the war in Vietnam. On the second page he learned about the Palomares incident. The daily brief said nothing about widespread plutonium dispersal or about the lost thermonuclear bomb. Only that the "16th Nuclear Disaster Team had been dispatched to the area." The "16th Nuclear Disaster Team" sounded official enough, but if fifteen nuclear disaster teams had preceded this one or existed concurrently, no record of any of them exists in the searchable Department of Energy archives. In reality, the group was ad hoc, meaning it was put together for the specific purpose of dealing with the Palomares incident. An official nuclear disaster response team official nuclear disaster response team did not exist in 1966 and would not be created for another nine years, until 1975, when retired Brigadier General Mahlon E. Gates, then the manager of the Nevada Test Site, put together the Nuclear Emergency Search Team, or NEST. did not exist in 1966 and would not be created for another nine years, until 1975, when retired Brigadier General Mahlon E. Gates, then the manager of the Nevada Test Site, put together the Nuclear Emergency Search Team, or NEST.

In 1966, the conditions in Palomares, Spain, were strikingly similar to the conditions at the Nevada Test Site in terms of geology. Both were dry, hilly landscapes with soil, sand, and wind shear as significant factors to deal with. But considering, with inconceivable lack of foresight, the Atomic Energy Commission had never attempted to clean up the dirty bomb that it had set off at Area 13 nine years before, the 16th Nuclear Disaster Team was, essentially, working in the dark.

Eight hundred individuals with no hands-on expertise were sent to Palomares to a.s.sist in the cleanup efforts to a.s.sist in the cleanup efforts there. The teams improvised. One group secured the contaminated area and prepared the land to remove contaminated soil. A second group worked to locate the lost thermonuclear bomb, called a broken arrow in Defense Department terms. The group cleaning up the dispersed plutonium included "specialists and scientists" from the Los Alamos Laboratory, the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, Raytheon, and EG&G. It was terribly ironic. The very same companies who had engineered the nuclear weapons and whose employees had wired, armed, and fired them were now the companies being paid to clean up the deadly mess. This was the military-industrial complex in full swing. there. The teams improvised. One group secured the contaminated area and prepared the land to remove contaminated soil. A second group worked to locate the lost thermonuclear bomb, called a broken arrow in Defense Department terms. The group cleaning up the dispersed plutonium included "specialists and scientists" from the Los Alamos Laboratory, the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, Raytheon, and EG&G. It was terribly ironic. The very same companies who had engineered the nuclear weapons and whose employees had wired, armed, and fired them were now the companies being paid to clean up the deadly mess. This was the military-industrial complex in full swing.

For the next three months, workers labored around the clock to decontaminate the site of deadly plutonium. By the time the cleanup was over, more than fourteen hundred tons of radioactive soil and plant life were excavated and shipped to the Savannah River plant in South Carolina for disposal. The majority of the plutonium dispersed on the ground was accounted for, but the Defense Nuclear Agency eventually conceded that the extent of the plutonium particles scattered by wind, carried as dust, and ingested by earthworms and excreted somewhere else "will never be known." "will never be known." As for the missing hydrogen bomb, for forty-four days the Pentagon refused to admit it was lost despite the fact that it was widely reported as being missing. As for the missing hydrogen bomb, for forty-four days the Pentagon refused to admit it was lost despite the fact that it was widely reported as being missing. "I don't know of any missing bomb," "I don't know of any missing bomb," one Pentagon official told the a.s.sociated Press. Only after the bomb was recovered from the ocean floor did the Pentagon admit that it had in fact been lost. one Pentagon official told the a.s.sociated Press. Only after the bomb was recovered from the ocean floor did the Pentagon admit that it had in fact been lost.

The nuclear accidents did not stop there. Two years and four days later there was another airplane crash involving a Strategic Air Command bomber and four nuclear bombs. On January 21, 1968, an uncontrollable fire started on board a B-52G bomber during a secret mission over Greenland during a secret mission over Greenland. Six of the seven crew members bailed out of the burning airplane, which crested over the rooftops of the American air base at Thule and slammed into the frozen surface of North Star Bay. The impact detonated the high explosives in at least three of the four thermonuclear bombs-similar to exploding multiple dirty bombs-spreading radioactive plutonium, uranium, and tritium over a large swath of ice. A second fire started at the crash site A second fire started at the crash site, consuming bomb debris, wreckage from the airplane, and fuel. After the inferno burned for twenty minutes the ice began to melt. One of the bombs fell into the bay One of the bombs fell into the bay and disappeared beneath the frozen sea. In November of 2008, a BBC News investigation found that the Pentagon ultimately abandoned that fourth nuclear weapon after it became lost. and disappeared beneath the frozen sea. In November of 2008, a BBC News investigation found that the Pentagon ultimately abandoned that fourth nuclear weapon after it became lost.

Once again, an ad hoc emergency group was put together; there was still no permanent disaster cleanup group. This time five hundred people were involved. The conditions were almost as dangerous as the nuclear material. Temperatures fell to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds blew at ninety miles per hour. Equipment froze. In a secret SAC doc.u.ment, made public by a Freedom of Information Act request in 1989, the Air Force declared their efforts would be nominal, "a cleanup undertaken as good housekeeping measures," "a cleanup undertaken as good housekeeping measures," with officials antic.i.p.ating the removal of radioactive debris "to equal not less than 50%" of the total of what was there. For eight months, a crew calling themselves the Dr. Freezelove Team worked around the clock. When they were done, 10,500 tons of radioactive ice, snow, and crash debris was airlifted out of Greenland and flown to South Carolina for disposal. with officials antic.i.p.ating the removal of radioactive debris "to equal not less than 50%" of the total of what was there. For eight months, a crew calling themselves the Dr. Freezelove Team worked around the clock. When they were done, 10,500 tons of radioactive ice, snow, and crash debris was airlifted out of Greenland and flown to South Carolina for disposal.

Back at the Nevada Test Site, a new industry had been born in nuclear accident cleanup. But before anything can get cleaned up, an a.s.sessment must be made regarding how much lethal radiation is present, where exactly, and in what form. All across the desert floor, new proof-of-concept, or prototypes, of radiation-detection instruments appeared. Before the nuclear bomb accidents in Spain and Greenland, individual radiation-detection machines were limited to handheld devices like Geiger counters, used to examine workers' hands and feet and to search for radiation in limited local areas. Finally, gadgets and gizmos flooded the Nevada Test Site for field-testing in a postnuclear accident world. After the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, testing had moved underground, but often these underground tests "vented," releasing huge plumes of radiation from fissures in the earth. The test site was the perfect place to test equipment because there was an abundance of plutonium, americium, cesium abundance of plutonium, americium, cesium, cobalt, europium, strontium, and tritium in the topsoil, and no shortage of radiation in the air.

First came new handheld devices, like a briefcase called the Neutron Detector Suitcase, a prototype designed by EG&G, which was followed by more advanced means of detecting radiation, including ground vehicles. The Sky Scanner, developed by the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Livermore, roamed down the test site's dirt roads measuring radioactivity escaping from atomic vents. The Sky Scanner looked like a news van with a satellite dish, but inside it was full of equipment that could determine how much fallout was in the air. Next came fixed-wing aircraft that could patrol the air over an accident site. Used to detect fallout since Operation Crossroads, they were now equipped with state-of-the-art, still-cla.s.sified radiation-detection devices. This marked the birth of a burgeoning new military technology that would become one of the most important and most secret businesses of the twenty-first century. Called remote sensing Called remote sensing, it is the ability to recognize levels of radioactivity from a distance using ultraviolet radiation, infrared, and other means of detection.

Within a decade of the disastrous nuclear accidents at Palomares and Thule, EG&G would so dominate the radiation-detection market that the laboratory built at the Nevada Test Site for this purpose was initially called the EG&G Remote Sensing Laboratory initially called the EG&G Remote Sensing Laboratory. After 9/11, the sister laboratory, at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, was called the Remote Sensing Laboratory and included sensing-detection mechanisms for all types of WMD. This facility would become absolutely critical to national security, so much so that by 2011, T. D. Barnes says that "only two people at Nellis are cleared with a need-to-know regarding cla.s.sified briefings about the Remote Sensing Lab." Barnes is a member of the Nellis/Creech Air Force Base support team and its civilian military council. But in the 1960s, three nuclear facilities-Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia-and one private corporation-EG&G-were the organizations uniquely positioned to see the writing on the wall. If nuclear accidents were going to continue to happen, then these four ent.i.ties were going to secure the government contracts to clean things up to secure the government contracts to clean things up.

EG&G had been taking radiation measurements and tracking radioactive clouds for the Atomic Energy Commission since 1946. For decades, EG&G Energy Measurements has maintained control of the vast majority of radiation measurements records going back to the first postwar test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Because much of this information was originally created under the strict Atomic Energy cla.s.sification Secret/Restricted Data-i.e., it was "born cla.s.sified"-it has largely remained cla.s.sified ever since. It cannot be transferred to another steward. For decades, this meant there was no one to compete with EG&G for the remote sensing job. How involved EG&G is in remote sensing today, their and tracking radioactive clouds for the Atomic Energy Commission since 1946. For decades, EG&G Energy Measurements has maintained control of the vast majority of radiation measurements records going back to the first postwar test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Because much of this information was originally created under the strict Atomic Energy cla.s.sification Secret/Restricted Data-i.e., it was "born cla.s.sified"-it has largely remained cla.s.sified ever since. It cannot be transferred to another steward. For decades, this meant there was no one to compete with EG&G for the remote sensing job. How involved EG&G is in remote sensing today, their corporate headquarters won't say corporate headquarters won't say.

So secret are the record groups in EG&G's archives, even the president of the United States can be denied access to them, as President Clinton was in 1994 President Clinton was in 1994. One year earlier, a reporter named Eileen Welsome had written a forty-five-page newspaper story for the Albuquerque Tribune Albuquerque Tribune revealing that the Atomic Energy Commission had secretly injected human test subjects with plutonium starting in the 1940s without those individuals' knowledge or consent. When President Clinton learned about this, he created an advisory committee on human radiation experiments to look into secrets kept by the Atomic Energy Commission and to make them public. In several areas, the president's committee succeeded in revealing disturbing truths, but in other areas it failed. In at least one case, regarding a secret project at Area 51, the committee was denied access to records kept by EG&G and the Atomic Energy Commission on the grounds that revealing that the Atomic Energy Commission had secretly injected human test subjects with plutonium starting in the 1940s without those individuals' knowledge or consent. When President Clinton learned about this, he created an advisory committee on human radiation experiments to look into secrets kept by the Atomic Energy Commission and to make them public. In several areas, the president's committee succeeded in revealing disturbing truths, but in other areas it failed. In at least one case, regarding a secret project at Area 51, the committee was denied access to records kept by EG&G and the Atomic Energy Commission on the grounds that the president did not have a need-to-know the president did not have a need-to-know about them. In another case, regarding the nuclear rocket program at Area 25 in Jacka.s.s Flats, the president's committee also failed to inform the public of the truth. Whether this is because the record group in EG&G's archive was kept from the committee or because the committee had access to it but chose not to report the facts in earnest remains unknown. Instead, what happened at Jacka.s.s Flats, well after atmospheric testing had been outlawed around the world, gets a about them. In another case, regarding the nuclear rocket program at Area 25 in Jacka.s.s Flats, the president's committee also failed to inform the public of the truth. Whether this is because the record group in EG&G's archive was kept from the committee or because the committee had access to it but chose not to report the facts in earnest remains unknown. Instead, what happened at Jacka.s.s Flats, well after atmospheric testing had been outlawed around the world, gets a one-line reference one-line reference in the Advisory Committee's 937-page Final Report, grouped in with dozens of other tests involving "intentional releases" near human populations. "At AEC sites in Nevada and Idaho, radioactive materials were released in tests of the safety of bombs, nuclear reactors, and proposed nuclear rockets and airplanes," the report innocuously reads. in the Advisory Committee's 937-page Final Report, grouped in with dozens of other tests involving "intentional releases" near human populations. "At AEC sites in Nevada and Idaho, radioactive materials were released in tests of the safety of bombs, nuclear reactors, and proposed nuclear rockets and airplanes," the report innocuously reads.

If Area 51 had a doppelganger next door at the test site, it would certainly be Area 25, which encompa.s.ses 223 square miles. The flat, sandy desert expanse got its name during the gold rush when miners used to tie their donkeys to trees in the flat area while searching the surrounding mountains for gold. Like Area 51, Jacka.s.s Flats is surrounded by mountain ranges on three of its four sides, making them both hidden sites within federally restricted land. Unlike Area 51, which technically does not exist, Jacka.s.s Flats in the 1950s and 1960s maintained a polished public face. When President Kennedy visited the Nevada Test Site in 1962, he went to Jacka.s.s Flats to promote the s.p.a.ce travel programs that were going on there. Richard Mingus was one of the security guards a.s.signed to a.s.sist the president's Secret Service detail that day. Photographs that appeared in the newspapers showed the handsome president, wearing his signature sungla.s.ses and dark suit, flanked by aides while admiring strange-looking contraptions rising up from the desert floor; Mingus stands at attention nearby. Next to the president is Glenn Seaborg, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission and the man who co-discovered plutonium. But as with most nuclear projects of the day, the public was only told a fraction of the story. There was a lot more going on at Jacka.s.s Flats behind the scenes-and in underground facilities there-about which the public had no idea. next door at the test site, it would certainly be Area 25, which encompa.s.ses 223 square miles. The flat, sandy desert expanse got its name during the gold rush when miners used to tie their donkeys to trees in the flat area while searching the surrounding mountains for gold. Like Area 51, Jacka.s.s Flats is surrounded by mountain ranges on three of its four sides, making them both hidden sites within federally restricted land. Unlike Area 51, which technically does not exist, Jacka.s.s Flats in the 1950s and 1960s maintained a polished public face. When President Kennedy visited the Nevada Test Site in 1962, he went to Jacka.s.s Flats to promote the s.p.a.ce travel programs that were going on there. Richard Mingus was one of the security guards a.s.signed to a.s.sist the president's Secret Service detail that day. Photographs that appeared in the newspapers showed the handsome president, wearing his signature sungla.s.ses and dark suit, flanked by aides while admiring strange-looking contraptions rising up from the desert floor; Mingus stands at attention nearby. Next to the president is Glenn Seaborg, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission and the man who co-discovered plutonium. But as with most nuclear projects of the day, the public was only told a fraction of the story. There was a lot more going on at Jacka.s.s Flats behind the scenes-and in underground facilities there-about which the public had no idea.

Area 25 began as the perfect place for America to launch a nuclear-powered s.p.a.ceship that would get man to Mars and back in the astonishingly short time of 124 days. The s.p.a.ceship was going to be enormous, sixteen stories tall and piloted by one hundred and fifty men piloted by one hundred and fifty men. Project Orion seemed like a s.p.a.ce vehicle from a science fiction novel, except it was real. It was the brainchild of a former Los Alamos weapons designer named Theodore Taylor, a man who saw s.p.a.ce as the last "new frontier."

For years, beginning in the early 1950s, Taylor designed nuclear bombs for the Pentagon Taylor designed nuclear bombs for the Pentagon until he began to doubt the motives of the Defense Department. He left government service, at least officially, and joined General Atomics in San Diego, the nuclear division of defense contractor General Electric. There, he began designing nuclear-powered s.p.a.ceships. But to build a s.p.a.ceship that could get to Mars required federal funding, and in 1958 General Atomics presented the idea to President Eisenhower's new science and technology research group, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA. The agency had been created as a result of the Sputnik crisis, its purpose being to never let the Russians one-up American scientists again. Today, the agency is known as DARPA. The until he began to doubt the motives of the Defense Department. He left government service, at least officially, and joined General Atomics in San Diego, the nuclear division of defense contractor General Electric. There, he began designing nuclear-powered s.p.a.ceships. But to build a s.p.a.ceship that could get to Mars required federal funding, and in 1958 General Atomics presented the idea to President Eisenhower's new science and technology research group, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA. The agency had been created as a result of the Sputnik crisis, its purpose being to never let the Russians one-up American scientists again. Today, the agency is known as DARPA. The D D stands for stands for defense. defense.

At the time, developing cutting-edge s.p.a.ce-flight technology meant hiring scientists like Wernher Von Braun to design chemical-based rockets that could conceivably get man to the moon in a capsule the size of a car. Along came Ted Taylor with a proposal to build a Mars-bound s.p.a.ceship the size of an office building, thanks to nuclear energy. For ARPA chief Roy Johnson, Ted Taylor's conception was love at first sight. "Everyone seems to be making plans to pile fuel on fuel on fuel to put a pea into orbit, but you seem to mean business," the ARPA chief told Taylor in 1958. to pile fuel on fuel on fuel to put a pea into orbit, but you seem to mean business," the ARPA chief told Taylor in 1958.

General Atomics was given a one-million-dollar advance, a cla.s.sified project with a code name of Orion, and a maximum-security test facility in Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site at Jacka.s.s Flats. The reason Taylor's s.p.a.ceship needed an ultrasecret hiding place and could not be launched from Cape Canaveral, as other rockets and s.p.a.ceships in the works could be, was that the Orion s.p.a.cecraft would be powered by two thousand "small-sized" nuclear bombs. Taylor's original idea was to dispense these bombs from the rear of the s.p.a.ceship, the same as a c.o.ke machine same as a c.o.ke machine dispenses sodas. The bombs would fall out behind the s.p.a.ceship, literally exploding and pushing the s.p.a.ceship along. The Coca-Cola Company was even hired to do a cla.s.sified early design. dispenses sodas. The bombs would fall out behind the s.p.a.ceship, literally exploding and pushing the s.p.a.ceship along. The Coca-Cola Company was even hired to do a cla.s.sified early design.

At Area 25, far away from public view, Taylor's giant s.p.a.ceship would launch from eight 250-foot-tall towers. Blastoff would mean Orion would rise out of a column of nuclear energy released by exploding atomic bombs. "It would have been the most sensational thing anyone ever saw," "It would have been the most sensational thing anyone ever saw," Taylor told his biographer John McPhee. But when the Air Force took over the project, they had an entirely different vision in mind. ARPA and the Air Force reconfigured Orion into a s.p.a.ce-based battleship. From high above Earth, a USS Taylor told his biographer John McPhee. But when the Air Force took over the project, they had an entirely different vision in mind. ARPA and the Air Force reconfigured Orion into a s.p.a.ce-based battleship. From high above Earth, a USS Orion Orion could be used to launch attacks against enemy targets using nuclear missiles. Thanks to could be used to launch attacks against enemy targets using nuclear missiles. Thanks to Orion Orion's nuclear-propulsion technology, the s.p.a.ceship could make extremely fast defensive maneuvers, avoiding any Russian nuclear missiles that might come its way. It would be able to withstand the blast from a one-megaton bomb from only five hundred feet away.

For a period of time in the early 1960s the Air Force believed Orion was going to be invincible. "Whoever builds Orion will control the Earth!" "Whoever builds Orion will control the Earth!" declared General Thomas S. Power of the Strategic Air Command. But no one built Orion. After atmospheric nuclear tests were banned in 1963, the project was indefinitely suspended. Still wanting to get men to Mars, NASA and the Air Force turned their attention to nuclear-powered rockets. From now on, there would be no nuclear explosions in the atmosphere at Jacka.s.s Flats-at least not officially. Instead, the nuclear energy required for the Mars s.p.a.ceship would be contained in a flying reactor, with fuel rods producing nuclear energy behind barriers that were lightweight enough for s.p.a.ce travel but not so thin as to cook the astronauts inside. The project was now called NERVA, which stood for Nuclear Engine Rocket Vehicle Application. The facility had a public name, even though no one from the public could go there. It was called the Nuclear Rocket Test Facility at Jacka.s.s Flats. A joint NASA/Atomic Energy Commission office was created to manage the program, called the declared General Thomas S. Power of the Strategic Air Command. But no one built Orion. After atmospheric nuclear tests were banned in 1963, the project was indefinitely suspended. Still wanting to get men to Mars, NASA and the Air Force turned their attention to nuclear-powered rockets. From now on, there would be no nuclear explosions in the atmosphere at Jacka.s.s Flats-at least not officially. Instead, the nuclear energy required for the Mars s.p.a.ceship would be contained in a flying reactor, with fuel rods producing nuclear energy behind barriers that were lightweight enough for s.p.a.ce travel but not so thin as to cook the astronauts inside. The project was now called NERVA, which stood for Nuclear Engine Rocket Vehicle Application. The facility had a public name, even though no one from the public could go there. It was called the Nuclear Rocket Test Facility at Jacka.s.s Flats. A joint NASA/Atomic Energy Commission office was created to manage the program, called the s.p.a.ce Nuclear Propulsion Office, or SNPO s.p.a.ce Nuclear Propulsion Office, or SNPO.

For T. D. Barnes, working on the NERVA nuclear reactor was a bit of a stretch-his area of expertise was missile and radar technologies. But when things got slow over at Area 51 in the late 1960s, Barnes, a member of EG&G Special Projects team, would be dispatched over to Area 25 to work on the NERVA program. Even though NERVA had been sold to Congress as a public program, all its data was cla.s.sified, as were the day-to-day goings-on in Area 25. Barnes's workstation could not have been more hidden from the public. It was underground, built into the side of a mountain built into the side of a mountain that rose up from the flat desert landscape. Each morning Barnes and his fellow Q-cleared coworkers who lived in and around Las Vegas parked in employee parking lots down at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site, at Camp Mercury, and were then shuttled out to Jacka.s.s Flats in Atomic Energy Commission motor pool vans. "Some of the people working on NERVA lived in Beatty and Amargosa Valley and drove to the tunnel themselves," Barnes adds. that rose up from the flat desert landscape. Each morning Barnes and his fellow Q-cleared coworkers who lived in and around Las Vegas parked in employee parking lots down at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site, at Camp Mercury, and were then shuttled out to Jacka.s.s Flats in Atomic Energy Commission motor pool vans. "Some of the people working on NERVA lived in Beatty and Amargosa Valley and drove to the tunnel themselves," Barnes adds.

All NERVA employees entered work through a small portal in the side of the mountain, "shaped like the entrance to an old mining shaft, but spiffed up a bit," Barnes recalls, remembering "large steel doors and huge air pipes curving down from the mesas and entering the tunnel." Inside, the concrete tunnel was long and straight and ran into the earth "as far as the eye could see." Atomic Energy Commission records indicate the underground tunnel was 1,150 feet long the underground tunnel was 1,150 feet long. Barnes remembered it being brightly lit and sparkling clean. "There were exposed air duct pipes running the length of the tunnel as well as several layers of metal cable trays, which were used to transport heavy items into and out of the tunnel," he says. "The ceiling was about eight feet tall, and men walked through it no more than two abreast." There was also a tarantula problem at Jacka.s.s Flats, which meant every now and then, Barnes and his colleagues would spot a large hairy spider running down the tunnel floors or scampering along its walls.

Deep in the tunnel Barnes would come up against a last set of closed doors. When they opened, they revealed a succession of brightly lit rooms filled with desks. Barnes explains, "Moving closer to ground zero where the tunnel ended, we entered a large subterranean room stacked floor to ceiling with rows of electronic amplifiers, discriminator circuits, and multiplexing components and banks of high-tech equipment lining the walls." Standing in front of the row of electronics was an engineer "usually with a cart full of electronic test equipment calibrating and repairing electronic circuits," Barnes explains. These workers were all preparing for what was actually going on aboveground, and that was full-power, full-scale nuclear reactor engine tests. In order for NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission to be able to verify that NERVA could actually propel a s.p.a.ceship filled with astronauts the 34 million to 249 million miles to Mars 34 million to 249 million miles to Mars (the distance depends on the positions of the two planets in their orbits), those federal agencies had to witness NERVA running full power for long periods of time here on Earth first. To test that kind of thrust without having the engine launch itself into s.p.a.ce, it was caged inside a test stand and positioned upside down. (the distance depends on the positions of the two planets in their orbits), those federal agencies had to witness NERVA running full power for long periods of time here on Earth first. To test that kind of thrust without having the engine launch itself into s.p.a.ce, it was caged inside a test stand and positioned upside down.

For each engine test, a remote-controlled locomotive a remote-controlled locomotive would bring the nuclear reactor over to the test stand from where it was housed three miles away in its own cement-block-and-lead-lined bunker, called E-MAD. "We used to joke that the locomotive at Jacka.s.s Flats was the slowest in the world," Barnes explains. "The only thing keeping the reactor from melting down as it traveled down the railroad back and forth between E-MAD and the test stand was the liquid hydrogen [LH would bring the nuclear reactor over to the test stand from where it was housed three miles away in its own cement-block-and-lead-lined bunker, called E-MAD. "We used to joke that the locomotive at Jacka.s.s Flats was the slowest in the world," Barnes explains. "The only thing keeping the reactor from melting down as it traveled down the railroad back and forth between E-MAD and the test stand was the liquid hydrogen [LH2] bath it sat in." The train never moved at speeds more than five miles per hour. "One spark and the whole thing could blow," Barnes explains. At 320 degrees Fahrenheit, liquid hydrogen is one of the most combustible and dangerous explosives in the world. James A. Dewar, author of To the End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket, To the End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket, gets even more specific. " gets even more specific. "One hundredth of what one might receive from shuffling along a rug and then touching a wall can ignite hydrogen," Dewar wrote in 2004. To help visualize what the facilities aboveground at Jacka.s.s Flats looked like, Barnes likens them to Cape Kennedy. "Imagine a one-hundred-twenty-foot-tall aluminum tower rising up from a plateau of cement surrounded by a deep, concrete aqueduct. Add some huge, spherical thermos-like dewars sitting around, each containing something like two hundred and sixty thousand gallons of liquid hydrogen, and you can visualize the s.p.a.ce-launch appearance of things," Barnes explains. In Atomic Energy photographs from the 1960s, a single set of train tracks can be seen running along the bottom of the cement aqueduct and disappearing into an opening underneath the tall metal tower. "The railroad car carried the nuclear reactor up to the test stand and lifted it into place using remotely controlled hydraulic hands," Barnes explains. "Meanwhile, we were all underground looking at the reactor through special leaded-gla.s.s windows, taking measurements and recording data as the engine ran." The reason the facility was buried inside the mountain was not only to hide it from the from shuffling along a rug and then touching a wall can ignite hydrogen," Dewar wrote in 2004. To help visualize what the facilities aboveground at Jacka.s.s Flats looked like, Barnes likens them to Cape Kennedy. "Imagine a one-hundred-twenty-foot-tall aluminum tower rising up from a plateau of cement surrounded by a deep, concrete aqueduct. Add some huge, spherical thermos-like dewars sitting around, each containing something like two hundred and sixty thousand gallons of liquid hydrogen, and you can visualize the s.p.a.ce-launch appearance of things," Barnes explains. In Atomic Energy photographs from the 1960s, a single set of train tracks can be seen running along the bottom of the cement aqueduct and disappearing into an opening underneath the tall metal tower. "The railroad car carried the nuclear reactor up to the test stand and lifted it into place using remotely controlled hydraulic hands," Barnes explains. "Meanwhile, we were all underground looking at the reactor through special leaded-gla.s.s windows, taking measurements and recording data as the engine ran." The reason the facility was buried inside the mountain was not only to hide it from the Soviet satellites spying Soviet satellites spying on the U.S. nuclear rocket program from overhead, but to shield Barnes and his fellow workers from radiation poisoning from the NERVA reactor. "Six feet of earth shields a man from radiation poisoning pretty good," says Barnes. on the U.S. nuclear rocket program from overhead, but to shield Barnes and his fellow workers from radiation poisoning from the NERVA reactor. "Six feet of earth shields a man from radiation poisoning pretty good," says Barnes.

When running at full power, the nuclear engine operated at a temperature of 2,300 Kelvin 2,300 Kelvin, or 3,680.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which meant it also had to be kept cooled down by the liquid hydrogen on a permanent basis. "While the engine was running the canyon was like an inferno as the hot hydrogen simultaneously ignited upon contact with the air," says Barnes. These nuclear rocket engine tests remained secret until the early 1990s, when a reporter named Lee Davidson, the Washington bureau chief for Utah's Deseret News, Deseret News, provided the public with the first descriptive details. provided the public with the first descriptive details. "The Pentagon released information after I filed a Freedom of Information Act," "The Pentagon released information after I filed a Freedom of Information Act," Davidson says. In turn, Davidson provided the public with previously unknown facts: "bolted down, the engine roared... sending skyward a plume of invisible hydrogen exhaust that had just been thrust through a superheated uranium fission reactor," Davidson revealed. Researching the story, he also learned that back in the 1960s, after locals in Caliente, Nevada, complained that iodine 131-a major radioactive hazard found in nuclear fission products-had been discovered in their town's water supply, Atomic Energy officials denied any nuclear testing had been going on at the time. Instead, officials blamed the Chinese, stating, "Fresh fission products probably came from an open-air nuclear bomb test in China." In fact, a NERVA engine test had gone on at Area 25 just three days before the town conducted its water supply test. Davidson says. In turn, Davidson provided the public with previously unknown facts: "bolted down, the engine roared... sending skyward a plume of invisible hydrogen exhaust that had just been thrust through a superheated uranium fission reactor," Davidson revealed. Researching the story, he also learned that back in the 1960s, after locals in Caliente, Nevada, complained that iodine 131-a major radioactive hazard found in nuclear fission products-had been discovered in their town's water supply, Atomic Energy officials denied any nuclear testing had been going on at the time. Instead, officials blamed the Chinese, stating, "Fresh fission products probably came from an open-air nuclear bomb test in China." In fact, a NERVA engine test had gone on at Area 25 just three days before the town conducted its water supply test.

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