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Area 51 Vets Break Silence: No Space Aliens Or UFOs

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      By Erik Lacitis
      Seattle Times
      March 27, 2010


      Newly revealed stories from people who used to work at Area 51 shed light on
      a site still shrouded in mystery.


      VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON - After nearly five decades, guys like James Noce
      finally get to tell their stories about Area 51.

      Yes, that Area 51.

      The one that gets brought up when people talk about secret Air Force
      projects, crashed UFOs, alien bodies and, of course, conspiracies.

      The secrets, some of them, have been declassified.

      Noce, 72, and his fellow Area 51 veterans around the country now are free to
      talk about doing contract work for the CIA in the 1960s and '70s at the
      arid, isolated Southern Nevada government testing site.

      Their stories shed some light on a site shrouded in mystery; classified
      projects still are going on there. It's not a big leap from warding off the
      curious 40 or 50 years ago, to warding off the curious who now make the
      drive to Area 51.

      The veterans' stories provide a glimpse of real-life government covert
      operations, with their everyday routines and moments of excitement.

      Noce didn't seek out publicity. But when contacted, he was glad to tell what
      it was like.

      "I was sworn to secrecy for 47 years. I couldn't talk about it," he says.

      In the 1960s, Area 51 was the test site for the A-12 and its successor, the
      SR-71 Blackbird, a secret spy plane that broke records at documented speeds
      that still have been unmatched. The CIA says it reached Mach 3.29 (about
      2,200 mph) at 90,000 feet.

      But after September 2007, when the CIA displayed an A-12 in front of its
      Langley, Va., headquarters as part of the agency's 60th birthday, much of
      the secrecy of those days at Area 51 fell away.

      Advance warning to UFOlogists: Sorry, although Noce and other Area 51 vets
      say they saw plenty of secret stuff, none make claims about aliens.

      Secrets included payroll

      But on to the secrecy part.

      Noce remembers always getting paid in cash, signing a phony name to the
      receipt, during his several years of working security at the site. It was,
      in CIA parlance, "a black project."

      Noce says he has no paperwork showing that he worked at Area 51 for the CIA.
      He says that was common. Others who got checks say they came from various
      companies, including Pan American World Airways.

      But Noce is vouched for by T.D. Barnes, of Henderson, Nev., founder and
      president of Roadrunners Internationale, membership 325. Barnes is the one
      who says he got checks from Pan Am, for whom he had never worked.

      Roadrunners is a group of Area 51 vets including individuals affiliated with
      the Air Force, CIA, Lockheed, Honeywell and other contractors.

      For the past 20 years, they'd meet every couple of years at reunions they
      kept clandestine. Their first public session was last October at a reunion
      in Las Vegas at the Atomic Testing Museum.

      As age creeps up on them, Barnes, 72, an Area 51 radar specialist, wants the
      work the vets did to be remembered.

      And Barnes himself has someone quite credible to vouch for him: David
      Robarge, chief historian for the CIA and author of "Archangel: CIA's
      Supersonic A-12 Reconnaissance Aircraft."

      Robarge says about Barnes, "He's very knowledgeable. He never embellishes."

      Barnes says that the way membership in the Roadrunners grew was by one guy
      who worked for the CIA telling about another buddy who worked at Area 51,
      and so on. Barnes says other Area 51 vets vouched for Noce.

      Noce was a 1955 Vancouver High grad who went right into the Air Force and
      was trained in radar.

      Leaving the service in 1959, he worked as a produce manager for the Safeway
      in Camas, 17 miles east of Vancouver.

      Sometime in late 1961, Noce got a phone call at the grocery store. It was
      from a buddy of his from the Air Force days, who now worked for the CIA.

      "He knew I had classified clearance from working at the radar sites,"
      remembers Noce. "He asked me how would I like to live in Las Vegas."

      Noce agreed to drive to Las Vegas and call "a guy" who worked for "the

      Comings and goings

      And so Noce began doing security.

      Most of the time, it was routine stuff.

      On Monday mornings, a Lockheed Superconstellation would fly in from the
      "Skunk Works" in Burbank, Calif., bringing engineers and others who were
      working on the A-12. They'd stay there during the week and return home on

      Skunk Works was the nickname for Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects,
      which had the A-12 contract.

      The routine stuff included checking badges and making sure nobody had
      weapons or cameras. Security workers also made sure only those with proper
      clearance would witness a test flight.

      And what a sight it was.

      According to the CIA, its late former chief Richard Helms recalled visiting
      Area 51 and watching a midnight test flight of an A-12.

      "The blast of flame that sent the black, insect-shaped projectile hurtling
      across the tarmac made me duck instinctively. It was as if the devil himself
      were blasting his way straight from hell," said Helms, according to former
      CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden.

      Other times, the routine got very exciting.

      Noce remembers when "Article 123," as one of the A-12s was called, crashed
      on May 24, 1963, after the plane stalled near Wendover, Utah. The pilot
      ejected and survived.

      Noce says he was among those who flew to the crash site in a giant cargo
      plane loaded with several trucks. They loaded everything from the crash into
      the trucks.

      He remembers that a local deputy had either witnessed the crash or had
      quickly arrived at the scene. There also was a family on a vacation car trip
      who had taken photos.

      "We confiscated the camera, took the film out," says Noce. "We just said we
      worked for the government."

      He says the deputy and the family were told not to talk to anybody about the
      crash, especially the press.

      "We told them there would be dire consequences," Noce says. "You scared

      As an added incentive, he says, the CIA arrived with a briefcase full of

      "I think it was like 25 grand apiece, for the sheriff and the family," says

      Robarge says of cash payments to cover things up, "It was common practice."

      Noce also remembers providing security in 1962 as a disassembled A-12 was
      trucked along back roads from Burbank to Area 51.

      At one point, a Greyhound bus traveling in the opposite direction grazed one
      of the trailers. Wrote Robarge, "Project managers quickly authorized the
      payment of nearly $5,000 for damage to the bus so no insurance or legal
      inquiry would take place ... "

      Stories about aliens

      About the aliens.

      Noce and Barnes say they never saw anything connected to UFOs.

      Barnes believes the Air Force and the "Agency" didn't mind the stories about
      alien spacecraft. They helped cover up the secret planes that were being

      On one occasion, he remembers, when the first jets were being tested at what
      Muroc Army Air Field, later renamed Edwards Air Force Base, a test pilot put
      on a gorilla mask and flew upside down beside a private pilot.

      "Well, when this guy went back, telling reporters, 'I saw a plane that
      didn't have a propeller and being flown by a monkey,' well, they laughed at
      this guy -- and it got where the guys would see [test pilots] and they
      didn't dare report it because everybody'd laugh at them," says Barnes.

      Noce says he quite liked working at Area 51.

      He got paid $1,000 a month (about $7,200 in today's dollars). Weekdays he
      lived for free at the base in admittedly utilitarian housing -- five men
      assigned to a one-story house, sharing a kitchen and bathroom.

      Something that all Area 51 vets remember about living at the base, he says,
      was the great food.

      "They had these cooks come up from Vegas. They were like regular chefs,"
      Noce remembers. "Day or night, you could get a steak, whatever you wanted."

      Lobster was flown in regularly from Maine. A jet, sent across the country to
      test its engines, would bring back the succulent payload.

      On weekends, Noce and other contracted CIA guys would drive to Las Vegas.

      They rented a pad, and in the patio plumbed in a bar with storage for two
      kegs of beer. It was a great time, barbecuing steaks and having parties,
      Noce says.

      Noce has two pieces of proof from his Area 51 days: faded black-and-white
      snapshots taken surreptitiously.

      One shows him in 1962 in front of his housing unit at Area 51. The other
      shows him in front of what he says is one of two F-105 Thunderchiefs whose
      Air Force pilots overflew Area 51 out of curiosity. The pilots were forced
      to land and were told that a no-fly zone meant just that.

      Noce worked at Area 51 from early 1962 to late 1965. He returned to
      Vancouver and spent most of his working life as a longshoreman.

      Noce remembers once in recent years talking with fellow retired longshoreman
      pals and telling them stories about Area 51. When they didn't believe him,
      he says, "Well, there was nothing I could do to prove anything."

      Collecting memories

      Mary Pelevsky, a University of Nevada visiting scholar, headed the school's
      Nevada Test Site Oral History Project from 2003 to 2008. Some 150 people
      were interviewed about their experiences during Cold War nuclear testing.
      Area 51 vets such as Barnes also were interviewed.

      The historian says it was difficult to verify stories because of secrecy at
      the time, cover stories, memory lapses and -- sometimes --

      But, she says, "I've heard this cloak-and-dagger stuff, and you say, 'No
      way.' Then you hear enough and begin to realize some of these stories are

      In October, Noce and his son, Chris, of Colorado, drove to Las Vegas for
      that first public reunion of the Area 51 vets. He and his old buddies
      remembered the days.

      "I was doing something for the country," Noce says about those three years
      in the 1960s. "They told me, 'If anything should ever come up, anyone asks,
      'Did you work for the CIA?' Say, 'Never heard of them.' But [my buddies]




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