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Air Force Wants To Seize Mountain To Protect Secret Base

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                                  December 3, 1993
               This file shared with KeelyNet courtesy of Rick Lawler.
        Supersecret Groom Base  can  be  viewed  from  Nevada's  White Sides
        Mountain -- a mountain the U.S.  Air  Force  is  attempting  to take
        RACHEL, Nev. --  Hikers who make it to the top of  6,089-foot  White
        Sides Mountain get  a  clear  view  of dry Groom Lake.  Trekkers can
        spot long runways,  barnlike hangars  and  crops  of  communications
        equipment in the distance.  Some people even pull out binoculars and
        telescopes trying to get a peek at the latest U.S.  Air  Force  jets
        that routinely take off and land at the facility.
        The Pentagon wants  it stopped. It plans to seize 4,000 acres around
        White Sides Mountain and end public  observation  of  an air base so
        secret officials refuse  to  say it exists.  On Saturday,  about  20
        protesters crossed sagebrush   and   walked   to  the  edge  of  the
        restricted military zone at Groom  Lake. They set up camp at a place
        they call "Freedom Ridge" -- about two miles from the  foot of White
        Sides Mountain.  From  the ridge, protesters could look down and see
        the air base,  located some 125 miles  west  of  St.  George.   With
        protesters gathered around, Glenn Campbell said in a mocked bravado:
        "Just let them try and seize Freedom Ridge. We will  defend  that to
        the death."
        But Nevada Rep. James Bilbray says the mountain should be restricted
        for national-security reasons.  "Every time someone goes up on White
        Sides it costs  taxpayers  a lot of money," said Bilbray, a Democrat
        serving on the House Armed Services  Committee.  "They have to cover
        up what they're doing - at the base} with camouflage netting or roll
        it into hangars.  They  have to wait until the people  get  off  the
        mountain before they  can go on with what they were doing and that's
        not fair."
        The base has been used by the Air  Force  and the CIA to test secret
        aircraft, such as  the  U-2  spy plane and more recently  the  F-117
        stealth fighter.  Bilbray  says  military  security  knows  that spy
        satellites routinely observe the facility, but the base knows their
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        orbit schedules --  and plans accordingly.  However, he says, hikers
        with cameras are unpredictable.
        Campbell sees no reason for the government's  secrecy.  The 33-year-
        old leader of  the White Sides protesters says times  have  changed.
        Campbell describes himself  as  a  UFO  investigator.  He moved from
        Boston to Rachel  in January after  reading  about  alien-spacecraft
        sightings at the  Groom  facility.  So  far, he says,  he  has  seen
        nothing but military planes cross the sky.
        When Campbell moved  to the town of about 100 people, he set up shop
        at the A-Le-Inn. The bar's owner,  Joe Travis, had painted a picture
        of a bug-eyed  alien  on  his  sign  to  attract  the  numerous  UFO
        enthusiasts who make the pilgrimage to Groom.  At first Campbell was
        welcome. But his  activism  about  White  Sides  brought the Lincoln
        County sheriff out to Rachel one too  many  times. In August, he was
        ejected from the   A-Le-Inn  after  a  sheriff's  deputy   came   to
        confiscate pictures Campbell had taken near the Groom facility.
        Photography is prohibited  near  the base.  Jim Goodall, an aviation
        historian who lives in Tacoma, Wash.,  plans a more direct approach.
        He says he  will  sneak up to the border at night,  armed  with  his
        cameras until he  gets  a  clear  photo  of  a  new, secret aircraft
        rumored to be at the base.  "I'm  a  real  pain  in  the  a--  to my
        government because I'm not someone you can brush off. I keep hanging
        on," the 48-year-old said.  Goodall is a sergeant with the Minnesota
        Air National Guard and is the group's wing historian.  He  also  has
        free-lanced for several aviation publications and sold photos of the
        stealth fighter before the Air Force publicly revealed the aircraft.
        On Oct. 6,  the  Air  Force filed a petition with the Bureau of Land
        Management office in Reno, asking  that 3,972 acres of land on White
        Sides be withdrawn   from  public  access.   The  purpose   of   the
        withdrawal, they wrote,  would  be  to "ensure the public safety and
        the safe and secure operation of  activities  in  the  Nellis  Range
        The Nellis Range  is  a  3  million acre military reserve  used  for
        combat training, weapons testing and -- at the secret air base -- a
        lengthy airstrip for  worldwide  reconnaissance  flights.   When the
        base expanded in 1984, the Air Force  took  89,000  acres  of public
        land. They set  up guard posts and turned hunters, miners,  ranchers
        and reporters away  at gunpoint.  Nevada politicians raised a stink,
        saying the land grab was illegal.
        Although after-the-fact, Congress  approved  the  land withdrawal in
        October of that year.  This time around, the land-withdrawal process
        will be more  different, according to Curtis Tucker,  the  BLM  area
        manager who oversees  much  of central Nevada, including White Sides
        Mountain.  "A decision could take  six  months  to  a  year," Tucker
        said. "Of course, I don't know how much political pressure will come
        to make it happen sooner."
        Tucker said a representative of the secret facility  approached  him
        in the spring  to  explain why the Air Force wanted White Sides shut
        off to outsiders.  "He was nonspecific.  We talked in generalities,"
        Tucker said.  "It basically gets down to there are  some assets they
        don't want people to see."
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        What they don't  want  people to see, according to published reports
        in aviation trade journals, is a secret  high-flying spy plane code-
        named "Aurora."
        The super-secret jet is said to attain speeds of 4,000  mph (Mach 6)
        and seismologists in Southern California now call the plane's earth-
        shaking sonic boons  "air-quakes."  Air  Force  information officers
        offer some surprising answers when  asked  about  the  plane  or the
        secret test facility.  "You're not going to get anyone  in  the  Air
        Force to talk about it," said Maj. Monica Aloisiom, a public-affairs
        officer stationed at  the  Pentagon.   "-  Groom  Lake is probably a
        secret test facility and I don't  have  a  need  to  know that, so I
        don't know about  that."  The  Air  Force has a history  of  running
        people out of the Groom area.
        During the late 1940s and early 1950s the Sheahan family, led by Dan
        Sheahan, mined at  Groom.   But  atomic  blasts damaged the mine and
        above-ground buildings at Groom, according  to  Department of Energy
        records.  The Sheahans'  horses  were  killed after  they  developed
        huge, open sores. The Sheahans blamed radioactive fallout.  Then, in
        the summer of  1954,  Air  Force  pilots  flying  from the Las Vegas
        Gunnery Range attacked the Sheahan mining operation.
        "Buildings have been struck by bullets, several people have narrowly
        escaped being killed and some pilots  have  even  gone  so far as to
        dive down and strafe our workings," Dan Sheahan wrote  in  a July 7,
        1954, letter to  then-Nev.  Gov.  Charles Russell.  In 1958, the Air
        Force bought out the Sheahans.  That  is when the military began the
        U-2 spy-plane mission, according to a book written  by  Francis Gary
        Powers. He was  the U-2 pilot captured by Soviet forces in 1960 when
        his spy plane went down over Russia.
        In his book Operation Overflight,  Powers referred to the secret air
        base in the  Nevada desert where he trained "as one  of  those  you-
        can't-get-there-from-here places." It  was run by the CIA, he wrote,
        and called "Watertown Strip" or simply  "the  ranch."  Powers  spent
        nearly two years in a Soviet prison after his capture.  In  1977, he
        crashed a Los  Angeles  television  station's  helicopter  and died.
        During the Reagan administration, the Groom facility got a big boost
        as part of the president's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) plan.
        That is when the Air Force seized  89,000 acres adjacent to the base
        in 1984, presumably to protect the stealth fighter  and other black-
        budget aircraft.
        In 1989, UFO  enthusiasts  began traveling to the base after stories
        spread that live aliens were being kept at so-called "Area 51." They
        have climbed White Sides and the  ridges  overlooking  the  air base
        looking for outer-space critters.
        If the Air Force succeeds and takes White Sides, the people who trek
        into the desert  to look at lights in the night sky  have  a  backup
        plan.  "I've already found a new spot," says aviator Goodall. "You
        can't see the facility, but you can see anything that takes off from
        the facility."
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