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(CNN) - So apparently a group of people showed up in the Nevada desert this weekend to fulfill their Facebook promise to storm Area 51 and "see the aliens." And it was not as exciting as some expected.
Good, but seriously. What happens in Area 51? If people had really entered, which, to be clear, was not advisable, what would they have found?
There are many things we do not know about Area 51 (hence the conspiracy theories). But this is what we know.
It is a test facility for the United States Air Force ... officially
Area 51 is a classified installation of the United States Air Force at the Nevada Test and Training Camp, a massive government facility on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
It was originally used by the CIA as a site to develop and test the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which was intended to spy on the Soviet Union, said Annie Jacobsen, a journalist and author of the book “Area 51: An Uncensored History of the United States secret military base. ”
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With the ability to fly at 70,000 feet (about 21,300 meters), the U-2 "was commonly mistaken for a UFO by civilians on the ground, who couldn't imagine how something could fly so high," Jacobsen said.
The facility's administration was handed over to the United States Air Force in the late 1970s. But the government did not publicly acknowledge its existence until 2013, when the CIA published declassified documents confirming that it was used as a test facility for OXCART U-2 and A-12 aerial surveillance programs.
According to those documents, the layer of secrecy surrounding Area 51 was to store information from the Soviet Union, not to cover up evidence of extraterrestrial life.
President Barack Obama became the first president of the United States to mention Area 51, in the annual honors of the Kennedy Center, that same year.
"Until then," Jacobsen said, "it was officially a state secret."
Entrance to Area 51, in an image taken in July 2019.
Area 51 is conducive to conspiracy theories
By the time the United States Government finally recognized Area 51, it had been used for decades as an ingredient for conspiracy theorists.
"Area 51 is among the most mysterious and secret bases," Jacobsen told CNN, "which only adds to the fascination and tradition of the public."
Perhaps the best known conspiracy theory was that Area 51 housed an extraterrestrial spacecraft that allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, along with the pilots' bodies.
The alleged UFO actually destroyed parts of balloons, sensors and radar reflectors from the remains of a classified government project aimed at "determining the status of Soviet nuclear weapons research," according to a 1994 Air Force report.
But Area 51 really did not enter public awareness until 1989. It was then that a man named Bob Lazar said in an interview with a local news station that he had worked in Area 51 to reverse engineer what he said was a Alien spacecraft shot down.
Lazar's interview and the statements he made "revealed this secret base with a stir," Jacobsen said. "And since then, tradition, mythology and myth have only grown around Area 51."
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So what would we find in Area 51?
According to Jacobsen, the United States works to perform reverse technology engineering in Area 51.
Today, he said, foreign technology captured on battlefields abroad is taken to Area 51 to reverse engineer and test it.
"So, if we want to learn about a radar system, for example, that it goes to Area 51 and we fly our own plane against it," he said, "to try to determine the secrets of our enemies."
When asked about this claim, the US Air Force He told CNN, in part, "For operational safety reasons, we do not provide detailed information on what type of operations take place in specific areas of the (Nevada Test and Training Range)."
As for what people could find if they really assaulted Area 51, Jacobsen would not speculate, saying that that is "what drives conspiracy thinking."
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But the facility is "the birthplace of what is called ISR: Intelligence, Surveillance and Recognition," he said.
"So to think that the federal government does not have a clear idea of who is there, when they got there and where they are now, is extremely naive," he said. "There is no way for someone to approach classified facilities."
Finally, it is almost impossible to imagine what the government could be working behind the walls of Area 51, he said.
"The job of the military intelligence community is to create weapons systems and surveillance platforms that nobody can think of," he said. "They wouldn't be doing their job if we could correctly imagine what they were doing."
Now, what about aliens?
The conspiracy and disinformation theories, Jacobsen said, only serve to keep the true purpose of the installation hidden.
"The idea that the public believes that unidentified flying planes, or as the Navy recently said, unidentified aerial phenomena, are from outer space, helps to keep abreast of the real events of their secret programs," he said. "What are these real facts is not yet known," he added.
Area 51 Nevada Extraterrestrial life