Area 51 - 8 News NOW

Area 51

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George Knapp's Street Talk
Led by Award-winning investigative reporter George Knapp, the Eyewitness News I-TEAM is the top television investigative unit in southern Nevada. Political expert Jon Ralston provides insight into local and state government, and former Mayor Jan Jones adds an insider's viewer of City Hall. I-TEAM photographer Eric Sorenson rounds out this first-class investigative unit.

The U.S. Air Force has been forced to release information about the military base known as Area 51. The release was ordered by a federal judge based on a legal action filed five years ago by Eyewitness News.

The issue stems from a lawsuit filed by former employees of Area 51, alleging environmental crimes at the secret base. Channel 8 entered the case in 1995 when we asked the court to unseal a classified hearing held in the case. It took a long time, but we recently got our first look at the hearing transcript, and it confirmed some of our suspicions.

Washington law professor Jonathan Turley and his clients were the first to accuse the government of committing environmental crimes at the top-secret facility known as Area 51, and of using national security to hide evidence of those crimes.

Base workers using John Does sued the base, alleging they had been exposed to toxic chemicals when mountains of secret trash were burned in open pits at the base. At least two workers who were exposed to toxic smoke have died. Their widows joined the lawsuit, and so did KLAS-TV.

Turley said: “Your station objected that the public was being kept out of portions of the case. The court of appeals agreed and sent it back to judge pro.”

Now, federal Judge Phil Pro has ordered the Air Force to release a transcript of a once classified hearing in the case. The military has said all along that open discussion of the case would endanger national security. However, Turley has accused the government of using heavy-handed tactics, including scare tactics to prevent the government from being embarrassed.

Turley previously has said that the main subject of a June 1995 closed-door hearing was a security manual from Area 51, a manual that told much about how the base operates. Even though the manual has been available for years on the Internet, the government tried to get the court to declare it a classified document.

In the hearing transcript just released, government lawyers successfully blacked out any references to the security manual --almost all references. We found one mention of “the manual,” enough to confirm Turley’s version of what that hearing was about. The hearing also confirms Turley’s claim that the government wanted to seize his files, including information that might help identify his John Doe clients.

Turley says, “The government classified the briefs and put my office under seal, demanded I turn over client files, and I refused.”

The court's latest ruling is not only a victory for KLAS-TV, but also for Turley, who was awarded $200,000 in attorneys fees by judge Pro, a move that could help him file yet another lawsuit on behalf of base workers.

Turley says: “There are more crimes committed in the name of national security than anything else. These workers weren’t killed by a foreign power but by our government. There has to be some recourse.”

Although the court has ordered a transcript of the hearing made public, we were not allowed a copy of it. We got to look at it but not to take one with us. And, as mentioned, much of the hearing remains blacked out by government censors. But it does confirm much of what Turley told us previously.

Area 51, Part II
The government has finally and reluctantly coughed up some of its secrets about Area 51, under orders from a federal judge. What was unveiled is the transcript of a closed-door hearing in 1995, and the central discussion of that hearing turns out to be this -- a security manual from the Groom Lake facility, a manual that tells much about how the base operates.

The manual lists every building on the base and every street name. Based on the manual, Area 51 researchers managed to make their own maps of the facility, listing the purpose of every building, right down to the softball fields, the bar and the waste trenches.

The manual describes how security should respond if it encounters intruders -- It advises them to lie about the base, or, in military terms, use a cover story.

Whether or not the manual was legitimate has been the subject of much debate. The Pentagon, of course, previously denied the existence of Area 51, then it denied the base ever used that name, even though maps show it did. So naturally, it hasn’t wanted to admit this manual might be from the base that isn’t there.

However, in the transcript made public by the Channel 8 legal action, government lawyers make reference to the manual. They allege that even though it previously was released, it is classified and must remain so. They asked the court to allow them to seize the files from the lawyer who first took them to court, alleging that environmental crimes had been committed at the base, in some cases, deadly crimes.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley says, “I have two dead clients and a number of sick clients. They have names and faces, and are real people.”

Turley says his clients were killed because they were exposed to toxic waste burned in open trenches at Area 51 -- trenches like the ones listed in the manual and on the maps. He eventually lost these claims in the U.S. Supreme Court, partly because President Clinton exempted the base from environmental laws.

Turley says: “President Clinton invoked executive privilege not to hide evidence of trysts with interns but to hide two deaths. That’s a big difference.”

We are still waiting to get our own copy of the hearing transcript, but we were allowed to inspect it Feb. 28, 2000. A lot of it is blacked out by government censors. In addition to his order releasing the transcript, Judge Phil Pro also ordered the government to pay some $200,000 in legal fees to Turley, something that might mean Turley will make another run at Area 51 on behalf of the workers there.

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