LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An air of mystery has always surrounded Nevada’s Area 51 base. For years, the U.S. military denied that it even existed, but it’s been there since 1955, hidden behind cryptic nicknames. Now, new secrets about the base are being made public for the first time, including its real name.

Area 51 is, in one sense, a living, breathing contradiction – the world’s best-known secret base. It has inspired numerous books, television shows and major motion pictures but was it ever truly a secret?

“Area 51 was never secret. You knew the existence of it. It’s just who was out there and what they were doing,” Thornton “T.D.” Barnes, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Radar Specialist said to 8 News Now I-Team’s, George Knapp.

Barnes has probably done more than anyone to lift the veil of secrecy from Area 51. He’s the head of the Road Runners, a group of former Area 51 employees who came out into the open more than a decade ago to talk about the work they did in the Nevada desert.

Barnes took things further by nudging the CIA to declassify photos and documents about the base, things even the CIA didn’t seem to know, including the base’s real name— “Station D,” which was the CIA’s original name for Area 51. It is also in the title of Barnes’ new, definitive history of the place.

“They had all kinds of documents in there that identified it as Station D,” Barnes said.

The public had not seen that until now.

“They’ve never seen it, but even when I went back to (CIA) historians to get more, they said we’ve never heard of that,” Barnes said. 

In his book, Barnes outlines the astonishing array of names, nicknames, and code names used for the base since the CIA first chose it in 1955 as the perfect spot to secretly test and fly the highly classified U-2 spy plane.

Groom Lake is the location that had always been used. CIA employees initially called the dusty outpost Watertown or the Watertown Strip, named for the hometown of the CIA director at the time.   

The designation “Area 51” started in 1958 when the CIA needed to annex land from the nearby atomic testing range to develop the A-12 Blackbird.

Sometime in the ’60s, the “51” disappeared from maps and the military started pretending there wasn’t a base out there at all, even though Russian spy agencies knew it was there.

The aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin referred to the area as “Paradise Ranch,” a cruel joke to lure workers out to the desert.

“It was anything but paradise,” Barnes said.

“Paradise Ranch” became “The Ranch”, then “Red Square” or “The Box,” which referred to the no-fly zone around the base.

Several other names popped up over the decades:

  • “Yuletide”
  • “St. Elsewhere”
  • “Home Plate”
  • “Homey Airport”
  • “The Site”

Many other different variations, including what might be the best of the bunch “Dreamland,” taken from a tower call sign.

The CIA used cover stories, basically lies, to disguise what went on at Groom Lake.

In the beginning, it was supposedly a NASA weather station, then an atomic energy research facility, but the whole time, the CIA was developing the world’s most advanced espionage platforms and technology that helped the U.S. win the Cold War.

In the ’70s, when CIA misdeeds caught the attention of Congress and two presidents, it suddenly dawned on Washington, D.C., the CIA was forbidden from operating inside the U.S., “Station D” was shut down and control was transferred to the U.S. Air force.

In the mid-’80s, public attention was aroused when the Air Force seized 89,000 acres of public land around Groom Lake.  The public’s attention exploded at the end of the ‘80s because of a particular wild story that made the base world-famous, which Barnes also covers in his new book.

“When the word got out that something was going on at Area 51 and the CIA was involved for 20 years that no one knew about, I said what were they doing for 20 years out there? And that’s when the UFO phase started,” Barnes said.

UFOs at Area 51? Kind of rings a bell.

Click here for more information on T.D. Barnes’ book: “CIA Station D Area 51: The Complete Illustrated History of the CIA’s Station D at Area 51.”