Date: 29 Oct 93 18:11:31 GMT From the Salt Lake Tribune, October 17th, 1993, reproduced wi

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From: (Rich Thomson) Date: 29 Oct 93 18:11:31 GMT Organization: Design Systems Division, Evans & Sutherland, SLC, UT Message-ID: <2armcj$> From the Salt Lake Tribune, October 17th, 1993, reproduced with permission. No Peeking from Peak: Air Force Wants to Seize Mountain to Protect Secret Base by Joshua B. Good Special to the Tribune 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. Environmentalists, aviation buffs and UFO watchers have banded together to fight for access. 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, Utah. 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 the military security knows that spy satellites routinely observe the facility, but the base knows their 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. "We've already won the Cold War", Campbell said. "We've got no one out there who can compete with us on a technological ground unless we go to war with France." 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. Grace Bukowski also has vowed to stop the Air Force. She works for Citizen Alert, the state's most active environmental group. "We're gonna fight any military expansion in the state. They've already got 4 million acres", Bukowski said, "You don't get more 'til you fix what you took." Bukowski did not attend this weekend's protest. She was arrested at Groom when she and three other Citizen Alert members walked into the restricted zone to work a friend's mining claim. Charges were later dismissed. 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 Complex". 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". 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 Souther California now call the plane's earth-shaking sonic booms "airquakes". 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] 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 Sheehan family, led by Dan Sheehan, 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 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 1950 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 the 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 spot", says aviator Goodall. "You can't see the facility, but you can see anything that takes off from the facility." -- Joshua B. Good is a Las Vegas free-lance writer.


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