Department of Defense News BriefingTuesday, April 18, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. EDT
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Q: On Area 51, a company yesterday released some Russian satellite imagery of an area that apparently is a classified U.S. test facility known colloquially as Area 51. The question is what sort of security concerns does the department have about the commercial availability of imagery like that?
MR. BACON: Well, since Sputnik, we have operated in a world of overhead surveillance, and we have had more than 40 years to learn how to deal with overhead surveillance.
And we, as most countries in the world, understand that satellites fly around and that they take pictures and we know very precisely when they fly, what their courses are, and we know that about all types of satellites. So I think we've learned to live in a world with satellite surveillance and we will continue to take whatever measures we need to take to protect our dearest activities and secrets.
Q: Can you say whether any aspect of national security was compromised by the publishing of the photographs on the Internet?
MR. BACON: The part that struck me the most about the news coverage of those photographs was the conclusive statement that no aliens were observed near Groom Lake, and I was gratified by that because we've long said that this is not a center for UFO or alien activity. So I was very glad that commercial satellite photos were interpreted by some leading news analyst to make the same conclusion.
Q: But nevertheless, did these compromise any national security? Did it present any national security concerns at all, or is it simply a matter of no information was revealed that was in any way compromised?
MR. BACON: I'm not aware that any information was revealed that compromised our activities.
Q: Okay, and just to be clear, since this is a matter of some speculation for years about what exactly goes on in Area 51, what can you say goes on at this test facility?
MR. BACON: Darn little. All I can tell you is that we have a right, as a sovereign nation -- in fact, a responsibility to the citizens of the United States -- to develop various weapons from time to time. Sometimes these weapons are developed in classified locations, and we have several locations where we do this, as do a number of other countries in the world.
Q: And although you've talked about this sort of obliquely and somewhat satirically, can you just say for the record whether or not, can you confirm or deny whether there are any alien spacecraft, alien -- anything extraterrestrial stored or at any time stored at this facility?
MR. BACON: I think I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have no classified program that relies on aliens from outer space. (Laughter.)
Q: Another non-denial. (Laughter.) (Off mike.)
MR. BACON: Chris?
Q: A sort of serious side of this Area 51 thing is there's been some litigation on worker conditions and, I think, toxic contamination and things like that, which I think the president acted a couple of months ago to exempt this entire area from that sort of thing.
Is that right?
MR. BACON: The president did issue an order on February 1st applying to a location near Groom Lake, Nevada. And he did in fact exempt it from various disclosures to unauthorized persons, and some of those disclosures involve environmental operations -- waste disposal, et cetera -- at the site. And that's a publicly available document.
Q: But does that -- what is the effect on this litigation? Does that just end -- just throws out these workers' plights?
MR. BACON: Well, I haven't looked into the litigation issue for some time, so I should probably withhold comment on it. My -- the last time I looked at this was several years ago, and I don't know what's changed since then.
Q: I think there was a recent -- I think it had moved forward recently, but I didn't know how this presidential order affected that.
MR. BACON: Well, it is probably better for environmental lawyers to comment on that. But the litigation, as I understand it, has to do with health effects -- alleged health effects by people who have worked there over a long period of time. And the -- I haven't kept up with the litigation, but the last I knew, there had been no conclusive finding of a link between health effects and working near Groom Lake. But that was several years ago, and it could have changed.