In American popular culture, few places evoke the sort of mysterious shroud of secrecy as Area 51.
The remote dessert military facility, situated near Groom Lake, Nevada, has played host to some of our nation’s most out-there conspiracy theories. Whether it be secret aircraft built and tested there, or perhaps even the preserved remains of extraterrestrial beings stored deep underground, Area 51 has been a household name for some time.
Even the 1996 blockbuster film Independence Day used the clandestine location as a backdrop for some of its more poignant and reality-altering scenes.
Visitors attempting to get anywhere near the base are often turned away, sternly, by extremely terse warning signs and the ever-present security detail.
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But the Russians, from the air, just took a good, hard look at what the US military is doing deep in the dessert…and it was all perfectly legal.
The Russians are operating their Tu-154M aircraft configured for surveillance flights sanctioned under the Open Skies Treaty that allows member countries to conduct surveillance flights over each other’s territory relatively unimpeded. The aircraft are equipped with imaging equipment with specific limitations and monitors from the country being surveilled are onboard the flights to make certain the party complies with the parameters of the treaty. This latest series of Russian Open Skies flights are being conducted out of Great Falls, Montana and are covering a slew of strategic points in the western part of the United States, including the highly secure Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR) in southern Nevada, home of Area 51.
Nellis Test Range was recently in the news after a bizarre, temporary quarantine of a nearby solar telescope led internet conspiracy theorists to formulate a hypothesis that the location was being used by a foreign entity to spy on Area 51 and Nellis both. The official government explanation for the evacuation and closing of the telescope was to tidy up a child pornography investigation connected to an employee of the site.
The list of sites legally spied on by the Russians was enormous, starting with Creech AFB in Nevada and then heading toward Nellis and Area 51.
After it flew over Creech AFB, it headed up to Yucca Flat, where one of America’s nuclear weapons assembly plants is located, and a secretive airstrip that specializes in test flights of unmanned aircraft, as well as other sensitive Department Of Energy installations. It then headed over the pockmarked Nevada Test Site. Area 51 sits just to the east of this location. The aircraft’s panoramic cameras can collect fairly wide swathes of imagery along the Open Skies aircraft’s flight path.
The Open Skies program has long been chastised for it’s favoring of the Russians, who have not reciprocated the allowances in earnest, and who have not followed the limiting parameters of the treaty in terms of photographic technology.
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