A newly declassified government map reveals there was a super-secret government testing site in a dry lake bed, its exact location long suspected. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
The man who put Area 51 on the UFO map is not impressed by newly declassified CIA documents that acknowledge the existence of the facility but say it was used to test U-2 spy planes — not flying saucers.
"Everybody has known that for 25 years or so," said Bob Lazar, who came forward in 1989 with a tale of government scientists tinkering with alien spacecraft at a military base in the Nevada desert.
"Tell us something we don't know."
A controversial figure even in the UFO community, Lazar claimed that as a government scientist he was taken to Area 51 near Groom Lake and then put to work at a facility called S4 about 15 miles south.
By his account, flying discs powered by anti-matter reactors with seats too small for humans were being tested at S4 — reverse-engineered by the U.S. to create its own futuristic technology.
Although his story was ridiculed by skeptics, it turned Area 51 into a magnet for tourists, ufologists and conspiracy theorists.
The government had little to say about Area 51 until the release of a 20-year-old CIA history made public through a Freedom of Information request filed by George Washington University's National Security Archive back in 2005 and approved in June.
The document says the facility, which served as a gunnery range during World War II, was transformed into a test and training site for the U-2s and its successors, the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart, the D-21 Tagboard and even the F-117 stealth fighter.
Justin Norton / AP
A mock alien autopsy at the Area 51 exhibit at the Alien Zone in Roswell, N.M., in December 2006.
The history makes no mention of little green men, spaceships or anything else that's out of this world.
Lazar, who said he now runs a private consulting firm and wants nothing to do with UFO enthusiasts, isn't surprised — saying all the extraterrestrial work went on at S4.
"That’s a minuscule baby step forward," Lazar said of the Area 51 disclosures. "Maybe a decade from now they’ll acknowledge there’s an S4."
Richard Boylan, who claims to have had encounters with "star visitors" along Nevada's so-called Extraterrestrial Highway 375, said he had to "stifle a yawn" when he heard the CIA had finally 'fessed up that Area 51 is an actual place.
After all, he said, he infiltrated the base and saw with his own eyes spacecraft being tested and flown and friendly visitors from outer space arriving to work with government scientists — activities that he believes are being covered up by a "shadow government."
A prototype U-2 spy plane is tested at what became known as Area 51 in Nevada in a 1955 photo provided by the CIA.
"They say Area 51 is real? Duh!" he said. "That's not even one cent on the dollar of what the government knows and should be admitting to."
But others welcomed the CIA confirmation, limited as it was.
"It makes you feel a little bit better that not everybody is crazy," said Dirk Vander Ploeg, publisher of UFO Digest.
The belated acknowledgment is a reminder that the government is good at keeping secrets, he said.
"It makes you think if they have all this new aircraft and all this stealth technology, what else do they have out there? What else haven't they told us."
Alejandro Rojas, co-organizer of the International UFO Congress and an editor of Open Minds Magazine, said now that Area 51 is no longer being redacted from CIA documents, future Freedom of Information requests may yield more revelations.
And it might lend credence to other out-there theories.
"Once it got this association with aliens and UFOs, a lot of people doubted Area 51 even existed," said Rojas, who added that he is "agnostic" on the question of whether ET research was done at the site.
"There are people now going, 'Oh, it really does exist!' I hope it does demonstrate that a lot of what UFO researchers are saying is credible."
Conspiracy theorists rejoice! The U.S. has finally declassified the existence of Area 51, but if you thought it was holding alien space ships, you may be disappointed. NBC's Mara Schiavacampo reports.