Sources: LEGAL TIMES, Date: 9/5/94, Title: “Target of Suit Doesn’t (Officially) Exist,” Author: Benjamin Wittes; PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO), Dates: 8/2/94, 8/16/94, September 1994, Titles: “Government Hides Illegal Disposal of Toxic Waste Through Secrecy” and “High Levels of Dioxins Found in Former Worker at Secret Air Force Base,” Author: Scott H. Amey
SSU Censored Researcher: Marilyn Leon
SYNOPSIS: The United States government has used secrecy and over-classification to hide the illegal burning of toxic materials at an Air Force facility so secret that the federal government does not even admit it exists.
While the government doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of the Air Force facility in southwestern Nevada, Groom Lake Air Force Base has served for years as a test site for “black”-or officially non-existent-military aircraft such as the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. Critics charge that a Mach 8 spy plane called Aurora is now being tested there. The Air Force denies such a plane exists.
Were it not for the death of a civilian worker at Groom Lake, it is doubtful much information about the super-secret base and its activities would be coming to light even now. Workers at the Groom Lake AFB, also known as `Area 51,” are challenging the secrecy laws that have, until now, prevented them from speaking out against the illegal waste disposal.
The workers have revealed that materials used in the process of building the Stealth Fighter were regularly burned in open air pits, including highly toxic composites, electronic equipment, tires, hardeners, solvents, resins, coatings, scrap metal, and paints. Workers performed these and other duties without having been allotted protective gear or clothing. The open pits have been described as being 100 yards long, 12 to 20 yards across, and 12 to 20 feet deep.
Robert Frost, a former sheet-metal worker at Groom Lake, died in 1989. He suffered from several mysterious symptoms including a skin rash that turned his hands and neck red and caused his face to split open and bleed. Helen Frost believes her husband’s death was accelerated due to the burning of unconfirmed toxic materials in open pits.
Tissue samples taken before and after Frost’s death revealed levels of dioxin and furans (immune system suppressants) far in excess of the normal limits for residents in industrialized countries. Dr. Peter Kahn, of Rutgers University, examined the tissue samples and determined that dioxin and furans were a contributing factor in the death of Robert Frost.
Helen Frost contacted The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-profit government watchdog, to look into the matter. After initial research, POGO formed an alliance with law professor Jonathan Turley, director of the Environmental Crimes Project at George Washington University. The two organizations have filed suits against the federal government to stop the government’s willful disregard of federal environmental laws, to expose the military’s cynical use of secrecy laws to silence workers under the guise of “national security” and to help the many people who may be suffering from exposure to toxic materials. The suits will test just how far the federal courts will go in allowing the military to use secrecy to circumvent environmental and other statutes.
Meanwhile the military has requisitioned almost all the land within sight of Groom AFB to prevent civilians from catching glimpses of what goes on there.
COMMENTS: Author Benjamin Wittes said, “While papers and television have talked about Groom Lake’s existence, (Professor Jonathan) Turley’s suit has gone almost unnoticed. Groom Lake has received a lot of very poor coverage-particularly focused on the UFO angle. Larry King did a live show from Groom Lake, talking to `UFO historians’ and `experts,’ but largely ignoring the public interest angle. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on the base but ignored the suit almost completely and got some basic facts wrong.
“Other than the Las Vegas dailies, the print media have been utterly uninterested in the suit. I have not seen a story on the suit in any major newspaper, nor have the newspapers covered well the broader issues of over-classification and improper classification.”
“Groom Lake is an open secret, but only among people who know where to look for information about it. Ironically, the only, thorough reporting of goings on at the base has come, from lane’s Defense Weekly and other defense industry press.”
“Groom Lake is the principle example of abuse of the classification/secrecy system, which, as a problem, needs public attention and pressure. The continued classification of the existence of the facility is both an affront to the public’s intelligence and a surefire means of undermining its confidence in government. When `blackness’ is used-as it appears to have been at Groom Lake-to cover up massive abuse of domestic regulations, the public needs to stand as guardian to the integrity of those regulations. Needless to say, it can’t do so without access to the little information aviation writers and other journalists have been able to glean about the base.
“The `black’ world is an area prone to government abuses imply by virtue of the inherent absence of public oversight. Suits like Turley’s are a brute force means of assuring that oversight does continue. The more the public understands about Groom Lake, the more it understands the limitations of American democracy in the secret world of the military.
“I do not believe there has been any effort/conspiracy to suppress coverage of either the base or the suit (except insofar as the government refuses to comment on the base). Having said this, it is certainly in the Air Force’s interest for exposure of the issue to be limited.
“The principle problem, however, in getting this matter to the attention of the public, has been the laziness of the press -not its complicity in any governmental grand design.”
As noted above, The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) joined with law professor Jonathan Turley to sue the government over environmental abuse and secrecy. Following are comments on this issue by Scott H. Amey on behalf of POGO.
“Groom Lake has been reported on extensively regarding two issues: the possibility that UFOs are kept at the super-secret Air Force facility, and the government’s impending withdrawal of public land overlooking the base.” Amey points out that despite that coverage, the public remains unacquainted with the overall scope and possible impact of the story on current and former Groom Lake workers, surrounding communities, and workers at other government facilities. “Most importantly,” Amey adds, “this story affects U.S. citizens, who should be aware of the government’s use of `national security’ to hide these illegal activities.”
“The consequences of the secrecy surrounding `black programs’ can be observed in the government’s ability to hide illegal activities at this base-a base that does not even officially exist. Exposure through the mass media would educate the general public about the dangers of excessive government secrecy. Workers at this facility cannot publicly dissent-not only against government waste and abuse, but even against flat-out illegal practices. Public education through the mass media would also help force the government to provide its workers with a physically and environmentally safe workplace.”
“In the case of Groom Lake, the federal government is the sole beneficiary of the limited media coverage this story has received. Exposure would hinder the government’s ability to keep this base a secret, as well as, of course, the illegal handling of toxic materials. Our goal is to expose the military’s cynical use of secrecy laws to silence workers under the guise of `national security;’ to stop the government’s willful disregard of federal environmental laws; and to assist the workers and local residents in obtaining the appropriate medical attention. However, it is not the objective of our work, or the law suits, to jeopardize national security.”
“The federal government has made it illegal for citizens to take pictures of the facility from as far as twelve miles away or for workers to admit the facility exists. Yet, Russian satellite photos of the base can be purchased on the open market in the U.S., and the Open Skies Treaty reveals its location to the rest of the world. Lack of media attention only serves the government in its efforts to cover up their illegal practices from the American public.”
In an update, POGO reports that on November 1, 1994, it filed a change of venue motion to move the law suit filed against the EPA from Nevada back to the District of Columbia where it was originally filed. Also, on November 10, 1994, the government accepted POGO’s motion to strike its use of the military secrets privilege. As a result, the government is limited in its use of the “national security” defense to block POGO’s jurisdiction or have the suits dismissed.
On December 26, 1994, the McClatchy News Service reported that two mountain peaks that provide a distant vista of the base may soon be off-limits to the public, as requested by the Air Force. There was no mention of the illegal burning of toxic materials at the base nor of Turley’s suit.