(WASHINGTON) — In an affair usually noted for its glitz and glamour, President Obama made news at the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors as the first president to utter the words “Area 51.”
A beloved subject of conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts, the government testing site, officially known as the Nevada Test and Training Range, and Groom Lake, came up during Sunday night’s gala when the president was honoring actress Shirley MacLaine.
“Now, when you first become president, one of the questions that people ask you is, what’s really going on in Area 51?” Obama said to the audience.
“When I wanted to know, I’d call Shirley MacLaine. … I think I just became the first president to ever publicly mention Area 51. How’s that, Shirley?”
Area 51 was only officially acknowledged this past August in declassified CIA documents that were released following a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Jeffery T. Richelson of the National Security Archives.
Richelson confirmed to ABC News that though past presidents had signed waivers referring to Air Force activity in Groom Lake, Obama was the first president to use the phrase “Area 51″ — at least in public.
Much less entertaining than the rumors that the area was used to test aliens and hide UFOs, documents revealed that Area 51 was merely a testing site for government aerial surveillance programs such as U-2 and Oxcart.
The only mention of UFOs the report made was in saying the U2 plane’s ability to fly higher than 60,000 feet (when most planes at the time were flying below 40,000) was the reason for a major spike in reported UFO sightings in the 1950s and ’60s.
Incidentally, most believe test flights of the oddly shaped and then-top secret F-17 stealth fighter and B2 stealth bombers led to similar “sightings” in the ’80s. Those one-time “skunk works” projects went very public during coverage of the first Gulf War.
As for Obama’s mention of MacLaine, the Academy award-winning actress has been plenty vocal in the past about her beliefs in alien encounters. She talked about her personal alien encounters in her 2007 book Sage-ing While Age-ing and during a 2011 interview with Oprah Winfrey in which MacLaine shared stories of witnessing UFOs from her New Mexico home.
“I’ve seen a mother ship here, and I’ve seen them at my ranch,” MacLaine said. “One famous day, a friend of mine was sitting in my hot tub out there, and three UFOs came over and hovered over the hot tub for about 10 minutes.”
Though never quite reaching Roswell status, Area 51 has prevailed in pop culture, mentioned in the Indiana Jones films (such as Hangar 51) and 1996′s Independence Day, as well as in the former UPN TV show Seven Days.
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