An explanation for Roswell that's crazier than aliens

Annie Jacobsen, an editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine, has written a book purporting to tell the real history of Area 51 and the Roswell Incident. Her book, which is based largely on interviews with people who lived and worked at Area 51, manages to simultaneously explain why the site would be so highly classified, while also trading in kind of mundane Cold War shenanigans—in other words, it's fairly believable. That is, except for the explanation one source gave her for Roswell, which is possibly the most insane story I have ever heard about that supposed alien crash landing. (And I watched the WB teen drama.) Scroll down to the section on "Interview Highlights" to read it.


  1. Yeah, I thought the same thing after reading that yesterday. Sort of blows her credibility…

  2. Annie wrote a series of pieces for Women’s WSJ on air transportation safety (flying imams, probing missions, Air Marshall service feckls). I’ve seen a lot of conflicting opinions on the conclusions AJ reached in her terror in the skies series, and she had to take a stint at Pajamas Media, but I very much like her writing style. She’s really good at what she does. Sounds like great fun. I hope she sells a lot of books.

  3. This is starting to resemble the premise of Dune: Plots within plots within plots. Maybe her single super-trusted source is a gov’t plant. Anyone seen the Cigarette Smoking Man lately?

  4. she is such a fraud. Theory I believe is that it was an american experimental craft that had some radiological power or failed weaponry that they were testing out. The pilots got exposed which caused them to get Hydrocephalus and burnt up which made them seem skinnier than humans. not a complete theory or probably not a correct one but her’s sounds more blackop than the obvious coverup of something.

  5. She gave a terrible interview on Fresh Air, made worse by the fact that Terry Gross was not nearly tough enough on her. “Sources” claim all this? Puh-leeze.

    1. She’s on Airtalk on KPCC 89.3 in Los Angeles right now, along with one of her sources.

      1. i caught the last 3 minutes. thx. fast track to mars, sounds like NERVA or one of it’s cousins.

        1. Yes, they were talking about NERVA.

          Another thing about the interview which annoyed me was the repeated implication that experiments to test a theory which came back with a negative result had “failed”.

    2. I heard that. It was pretty bad. There was lots of breathless talk of experiments which actually! took! place!

      1. If I were a member of a secret team of terrorists, we would DEFINITELY have matching track suits.

        I bet Stalin and Mengele had matching track suits, too, for that matter.

  6. Yes, this is interesting, but if you are going to weave a tale as weird as this you should probably have more than one anonymous source. I still don’t see how the benefits would outweigh the risks to the Soviets, even as paranoid as Stalin was.

  7. There are a lot of things wrong with the story, but for me it’s really the Mengele stuff that kills it. Mengele’s movements at the end of and after WWII are quite well documented. He wasn’t in the USSR. If he had been, he probably would have just been thrown in a gulag to die.

    Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy of Jacobsen not to follow through the documentary train on Mengele; it’s pretty basic stuff.

    It also seems that tying Mengele in with Roswell is exactly the sort of disordered thinking you would expect from a source who was honest, but insane.

  8. so spoiler alert: russians (or someone) had flying disc technology and sent one over here filled with children that had been surgically altered to look like aliens. To terrify us, basically. and the reason it’s a secret is because the US decided to do it too.

    but what if it’s REAL? That’s a lot more believable that aliens or anything supernatural. I’m generally with missouri on these things. (show me.)

  9. Up until the Mengele/Stalin/Flying Disk/mutilated children bit, it was very solid and interesting, but then…..
    Holy cripes! Perhaps exposure to all the real horrors of Area 51 (dirty bomb testing)led her source to cobble together this nonsensical, impossible, far beyond ludicrous story. And you know what? Now, that is the only part of this book that will get any notice. The actual important parts will be ignored because of this bullshit.

  10. So… the Soviets had saucer-shaped aircraft with a range of 5000+ miles that were never put in to use and remained completely secret until now? I’m more prepared to believe in aliens.

  11. The idea of Roswell being a Soviet hoax reminds me of the explanation in Peter Millar’s thriller “Stealing Thunder” — except Millar’s novel was more plausible.

  12. Plutonium distribution tests: real.
    OXCART: real (it’s just the A-12 / SR-71 Blackbird)
    Nuclear rocket: real (look up NERVA)
    The rest of it: pretty damn far-fetched

    Lure ’em in with some truths, wind up, and hit’ just when they’re ready to hear anything, hit ’em with the whoppers.

  13. I thought the surgically modified children idea was fascinating. Completely implausible but fascinating and a truly new take on a really interesting part of our history. Neat like a ghost story.

    1. What a pity the x-files ended 10 years ago. It would have made a fantastic episode.

  14. You are all agents of a mass anti-conspiracy conspiracy!
    The bigger the lie the more believable it becomes, but what is the lie now?

    I miss Art Bell…

  15. I’d kind of like to see a discussion on the Orion Project between Annie Jacobson and George Dyson.

  16. All terrible “reporting” about potential ukulele bombers aside, Jacobsen’s story about Area 51 isn’t worth half the attention being given to it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and neither Terry Gross nor Jon Stewart seemed to recognize that.

  17. Look at the comments on the NPR page: A supposed NERVA engineer chastises Jacobsen for technical illiteracy with regards to radiation hazards.

    I’d like to 2nd that, in the Fresh Air interview, it was (with respect to any science) the clueless talking to the ignorant. (Sorry Terry.)

    The Horten flying disk is rather well known, IIRC it appears in “Warplanes of the Third Reich” published in the 70’s. 5k mile range? Uh, no.

    Jacobsen also appears in Snopes for her breathless racism on NW Flight 327.

    Fascinated as I am by Cold War black- (or just dark-)history, and a citizen hugely concerned with the cost of classification, I’m still going to AVOID this book. While I hope Ms. Jacobsen makes a lot of money off the rubes, I won’t be one of them.

    And Maggie: I’m surprised. Really shocked that you give this person your credence.

  18. I heard Terry Gross interviewing her, and I have to say it sounded like she was spewing disinformation for propaganda purposes (either willingly or unwittingly, I can’t say). Perhaps someone has decided the US needs a new bogeyman to fight and are trying to make us hate Russians again.

    But who knows, maybe Iron Sky is a docudrama.

  19. Based on my own experiences in a previous life, I’ve found that journalists — and even people who were actually there — tend to get specific tech details wrong, but do tend to get the big brush strokes pretty close. I haven’t had a chance to look at any of the details coming out about her book, but it’s worth remembering that the 50s was a very very kookie time. Lots of ideas floating around, and a lot of industrial-complex-cum-nation-state pushing these projects.

    Remember The Rule: If it doesn’t violate the laws of nature then it’s possible, and if it’s possible then it’s only a matter of money. And the US had a lot of money in the 50s and a much greater percentage of our national intellectual capital applied to military stuff.

  20. Couldn’t the teens have been children from the Montaulk Project time travel experiments?

    1. I once posted a short (mocking) satire about Montauk and TWA800 for ewes net, using a lot of accelerator physics buzzwords, from a dot g0v account. Took a couple months for the “omg!omg! i knew it tell me more” mail to die down. like i’d really post the operating frequency of the death ray…

  21. “…and in other news the UN Council on Climate Change came to an inclusive vote on whether igniting methane gas is a) funny, b) a source of preventable pollution, c) may lead to burning of unmentionables, or d) some of the above, when the four to four vote could not be split due to the Ukranian representative being “accidently” eaten by the Russian ambassador’s loose pet Yeti on the chamber floor prior to his vote.”

    Oh drat these pesky Soviets and their plots!

  22. Anon #27: What part of “the most insane story I have ever heard about that supposed alien crash landing. (And I watched the WB teen drama.)” sounds like I’m saying I believe and trust Annie Jacobsen?

    I thought this was so ridiculous that it was funny. I thought you would find it funny, too. That’s why I shared.

    I hadn’t heard about the Syrians On a Plane incident until now. But I am not shocked to find that the same person is responsible for both of these stories.

  23. I could believe a medical examiner freaking out and deciding, in his own mind, that what he was looking at must be 13 year old children surgically altered by Nazis. Doesn’t make it true though. But if it helped him sleep at night, fine.

    It would be extraordinary if the bodies were aliens — and all we need is ordinary evidence for that, i.e., the bodies, or a detailed report on what in the autopsy was so different from human that the convoluted “surgically altered by Nazis” explanation was something that otherwise reasonable people would have accepted. Contrary to Sagan’s catch-phrase, extraordinary evidence is not needed. Just ordinary evidence which in retrospect could be thought of as “extraordinary” because of what it means.

  24. I’m smack dab in the middle of reading “Mirage Men” right now and this article only added to my conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy headache.

    1. Coincidentally, I just finished it. You thinkin’ Doty too?

      BTW, “…they had been made to look like aliens a la Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds…”.
      From what I remember, what little we were told by H.G. about his Martians were that they had octopus characteristics. I don’t think Orson strayed from this. No little people, no big eyes, etc.

      Another sloppy “fact”?

      1. I’m working my way through the book, and just hit the first point where she mentions the WotW aliens: she makes the specific point that they were “the size of bears with [something something] of/like octopus tentacles. Your criticism sounds more like an inadvertent admission of failing to read the material than anything else…

  25. I’m reading Area 51 right now. Haven’t gotten to the Roswell bit, but I did hear a chunk of the Fresh Air interview.

    Obviously, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will ever know exactly what took place at Roswell.

    However, I do think it is reasonable to believe that:

    1) We may not know the extent of aeronautic capabilities the military/intelligence community has at its disposal today

    2) There is a chance that UFOs as black-project scare-the-masses hoaxes has validity

    Dismissing crazy ideas as out of hand inherently because they are crazy strikes me as obtuse, when there are many, many, many examples of things that were once totally batshit crazy ideas that were easy to scoff at, that eventually turned out to be true (and laughably, we now take for granted).

  26. Actually the UFO “theory” sounds like it came from Adam Roberts’ book Yellow Blue Tibia. Stalin gathers a bunch of sci-fi hacks to his dacha and asks them to come up with an alien invasion plan. This book is brilliant and laugh out load funny. It was the first thing I thought of when both Stalin and UFO were used in the same sentence.

  27. I heard the Fresh Air interview, and Jacobsen’s verification of credibility for her source on the Roswell stuff was that he had TS clearance, and Q clearance, and she verified his war record, and employment record, etc. As though having a clearance is proof of sanity.

    Let me tell you (and posting anonymously obviously), there are lots of folks with weird ideas out there with clearances, especially in the engineering branches. I assume that the operations branches try to keep their people sane. Though there was that whole Angleton thing. And J. Edgar.

    Just because someone has a Ph.D and a clearance doesn’t make them sane. Or more specifically, innoculate them from having crazy ideas. As long as you do your job and can keep a secret, it’s unlikely that you’ll get your clearance pulled because you believe in little green men. Or gray children, as the case may be. Especially if you happen to be really smart; people are willing to overlook a great deal if you have good ideas in the area you’re supposed to be working on.

    I’ve spent hours listening to otherwise sane people with clearances tell me their latest conspiracy theory. Who cares, as long as the craziness doesn’t extend to the things they’re working on. But the other side of the coin is that they’re extremely smart and knowledgeable, and so if you’re a journalist who is a bit gullible and easily led anyway (see A. Jacobsen’s hysterical and largely discredited reporting of the terrorist dry runs) and not so sharp technically, you’re easy pickins.

  28. Just finished the book 2 minutes ago. It’s good, and very, very well-researched. Nothing other than this one claim that is getting all the press is very disputable or unbelievable. The book is very well footnoted, other than this one bit about the fake alien Stalin disc crash at Roswell.

    I will say one thing. Based on the 99% of the rest of the book, I am willing to admit that there is at least a possibility to this, as astounding as it may sound. Other research I’ve done has indicated to me that the Germans were in possession of advanced flying disc technology in the 40s. We know for a fact that Mengele was involved in all manner of sick human experimentation. It is NOT claimed int he book that Mengele actually went to the Soviet Union after WWII — in fact, she expressly states that he never was allowed to enter the USSR after the war.

    I think people who shoot down the book do a disservice by not reading it first. It is a good, fascinating read, even if after you are done, you cannot swallow this one bit. It is frankly a very small part of a very good book.

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