The documents are the first official acknowledgment of the patch of Mojave Desert near Groom Lake known as Area 51. About a decade after the end of WWII, President Eisenhower signed off on a secret project to develop spy planes -- high-altitude, long-range manned planes capable of remote photography.
The Air Force worked with the Lockheed Corporation to develop the manned aircraft that would eventually become the U-2. In need of flight test sites away from prying eyes, they discovered an abandoned wartime landing strip just outside the Nevada Test Site.
"After consulting with [the CIA's] Dulles, Bissell and Miller asked the Atomic Energy Commission to add the Groom Lake area to its real estate holdings in Nevada. AEC Chairman Adm. Lewis Strauss readily agreed, and President Eisenhower also approved the addition of this strip of wasteland, known by its map designation as Area 51, to the Nevada Test Site."
The documents reveal a trove of previously classified Cold War-era U-2 materials including pilots, codenames, funding and cover arrangements, electronic countermeasures, and foreign operations in cooperation with other governments.
Notably, the CIA conducted covert U-2 operations in support of the 1958 Indonesian rebellion and the Tibetan rebellion against China. A number of operations from India were conducted between 1962 and 1967, triggered by the Sino-Indian war.
Other previously classified accounts include U.S.-sponsored Chinese Nationalist U-2 operations, including low-altitude reconnaissance flights over China using Chinese Nationalist pilots.
Most astonishing, however, may be that when the CIA originally contracted with Lockheed in 1955 to build 20 U-2 aircraft mounted with high-resolution cameras, the defense contractor came in under budget.
The Agency was about to enter a $22.5 million contract for the 20 spy planes, and through the use of "unvouchered" CIA funds -- secret checks free from accounting and oversight -- it has been revealed the CIA only paid $18,977,597 for the U-2s, and that includes $1.9 million profit for Lockheed.
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