For years, people have been intrigued about what goes on at Area 51, or what it's like to live a secret life in the CIA. There’s living history in Henderson, Nevada. A local there was part of the CIA during the Cold War and spent his days carrying out top secret missions at Area 51.
TD Barnes was recruited for the CIA while he served in the Army, and up until just a couple years ago, even his wife didn't know what he did every day. As more and more became declassified, he's been able to shed light on what it was like out at Area 51.
“We called it Paradise Ranch,” Barnes recalled.
From 1968 to 1975, Barnes spent Monday through Friday out on the ranch, or what we know as Area 51.
“What about this person got you recruited for Area 51. It's interesting, because you don't apply for the job because it doesn't exist,” Barnes said smiling.
It was a non-existent job that the CIA recruited hard for Barnes while he served in the Army.
“The CIA was flying missions to Cuba. They had a new radar that we had detected inside of Russia, and they moved it into Cuba,” Barnes explained.
What caught the CIA’s eye? Barnes's specialty was radar and they needed him as they raced against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“They'd already put up the first satellite. They were ahead of us. They put up the Sputnik. We woke up at one in the morning and the Sputnik is up there ‘beep beep beep beep,’ and then they put the first man in space. They were ahead of us. So, they were saying we're ahead of you in bombers and everything else and it just had us scared to death,” Barnes explained.
His mission was to help build aircraft that were more powerful than the Soviet Union’s, and make sure they would remain undetected by Soviet radar.
“We got our hands on some Soviet MIGS, and I was already an expert on Soviet stuff,” Barnes said.
Area 51 turned into a simulated battleground. They used all Soviet equipment to show American troops what they were up against.
“With our MIG program, we tore them down to see how they built them, put them back together and then flew against our Navy and our Air Force, just about every plane in the inventory,” Barnes said.
Barnes and his colleagues called Area 51 the “black world” and any job outside of the area the “white world.” While Barnes was in the “black world,” his family was kept in the dark.
“The family knew that I was working on something secret, along that line, they did not know about Area 51. All they knew was that I got on a plane Monday morning and came home Friday night and you shouldn't talk about it,” Barnes said.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy didn’t just apply to home.
“Depending on what your skill was, you'd be assigned to help the Navy or Air Force. You never knew who it was. You didn't need to know, and they didn't really know our names. We used pseudo names and code names out there,” Barnes said.
Barnes, code name “Thunder,” couldn’t tell his wife what he did until 2009.
“She was mad at me cause she found out it was just 85 miles away. She thought I was in some foreign country somewhere,” Barnes said laughing. “The secrecy worked. No one knew about Area 51 until the Air Force took over.”
Barnes said 1979 was not a good year for the CIA.
“Unfortunately, they had made Area 51 a CIA station, and you're not allowed to have a CIA station in the United States,” Barnes explained.
Once discovered, Area 51 was turned over to the Air Force.
“A lot of people wondered, once they realized the CIA had been at Area 51 for almost 20 years. They'd been there that long before anybody knew about it. They went ‘What have they been doing all this time?’ And that's where the UFO stuff started, the magic people. Imaginations run wild,” Barnes said.
Decades later, it's Barnes with the wild imagination.
“You can only imagine what they're doing today,” Barnes wondered. “They've got to be so advanced today over what we're dealing with then.”
For the past 15 years, Barnes and his colleagues have been working with a historian for the current CIA. All record of their time at the Ranch had been lost.
“David called me and said 'TD, we've got a problem. We don't know what you guys did!'” Barnes said laughing.
Since then, piece by piece, Barnes and his colleagues have filled in the gaps of what happened all those years ago on Paradise Ranch.
“I do, I really do (miss it)."
Barnes has written multiple books as more and more of his projects have become declassified. It's something the current CIA uses as a ‘bible’ when it comes to documenting the history of Area 51. The work Barnes did at Area 51 also prompted the creation of the Navy’s Top Gun Weapon School and the Air Force’s Red Flag Training.
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