MYSTERY WIRE — In 2020 we are all aware of the intense secrecy surrounding Area 51 in the desert northwest of Las Vegas. But 17 years ago many of us were just learning about the far reaching measures the government would take to keep its secrets secret.
It was in June 2003 when Chuck Clark, a self described military watchdog, showed journalists where the government had buried sensors on public land. Clark used his own sensors and detectors to find the government sensors. Clark admitted he was well known to the security force which guards the base. He was routinely shadowed by the so called camo-dudes, and has been picked up by the array of cameras and other sensors positioned all around the edge of the sprawling test facility.
Clark has spent years exploring the outer edges of the secret base, shooting photos of the facility from faraway vantage points, compiling information from public sources, and then posting his findings on the website of Rachel’s Little A’Le’Inn. Clark also wrote a visitor’s guide to the base, which has been the testing ground for the most sensitive military technology of the past 67 years.
But it wasn’t until he began exposing the existence of hidden spy gear on public land that his legal troubles began.
Just three days after revealing to the public he had found more than 30 devices, he said the F.B.I. and other law men from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) raided his home. The raid was photographed by his neighbors. The agents took computers and personal files. At the time, Clark thought this was all an intimidation tactic meant to scare him away from keeping an eye on Area 51.
The government would eventually bring a single charge against him, according to technology website theregister.com. In 2003, Clark faced one count of malicious interference with a communications system used for the national defense. The government claimed that on March 12th, 2003 one of the sensors went missing.
In January 2004, Clark made a deal with the government and agreed to enter a one-year term of “pretrial diversion.” This is similar to probation. According to one report, part of the agreement was to either locate and return the lost device, or make financial restitution to the Air Force. “He paid for the missing sensor, and complied with the conditions of his pretrial diversion and the case was dismissed,” says Natalie Collins, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas.
When Clark was searching for the buried devices and found one, he said he would dig it up, take a photo and put it back. But he noticed every time he did this it appeared he tripped a sensor and within minutes a security vehicle with camo-dudes would be dispatched to his location. When Clark spoke about finding the devices in June of 2003, he said he never removed a sensor.
Clark told the media he believes the military has no right to hassle citizens on public land and cannot justify hiding spy equipment there. However, after Clark’s home was raided, he said he will stop looking for the devices. But he believes there are many more out there because as of the summer of 2003, he said he had only explored 3 or 4 roads and there are many more weaving through the desert.
In the mid 80s, the Air Force seized 89,000 acres of public land around Groom Lake, home of Area 51, and only later received congressional permission to annex it. In the 1990’s it took control of high points used by curious people to look directly at Area 51. This area was known as Freedom Ridge. The government even went as far as putting up signs that claim to be the border of the base, when in reality the border might be miles away and only marked by small poles with orange tips.
Repeated inquiries to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to turn up anything authorizing the military to place devices on public land. The Pentagon did not comment. Neither did the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which said it cannot comment as a matter of policy.
As for Chuck Clark, he said if the government had just come to him and told him to knock it off, he’d would do that. But in June of 2003, that was not the path the government chose. The tactic appears to of worked to some extent. Clark told the Las Vegas Review Journal the government gave him his property back in late 2003, but soon after the agreement with the government, Clark left Rachel, Nevada and has not spoken about the sensors or Area 51 in public since.