Once upon a time, Area 51 didn't exist. Now, apparently, it does. And it's still one of the most secret places in America.

After decades of denial, the government now publicly acknowledges that Area 51 -- seen below in a satellite image -- is a secret military installation north of Las Vegas. It has been variously referred to as Groom Lake, Dreamland and The Ranch.

area 51

The George Washington University National Security Archive published a report last week called "The Secret History of the U-2," describing top secret development programs of high-altitude spy plane technology developed by the CIA during the Cold War.

For decades, conspiracy theorists -- along with UFO believers and organizations -- have speculated that Area 51 was also home to crashed flying saucers and alien bodies.

But the newly declassified CIA report may disappoint those who might have preferred reams of pages of information detailing the inner workings of interplanetary spaceships or the results of ET autopsies. If that kind of stuff is at the Nevada test site, it's still classified, not to be seen by prying eyes.

In fact, out of the 400 pages in the newly released CIA document, UFOs are only mentioned once. Chapter 2, titled "Developing the U-2," offers the following UFO reference:

"High-altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect -- a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects. In the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet, and military aircraft, like the B-47s and B-57s, operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet. Consequently, once U-2s started flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet, air-traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports.

"At this time, no one believed manned flight was possible above 60,000 feet, so no one expected to see an object so high in the sky.

"U-2 and later OXCART flights accounted for more than one-half of all UFO reports during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s."

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Archive in 2005, the declassified documents were finally released, including the following CIA map, clearly showing where Area 51 is located.

area51ciamap

In 1989, the public hadn't heard much about this secret base until George Knapp started digging into stories and eyewitness testimony from those claiming there was a lot more going on at the old Nevada Test Site, created in the 1950s to test nuclear weapons.

"I dug up all kinds of references to Area 51, including maps that the Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission had both put out, listing it as Area 51. I bought a phone book of the test site from an FBI agent that lists Area 51," said Knapp, a multi-Emmy and Peabody award-winning investigative reporter for CBS Las Vegas news affiliate, KLAS-TV.

"I really can't quite figure out what all the fuss is. I do know that, in the 1980s, the CIA, for some reason, started removing references to the base, taking it off maps and suddenly it disappeared, and that's when things got real spooky," Knapp told The Huffington Post.

"It's kind of humorous for the CIA to try to erase it from public memory, and now for it to return it and it's somehow big news," Knapp, 60, said. "I'm reminded of an employee manual that we found from Area 51 about 15 years ago, and it had a whole section about cover stories: What lies to tell to your friends and family about where you work and what you do. That's the business they're in."

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Knapp, pictured at right, doesn't think much of all the media excitement generated by the recent acknowledgement of Area 51.

"What news? We've reported it for 30 years. It's been confirmed by both the Air Force, CIA and the Atomic Energy Commission many times. But if it brings attention to the National Security Archive, so much the better, because they do great work."

And what about all the speculation, rumors and eyewitness accounts of strange-looking craft performing amazing maneuvers in the skies around Area 51 -- are these all based on simple misidentifications of military spy technology?

"Over the course of the years that we've worked on the story, I have more than two dozen people who have worked there at different times -- in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s -- who have told me bits and pieces of the same story, that they have seen something that looked like a flying saucer out there. That we were taking them apart to figure out how they work, that they saw them in hangars, in test flights, and have seen them on the ground," said Knapp.

"The stories differ from person to person. But these are people who did not know that the other ones were talking to me, who have given me the information sometimes reluctantly, and do not want their names used, but they all said the same thing: We had something that sure as hell looked and acted like UFOs out there!"

Watch this news report about the Area 51 declassification.

So much has been reported, claimed, alleged and speculated about Area 51 over the years, you need a scorecard to keep up with it all.

  • Knapp publicly broke the Area 51 story back in 1989 after an interview he conducted with Bob Lazar, who claimed to be a government physicist performing research on recovered alien technology at the top secret Nevada military installation. Lazar's story includes allegations of a campaign of intimidation against him.
  • In 2011, author Annie Jacobsen's controversial best-seller, "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base," opened up a can of worms. An unnamed source told Jacobsen that the infamous 1947 Roswell, N.M., UFO crash was a remote-controlled Soviet-built craft containing a surgically altered "alien" crew. This source claimed to have examined the craft and body remains after they supposedly arrived at Area 51 in 1951.
  • In March of 2012, HuffPost was at the unveiling of an exhibit, "Area 51: Myth Or Reality," at the Smithsonian Institution's National Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas. "The CIA declassified most of the records on Area 51 up through the late 60s and early 70s. It's out in the public now," museum CEO and executive director Allan Palmer told HuffPost nearly a year and a half ago.
  • Earlier this year, at the highly publicized Citizen Hearing On Disclosure held in Washington, D.C., an unusual piece of video testimony was included. A panel of former members of Congress watched as a 77-year-old dying individual -- who wished to remain anonymous -- recounted on video how, while working for the CIA in 1958, President Eisenhower sent him to Area 51 where he claims to have seen several saucer-shaped objects inside buildings, as well as a living extraterrestrial.

Certainly, many UFO enthusiasts, researchers and organizations hope that someday the U.S. government, or the governments of the world, will confirm the existence of alien visits to Earth. Knapp isn't so sure that will happen.

"As a congressional investigator once told me, if we could prove that this is true -- that they've been lying to the public, to Congress and diverting money from legitimate national security programs all these years, into something like this, that people would go to prison if it ever came out ... I don't think this has anything to do with any step toward disclosure."

Click HERE for an excellent zoom-able image of Area 51.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Area 51 Warning Sign

    Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland). Photo taken near Rachel, Nev.

  • The road leading to Area 51

    The long road leading to Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland). Photo taken near Rachel, Nev.

  • Area 51

    Area 51 in Rachel, Nev., is seen in this 1996 photo.

  • Guard Gate at Area 51

    Guard Gate at Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) near Rachel, Nev.

  • Security Patrol

    June 18, 1997. Area 51 Groom Lake Nevada. Picture of security patrol near the Area 51 complex.

  • Area 51 NASA Image

    This NASA Landsat image taken around the year 2000 shows Area 51 and Groom Lake.

  • Crash Site Tours

    A sign directs travelers to the start of the "1947 UFO Crash Site Tours" in Roswell, N.M., June 10, 1997. In Roswell, locals don't argue anymore about whether a space ship crashed nearby. They argue about whose ranch it landed on.

  • Test Dummies

    This is a photo from the Air Force's "The Roswell Report," released June 24, 1997 about the 1947 UFO incident at Roswell, N.M. Air Force personnel used stretchers and gurneys to pick up 200-pound dummies in the field and move them to the laboratory. The 231-page report, released on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Roswell, N.M., UFO incident, was meant to close the book on longstanding rumors that the Air Force recovered a flying saucer and extraterrestrial bodies near Roswell.