THE BLOG
03/30/2016 11:04 am ET | Updated Apr 05, 2016

Will Hillary Clinton Unmask Area 51?

Daniela Mangiuca via Getty Images

If you're worried about little gray guys with no hair and amygdaloid eyes, Hillary Clinton wants to help. Last week, in an interview with late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, Clinton said that she planned to follow up on inquiries made years ago by her husband, and bare what the government really knows about visiting aliens.

The principal question: Are a few such cosmic beings -- or at least some of their spacecraft -- under wraps at Area 51, Nevada's creepy, cryptic military facility? Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course they do. But I doubt that Clinton can provide a satisfactory answer.

First, the back story. For decades, surveys have shown that roughly one-third of the populace will raise their hand if asked, "Do you think Earth is being visited by extraterrestrials?" That's a hundred million Americans, and of course, some of them have political influence. When Bill Clinton was president, the wealthy philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller sponsored, and then promoted, a document that described what was called the best evidence for alien craft. He met with Bill Clinton in 1996, and encouraged him make a deep dive on the subject. Clinton tried to learn if cosmic creatures were warehoused at Area 51, but said he came up empty.

Now we have UFO redux. Hillary is being urged by her campaign chairman, John Podesta, to think again. Or at least, to ask again. Podesta, who was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff and more recently Counselor to President Obama, now chairs Hillary's campaign. He's long pushed for disclosure of any government information germane to the UFO question, and for over two decades has made this a minor leitmotif for the Clintons.

So what is Hillary going to do that her husband didn't? Well, maybe nothing more than to simply look into the subject again. But, Kimmel upped the ante. What if Hillary finds that the government really does have proof of aliens?

"Well, if there is something there," Clinton responded, "unless it's a threat to national security, I think we ought to share it with the public."

In other words, tell it like it is. Clinton is siding with those who clamor for "disclosure," a code word for the government coming clean and admitting to the public what it really knows about UFOs. The thesis is simple: the question of alien presence will be settled if the feds simply open their files.

But that premise is weak. An extraordinary claim (we're being visited) is defended with a resort to hidden information. Suppose someone tells you they've found a cure for cancer. Would you believe them if they also said that the crucial proof was hidden for decades by a malevolent government?

There's also a subtle bias in the disclosure approach. The very term implies that there is something to disclose.

But what if there's not? Things go wrong anyway. In 1970 the Air Force ended Project Blue Book - its investigation of UFOs -- saying that it had found nothing of interest in the many reports it collected. Did that put claims of saucer-sailing visitors to bed? No, it merely spawned a conviction that the Air Force investigation was rigged or that the real UFO evidence was in the relatively small collection of unexplained cases.

In 2009, the British Ministry of Defence shuttered its UFO hotline. The number of reported sightings had reached two or three a day, and the burden of dealing with them was considered insupportable. The MOD said that after more than a half-century of taking hotline tips, they had learned nothing of either military or scientific value. They also released tens of thousands of related government documents. Nonetheless, you're living in dreamland if you think that all members of the British public have now dismissed the idea that Earth is hosting extraterrestrials.

So disclosure is a mirage unless the answer is the right one. If the government's response to Hillary's queries is "there's nothing at Area 51 but military aircraft," do you really expect that those whose psyches are invested in the alien visitation story are going to buy it?

Not likely. They're not going to hand over their swords and abandon the idea of aliens on Earth. Given the inherent problem of proving a negative, I doubt they'll ever come to this conclusion. Ever.

And even if you don't share my skepticism, note that Hillary's response to Kimmel had a qualifier as obvious as a circus parade. She said that yes, she'll share whatever information she finds "unless it's a threat to national security."

Even a fourth grader will realize this is a handy excuse to hold back information. Not that she necessarily would. It's just that any statement saying that there are no alien bodies at Area 51 is immediately suspect. It won't settle any arguments.

Clinton may just have been kidding around with Kimmel. And on the practical side, given the large number of people who believe that Earth has house guests, maybe this was just a gambit to influence some voters to favor her candidacy.

But one thing you can bet on: Area 51 and its putative store of extraterrestrial paraphernalia isn't about to become an open book. And for the UFO folks, that might be a good thing. After all, its value isn't that it actually houses aliens or alien artifacts, but that it might.

CONVERSATIONS