Is he Bond, James Bond?
October 7, 2011 8:03 PM   Subscribe

One of my relatives has a secret military and/or intelligence job. Help me deduce what he does?

So I've got this family member who has some sort of secret military and/or intelligence job, which he's had for years. We don't talk about it with him, but sometimes behind his back we like to speculate on what exactly he might do. Here are the clues we have:

-- He lives in Las Vegas.
-- Every morning he goes to the Las Vegas airport and gets into a plane and flies out to....well, we don't know where. Somewhere that's close enough for him to go and come back every day.
-- He's not actually in the military, at least not that we know of.
-- He's been doing this for quite a while, and the flying back & forth routine dates back years. At the very least, before 9/11.
-- He's in his 50s, if that matters.
-- He's a very intelligent guy, and very low key. He does not have any typical military-esque aura about him. If anything, I would describe him as aggressively bland.
-- Just based on the little I know, I understand that he's not working with his hands or anything particularly physical. For instance, he's not repairing plane engines.

I know we can't actually answer this question, but do you have any fact-based ideas about what it could be? (I do understand that he could be a janitor at an air force base, or flying drones, or harvesting alien organs at Area 51.) What sorts of bases are within a reasonable distance from Las Vegas? Are there non-military bases that house things like the CIA or NSA? What happens at these bases?

And lastly, let me just say that I think the whole thing is legit. I.E. it's not that he's some sort of braggadocio guy taunting us with his mystery job. I had known him for 20+ years before I heard a whisper of this from a different relative. This guy never says a peep about anything.
posted by BlahLaLa to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Area 51 sounds like a possibility. The book I read recently talked about flying people out daily from Vegas. However, people have pointed out in the reviews, it may contain factual errors. Hard to believe anything from anyone on that issue.
posted by quodlibet at 8:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nellis Air Force Base is very very large, and is a short drive from Vegas...however there's no reason at all you'd fly to there.

There are a lot of defense contractors clustered around the Vegas airport. Probably he's just driving over there and working in a normal office all day, not flying anywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people work in engineering or support for defense contractors on classified projects.

Maybe he's on a particularly secretive project that encourages employees to come up with a reason they go to the airport every day, and his is "I get on an airplane and fly someplace."

On preview: I kind of like the DEA explanation, but Las Vegas is far enough from the border that it wouldn't really make sense as a home base for aerial border surveillance.
posted by miyabo at 8:14 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: Every morning a small fleet of dully painted 737s flies from Las Vegas to Groom Lake, and each evening they make the return trip. Those planes are how workers commute to Area 51.

As to what he does there, no way to know. What is his educational background?
posted by killdevil at 8:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Uneducated guess 1: aren't US drones in CENTCOM war zones piloted remotely from centers in the American southwest?

Uneducated guess 2: if I were a professional gambler, I might find it useful to cultivate in my family the impression that my frequent trips to Las Vegas were a matter of hush-hush government business.
posted by foursentences at 8:15 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: killdevil nailed it. Used to live in Las Vegas and the Area 51 shuttle flight is a widely known "secret". If he needs a skeptical red-headed science-minded cohort let him know I'm available.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Arghh! This question is why I totally hate having "Mommy Brain." Specifics just escape me these days.

In the past year, on the podcast Mysterious Universe, they interviewed a guy who traced a lot of black-ops projects by the US military and (I think) published a book about it, by tracing the projects through the US Patent Office. So the upshot was a lot of "alien" UFO's are really advanced military aircraft and military contractor craft. Perhaps your relative works on these type projects? I'll try to Memail you the title or author name if I can find it.

There was another, similar book, released this year that detailed same and talked about what bases provide what services. Nick Redfern as the author comes to mind - but I'm sure I am wrong there.

Bottom line (and I used to know the exact figure and percentage) is that a ginourmous amount of our annual national budget goes towards projects that are not public.

Your relative could work in any capacity on any secret-type DOD or DOD contracted project(s).


What did your relative study in school? What was his work history before it all went "secret"?

Maybe don't update the thread with that identifying info - but it might tell you what rocks to google under!
posted by jbenben at 8:39 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: This is the most boring answer, but why don't you just ask him? Maybe he will tell you (or maybe not, but that just adds fuel to the fire, right?).

My dad was career military, and though he has been retired for 15 years, he still won't just come out and talk about his experiences. However, if you ask a direct and specific question about it, he will give an answer (albeit is usually one that is not very satisfying).
posted by LyndsayMW at 8:54 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is his educational back-ground? What skills might he have?
posted by Flood at 9:38 PM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: Just want to add -- I don't know what he studied. I might ask him, but I won't post about it. For all I know he's the procurement officer for copier papers and file folders. Or, the guy who found Bin Laden. Probably one or the other.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:42 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I remember seeing a series of photos of Janet flights captured through a telephone lens several years back. I think these are it:

This is of Janet planes sitting at McCarran (with blurred telephoto shots of employees and contractors boarding), with a few shots of Janet planes in the air (as far as 11 miles away).

This includes, among other things, shots of Janet flights at the Tonopah Test Range. ("The Janet planes that leave from Las Vegas and land at Groom Lake also have regular flights to the TTR. [The official cover story is ALL the Janet flights go to the TTR, even if they go to Groom Lake.]")

This contains some blurry images of Janet flights at Area 51.

The main page is pretty interesting, though I certainly can't vouch for how accurately it identifies what it captures on photo. There's some interesting stuff. On this page, for example, the author/photographer documents the movements of Area 51 border security.
posted by SpringAquifer at 10:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Some comments removed. Please stick to answering the question here. Mail the OP with other concerns if you must.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:38 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: The drones are being controlled from Creech Air Force Base. It's about 40 miles NW of Vegas, and pretty much in the middle of no where.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:42 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: I would guess he's some variety of engineer at, as mentioned above, groom lake.
posted by kavasa at 11:47 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: Kavasa's got it. Groom Lake is where a lot of aviation R&D goes on. I'd bet he's an engineer, working on something like stealth technology for aircraft or avionics.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:30 AM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: You might not want to ask him. Some people that I know that work for defense contractors are required to report to their company when people ask a lot of detailed questions about their jobs.
posted by hwyengr at 8:17 AM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: My money's on engineering of some sort out at Groom or a similar facility.

Seconding don't ask, out of consideration for what he does and what it might put him through. He can't tell you, and as hwyengr says, curiosity could make more work for him. Anecdote: A friend of mine has been dating a guy with a fairly serious-business clearance (he can't say what exactly, of course) who works for a contractor. He had to fill out a huge amount of paperwork just because he'd developed social ties with several foreign nationals (my friend and I are both dual-nationality, as are her family and several other people in our social circle).
posted by Alterscape at 8:52 AM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: One of my relatives has a secret military and/or intelligence job. Help me deduce what he does? ... He's not actually in the military, at least not that we know of.

He sounds like a contractor/engineer/consultant-type.

If he were really James Bond, you'd know him as, "that uncle who works for some energy consulting company."

I think there are fact-based answers to: Where might he be flying, and what is done (if known) at those bases/secret areas.

Generally, this is correct. People who work in the defense contracting industry are probably aware of where exactly it is your uncle goes.

The government is pretty well-aware of what it is possible to keep secret and what you simply can't hide. What, exactly, he works on is pretty well-protected, but it's not a national secret where he goes: it's just that he is told as part of his job to keep a low profile about where he works. It might even be technically against the rules for him to say "I work at location X," even though it's probably relatively common knowledge among defense engineers and other contractors about where the people who fly out of Las Vegas every day go, and as we can see from the answers, that's what it looks like.

The guy who found bin Laden? You know, that guy is probably up front about the fact that he works for the CIA or NSA. He just won't talk about what he works on, precisely.

It's assumed that a determined foreign adversary will know who you are, what level of clearance you have, and where you work. You're not supposed to broadcast these facts so that you don't create opportunities for someone to interfere with your work and what you know, but they're not "secrets" in the "Top Secret" sense.

Seconding don't ask, out of consideration for what he does and what it might put him through.

Meh on this. If you ask, he'll have some stock answers prepared to explain, in a general sense, what he does. People have their own comfort level about that, so he might say, "Eh, this and that; I can't really talk about it in detail."
posted by deanc at 9:20 AM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: My previous thank you got deleted after the derail, so I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for these interesting, insightful answers. The whole idea of these non-secret, secret "Janet flights" is really fascinating and I'd never known about it before.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2011

Best answer: You might find this Trevor Paglin piece about 'secret' flights interesting.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2011

Once you have high level clearance, filling out paperwork on your friends and family is a regular part of maintaining your clearance. Just don't pressure him after he tries to stop you digging into more detail.
posted by garlic at 6:09 AM on October 10, 2011

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