Dugway Proving Grounds, Tooele

This mammoth installation Top Secret America site #5 that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island was established in World War II as a research facility for biological and chemical warfare agents and weapons. That is still one of its main missions, but today it is the main testing facility for military hardware of all types. Because of its size and isolated location, it is believed to be a major testing facility for next-generation weapons systems such as high-powered lasers, particle beams, and secret aircraft. There are also persistent, but unconfirmed, rumors of new chemical and biological weapons research here. In many ways, this place is just as mysterious as Nevada’s better-known Area 51 (see NEVADA).

Dugway Proving Grounds was established in February 1942, as a testing area for offensive and defensive chemical weapons. In October 1943, testing of biological weapons agents began in an especially isolated area known as Granite Peak. Dugway’s isolation from any significant population area made it ideal both from the perspectives of safety and secrecy, and those are still Dugway’s main advantages as a weapons test site. It currently covers almost 800,000 acres and plans were underway at the time this book was being written to annex more adjoining acres, including much of the areas from which the public can observe some of the activities inside Dugway (especially moving lights at night). This has resulted in speculation that Dugway is being made into another Area 51 and that its role has expanded from a testing facility into a full research and development center for the most secret military projects.

Dugway was deactivated in August 1946, but was reactivated during the Korean War, finally being made a permanent U.S. Army facility in 1954. In addition to testing of biological and chemical warfare systems, Dugway became a center for testing how well weapons and equipment could survive battlefield conditions such as shock, vibration, heat, and other conditions in addition to chemical and biological warfare attacks. While administered by the U.S. Army, Dugway is also heavily used by the U.S. Air Force.

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In the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks against Congress, Dugway’s role (and apparent funding) has been greatly expanded. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in its January 18, 2005 issue that a mock city was being constructed inside Dugway to serve as a training ground for responses to domestic chemical and biological attacks. The article also said Dugway was being considered as a test facility for rumored hypersonic (5,000+ miles per hour) aircraft that could cruise at altitudes in excess of 40,000 feet. It is also widely rumored that laser and particle beam weapons are being tested at Dugway. Beginning in late 2004, numerous observers have reported seeing bright vertical beams of light reaching skyward from inside Dugway during late-night hours. Strange aerial lights moving rapidly and performing unusual maneuvers have also been reported at night, leading to speculation that classified aircraft are being tested at Dugway. Security has been tightened recently, causing some observers to speculate that some projects formerly based at Area 51 (see entry under NEVADA) have been relocated to Dugway.

And, like Area 51, there are rumors of a UFO connection at Dugway. The March 3, 2005 issue of the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin reported that several persons observed strange flashing lights at close range near Dugway; the lights would abruptly appear and disappear. A few observers claimed that they suffered a mild sunburn and fatigue the next morning. Some felt they had been on the receiving end of a secret military weapons test; others felt they had been zapped by UFOs.

As is the case at Nevada’s Area 51, people on public land adjacent to Dugway are kept under observation by security forces who make their presence known; security cameras and motion/vibration detectors have been added recently to supplement human security forces. Regardless of whether the activity is due to the Top Secret Government or aliens from space, it’s clear something very unusual is now going on at Dugway.

What’s There: Actually, not too much; Dugway is mostly lots and lots of barren high-elevation desert, including large salt flats, surrounded on three sides by mountains. And that’s what you want for an area where weapons systems, including chemical and biological weapons, will be tested. Not only does the emptiness and isolation help prevent any accidental injuries to civilians, it also keeps military secrets safe from curious civilian eyes.

Key Facilities: There are over 600 buildings and other structures at Dugway. Among the best known are the Reginald Kendall Combined Chemical Test Facility, a 48,000-square-foot laboratory for the development and testing of chemical warfare detection devices and protective clothing. The Melvin Bushnell Materiel Test Facility is a 50 x 50 x 30-foot chamber capable of replicating temperatures from -40 to +150 degrees Fahrenheit, relative humidity from 4% to 95%, and a wide range of atmospheric pressures. It can also replicate the presence of various gases, particles, and other air contaminants. Most test facilities are located in the Ditto Test Area, approximately 12 miles from the main gate. Biological warfare test facilities are located in the most remote areas.

Secret Stuff: Did the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks on members of Congress originate at Dugway?

According to a report in the December 12, 2001 issue of the Baltimore Sun, for years small amounts of “live” anthrax had been produced at Dugway to test the effectiveness of protective clothing and other biowarfare defense measures. (The production of such small amounts to develop defensive equipment and techniques is permitted under international treaties.) Some of the test required finely milled anthrax like that sent to members of Congress. The genetic “fingerprint” of the anthrax produced at Dugway is indistinguishable from the anthrax mailed to members of Congress in 2001; it was identical at 50 genetic “markers” to the mailed anthrax.

In response to the Sun report, Dugway spokesmen pointed out that anthrax there had been stored and handled under similar security measures including continuous video monitoring, multiple intrusion alarms, and double locks requiring two people to open used to restrict access to fissionable nuclear materials such as plutonium. That was true. But there was a huge security flaw prior to the 2001 anthrax attacks. Before then, small samples of anthrax were routinely sent from Dugway to Fort Detrick in Maryland using ordinary Federal Express shipments. The shipments were done because Dugway lacked the necessary gamma radiation hardware to kill anthrax by irradiation; the resulting dead anthrax spores were then returned to Dugway to use in various tests that did not require “live” anthrax.

Recordkeeping for the shipments was sometimes sloppy prior to the 2001 attacks. While Dugway does not believe that any of its anthrax was used in the attacks on Congress, and there is no direct evidence linking Dugway to the attacks, the strong possibility remains that some of the finely milled anthrax sent on a regular basis to Fort Detrick may have been diverted (or lost) and later used in the Congressional attacks.

Getting a Look Inside: The guardhouse at the main entrance is about the only building inside Dugway that most of us will ever see. However, at night it is possible to see lights from various activities inside Dugway from public areas adjacent to the facility.

Unusual Fact: In March 1968, over 6,400 sheep were found dead in Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, an area immediately adjacent to Dugway. Autopsies showed the sheep had been killed by a nerve gas known as “VX.” While Dugway never admitted to being the source of the gas, the government did pay compensation to the owners of the sheep. There have also been numerous rumors that people living near Dugway have been affected by chemical and biological agents released, either accidentally or deliberately, from Dugway. The government denies these rumors, and, of course, they wouldn’t lie about such matters.

Getting There: Dugway is located approximately 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. From the town of Tooele, take Highway 36 south from Tooele to its intersection with Highway 199; Highway 199 ends at the front gate of Dugway. Much of the perimeter area of Dugway is marked only with orange posts every ten to 20 feet, but is protected by motion and vibration sensors, as well as surveillance cameras, which are constantly monitored. Even accidental crossing of the boundary can result in your arrest, so take care when near the Dugway border.

Dugway and its environs are very isolated; your car should be in excellent mechanical condition before visiting and you should have a spare tire (or tire inflation kit), water, food, and, if you’re visiting in late fall through early spring, warm clothing. Weather can be highly changeable here, with wide temperature variations between day and night and day to day. Cell phone coverage is spotty in many areas around Dugway.

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