Many strange experiments have taken place at the ultra-secret base. But not on aliens. As former workers fight for their lives, we ask: what happened there?
As my car pulls up at the end of the small cul-de-sac in north-west Las Vegas, Fred Dunham is waiting for me. A balding, heavily overweight 56 year-old with a hangdog expression and a bushy moustache, he is wearing a loose-fitting T-shirt and knee-length towelling shorts, and smiles as he steps forward to greet me.
His bonhomie comes as a bit of a surprise. When we had arranged to meet, Dunham had sounded edgy and nervous, insisting I bring my passport so he knows I am who I’ve claimed to be. He doesn’t take chances. After fighting the United States government for the best part of two decades, and running up against a series of shadowy private companies and secretive governmental agencies, he’s convinced someone wants him to shut up, permanently.
After we’ve discussed his case and he’s leading me back to the car, I ask Dunham what he would have done had I turned out to be someone with darker motives. “Oh, I was prepared,” he says, before reaching his left hand into the pocket of his shorts and showing me a palm-sized silver handgun. Half an hour later he sends an email, apologising. “I did not intend to scare you,” he writes. “But better you be scared than me dead.”
On the face of it, Dunham’s case is a thorny but unremarkable claim for compensation. He has a chronic respiratory disease which he believes he contracted while working as a security guard in the Eighties. What makes his case different is the identity of his former employer. For Dunham did not work for a conventional firm at a run-of-the-mill site. He worked at Area 51.