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The US Military's Most Misunderstood Research Project Has Shut Its Doors

...which is just what they want you to think.

Ben Richmond

Ben Richmond

Image: Michael Kleiman, US Air Force

Goodbye HAARP, we hardly knew you. According to NPR, the last experiments at the US military's High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program wrapped up yesterday. The Air Force is looking to get the $300 million facility packed up before winter, which spells the end of one of the most popular targets of internet conspiracy theories.

Since Alaska Sen. Ted “The Internet Is Tubes” Stevens described HAARP as a way of harnessing the power of the aurora borealis, HAARP has seemed bound to being completely misunderstood.

The official word on HAARP was that it was founded in 1990 to research the ionosphere. The 40-acre facility is located 150 miles northeast of Anchorage near the town of Gakona, and consisted of 360 radio transmitters, 180 antennas, and five generators capable of producing 16 megawatts of power.

Noah Shachtman, writing for Wired, described it as “180 silver poles rising from the ground, each a foot thick, 72 feet tall, and spaced precisely 80 feet apart,” and said that “geometric patterns form and reform in every direction, Athenian in their symmetry. It looks like a bionic forest."

Image: US Navy

A project of the US Department of Defense, the facility was used by the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and DARPA, according to NPR, for projects of an abstruse nature. In addition to communicating with nuclear submarines, these included generating extremely low and very low frequencies (ELF/VLF), artificial auroras, and bouncing radio waves off the Moon.

Perhaps just to keep those sweet Pentagon dollars flowing, other projects for HAARP were proposed: using it as a shield from high-altitude nuclear detonation, or mapping underground bunkers in North Korea. That HAARP couldn't do any of these things seems to have finally caught up the facility, and the Air Force told Congress that it was basically done playing with the ionosphere from Alaska.

“That work has been completed,” David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering said during a Senate hearing last month, according to Anchorage Daily News.

While the military seems ready to move on, it seems like two groups will really miss HAARP: academics and conspiracy theorists.

“HAARP has been a boon to science in this area, and I think the managers that run HAARP, from the very beginning, have involved the community,” Umran Inan, who lead a Stanford University study at the facility, told Nature in 2008.

It was certainly a boon to the tin-foil hat community. Due to a combination of looking weird, being located in the middle of nowhere, and being funded by the DoD, HAARP was accused of being used for weather control, mind control, and earthquake control.

These things seem like they'd be worth spending $2.5 to $5 million annually on, but as Brian Dunning outlined six years ago over at the Skeptoid Podcast, where he sets out to destroy HAARP conspiracy theories, “there's nothing remotely secret or even classified about HAARP. No security clearance is needed to visit and tour the site, and HAARP usually holds an open house every summer during which anyone can see everything there.”

Members of the Illuminati, probably, visiting HAARP. Image: Kirkland Air Force Base

Given that it took 17 years to complete HAARP, and only seven for the DoD to be done with it, it seems like HAARP is really just evidence of Ted Stevens having too much defense-budget control. But then, the government probably just wants you to think they're a bunch of wasteful incompetents.