Shell Extension City
The True Story

On July 8, 1947, at the so called "Foster Ranch" in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico, a certain incident occurred. While the details of the incident are vague at best, and no certain conclusions can be drawn from the many contradictory stories surrounding it, one thing is clear: a small disk, made of apparently magnetic materials embedded and sheathed in celluloid or flexible bakelite, was recovered by RAAF investigators from a Major Jesse Marcel, a RAAF officer who was one of the first to explore the site of the "incident."

The item was immediately taken to the Foreign Technology Division of Air Materiel Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base for analysis.

While the exact results of that analysis have never been released, it is known that the intelligence and engineering branches at Wright Patterson created a "top secret" memorandum for the Chief, Air Intelligence Division, dated October 11, 1948, signed by a Colonel Brooke Allen, Chief of the Air Estimates Branch at Wright Patterson. The stated subject of the memorandum is "Analysis of Circular Object."

The thrust of the memorandum was that while the disk's secrets remained mostly unrevealed, it was known that it contained what the authors described as "code," the deciphering of which could be of tremendous value to the military. Specificially, the memorandum stated that the analysis had revealed what the authors described as "windows" into theretofore unknown technologies.

Little progress was made in replicating the object, and in fact, the CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel, so named after its chairman Dr. Harold P. Robertson, director of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group for the Secretary of Defense, reported that attempts to "reverse engineer" it were nil.

Nevertheless, research continued, and a panel convened in Washington, DC, in mid January of 1953 (consisting of some of the best scientific minds of the day, including a future Nobel Prize laureate in physics, Luis Alvarez, formerly of Berkeley; physicist Samuel Goudsmit of the Brookhaven National Laboratories; astronomer Thornton Page of Johns Hopkins University, later with NASA, and other luminaries who would later win kudos for their work on the staffs at Xerox Parc, Apple Computer Company, and other top projects).

The panel's report was outlined in a document later retrieved in 1997 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While the proprietary systems embedded in the object could not be replicated, the Panel wrote, an heuristic could be devised so that the unknown internal mechanisms of the disk (code named, "Kernel") could yet be manipulated by linking to "hooks" in certain peripheral code (code named, "Shell'')--hopefully allowing access to and expansion upon its inner workings, and thus, through such "shell extensions," providing a boon to the military-scientific community, which had great hopes that the technology embedded in the disk could be used for the expansion of scientific knowledge and the pursuit of peace.

The Report concluded with the suggestion that a recommendation be made to the President and the NSC that they mobilize all the scientific resources of this country and create for study of the device a think tank, the scope of which would rival the Manhattan Project. Originally known as MJ-90, or Majestic, the project was created in 1956 at a secret air force base in the desert outside Las Vegas; researchers associated with the Majestic project quickly dubbed the air force base, "Shell Extension City."

Though secrecy was great, for many years the existence of Shell Extension City was rumored, particularly among the technological cognescenti in Las Vegas, but neither the military nor the intelligence community would confirm its existence.

Meanwhile, as is well known, Dwight D. Eisenhower created the "Advanced Research Projects Agency" (ARPA) in 1957 shortly after the "Sputnik" matter turned the American scientific community on its head. ARPA (after creating the first successful American satellite), turned to computer networking and its implications for national security. In 1962, J.C.R. Licklider, became the head of ARPA, and, under his watch was created the so-called Interface Message Processor (IMP), based on a Honeywell DDP 516 computer. Hooked by 50 Kbps circuits, the IMP allowed creation of a four-node network: UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Soon many other nodes were added, creating the so-called, ARPA-NET, the proto-computer network which eventually came to be known as the "Internet."

Eventually the Majestic Project was added. However, in 1969, on the first day of operation of the MP node, through the inadvertant error of a computer operator, all of the computer files on the air base's VAX and IBM systems were released into the network, including all of the information related to shell extensions which had been or were in development. Fortunately, this was viewed as only a minor security breach, and nothing was done about it because of the difficulty of deciphering the complex "code" and the general consensus that the files would just have been considered "noise" at the other nodes on the network.

Further developments occurred. By the early 80's CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, and also one of the "nodes" in the ARPA-NET, had proposed the "Internet Protocol," and TCP/IP was introduced in 1984. Tim Berners-Lee developed the concept of the World Wide Web, and in November 1990 Steven Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee together proposed the creation of the HTML language, which would allow for even greater access to the network. Of course, all these new features were soon implemented and led to the expansion of the network at an explosive rate.

Then came the fateful day in 1997, when an ex-military contractor, who claimed to have worked at Shell Extension City, came forward (possibly at great risk to himself) and gave extensive interviews to members of several amatuer groups who had been studying other "Shell-Kernel" phenomena on their own (and who had been labled "fringe" groups by the scientific community).

This individual, though he prefers to remain unnamed, actually drove the author of this article into the Neveda desert on State Highway 375, and, under cover of night, took him to a small plateau, from which could be seen, on the desert floor below, the hustle and bustle of a small military base, complete with lighted airplane runways, and numerous hangers and personnel. All this in a place which is but a blank spot on the map of that state.

Finally, the existence of the mythical "Shell Extension City" was confirmed. But there was more to the story. Although the contractor was adament that the magnetic disk-like object was no longer being kept at the project, he was able to produce a xerox copy of a report, classified as "top secret," which detailed the release over ARPA-NET of the computer coded shell extensions which were the fruit of the Majestic project.

Eagerly setting to work, a dedicated group of professional and amateur computer programmers began a secret search for the "noise" sent out over ARPA-NET in 1969. Soon their diligence paid off--a veritable treasure trove of information was gleaned from the basement of the Stanford Research Center (thanks to the hard working graduate students whose curiosity led them to search through box after box of disintegrating IBM computer tape) and what could not be obtained from Stanford was pieced together from the archived back-ups of other nodes. It should be noted that, despite certain claims to the contrary, the group did not "hack" into any classified archives (which are kept by the NSA behind 24 inch thick steel doors in a special "salt cave" dug into the side of a mountain in Colorado), since few on the receiving nodes had ever realized the so-called "noise" was anything more than the detritus of the ARPA-NET. Thus the materials were never consigned to the "top secret" directory bins of the receiving nodes.

With its secret breached, the government would no longer maintain the secret air base in Nevada, and in fact, on a recent return visit to that plateau, the author was able to confirm that what once had been a very active military installation had since become a veritable ghost town, the inhabitants apparently having packed every portable object, abandoning only the few airplane hangers and guardhouses, which have quickly fallen victim to the desert elements.

As for the magnetic disk itself, no one knows with precision its current whereabouts, although rumor has it that yet another secret installation exists, in the American northwest, under close guard of the most secret agencies of the Department of Defense.