In southern Nevada, the proximity of Route 375 to Area 51 provided the tourism-minded state with a creative naming opportunity. (LAURA RAUCH/AP)

The tinfoil-hat crowd is plenty excited by the newly declassified report from the CIA tracing the history of the U-2 program, because the document provides the government’s first public acknowledgment of Area 51 — the super-mysterious tract of land where the feds are said to have held all those little green men they captured.

But there’s another fascinating nugget in the 322-page history, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by National Security Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson.

Sure, it’s even geekier than the stuff of the “X-Files,” but we were struck by the totally unorthodox method of funding used to finance the spy plane. Back in 1955, the CIA was about to sign a contract with Lockheed for $22.5 million to build 20 planes. But the company was a little short on cash to get started (hard to imagine that these days).

So, what’s a spy agency to do? Officials simply mailed a check for $1,256,000 to the home of the chief engineer of Lockheed’s plant in Burbank, Calif. Apparently this kind of “unvouchered funding” was perfectly legal, since the CIA director was the only government employee who could spend federal bucks without a voucher.

But rarely does the public get the details of such covert deals — and, by the way, what the heck does one do when a check arrives in one’s mailbox for today’s-equivalent of nearly $11 million? (Cash it at the local bank? Ask for twenties?)

Who knows whether such things still happen. If they told us, they’d have to . . . well, you know.

But the report details one aspect of the U-2 project that’s certain not to be duplicated in today’s defense projects: Lockheed came in under budget.

Progress, for some

Back in the dark days of the early 1980s, “gay” was a dirty word. Now, not so much, according to the always-quippy former congressman Barney Frank. And these days, he says, it’s “member of Congress” that’s the truly shameful phrase.

Over the weekend on NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” the Massachusetts Democrat mused about how times had changed from the day he came to Congress to when he retired last year. Then, he said, being gay carried a stigma and being a congressman was seen as honorable. Now, he says, it’s the reverse.

“When I got to Congress in 1981 serving as a congressman, as a senator, that was a great, respectable thing. Being gay was not,” Frank said. “As I left office, it struck me that my marriage to Jim was more socially acceptable than me being a congressman.”

“I’d like to think that I improved the image of one, but it’s not my fault about the other,” he added.

Asked how married life was, Frank mock-apologized to all the people “whose marriages Jim and I damaged somehow,” a reference to the claim often used by opponents of gay marriage that allowing same-sex couples to wed undermines the institution.

And who might those people be? Frank sarcastically posited that they might be the “millions of happily married men [who], when they hear about me and Jim, say, ‘I could have married a guy!’ ”

‘This Town’: Enter now!

Just like hors d’oeuvres at a fancy Washington book party, time to enter the Loop’s contest is quickly dwindling.

Hurry and submit your entry (or entries — multiples are fine) to the challenge in which we asked you to finish this sentence: “You are so ‘This Town’ if . . . ” The contest closes at midnight on Tuesday, so there are still a few more hours left to come up with a clever suggestion.

(We must note that this contest was inspired by the Nashville Scene, which has a long-running “You are so Nashville if” contest, as well as our former colleague Mark Leibovich’s book “This Town,” which chronicles the doings of the Beltway insiders of a certain name-dropping, horse-trading, back-slapping kind.)

Just send your best ideas to Please include your name, profession, mailing address and T-shirt size (M, L or XL), in case you’re a winner. You must include a phone number to be eligible.

Remember, winners score highly coveted Loop T-shirts — far better than even the finest mini-quiche canapes.

With Emily Heil

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