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Cargill Hall on: U.S. and Soviet Fears of a Surprise Attack
Q: On both sides there was tremendous fear of surprise attack.

CH: Yes, I would say that the leaders of that era had World War II and this kind of Pearl Harbor syndrome etched in their minds in a way that contemporary leaders can't imagine. Now, of the two countries only one of them was open. I mean, the Soviets could go down to the records office and buy plat maps and things if they wanted to, get the U.S. Geological Survey. We couldn't do that. So, that drove everything. That's why reconnaissance became kind of fulcrum around which everything turned in Eisenhower's administration in terms of aeronautics and astronautics.

And it was completely under cover. Nobody knew it was going on except a very few people who were inside and privy to this knowledge, what they call the witting. There's the unwitting and those who are witting. If you didn't need to do know it, you didn't know it. So, even when the U2 began flying it was passed off as a weather airplane and things, although I suspect surely some people had a better idea...

The U2 carried a camera that could film horizon to horizon for essentially 3,000 miles. It had two counter-rotating spools of nine inch wide film and they went by each other so that it didn't change the center of gravity in the airplane. Now, for the poor photo interpreter who had to take the first picture on one roll and the last on the other and get it all back together to make a complete print it was kind of crazy at first. But that was the famous B camera, designed by James Baker. Well, other friends and acquaintances had designed cameras then that went into the satellites. So, the early Corona satellites were not achieving great resolution on the ground, but by the time it ended they were down around six feet resolution, which is more than enough to police most treaty activity, not all, perhaps.

So, this ability to acquire information that is almost all reliable from a point where you didn't have information, enough information, and a lot of what you had was unreliable because it came from agents. Well, had they been turned, were they really double agents, were the just feeding us bad information?

So within ten years, between 1955 and 1965, everything turned around. Where before you had almost a complete absence of reliable data, suddenly you had almost more than -- well, there was more information arriving than could be used because they didn't have enough photo interpreters. So, it's like having dump trucks come into your desk and then here are your pictures for the day. It became a problem.

So, it was a very remarkable era and, as I say, in that era of course the hydrogen bomb, these weapons of mass destruction really were built and tested and sent into the field. Happily, we were spared ever having had any of that used. So, it's a tribute in many ways to these pioneers in reconnaissance because they made it possible for each side to know what the other's forces were, what the disposition was, how many of any given item there was, and the tensions in time markedly declined.

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