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
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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