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Herbert York on: Strategic Reconnaissance of the Soviet Union
Herbert York Q: When did you become aware of what is called strategic reconnaissance, or what some people called overflights of the Soviet Union?

HY: Well, I got my first hint of it in early 1957 and by the end of 1957, when I joined the President's Science Advisory Committee, I was given full access to everything. The U2 [over]flights and also the plans for building the satellites. From almost the time I arrived in Washington in December of '57 I was much involved with all of the plans for all of the satellite reconnaissance and all the things related to that.

Q: What did you make of it? Did you think it was necessary? Did you think it was dangerous?

HY: Well, I agreed with the consensus that Russia was such an enigma, the Soviet Union as we called it then, such an enigma, so little information, American planning just had to have better information that we had...

With regard to the U2, there was a question of international legitimacy and then I only became slowly, step by step, aware of the fact that there were all these other kinds of flights, not necessarily over the Soviet Union but very close to it. All of them with the same purpose. Here's the biggest country in the world, it is a threat, there's nobody going in there and coming out, and we don't know what's going on, and we've got to know. And that was what motivated Eisenhower to authorize the U2. So, I found the data from the U2 to be enormously valuable in planning the American program.

One of the things it did which is very important I think to emphasize, is the fact that that's what prevented an even greater overreaction than we would have had. In those days the Democrats were the hawks, the Democrats in the Senate and the Congress, and Eisenhower was the one trying to hold back the expansion of all these programs or keep them under control, against all this agitation which claimed we weren't doing enough, that Eisenhower was just simply inadequate in preparing the defenses we needed. And the U2 was showing us, a small group of us to be sure, that there were no missiles over there, or that the number at most was a half a dozen. The trouble is that we were trying to prove a negative. I became convinced quite early, talking 1958 now, that there was no missile gap, which the Democrats were claiming.

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