Association of Former Intelligence Officers

The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974, by George W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenback (CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence), National Technical Information Service, 333 pages), 1999. At a Pentagon meeting in April 1954, Gen. Curtis LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command, fretted as scientists briefed him on a new high-altitude reconnaissance plane that could fly over the Soviet Union undetected by radar. "Midway through the briefing, he arose, took his cigar out of his mouth, and told the briefers that, if he wanted high-altitude photographs, he would cameras in his B-36 bombers . . . that he was not interested in a plane that had no wheels nor gun." He stalked out, saying the "the whole business was a waste of his time."

Thus it came to pass that the U-2 plane, the most successful US intelligence effort of the Cold War, came to rest at the CIA. Ironically, Allen Dulles did not want the program either, preferring human spies. President Eisenhower, fortunately, strongly supported spy planes to obtain strategic intelligence on the Soviet Union and its satellites, so Dulles had no choice.

CIA and the Lockheed Corporation had a U-2 ready for its first operational flight over Poland and East Germany on June 20, 1956. Eisenhower was edgy about flights over the USSR, fearing they "might lead to hostilities." Allen Dulles assured him "that we were unlikely to lose one. If we did lose one, the pilot would not survive." Dulles was wrong on both counts, of course, and a Soviet rocket knocked Francis Gary Powers out of the sky on 1 May 1960. By then, U-2s had flown over the USSR 24 times, producing almost 250 miles of film covering about 15 percent of the country, giving military planners a valuable picture of Soviet capabilities. Satellites then took over the surveillance mission. (Review by Joseph Goulden, Wash. Times 6 June 99, page B6) (RoyJ)

Reviewed in AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes #31-99, August 6, 1999

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