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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha Sixty Cheers for the Central Intelligence Agency

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Sixty Cheers for the Central Intelligence Agency

20 October 2007

[Comment by tamilnation.org: see also Special Forces -The Changing Face of Warfare - Mark Lloyd,"..First rate HUMINT (Human Intelligence) can often only be obtained from within an organisation either by infiltrating an agent into one of its cells or by turning an existing member. Turning is best achieved by targeting a participant whose heart is not in it or who is suffering from obvious family pressures..." and Struggle for Tamil Eelam: The Intelligence War ]

Even though I’m not an American, I have nothing but admiration for some of the spunk and spirit of the Central Intelligence Agency (aka CIA), the American institution which many non-Americans love to hate. Who (other than those in the league of some iron-willed ‘Lefties’ like Fidel Castro) cannot wilt to the dramatics, spunk and the ‘never give-up spirit’ promoted by the CIA, in its 60 years of existence? Yes, CIA celebrates its 60th birthday this year. 

Here is an excerpt from a 1992 book on established CIA-lore, as told by TV journalist John Ranelagh, pertaining to how CIA attempted to eliminate Castro in early 1960s. [The dots are as in the original.] 

“The driving force behind plans for the assassination, and for the disruption of the Cuban economy, Operation Mongoose, was Robert Kennedy, who had announced in January 1962 that it was a ‘top priority…all else is secondary’. 

The Mongoose team, led by Bill Harvey, came up with no less than thirty-three different plans to deal with Castro which became increasingly desperate and bizarre as failure followed upon failure. Plans included an exploding seashell which would be placed on the sea floor near the place where Castro was known to swim; impregnating Castro’s wet suit with poison coating; dusting Castro’s shoes with thallium salts in the expectation that this would cause his beard to fall out and so destroy his charisma.

A mistress of Castro agreed to give him two poison capsules and hid them in her jar of cold cream. They melted. Another more creative plan involved an attempt to convince Cuba’s large Roman Catholic population that the Second Coming was imminent but only if they got rid of Castro first. A US Submarine was to surface off Havana and shoot star shells into the night sky, heralding the return of the Lord. The theology was even more dubious than the plan itself. It was sheer opera buffa.” [CIA - a History, BBC Books, London, 1992, p.95] 

It appears that the good Lord was in Castro’s corner than with the CIA, on each of those 33 goofy plots. It is also now evident that not only the CIA’s version of Christian theology, but also the experimental science cooked and executed by CIA seems to be of dubious quality. But, CIA has been an institution that learns from its failings. This aspect of CIA is also appealing to me. As such, I provide below two items from my collection on how CIA had worked to improve its science department.

(1) Douglas Waller: ‘The CIA’s Next Generation’, Newsweek, February 10, 1992, p.31.

(2) Mark Moynihan: ‘The Scientific Community and Intelligence Collection’, Physics Today, December 2000, pp. 51-56. 

Of these, Douglas Waller’s 1992 report informed us that (with the demise of Soviet Union), CIA was expanding its work force by recruiting young Mormon missionaries, skilled linguists, business executives and scientists. CIA’s annual pocket expense, for protecting the ‘free world’ was a whopping US$ 30 billion. Make a note that in 1992, when Waller’s report appeared, George Bush Sr. was the President and the then CIA’s Director was Robert Gates (currently serving as the 22nd Secretary of Defense, under President George W.Bush), now touted in his official biography as ‘the only career officer in CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to Director.’  

Mark Moynihan, who had contributed the Physics Today article in 2000, was a CIA insider. He had stated the obvious that,

“The US intelligence community must monitor the behavior of countries worldwide. Furthermore, it must have access to closed societies whose interests conflict with those of the US.”

It is obvious that the phrase ‘behavior of countries’ strictly refers to the ‘behavior of leaders of nations’, and these “leaders” can be power-hungry or deposed politicians, disgruntled ‘second-in-ranks’, military bigwigs, rebel leaders and also the religious clerics (like Ayathollah Khomeini) if they happen to be influencing policy of their lands. One shouldn’t underestimate the skills of CIA’s planners to shake and rattle the proper channels in Washington DC streets to cough up ample dough, year after year for their world wide operations.  

It came into open only last year that, to keep Japan in ‘democracy camp’, CIA dumped good money into the campaign contributions of prime ministerial aspirants of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party during 1950s and 1960s. To quote excerpts from a local news report, 

“The CIA secretly sent money to the Liberal Democratic Party in the 1950s and 1960s to help stabilize the LDP-led government and prevent a leftist administration from emerging, according to a U.S. document released Tuesday. The document, titled ‘Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XXIX, Part 2,’ also suggests that some of the CIA money went to moderate members of the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party, the LDP's rival at the time, apparently to help them form a moderate breakaway.

It is the first time the U.S. government has formally admitted having a covert financial program for Japanese politicians, a State Department official involved in compiling the document said. The LDP has denied the CIA give the party financial support. The document says the U.S. government approved ‘four covert programs to try to influence the direction of Japanese political life’ from 1958 to 1968.

The government under President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the CIA authorization before the Lower House election in 1958 ‘to provide a few key pro-American and conservative politicians with covert limited financial support and electoral advice,’ it said. The document did not go into details about the recipients but apparently referred to LDP bigwigs who had gained a grip on power under Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who took office in 1957, and Hayato Ikeda, who succeeded Kishi in 1960. ‘The recipient Japanese candidates were told only that they were getting support from American businessmen,’ the document said….

Eisenhower's administration authorized a similar financial program during 1959 ‘to try to split off the moderate wing of the leftist opposition in the hope that a more pro-American and 'responsible' opposition party would emerge.’ The document suggested the amount of secret money for the moderate group in the JSP came to $ 75,000 in 1960, when a predecessor of the Democratic Socialist Party was formed as a moderate JSP breakaway. "It (the aid) continued basically at that level through the early 1960s," the document said. ‘The subsidy program for Japanese political parties was phased out in early 1964,’ it said. [‘US admits CIA gave LDP money in 1950s, 1960s’, Japan Times, Tokyo, July 20, 2006]

According to the 1983 revelations of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in a book The Price of Power Kissinger in the Nixon White House, Morarji Desai, India's Prime Minister from 1977 to 1979, had received $20,000 a year from the CIA during the Johnson and Nixon administrations in exchange for information on Indian foreign policy and domestic politics. Puritanical Morarji Desai filed a $50 million libel suit against Hersh in Chicago Federal District Court and six years later the jury decided in favor of Hersh [David Margolick, ‘US journalist cleared of libel charge by Indian’, New York Times, Oct.7, 1989] 

Sri Lankans had known for sure that J.R. Jayewardene (1906-1996), first a Prime Minister and then the first executive President presented a spitting image of Morarji Desai (1896-1995) in local politics. It is tempting to see parallels between the political careers of Desai and Jayewardene and Jayewardene even carried the pejorative monicker ‘Yankee Dick’.

Given its penchant for penetration and access via HUMINT canaries, it is also obvious that notable personalities of pre-1972 Ceylon and post-1972 Sri Lanka should have been “monitored” by the CIA. Also that local relays should have been hired by the CIA to spill beans on notable personalities of our blessed island. But scholarly studies on this theme has not been forthcoming from either indigenous Sri Lankan specialists or from non-Sri Lankan academics who posture as “experts” on LTTE. Why this has to be so?

The CIA’s Next Generation: America is looking for a new breed of spy by Douglas Waller [Courtesy: Newsweek, February 10, 1992, p. 31] 

A WASP from Yale used to be considered the ideal spy for the old-boy network of the CIA. Now agency recruiters jump at the chance to snare a Mormon. Young Mormons tend to have squeaky-clean backgrounds and, thanks to serving as Third World missionaries, they often have a skill the CIA desperately needs these days: knowledge of a foreign language. Skilled linguists – along with business executives and scientists – are part of a new generation of covert operatives the Central Intelligence Agency is sending out to a world where the Soviet Union is no longer the enemy. Washington has begun to change the way it spies.

This week Senate Intelligence Committee chairman David Boren will unveil ‘sweeping legislation’ to cut overlap in the intelligence community’s $30 billion-a-year budget. Next month CIA Director Bob Gates will report to the White House on the agency’s vision of spying in the 21st century. The agency has made no secret of the fact that it is devoting more attention to drug trafficking, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and economic intelligence.

But what is less well known is that for the past three years the agency has been increasing its number of spies with more specialized skills. Since 1989, Congress has secretly added several hundred million dollars to the CIA’s Operations Directorate, which runs the agency’s covert operators. ‘Gates intends to push as many people out into the streets as he can’, says one US intelligence official. 

During much of the Cold War, the agency relied heavily on satellites and electronic eavesdropping rather than human spies. High tech worked better to penetrate the Soviet monolith and gauge its war-making potential. But today’s threats are more varied and require more eyes on the ground. CIA satellites can photograph the outside of a Third World nuclear facility.

But to confirm that uranium is enriched inside, it helps to have an agent who can scoop up earth samples around the building for traces of uranium hexafluoride. A well-placed agent can be critical in gathering economic intelligence, tipping off Washington to a government’s position in trade talks or warning when American businessmen are being victimized by foreign spies. The CIA does draw the line at industrial espionage, however. Gates says his agents are willing to give their lives for their country ‘but not for a company’. 

To meet the new demands of spying, the agency is hiring more physicists who understand nuclear technology and business grads who can read a spreadsheet. New officers still learn how to recruit agents and use ‘dead drops’ for messages during their tradecraft training at the agency’s ‘farm’, located at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Va. But after that, many are packed off to language schools. Officers already in the field are being rotated into academia to hone technical skills. ‘We still want a spy like the one you read about in a John le Carre novel,’ said one intelligence source. ‘But now George Smiley will have to speak Japanese.’ 

Cover story: The funding increase the Operations Directorate has received – less than the cost of orbiting one spy satellite – goes a long way in gathering human intelligence, or HUMINT. Third World agents work surprisingly cheap. Even in his heyday Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga received only $1,500 a month from his US intelligence handlers. The biggest expense has been in building new cover stories for the spies.

The traditional cover – a US Embassy – has become increasingly transparent: a foreign government can spot many spooks simply by cross-checking State Department directories. But nonofficial covers (‘NOCs’, as the agency calls them) have become more difficult to establish in an age of instant communications and computer credit checks. It now takes the CIA at least two years to build an officer’s cover.

NEWSWEEK has learned that Gates plans to expand NOCs into the international business community. The agency is hiring mid-level business managers and placing them undercover in multinational corporations around the world – with the corporate chiefs’ private consent. ‘These are guys who will never set foot in Langley,’ said one US source. ‘They’re trained remotely and buried in the multinationals.’ 

The expanding spy network has had its growing pains. The agency’s capabilities in the Mideast are still weak. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait, the CIA had satellites to track Saddam Hussein’s forces but no agents in Baghdad to let Washington know what he intended to do with them. Law officers still complain that Langley is stingy with its intelligence on drug traffickers.

CIA officers, who once ignored criminal activity around them, will now get legal training to spot and report it. Intelligence officials also worry about keeping highly skilled recruits from jumping to better-paying jobs in business once they realize that spying can be dull. ‘Without the glamour of the cold war, it may be difficult to retain these people,’ says Dave McCurdy, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Agency insiders say it may take five years before the CIA sees the fruits of ‘HUMINT in the ‘90s,’ as the program is privately called. But once in place, the agency hopes it will offer a better view of the world beyond the cold war.

The Scientific Community and Intelligence Collection - Academic scientists continue to play a vital role in helping the intelligence community exploit technology for national security by Mark Moynihan [Courtesy: Physics Today, Dec. 2000, vol.53, no.12, pp. 51-56]

We have slain a large dragon. But we now live in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.--R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, at his Senate confirmation hearing, March 1993.

Jim Woolsey's statement before the US Senate presaged a dramatic shift in the way the US intelligence community collects intelligence. Before the end of the cold war, intelligence personnel almost exclusively focused on only one target: the Soviet Union. Now, however, they must pursue that bewildering variety of poisonous snakes. And quite a challenge it is. From understanding the intentions of foreign leaders, such as Saddam Hussein, to detecting modern threats, such as those posed by bacteriological and chemical warfare, the challenges faced by the intelligence community push it to the very limits of its capabilities and expertise.

The modern era of US intelligence collection began in World War II with the formation of the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). From that point on, the US intelligence community has recognized that it cannot succeed alone. Tackling hard intelligence problems requires the best and brightest minds from inside and outside the intelligence community. Battling Woolsey's poisonous snakes is a constant and troubling reality that requires our eternal vigilance. In retrospect, Secretary of State Henry Lewis Stimson's remark, in 1929, that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail" seems to belong to a different world.

Several years ago, I took part in a CIA recruiting drive at a job fair at the University of South Carolina. The most frequently asked question from students was, Why does the CIA need scientists and engineers? Reflected in this question is the common notion of the CIA as an organization of espionage and covert operations. But if you examine CIA history, you see an organization whose mission to inform US leaders and protect US security has always depended on science and technology.

The war years

The father of the US scientific intelligence community was an industrial chemist named Stanley Lovell. One day in 1942, while crossing Boston Common, Lovell was approached by MIT President Karl T. Compton, who asked him to join the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), a group of academics consulted by the government on the war effort. After some consideration--and the warning that if he did not he would "regret all of your life if you refuse Uncle Sam now"--Lovell left his job as executive vice president of the Beckwith Manufacturing Co and reported to NDRC headquarters in Washington, DC.

At NDRC, Lovell met Vannevar Bush, who gave his aides, including Lovell, the following challenge: "You are about to land at dead of night in a rubber raft on a German-held coast. Your mission is to destroy a vital enemy wireless station that is defended by armed guards, dogs, and searchlights. You can have with you any one weapon you can imagine. Describe that weapon."

After some thought--and rejection of outlandish ideas, such as death rays--Lovell proposed a completely silent and flashless gun. His concept was selected by Bush, and he was told to report to an office at 25th and E streets in northwest Washington. There, he met the director of OSS, Colonel William Donovan, who introduced himself and said, "You know your Sherlock Holmes, of course. Professor Moriarty is the man I want for my staff here at OSS. I think you're it." Although he objected to the characterization of himself as Holmes's evil archenemy, Lovell accepted the position knowing the importance of the war effort. Donovan stated one more thing: "No matter what you do or hear when you are with me, I must have your word of honor that you'll write nothing until 20 years from now." Lovell accepted. His OSS memoir, Of Spies and Stratagems, was published in 1963.

After meeting Donovan, Lovell asked a colleague what exactly his job would be. "It is whatever you can make it," was the reply. "Colonel Donovan is a lawyer, not a scientist or an inventor. Never ask him what to do. Do it and show him what you have done." Lovell's flashless gun was developed, and Donovan demonstrated it--in the Oval Office. Much to the chagrin of the Secret Service, Donovan fired several shots into a nearby sandbag and handed the weapon, still hot, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although quite surprised, Roosevelt stated that he had not heard a single shot.

Thus, in the work of NDRC was born the integration of science into the US intelligence community. That partnership continues to this day, but its emphasis has shifted from tools of war to tools of knowledge--tools that provide our leaders with greater knowledge and understanding and tools that buttress arms control agreements and reduce the possibility of conflict through misunderstanding.

One such knowledge tool was the stroboscope, which was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by Harold Edgerton, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. In 1939, the US Army Air Corps asked Edgerton to design a strobe lamp powerful enough for use in nighttime aerial photography. This effort required the development of stroboscopes powered by large electrical capacitor banks to take photographs from altitudes of several thousand feet. Technically, the system worked, but air crews were less than eager to fly over targets and take pictures while simultaneously revealing their position to antiaircraft batteries on the ground. Another problem encountered was in the testing of the strobes before a mission. The heat generated by the stroboscopic flash often burned the tarmac, causing a plane's fuel tanks or its bombs to catch fire.

Later, in 1944, Edgerton served in Italy, England, and France as a technical representative for the US Army Air Force. Edgerton's strobes were used in the nights immediately preceding the D day invasion of Normandy, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, and in campaigns in the Far East.

Figure 1

Back in the US, the government's nuclear weapons program made use of Edgerton's expertise in the development of photographic instrumentation for observing nuclear explosions. Edgerton's Rapatronic camera could record the earliest stages of a nuclear explosion: the formation and growth of its fireball, as shown in Figure 1. The exposures were often as short as 10 nanoseconds, and each Rapatronic camera could take exactly one photograph. A bank of 4­10 or more Rapatronic cameras were arranged to record different phases of nuclear explosions. The images provided scientists and engineers with invaluable technical information.

Aerial and satellite reconnaissance

Figure 2

Edgerton's photographic strobes were sufficient for aerial reconnaissance during World War II. With the advent of the cold war, however, more innovative--and clandestine--approaches were needed to gather intelligence about the Soviet Union and its allies. Security along the borders of the Soviet bloc severely hampered the infiltration of spies, and traditional high-flying aircraft, such as the Boeing RB-29 and RB-47 (see Figure 2), although successful early on, soon became vulnerable to air defenses.

Indeed, as early as 1949, the Soviet air force possessed MiG-15 fighters capable of reaching an altitude of 51 000 feet. To elude those interceptors, the US had to develop aircraft that could operate at altitudes of 65 000 feet or higher. Out of this requirement came the U-2 aircraft. [1] A remarkable achievement for its time, the U-2 continues serving the US even now.

The origins of the U-2 lay in the foresight of visionaries, such as Eastman Kodak's Richard S. Leghorn and the CIA's Richard M. Bissell Jr. However, these men were helped behind the scenes by scientists who advised the government through various scientific panels.

One such panel was known as the Beacon Hill Study Group. Chaired by Kodak physicist Carl Overhage, the group included James G. Baker and Edward Purcell from Harvard University, Allen F. Donovan from the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Peter C. Goldmark from Columbia Broadcasting System Laboratories, Edwin H. Land of Polaroid Corp, Stewart Miller of Bell Laboratories, Richard S. Perkin of the Perkin-Elmer Co, and several other noted academicians and industry scientists.

The Beacon Hill members were chiefly interested in new approaches to aerial reconnaissance and high-resolution photography with the aim of improving intelligence collection. At the conclusion of its work in 1952, the group published a highly classified report that advocated innovative developments in photographic reconnaissance, as well as exploiting radar and the radio, microwave, and infrared bands.

As is often the case with government studies, the recommendations of the Beacon Hill report were not adopted immediately. A year after the report's publication, the US Air Force created the Intelligence Systems Panel (ISP) to implement the report. James G. Baker of Harvard College Observatory chaired the panel, which included several Beacon Hill members, among them Land, Overhage, Donovan, and Miller, and, at the insistence of the Air Force, CIA officers Edward Allen and Phillip Strong.

ISP's work gained new momentum when US intelligence detected the detonation on 12 August 1953 of the Soviet Union's first hydrogen bomb. ISP was persuaded about the merits of high-flying aircraft for surveillance, but the panel reported to the Air Force, which could not afford to develop such an aircraft. Support had to be found elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Eisenhower administration was becoming increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union could mount a surprise attack. ISP members briefed the Office of Defense Mobilization's Science Advisory Committee, which was chaired by Lee DuBridge, president of Caltech. At the briefing, the ISP pointed out that existing intelligence systems could not provide warning of a surprise attack. DuBridge and the Science Advisory Committee, in turn, approached President Dwight D. Eisenhower about the issue. Eisenhower told the committee about his concerns about a Soviet surprise attack. He also told them about a new Soviet bomber, the Myasishchev-4 (code-named "Bison"), that appeared capable of delivering a hydrogen bomb. The president asked the committee to advise him on issues relating to defense and intelligence-gathering.

With this presidential mandate, DuBridge sought the help of MIT president James R. Killian to conduct a comprehensive scientific review of the nation's defense capabilities. And in July 1954, Eisenhower asked Killian's panel to study the country's technical capabilities and how they might be used for national defense. The outcome was the formation of the Technological Capabilities Panel (TCP), which comprised 42 of the nation's leading scientists. TCP's intelligence subpanel later recommended the construction of what became the U-2 and further recommended that it be developed under the direction of the CIA.

Inspired by TCP's example, the CIA formed its own scientific advisory group. Known as the Land Panel after its chairman, the group served the CIA for many years.

In 1956, Eisenhower formed another scientific advisory panel, the Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities, which was chaired by Killian. Under President John F. Kennedy, the board was renamed the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, but Kennedy did not appoint it until shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Since that time, the board has served all presidents--except Jimmy Carter, who saw no use for it.

By the late 1950s, Soviet air defenses had advanced to the point that high-flying aircraft were no longer invulnerable. Indeed, a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960. Clearly, other means had to be developed to spy on the Soviet Union and its allies. Fortunately, long before the shooting down of Powers's U-2, the government had been investigating spying from space. In 1958, the government turned to satellite-based reconnaissance with a program known as Corona.

Developing one of the first satellites was a daunting challenge. It took 13 launches until the first successful image was taken. However, one technical problem was so serious that it endangered the success of the program. A series of bright streaks appeared across the satellite's acetate film, in some cases completely covering the film. Ironically, given the satellite's name, these streaks were coronal discharges caused by the buildup and release of static electricity aboard the spacecraft. But where did the static electricity originate? To solve the problem, scientists and engineers in the program were joined by scientists from academia, among them Luis Alvarez, Sidney Drell, and Malvin Ruderman.

Working together, these scientists correctly identified that the static discharge was a result of outgassing from the rubber rollers that transported the film through the camera. They also recommended a series of corrective actions, ranging from better grounding of components on the spacecraft to vacuum testing of components before launch. These corrective actions solved the problem, and the techniques identified by the panel are used on virtually all US reconnaissance satellites to this day. (For an overview of the Corona program, see Albert D. Wheelon's article "Corona: The First Reconnaissance Satellites," Physics Today, February 1997, page 24.)

Signals intelligence

Figure 3

In 1998, Keith Hall, director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and Rear Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, director of Naval Intelligence, announced the declassification of the Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) satellite system, the first satellite system for signals surveillance, shown in Figure 3.

GRAB, as it can now be told, was a US Navy electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellite. Launched in June 1960 and operated until August 1962, GRAB obtained information on Soviet air defense radars, whose locations, deep within the Soviet Union, were inaccessible to Air Force and Navy ELINT aircraft, which had to fly outside the borders of the Soviet bloc to avoid Soviet antiaircraft missiles.

The GRAB satellite was proposed by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in the spring of 1958 to support the intelligence needs of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The director of Naval Intelligence was in charge of the program. With the concurrence of the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the CIA, President Eisenhower approved the project in August 1959. Security for the project was unusually tight. Fewer than 200 government officials knew about it. To maintain the project's low profile, the first GRAB satellites, the primary and a spare, were shipped to Cape Canaveral in an employee's station wagon.

After NRL completed development of the GRAB satellite and established a network of overseas ground collection sites, Eisenhower approved the first launch in May 1960, just four days after Powers was shot down.

GRAB carried two electronic payloads, the classified ELINT package and an unclassified package of instrumentation to measure solar radiation. This latter package, known as the SolRad experiment, was publicly disclosed by the Department of Defense at the time and was used as the cover story for this and subsequent launches. The SolRad experiment was not without merit. It provided measurements of solar radiation, which interested the Navy because of its effect on the ionosphere and, hence, on high-frequency radio communications.

Accommodating the two payloads within the modestly sized GRAB spacecraft was a tough technical challenge, as was limiting the power consumption of the spacecraft. To help conserve power, NRL engineers designed a timer circuit that powered down the GRAB payload 55 minutes after its detection phase. Thanks to the timer, data could be collected over the Soviet Union, while battery power could be preserved when the satellite was over nontarget countries.

Figure 4

GRAB beamed down the radar signals it intercepted to a series of small huts built near Soviet borders, where one- and two-man teams saved the information on magnetic tapes (Figure 4). Couriers took the tapes to NRL, where the data were then evaluated, duplicated, and forwarded for analysis and processing to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, and to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. SAC's processing was aimed at defining the characteristics and location of Soviet air defenses to support the development of SIOP (single integrated operations plan--the US plan for nuclear war).

Many technical challenges were encountered in the processing of the data, including severe wow and flutter and poor signal-to-noise ratios. These problems were soon solved, but analysts were surprised by the greater-than-expected amount of data from the intercepts. Many theories were considered to explain the abundance of data, among them the possibility that the satellite's bandwidth was greater than expected, that Soviet radars were stronger than believed, or that the satellite receiver's sensitivity was greater than advertised. In the end, the volume of data turned out to reflect the magnitude of the Soviet air defense system.

In searching the tapes for new and unusual signals, NSA found that the Soviets were already operating a radar that supported a capability to destroy ballistic missiles. In addition, NSA discovered many more extremely powerful S-band radars than were expected, as well as many early warning, height-finding, and shipborne radars.

The success of the GRAB program exemplifies the many contributions of NRL's talented scientists and engineers to the nation's defense. What is not generally known is that Richard Garwin, who was a researcher at IBM Corp's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, also played a key role in the GRAB program.

Figure 5

The GRAB satellite detected radars as it passed within the line of sight of a transmitting radar system (Figure 5). At an altitude of 500 miles, GRAB's omnidirectional antenna could detect a radar's main beam, using a crystal video receiver, anywhere within a 3500-mile swath. Radar pulses would be detected each time a radar's beam rotated until the satellite passed over the radar's vertical beamwidth. Then, as the satellite passed back into the radar's beamwidth, pulses would be detected until the satellite passed over the horizon.

Because of its large beamwidth and omnidirectional antenna, GRAB's ability to locate radars was limited to country-sized areas. When briefed on this limitation and provided with technical details of the satellite, Garwin asked why there were small overlaps in the radio frequency bands of both the GRAB and its follow-on satellites. It turned out that this overlap was not a deliberate design feature, but an indirect consequence of the state of the art in receiver and filter design.

Garwin was able to see some benefit in the overlap and proposed a technique that significantly increased the ability to locate Soviet radars. Using this technique, space-based systems could potentially locate radars to within areas the size of military districts.

Garwin postulated that if more than one satellite could view a particular radar, then positional information could be greatly refined. To obtain such refinement, very precise time coordination and measurement, as well as very accurate knowledge of satellite orbital dynamics, would be needed.

Garwin's suggestion pioneered the exploitation of the time domain from space, and has been successfully applied to several overhead systems, including the global positioning system (GPS) for satellite navigation.

Although the technology of GRAB and other early satellites is now obsolete, the concept of having electronic surveillance from orbit continues to this day. Their technological capabilities and unobtrusive nature make satellites one of the intelligence community's tools of choice for modern surveillance. Future satellite systems are being planned using modern techniques, such as synthetic aperture radar. The Discoverer II program is a joint project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force, and the NRO. If approved, Discoverer II will, among other things, be able to spot moving targets on the ground and generate digital three-dimensional maps of the terrain.

Modern-day collaboration

There are many more examples of collaboration between the science and intelligence communities. Unfortunately, most of the fruits of these collaborative efforts remain classified. However, several US intelligence agencies now have outside advisory panels, including the CIA, NRO, and NSA. And within these agencies, there are more specialized panels of outside advisers. One such panel is the Technology Advisory Group to the Applied Research and Technology Directorate in the NRO. This group, comprising scientists and engineers outside of government, advises NRO on all of its research and development activities, as well as on NRO's future satellite concepts.

One long-standing community-wide collaborative effort, established in 1960 and continuing to this day, is JASON. An independent problem-solving group, JASON is composed chiefly of scientists from leading academic institutions, all of whom have national security clearances. Most members of JASON are trained in physics and mathematics, but several other scientific disciplines are also represented, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, and various engineering disciplines. JASON's chief purpose is to provide government managers with independent scientific and technical expertise to address technical problems and challenges facing the intelligence and defense communities. JASON topics are selected based on the nature of the technical issue, the expertise available to address the issue, and the availability of JASON members to participate.

JASON is sponsored by DARPA, but is supported by several elements of the intelligence community, including the CIA, NRO, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the Department of Energy, NASA, and other federal departments and agencies. The JASON program is administered by MITRE Corp.

The members of JASON meet regularly with their government counterparts and conduct studies relating to intelligence and national security. One recent study, a report on US nuclear testing, reached the following conclusion: The United States can, today, have high confidence in the safety, reliability, and performance margins of the nuclear weapons that are designated to remain in the enduring stockpile. This confidence is based on understanding gained from 50 years of experience and analysis of more than 1000 nuclear tests, including the results of approximately 150 nuclear tests of modern weapon types in the past 20 years.[2]

Today, the intelligence community regularly consults JASON on scientific and technical approaches to overhead reconnaissance, technical surveillance, and arms control verification. Depending upon their classification, many JASON studies are published for broad intelligence community distribution in the Journal of Intelligence Community Research and Development. Recent reports include "Signatures of Biological Weapons," "Civilian Biodefense," "Fast Ships: Hydrodynamics of Fast Ocean Transport," and "Data Mining and the Human Genome."

With the explosive growth in information technology (IT) and the emergence of Internet commerce, the intelligence community realized that its traditional means of collaboration were not enough. Not only was the government unable to compete with dot-coms for scientific and engineering talent, but also its usual pool of consultative support--the defense industry--was facing similar challenges in recruiting scientific and engineering talent.

The CIA's traditional mission is intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination, not innovation in IT. In 1998, the CIA began studying how best to collaborate with the IT world. A year later, to provide the CIA intelligence community with better access to technical personnel and emerging IT, the CIA funded a new nonprofit corporation, In-Q-Tel.

The CIA envisions that In-Q-Tel will become its leading source of solutions to IT problems and an important contributor to the intelligence community at large. Through its In-Q-Tel Interface Center (QIC), the CIA will present intelligence-related problems to In-Q-Tel. From those problems, an annual set of intelligence-related problems is derived for In-Q-Tel to address. In defining these problems, QIC will collaborate with IT specialists from the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, intelligence consumers, and In-Q-Tel's own scientists and software engineers. And in solving those problems, In-Q-Tel expects to find the basis of potential products to develop and market.

In-Q-Tel has offices in two locations: Washington, DC, and Menlo Park, California. It employs a small professional staff and a smaller group of business and technology consultants.[3]

The future

The US intelligence community must monitor the behavior of countries worldwide. Furthermore, it must have access to closed societies whose interests conflict with those of the US. Several countries are "of concern," and are typically categorized as being part of Woolsey's bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.

To increase the intelligence community's collection and analysis capabilities, the CIA's current director, George Tenet, has established a new process. Over the past several years, top experts on each country have joined forces, developed collection plans, identified the most critical intelligence gaps, and developed strategies to close those gaps. Through such teamwork, intelligence customers have gained important insights into the societies that pose the greatest threats to our own. Consequently, the intelligence community is better prepared to support policymakers, military commanders, and law enforcement officials. The cross-discipline, cross-agency approach used in this process is likely to be the model for future efforts against difficult threats.[4]

From biological and chemical warfare to terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the dangers facing the US today are far more complex and challenging than those of the cold war. Dealing with these dangers requires a multifaceted approach that combines human intelligence, analytic prowess, and the best scientific and technical minds that the nation has to offer.

At the beginning of the modern era of US intelligence, the intelligence community realized that it could not go it alone--it had to work collaboratively with the scientific and academic communities to produce the tools that, frankly, prevented a third world war by reducing the risk of uncertainty. From the U-2 to Corona, from GRAB to In-Q-Tel, to other systems that cannot be discussed, scientists and engineers both in and out of government have worked together to preserve the peace. Today, more than ever, as we face a bewildering array of threats and uncertainties, the need for collaboration between the intelligence community and academia--to develop new technical solutions to our most pressing problems and to bolster our technical expertise--is more vital than ever before.

Mark Moynihan works at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. The views in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence community, or the US government.


[1] For a detailed history of the U-2 program, see G. W. Pedlow, D. E. Welzenbach, The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954­1974, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Washington, DC (1988). The book is now out of print, but it can be found on the Web at http://www.odci.gov/csi/books/U2/.  

[2] Nuclear Testing, (JASON Report JSR 3955-4803). Can be found in Arms Control Today, September 1995.  

[3] For more information about In-Q-Tel, see R. E. Yannuzzi, Defense Intelligence Journal 9 (1), (2000).  

[4] Annual Report on FY 1997 Intelligence Community Activities, Director of Central Intelligence, 10 March 1998.



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