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Secrecy and U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance, 1958-1976

Even at Height of Cold War, U.S. Officials Regularly Argued Internally for More Transparency

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 225
Edited by Jeffrey Richelson

Posted - July 13, 2007

For more information contact:
Jeffrey Richelson - 202/994-7000

This 1964 memo defines the terms TALENT and KEYHOLE, one of the compartmented security systems established to protect information about, or produced by, reconnaissance satellites

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Washington D.C., July 13, 2007 - Throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, while the U.S. government conducted its space reconnaissance program under a veil of absolute secrecy, officials debated whether information about the program (including the "fact of" its existence and certain photographs) should be disclosed to other elements of the government, public, allies, and even the Soviet Union, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and archival research and posted today by the National Security Archive.

The documents published today show that some officials argued that even with a program as sensitive as satellite reconnaissance, greater openness, both within and outside the government, could help a variety of U.S. policy objectives. A certain degree of transparency, these officials believed, would legitimize space reconnaissance (by removing the stigma of espionage), allow more extensive use of satellite imagery for both national security and civilian purposes, and preserve the credibility of the classification system. As the documents demonstrate, other officials naturally raised objections, often citing the likely unfavorable reactions from the Soviet Union and other nations as well as operational security concerns.

Compiled by National Security Archive Senior Fellow Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson, the documents in this briefing book include National Security Action Memoranda, national intelligence estimates, and other sensitive internal records produced by the White House, the CIA, the United States Intelligence Board, the National Photographic Interpretation Center, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Defense, and the Air Force.

Electronic Briefing Book
Secrecy and U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance, 1958-1976
Edited by Jeffrey Richelson

In its May 2, 1946 report, "Preliminary Design for an Experimental World Circling Spaceship," the Douglas Aircraft Corporation examined the potential value of satellites for scientific and military purposes. Possible military uses included missile guidance, weapons delivery, weather reconnaissance, communications, attack assessment, and "observation." A little less than nine years later, on March 15, 1955, the United States Air Force issued General Operational Requirement No. 80, which established a high-priority requirement for an advanced reconnaissance satellite. (Note 1)

Over the next five years, the U.S. reconnaissance satellite program evolved in a number of ways. The Air Force program was first designated the Advanced Reconnaissance System (also known as 'Pied Piper'), then SENTRY. Management responsibility for SENTRY was transferred from the Air Force to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), established on February 7, 1958, and then back to the Air Force in late 1959, by which time the program had been renamed SAMOS. That program would, for periods of time, involve electronic readouts of imagery, physical recovery of images in a capsule, and electronic intelligence payloads - the latter directed primarily at Soviet and Chinese radar systems. (Note 2)

Concerns over delays in the primary objective of SAMOS - the development and operation of an electronic readout satellite - led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to approve (also on February 7, 1958), a Central Intelligence Agency-led program to develop a reconnaissance satellite that would record its images on film and return them in a capsule. The program, which would soon be designated CORONA, became the responsibility of the CIA's Richard Bissell, the DCI's special assistant for planning and development, who had also served as the chief of the U-2 program. (Note 3)

It would not be until 1960 that U.S. efforts to exploit space for intelligence purposes began to yield positive results. In June of that year, a Naval Research Laboratory-designed payload, designated Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB), was orbited with a secret mission - to intercept the emanations of Soviet radar systems. In August 1960, the first successful CORONA mission, lasting one day and conducted under cover of an alleged scientific satellite program designated DISCOVERER, yielded more imagery of the Soviet Union than was produced in all four years of U-2 missions. The same year, President Eisenhower also approved a program to develop a high-resolution satellite to complement the CORONA satellites, which covered wide swaths of territory but with insufficient resolution to allow imagery interpreters to extract as much intelligence about facilities and weapons as they needed. This program would be designated GAMBIT. (Note 4)

These activities were conducted in as much secrecy as was feasible, particularly after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy were influenced by the May 1960 shoot-down of the U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers - an event which resulted in the termination of U-2 missions over Soviet territory. There was concern that any acknowledgment of U.S. capabilities would serve as a catalyst to the Soviet leadership to go beyond their protests at assumed U.S. space espionage and take more effective political and military measures to interfere with the American spy satellites. Thus, each use of the GRAB satellite to intercept Soviet radar signals had to be personally approved by President Eisenhower, just as he had to approve U-2 missions that crossed over Soviet territory. (Note 5)

During its first year in office, the Kennedy administration approved the creation of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Reconnaissance Program (NRP), entities whose existence was classified Secret and Top Secret, respectively. The NRP comprised the satellite reconnaissance and aerial overflight programs conducted by the CIA, Air Force, and Navy. For its part, the NRO served as the institutional home for those programs, reviewed proposals for new systems, set common security standards, arranged for launches, and provided other services and forms of oversight. (Note 6)

Over the next 15 years, the United States would develop and deploy a number of satellites to produce images; intercept radar signals, communications, missile telemetry; and detect infrared signals that could be exploited for intelligence purposes. During this period secrecy and security would continue to be a concern, and would involve a number of different dimensions.

One of the problems that arose at this time was the appearance of press disclosures concerning the U.S. satellite reconnaissance effort - not only in 1958 but in 1976. (Documents 1a, 1b, 9, 37). An even more pressing issue was the potential international reaction to the reconnaissance program. U.S. officials looked for the best way to reduce the program's political vulnerability to Soviet or other nations' objections to U.S. "spies in the sky" overflying their territory and photographing (or intercepting signals from) key military installations. Whether public acknowledgment or secrecy would best protect the program was the subject of intelligence estimates and policy memoranda from the years before the first launch till the late 1970s (Documents 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 15, 24, 26, 29, 37, 38).

Aside from these studies and memos, other studies focused solely on the Soviet Union - on its awareness and understanding of U.S. reconnaissance, its probable reaction to any public acknowledgment of the program, and the wisdom (or lack thereof) of disclosing certain details to Soviet officials. (Documents 12, 16, 18, 24, 25, 34).

U.S. intelligence and policy officials also had to make choices concerning how much they should reveal about the program to allies and how much of the product they should share with individual governments (particularly Britain) and NATO. (Documents 19, 24, 27). At times, one or more officials raised the prospect of releasing satellite imagery to the public at large. (Documents 20, 35).

Another set of issues concerned the security measures taken to protect details about the programs and their product. Thus, a Department of Defense directive (Document 13) established policy and procedures designed to protect data about all military space programs as a means of safeguarding the reconnaissance programs, (See also Documents 14, 21, 36a, 36b). U.S. officials were especially concerned with the creation, operation, and impact of compartmented security systems - the TALENT-KEYHOLE and BYEMAN control systems - established for shielding information about, or produced by, reconnaissance satellites (Documents 5a, 5b, 5c, 10, 28, 37).

A final category of concerns related to internal disclosure of the "fact of" satellite reconnaissance, or provision of some of the product to a broader set of individuals and organizations within the government, at the Secret or Top Secret level. (Documents 13, 29, 30, 31). In some instances, the purpose was to remove impediments to performance of other agencies' missions. In others it was to curb statements made by uncleared personnel about U.S. reconnaissance efforts.

Throughout this time, proposals for greater disclosure - whether to the American public or within the government - almost always met significant resistance. Such reluctance, often based on the argument that the risks of change outweighed the expected benefits, was generally decisive in blocking more liberal disclosure policies. So great was the resistance to disclosure that even the "fact of" U.S. satellite reconnaissance would not be declassified until 1978. (Note 7)

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Document 1a: Richard M. Bissell, Jr., Memorandum for Director of Administration, DPS/DCI, "Subject: Article Appearing in Aviation Week (23 June Issue)," June 26, 1958. Secret
Document 1b: James A. Cunningham Jr. Director of Administration DPS/DCI, Memorandum for Special Assistant to the Director for Planning and Development, "Subject: Evaluation of AVIATION WEEK Article on Accelerated Pied Piper Program," June 27, 1958. Secret
Source: CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) II, College Park

U.S. national security officials were concerned about unauthorized disclosures of classified information about the U.S. satellite reconnaissance program from the program's inception. In this exchange of memos, Richard Bissell Jr., special assistant to Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, and director of the CORONA program, requests a report on an article in Aviation Week - specifically the extent to which its content actually describes aspects of the CORONA program.

In his reply, CIA Deputy Director (Administration) James A. Cunningham reviews the history of the WS-117L project (one component of which, DISCOVERER, served as a cover for CORONA). He discusses the extent to which the article's description of the "Pied Piper" program corresponds to details of the CORONA program, and offers the reassuring conclusion that "the story is a cleverly-written combination of a few primary facts intermingled with a considerable amount of editorial speculation and obvious deduction."

Document 2: Director of Central Intelligence, SNIE 100-6-58, "Implications of Certain US Earth Satellite Programs," July 29, 1958. Secret
Source: CIA Historical Release Program

This estimate was written just as the U.S. was preparing to deploy satellites for intelligence, military, and scientific purposes. One particular concern with respect to reconnaissance satellites was the focus of this study - the political and psychological reaction to U.S. launchings of such satellites. The estimate assesses likely foreign reactions (from both the Soviet Union and other nations). Among the topics examined are the likelihood of Soviet development and use of anti-satellite systems (ASAT), reactions to the U.S. disclosure of its capability, and probable reactions to alternative U.S. offers to put its satellite capability at the disposal of the U.N.

Document 3: Richard Leghorn, "Political Action and Satellite Reconnaissance," April 24, 1959. Unclassified
Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

The R.S.L. at the end of the memo refers to Richard S. Leghorn, one of the fathers of strategic aerial and satellite reconnaissance. Leghorn at this time was head of the Itek Corporation - the contractor that developed the reconnaissance camera for the CORONA system. As did SNIE 100-6-58 (Document 2), this memo addresses the issue of the possible political vulnerability of U.S. reconnaissance satellite programs. Leghorn argues that the "espionage" context in which U.S. programs were viewed - a result of the secrecy attached to the programs - is the "worst possible" context from the standpoint of political vulnerability and suggests the need for an "imaginative political action program" as a means of reducing the program's political vulnerability.

Document 4: Director of Central Intelligence, SNIE 100-6-60, "Probable Reactions to US Reconnaissance Satellite Programs," August 2, 1960. Secret
Source: CIA Historical Release Program

The U.S. began test launches of photographic reconnaissance satellites in early 1959, but did not successfully recover a capsule with film until August 14, 1960. The U.S. did orbit and obtain information from an electronic intelligence satellite, GRAB, in June 1960. Concern over possible Soviet reactions were so severe that GRAB's use when over Soviet territory had to be specifically approved by President Eisenhower, even after it was in orbit. This estimate focused on possible Soviet responses to photographic reconnaissance and electronic intelligence missions. It concerned the limited ability of the satellites, Soviet capabilities for interference, and the acquisition of intelligence about satellite operations. In contrast to Leghorn's view (Document 3), the estimate concluded that acknowledgment of the program would compel a Soviet reaction.

Document 5a: Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, "Subject: Plans for the Handling of Satellite Photography (CORONA)," August 24, 1960. Top Secret
Document 5b: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum, August 26, 1960. Top Secret
Document 5c: "Security Indoctrination and Secrecy Agreement for Keyhole Clearance in the Talent Control System," n.d. Secret

Part of the effort to maintain secrecy concerning the CORONA system involved the security procedures for handling the images it produced. The first memo provides data on the TALENT Security System, first established to protect the product of U-2 missions, and the TALENT-KEYHOLE (TK) compartment created to safeguard the imagery from CORONA and future imagery systems. It provides data on the numbers of TK clearances in different organizations and notes that the numbers could be expected to grow.

The second memo is the presidential directive establishing the TALENT-KEYHOLE Security Control System. It assigns to five senior officials - the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the director of central intelligence - the personal responsibility of approving TK clearances for individuals in their organizations. It also provides direction on the establishment of a roster of all individuals with such clearances, and the nature of the indoctrination they should receive upon obtaining access to TK material.

The third document is the indoctrination and secrecy agreement individuals signed before receiving their TK clearance.

Document 6: NRO Security Newsletter, August/September 2004, "The Retirement of BYEMAN." Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

This NRO newsletter provides some background on the creation and history of the BYEMAN Control System - established in 1961 to protect information about U.S. reconnaissance satellites (in contrast to their products). Each satellite program was assigned a secret codeword/compartment - e.g. CORONA, LANYARD. For several decades afterwards, individuals with a "need to know" about the system design, sensors, or capabilities of the program's satellites and who was able to pass the necessary background investigation would receive a clearance for that program and be "read in" to that BYEMAN compartment.

Document 7: G.B. Kistiakowsky, Memorandum for the Record, "Subject: Notes on Meeting with the President, 9:30 a.m., September 28, 1960," September 28, 1960. Top Secret
Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

This memo was written by George B. Kistiakowsky, President Eisenhower's science adviser, and covers a number of topics discussed at that day's meeting with the president. One topic (#2) concerns the degree of secrecy to be attached to the development of high-resolution satellite systems. While Eisenhower noted that the low-resolution SAMOS satellite system had been discussed publicly and it was logical to assume that the United States would seek to improve the resolution of its systems, he still believed that work on high-resolution systems should be kept "black."

Document 8: A. J. Goodpaster, Memorandum for the Record, October 1960. Top Secret
Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

This brief memo, prepared by Eisenhower's military aide, concerns which details (the specific of its operations and its product) about the SAMOS system should be classified and which, if any, should be covert or "black" - that is unacknowledged entirely.

Document 9: John M. Breit, Deputy Inspector General for Security, "Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information (The SAMOS Reconnaissance Satellite)," October 26, 1960. Secret
Source: Thomas D. White Papers, Library of Congress

This memo from the Air Force deputy inspector general concerns a paper provided to the secretary of defense by Congressman Bill Miller, which included information (judged to be classified) he apparently received from a Defense Department contractor and the Air Force. The memo reports that the Air Force wants to launch an investigation into the disclosure and whether it bears any relation to a more extensive article published in the journal Aviation Week.

Document 10: Chief, Special Requirements Staff/DPD/DDP, Memorandum of Conversation, "Subject: Meeting on "Security Handling of SAMOS Recoverable Photography, 24 October 1960, held in Dr. Charyk's office," October 26, 1960. Top Secret

This memo of conversation, written by a member of the CIA's Deputy Directorate for Plans, focuses on the handling of photographs obtained from SAMOS satellites (which was to return imagery in recoverable capsules). In addition to reporting comments on the intended open nature of SAMOS and its implications for security, the memo notes suggestions to deceive both the American public and the Soviet Union by falsely reporting difficulties and failures rather than actual successes.

Document 11: Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Memorandum for the President, The White House, "Subject: SAMOS II Launch," January 26, 1961. Secret
Source: John F. Kennedy Library

This memo, from the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs to President John F. Kennedy, may be the earliest evidence of the Kennedy administration's plan to lower a veil of secrecy over the entire U.S. satellite reconnaissance program - even the previously public SAMOS program. It provides some specifics concerning the "severe reduction" of information provided to the public and press concerning SAMOS.

Document 12: Chief, Security Branch, DPD-DD/P, Memorandum for Acting Chief, DPD-DD/P, "Subject: Proposal of State Department to Reveal to Soviet Officials Intelligence Information Including an Example of Product of CORONA," November 1, 1961. Top Secret

As indicated by the Leghorn memo (Document 4), not all individuals officially cognizant of the satellite reconnaissance program believed strict secrecy to be the best way to protect the program and its product. This memo, written by the chief of the security branch of the CIA's Development Projects Division (a component of the Deputy Directorate for Plans) is a response to a proposal by a State Department official to reveal certain intelligence information to Soviet officials, including an example of CORONA imagery. The security branch head does not specify who the official is, or the rationale behind his suggestion. The conclusion of his memo is essentially the product of circular reasoning: he believes that disclosure would result in "grievous damage to our collection efforts" based solely on an enumeration of the great lengths that had previously been taken to keep the effort secret.

Document 13: Memorandum for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, "Subject: Exploitation Difficulties Arising from Security Requirements," January 23, 1962. Top Secret
Source: NRO Reading Room

Secrecy and security involved not only the issue of disclosure to the American public or foreign governments but the extent to which information concerning satellite reconnaissance systems was restricted within the government. This memo, from the senior DoD representative to the National Photographic Interpretation Center to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, complains about the restrictions placed by an unnamed agency (clearly the National Reconnaissance Office) on information regarding a new camera system for the CORONA program. That information was off limits to organizations outside NPIC that would be involved in interpreting the imagery produced -thus preventing those other organizations (such as the Strategic Air Command) from being fully prepared to exploit the images when they arrived. In the final paragraph, the author writes: "I believe that national security interests have already suffered materially for the sake of a very questionable security requirement."

Document 14: Roswell Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense Directive S-5200.13, "Security and Public Information Policy for Military Space Programs," March 23, 1962. Secret

As a means of making it more difficult for Soviet intelligence to collect information on U.S. satellite reconnaissance programs, the Kennedy administration decided to classify details about all U.S. military space programs at no lower than the Secret level on the grounds that "at night all cats are grey." This DoD Directive notes that "[i]t is impractical to selectively protect certain military space programs while continuing an open launch policy for others since to do so would emphasize sensitive projects." The document goes on to specify general policy, the procedures to be used to protect details of U.S. military space programs, and the responsibilities of individuals and organizations.

Document 15: Policy paper, "National Policy on Satellite Reconnaissance," April 10, 1962. Secret

This document, apparently produced by the CIA, deals with factors bearing on the specific objectives and implementation of a national satellite program. It assesses the feasibility of defending reconnaissance satellite activities on the basis of the value of satellite photography for civil purposes, the impact of disclosure of the existence of a reconnaissance program, the role of surprise and secrecy in reconnaissance, as well as the impact of the release of satellite imagery.

Document 16: Robert Amory Jr., Deputy Director/Intelligence, Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, "Subject: Soviet Knowledge of US Reconnaissance Satellite Programs," April 11, 1962. Top Secret Codeword

This memorandum, from the CIA's deputy director for intelligence, examines the quality and quantity of Soviet knowledge about U.S. reconnaissance and surveillance programs - which at the time included several imagery programs and electronic intelligence satellite programs either in operation or development, and the MIDAS missile launch detection program. The author discusses statements by Soviet officials, articles in the Soviet press concerning U.S. programs, what the Soviets could determine from monitoring the programs (including observing the satellite in flight), and information available from the U.S. media. He also tries to estimate Soviet knowledge based on the state-of-the-art and likely Soviet responses to the U.S. program.

Document 17: John F. Kennedy, National Security Action Memorandum 156, May 26, 1962. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

In 1962, the United States was engaged in negotiations concerning the peaceful uses of outer space - which raised the question of defining the legitimate uses of outer space. In this memorandum, President Kennedy ordered a review of the negotiations to ensure they did not place any constraints on U.S. satellite reconnaissance efforts. The committee established to fulfill this task, known informally as the "NSAM 156 Committee" and formally as the "Interdepartmental Committee on Space," would meet intermittently for a number of years, often considering the issue of how tightly restricted knowledge of U.S. reconnaissance satellite programs should be. Its first report, "Political and Information Aspects of Satellite Reconnaissance Programs," was delivered to Secretary of State Dean Rusk on July 1, 1962. Among its 17 unanimous recommendations was the continuation of tight security around the reconnaissance program.

Document 18: McGeorge Bundy, National Security Action Memorandum No. 216, "Subject: Study of Disclosure to Russians of U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance Capability," January 18, 1963. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

Notwithstanding the numerous measures taken to ensure maximum security concerning U.S. satellite reconnaissance efforts, the Kennedy administration also examined the alternative of disclosing some details of U.S. programs to the Soviet Union. In this NSAM, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, on behalf of the president, requests a joint State-DoD-CIA study concerning the pros and cons of alternative options related to disclosure.

Document 19: NRO, Acting Assistant Director (Special Activities), Memorandum for Special Requirements Staff, "Subject: Accessibility of LANYARD Take to the British," January 31, 1963, Secret
Source: NRO Reading Room

Another aspect of the disclosure issue was whether to reveal information to allies at the Secret level (or above). This January 1963 memo examines the issue of informing the British of the details of a new satellite program, whose first launch was scheduled for the following month (but would not take place till July). Britain had been receiving imagery obtained by the first U.S. imagery satellite, CORONA. Information about the new satellite, designated LANYARD, and its expected high-resolution products, was needed to allow proper exploitation of the images obtained. It is clear from the memo that at the time Britain had not been informed of the program's existence.

Document 20: Memorandum for the Record, "Subject: Meeting on Further Action Under NSC Action 2454," June 26, 1963. Top Secret (with attached Draft Memorandum, June 24, 1963)

These two documents are responses to NSC Action 2454, which directed that studies be conducted to determine if it would be possible to release data, such as mapping information, to help "legitimize" space observation and photography. The June 24 attachment, which summarizes the CIA's view on the subject, raises a number of objections to release. The memo for the record summarizes the discussion that took place two days later between representatives of the defense and state departments, NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and several other organizations.

Document 21: Chief, Security Staff, OSA, Memorandum for Director of Security, "Subject: Security of Covert Satellite Reconnaissance Programs," August 16, 1963. Secret

In this memorandum, the chief of the Security Staff of the CIA's Office of Special Activities (at the time responsible for CIA satellite reconnaissance activities) addresses concerns regarding the assignment of responsibility to the Air Force component of the NRO (Program A) for the technical direction of several programs. Specifically, there is apprehension over the effect this tasking will have on CIA's ability to carry out its responsibility for program security.

Document 22: Albert D. Wheelon, Deputy Director (Science and Technology), Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, "Subject: Washington Post Article on Satellite Reconnaissance," December 10, 1963

Publication of a Washington Post article on U.S. space reconnaissance resulted in this memo from the CIA's deputy director for science and technology to DCI John McCone. Wheelon's memo notes that preliminary analysis of the article seems to indicate that it contains no new information but that the agency's Office of Security intended to conduct its own investigation to "establish beyond question" that no new classified information was contained in the article.

Document 23: Chief, Special Intelligence Staff, DD/I, Special Center Notice 6-64, "Classification of TALENT and KEYHOLE Information," January 16, 1964. Top Secret Codeword

As noted earlier (Documents 5a, 5b, 5c) part of the effort to protect information about U.S. satellite reconnaissance programs and their product was the creation of the TALENT-KEYHOLE system. This memo defines the terms TALENT and KEYHOLE, specifies the codewords used for specific types of TK material, and provides guidelines for the classification of such information. At the time the memo was declassified the codewords for satellite ELINT (ZARF) and aerial imagery (CHESS) had not yet been declassified.

Document 24: Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Memorandum, "Subject: Possible Disclosure of Satellite Reconnaissance," January 21, 1964 (with attachment from Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "The Contribution of Satellite Photography to the Verification of Current and Disarmament Proposals.") Classifications Unknown
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume X: National Security Policy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002)

This memo from Alexis Johnson, chairman of the NSAM 156 committee, to senior national security and space officials, returned to the issue of possible disclosure of satellite reconnaissance activities. It examines the state of allied knowledge of U.S. programs (some of which came from U.S. briefings), the use of the data to support NATO planning, non-bloc attitudes, Soviet statements and awareness of U.S. programs, and the relationship of satellite reconnaissance to U.S. disarmament proposals.

Document 25: Thomas Hughes, Intelligence Note, "Subject: Khrushchev on Reconnaissance Satellites," June 1, 1964. Classification Unknown
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume X: National Security Policy (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002)

This note from the director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to Acting Secretary of State George Ball followed several statements by Soviet Premier and CPSU General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev on the subject of reconnaissance satellites. Hughes examines and analyzes Khrushchev's comments with respect to reconnaissance of Cuba, disarmament controls, and the legitimacy of satellite reconnaissance. He also addresses Khrushchev's next moves.

Document 26: Albert D. Wheelon, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Memorandum for the Record, "Subject: Meeting on Disclosure of U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance Programs and Capabilities," June 18, 1964. Secret

On June 17, 1964, officials from the State Department, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, NASA, the White House, Department of Defense (including the NRO director), and the CIA met to discuss a proposal from ACDA Deputy Director Adrian Fisher for "legitimatizing" satellite reconnaissance. This involved creation of an international organization to be responsible for storage and, possibly, interpretation of photography submitted by the U.S. and USSR. This memo from CIA's Albert Wheelon, describes his agency's concerns about such a course, and summarizes the conclusions and recommendations that emerged from the committee. These included publishing a RAND study, based on unclassified sources, on the use of reconnaissance satellites to verify arms control agreements, setting aside a proposal to approach Nikita Khrushchev to discuss success of the U.S. program, and delaying a planned New York Times article by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric on satellite reconnaissance.

Document 27: Charles E. Johnson, Memorandum for Mr. Bundy, "Subject: Satellite Reconnaissance," July 31, 1964. Top Secret
Source: LBJ Library, Austin, Texas

This memo from Charles E. Johnson, a member of the NSC staff, to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy was the result of a dispute over a proposed briefing of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on U.S. and Soviet satellite reconnaissance programs. DCI John McCone announced that, for security reasons, he could not agree to the briefing. Instead, he planned to personally brief the heads of states in October as an alternative. The memo goes on to provide background on the dispute, discussing public knowledge of the program, Khrushchev's remarks, the views of the Intelligence Community concerning Soviet knowledge of the U.S. program, and what the nations represented on the NAC already know about the program.

Document 28: J.J. Hitchcock, CGS, DDI, Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum, "Subject: Background Information on Actions Considered by the National Security Action Memorandum #156 Ad Hoc Committee," May 2, 1966. Top Secret

The memorandum, written by a member of the Deputy Director for Intelligence's Collection Guidance Staff, describes the origins of the NSAM 156 committee, some of the issues it examined, and its actions and recommendations.

Document 29: U. Alexis Johnson, Memorandum, "Subject: Draft Report on the NSAM 156 Committee on 'Political and Security Aspects of Non-Military Applications of Satellite Earth-Sensing,'" July 1, 1966. Top Secret (with attached Draft Report, "Political and Security Aspects of Non-Military Applications of Satellite Earth-Sensing")

Attached to the cover memo by Alexis Johnson is a draft report of the NSAM 156 committee which discusses a number of topics. These include the continued validity of the June 30, 1962, "Report on the Political and Informational Aspects of Satellite Reconnaissance Policy," Soviet and other nations' views on satellite reconnaissance, the expected consequences of the acknowledgment of U.S. satellite reconnaissance programs, NASA's proposals for an earth-sensing satellite program, possible transfer of classified equipment to NASA for use in such a program, and strategies for advancing acceptance of space observation. The report concludes with several recommendations.

Document 30: Robert H. Baraz, Department of State, Memorandum for the Chairman, COMOR, "Subject: NSAM 156 Committee Report," August 8, 1966. Top Secret

This memo, from a State Department representative to the NSAM 156 Committee, was addressed to the chairman of the United States Intelligence Board's (USIB) Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance (COMOR), which was responsible for tasking U.S. national reconnaissance systems including satellites, aircraft, and drones. The document addressed another aspect of the security issue concerning satellite reconnaissance - whether the "fact of" the U.S. program could be downgraded from Sensitive Compartmented Information to Top Secret or Secret. The author suggested that the consequence of so many officials not cleared for access knowing of the program could be "ill-considered public statements" that could result in adverse foreign reactions. The author specified why he believed providing some information about the program at the Secret or Top Secret level could help prevent such occurrences, and why it would not risk compromising U.S. security.

Document 31: Executive Secretary, United States Intelligence Board, Memorandum for Holders of USIB-D-41, 12/23, August 29, 1966. Top Secret

In this memo, the executive secretary of the USIB reported on a session of the Board that considered the question raised in the August 8, 1966, memo mentioned above (Document 30). It reported the view of COMOR (excluding the State Department representative) that the "fact of" U.S. satellite reconnaissance should continue to be classified at a level above Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and provides COMOR's rationale. The document recounted the individual views of the participants in the meeting, including the author of the August 8 memo who expressed his concern that "continuing to hold the fact of the reconnaissance program in a special security compartment is prejudicial to the integrity of the system."

Document 32: Comments on Joint DOD-NASA Agreement for Coordination of the Earth Resources Survey Program, October 17, 1966. Secret (with attachment: John S. Foster Jr., Director of Defense Research and Engineering and Robert C. Seamans Jr., Deputy Administrator National Aeronautics and Space Administration, September 26, 1966)

These two documents address the issue of how to conduct NASA's Earth Resource Survey Program without compromising details about the U.S. space reconnaissance program. It discusses the NSAM 156 Committee on Space Reconnaissance, the role of the DCI, and exploitation of the National Reconnaissance Program's intelligence production. The attached September 26 paper provides a charter for a special NASA-DOD coordination and monitoring mechanism to permit NRP capabilities to be used for earth resources monitoring. The October 17 memo critiqued the proposed mechanism for its failure to take account of the DCI's responsibilities for protecting sources and methods and creating a committee that lacked the competence and jurisdiction to deal with issues concerning the NRP.

Document 33: Memorandum, "Subject: Security and Space Reconnaissance," May 9, 1967. Top Secret

This memo, probably written by a CIA official, argues that there is a critical need for a review of policy and security regulations related to satellite systems. It also notes that many statements were being made that compromised the U.S. security posture for space surveillance and reconnaissance - including some made by the president of the United States and NASA. The document notes several alternative approaches to secrecy concerning the program. It recommends a reevaluation of reconnaissance policy "even to the point of officially admitting that we have successfully conducted space reconnaissance at ground resolution of 3-10 feet" while implying that the U.S. needed no further capability. Acknowledgment of U.S. capabilities would allow the data to be used for NASA and other civilian purposes. Secrecy about any greater capability would help protect the intelligence uses of higher-resolution systems.

Document 34: Chief, European Division, OCI, Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum, "Subject: Soviet Sensitivity to Publicity on Satellite Reconnaissance," April 2, 1970. Secret

This memo from the chief of the European Division of the CIA's Office of Current Intelligence returns to the subject of the likely Soviet reaction to publicity concerning satellite reconnaissance. It notes statements by Khrushchev and other Soviet officials, at different times and in different places, concerning satellite reconnaissance and the issue of public acknowledgment.

Document 35: Edward W. Proctor, Assistant Deputy Director for Intelligence, Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, "Subject: Views on Public Release of Information on US Satellite Reconnaissance," April 13, 1970. Top Secret

This memo for DCI Richard Helms, written by a senior Intelligence Directorate official, rather than being directed at proposals to alter the classification of the "fact of" satellite reconnaissance concerns a proposal to release some KEYHOLE imagery of Soviet and Chinese strategic missile installations "in order to gain support for the Administration's defense programs." The author specifies why he believes "that although some immediate benefits to the Administration might be derived from public release of KH photography," the costs would far outweigh the benefits.

Document 36a: Welcoming/Keynote Comments by Maj. Gen. John E. Kulpa, BYEMAN Security Meeting, conference on "The NRO in a Changing Environment," May 26, 1976.
Document 36b: Presentation [Deleted], May 26, 1976. Top Secret

The remarks by Maj. Gen. John Kulpa, at the time serving as head of Program A, the Air Force component of the NRO, along with a representative from the CIA's Special Security Center, focus on security challenges facing BYEMAN security officers in the mid-1970s, including domestic and international political developments (such as Watergate and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), the Freedom of Information Act, the use of NRO products in agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, and press disclosures.

Document 37: George Bush, Director of Central Intelligence, Memorandum for the President, "Subject: Modification of the Classification and Dissemination Controls for the Products of Reconnaissance Satellites," June 8, 1976. Top Secret

DCI George Bush transmitted this memo, drafted by DDI Edward Proctor (see Document 35) to President Gerald Ford. In it Bush requests that Ford declassify the "fact of" U.S. satellite reconnaissance (without public announcement and acknowledgment only when necessary) as well as authorize changes in the TALENT-KEYHOLE system "that restricts access to its products." The memo provides extensive background for its conclusions and recommendations.

Document 38: Robert Ellsworth, Memorandum for Mr. Bush, "Subject: Declassification of Satellite Reconnaissance, June 16, 1976. Secret

In this memo, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth comments on the conflicting recommendations of a NSC committee and the paper by Deputy Director of Intelligence Edward Proctor (Document 37) concerning security classification of the "fact of" satellite reconnaissance - both photographic and signals intelligence.


1. Douglas Aircraft Corporation, Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship (Santa Monica, Ca.: DAC, 1946); Headquarters, United States Air Force, "General Operational Requirement for a Reconnaissance Satellite Weapon System," March 15, 1955 (Revised September 26, 1958), p. 1.

2. Jeffrey T. Richelson, America's Secret Eyes in Space: The U.S. KEYHOLE Spy Satellite Program (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), pp. 27-30.

3. Richard M. Bissell Jr., with Jonathan E. Lewis and Frances T. Pudlo, Reflections of a Cold Warrior (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 135.

4. Dwayne A. Day, "Listening from Above; The First Signals Intelligence Satellite," Spaceflight, 41, 8 (August 1999), pp. 339-346; Dwayne A. Day, "US Government Declassifies Reconnaissance Satellites Information," Spaceflight 45, 3 (March 2003), pp. 116-117.

5. Day, "Listening from Above."

6. Jeffrey T. Richelson, "Undercover in Outer Space: The Creation and Evolution of the NRO, 1960-1963," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 13, 3 (Fall 2000), pp. 301-344.

7. The decision to declassify the "fact of" satellite reconnaissance will be the subject of a future Electronic Briefing Book.


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