INT: Roll 10142, Herbert York, continuation. Herb, was there any time during the Cold War that you honestly thought that nuclear weapons would be used?
HY: Very early after the end of World War Two, a lot of us people in the nuclear programme thought that another war was inevitable and that it was just a matter of time and that weapons would proliferate. But gradually, as it didn't happen, the idea faded and I don't remember when I came to believe that the likelihood of nuclear war was low. But I believed that in order to keep the likelihood of nuclear war low, it was necessary to maintain a very evident posture of nuclear retaliation, what we came to call deterrents.
INT: What about points such as 1960, when Gary Powers was shot down? Was did you feel at that moment not that weapons would be used at all, but the tension was getting to apoint where something might happen?
HY: When Powers was shot down in 1960, I was in the Pentagon, I had in fact met with Eisenhower and Dick Bissell just a few weeks before that, discussing that very flight about where he was going and why he should go there. So I knew it was happening... I knew Powers was on his way. I was stunned, as was everybody else in the government, including those who knew he was going, that he suddenly had disappeared, was shot down and like everyone else, I was completely taken in by Khruschev when he showed up alive a few days later. We thought he was dead and that some kind of a cover up might very well work successfully. But the tragedy of it, from my perspective, not so much at the time, but within a year or so afterwards, was the way it put American Soviet relations off what was a promising course. There really was hope that Eisenhower and Khruschev might come to grips with at least the arms race and the worst aspects of the Cold War and lead us into a somewhat better situation than where we were heading. And it wasn't immediately evident, but when finally Eisenhower and Khruschev met just a short time later at Paris, and the whole summit blew up, it became evident that we had lost an opportunity for what seemed like a good reason. I mean, we needed the information the U-2 was bringing back, because the Russians were so secretive, the largest country in the world with no tourists, no nothing. I mean, we needed some special means for finding out. But the shooting down of Gary Powers and the way Khruschev and others reacted to it, did move things away off from what had been a promising course. Now Eisenhower felt that way himself and I know that especially not so much from the time, as from a number of conversations, opportunities I had to discuss these questions with Eisenhower after he retired from the Presidency and spent his winters nearby in California. And he felt the same, that he felt that we had been on a useful course, there were some real possibilities, about getting a grip on the Cold War, about somehow doing something about the arms race, that had been lost as a result of that particular event and of other problems that arose, you know, at that time.
INT: So, immediately after Powers... in fact when Powers was undergoing the trial in Russia, the first successful Corona launch happened. Can you talk me through what role that played in the Cold War?
HY? Well the Corona was the name of the first successful reconnaissance satellite programme. It grew out of a large collection of programmes, originally all run by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and started in 1956. There were a lot of different military satellite programmes all in one big package and Corona was the programme whose purpose was to bring back from space capsules which contained film that had been exposed in a camera that was flying over the Soviet Union. And it was a very secret programme. We actually called it in public the Discoverer Programme, and I participated in the cover for that. I regularly testified before the Congress and sometimes in press interviews about this programme, whose purpose was to develop the mechanics of space flight, means for manoeuvring in space, means for supporting life, means for learning about re-entry, all the time we're trying to get these films back. It was a very difficult programme, because it was plagued by failure more than any other important programme I was involved with and it was not until the thirteenth try that we got any film back. That was in August of 1960, so shortly before the Presidential election. And as I recall, we only got one or two buckets of film back as we called it, before Kennedy took over. So that Corona did play a role in helping us to understand a little better about what the Russians were doing, but during the Eisenhower administration, it was the U-2 that was the key to that. Corona didn't really begin to play an important role until early in the Kennedy administration. But I think that even when McNamara and Kennedy first announced that there was no missile gap, that they were relying as much on data from earlier U-2 flights and from other intelligence as they were from Corona itself. Corona became decisive, really into the Kennedy administration, rather than right at the very beginning.
INT: Would Kennedy or McNamara have known that the missile gap wasn't either as bad as it appeared to be or didn't exist at all prior to the election?
HY: McNamara had not been much involved with defence affairs before, so I don't think he really knew much about it, except what he heard after the election and after Kennedy approached him to be his Secretary. Kennedy himself, of course, was in the Senate, but defence was not his speciality. He relied on Henry Jackson, Senator Jackson from Washington, to advise him on defence and Jackson was one of those who was on the one hand very well informed, but also very strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist and took a very conservative and cautious view towards what the Russians were doing and how we should react. And Senator Synington, another leading Democratic senator, not so well informed as Jackson, but with similar views. So Kennedy didn't really have independent information. After he was elected he began to get briefings and I'm sure he began to learn. Even in the American intelligence community, there was uncertainty. There were those, especially in the air force, who thought the Russians had a lot of missiles and that there was indeed a missile gap. People who had full information froSputnik and from the first Coronas, still concluded that the Russians had a lot more missiles that we just weren't finding. There were others in the CIA - and it was Eisenhower's own personal and legitimate and well informed intuition that the Russians didn't have those missiles. I had nearly complete access to the information available and I can say that we were... I alsconcluded there was no missile gap, but the information was sketchy and proving that in the largest country in the world there are no missiles, as a result of a few over-flights by U-2s which cover a tenth of a per cent of the area and other intelligence, it's not quite certain. So, President Eisenhower and others, including me, concluded there is no missile gap very probably, but we really have to do everything we can to find out and that's the reason for the U-2, it's the reason why there's no clear public statements about how many missiles the Russians do have, we really didn't know. But we had looked at all the plausible places, along the railroads, these are big missiles. Most of Siberian Russia is, you know, Tundra, tiger and other places where the transportation's impossible, so they couldn't be there. We looked at the places where the railroads would go, where the plants might be and except at the test site in Tiratam and another place in north Russia called Platsesk, there just weren't any. And we also came to understand that we couldn't find any in any other plausible place and we also came to understand how awkward they were. These were very big missiles, difficult to handle and we now know in retrospect that the reason the Russians didn't build more of them is 'cos they knew they were really too awkward and difficult and that they were on a wrong track with such a big missiles, they really had to start their programme over and build some smaller ones. And so we had that skimpy information, we had those general ideas and it was an uncertain thing. So the notion that the Russians were hiding missiles and we just weren't clever enough to find 'em... there was at least a minimal plausibility to that.
INT: In 1958, you had to appear on a CBS show. What was that about?
HY: That was Face the Nation, that was the early days of Face the Nation. I was then the chief scientist of ARPA. ARPA had been formed the previous March, this was in June of 1958, ARPA had been formed in March. I think it didn't officially get going until April...
INT: Sorry, I mean, ARPA... if you could just explain ARPA in your thing. Let me ask it again, what ARPA stands for. So, in 1958, you had to appear on a television show. Whatwas that?
HY: Er, I appeared on Face the Nation, a CBS news show, which still exists, and the reason I appeared, I was the chief scientist of ARPA. Now ARPA is an acronym meaning Advanced Research Projects Agency. It had been created by the Department of Defence as one of their organisational answers to Sputnik and its purpose was to find out and then what needed to be done, you might say, as a direct response to Sputnik and the Russian space missile programme and then to do it. And it was set up as a special agency right directly under the perview of the Secretary of Defence rather than in one of the services. It had a lot of status, it was a lot of public attention, Congressional attention, and I was the chief scientist, which made me one of the two co-founders of the organisation, which had gotten under way really in late March, but probably officially founded in April, so this news programme was less than three months old when I was in front of the cameras for Face the Nation.