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Area 51 Part 3

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Within a year of the detonation of the dirty bomb, the scientists were satisfied with their preliminary data, and Project 57 wound down. The acreage at Area 13 was fenced off with simple barbed wire. Stickers that read contaminated materials were attached to the b.u.mpers and hoods of Atomic Energy Commission vehicles before they were buried deep underground. Clothing contaminated with "alpha-emitting material was sealed in plastic bags and buried in the contaminated waste area." And yet, by the summer of 1958, Project 57's director, Dr. James Shreve, auth.o.r.ed a very troubling report-one that was marked SecretRestricted Data-noting that the measurements research group had made a potentially deadly observation. "Charles Darwin studied an acre of garden in which he claimed 53,000 hard working earthworms moved 18 tons of soil earthworms moved 18 tons of soil," wrote Dr. Shreve. "Translocation of soil, earthworms' ingestion of plutonium, could turn out to be a significant influence, intentional or unintentional, in the rehabilitation of weapon-accident environment." In other words, plutonium-carrying earthworms that had pa.s.sed through Area 13, or birds that ate those earthworms, could at some point in the future get to a garden down the road or trees in another field. "The idea of an entirely separate program on ecology in Area 13 had occurred to [names unclear] in the summer of 1957," wrote Shreve, "but the AEP/UCLA logical group to undertake the investigation was too committed on Operation Plumbbob to consider the responsibility." The twenty-nine nuclear bombs about to blow in the rest of the Plumbbob series would take precedent over any kind of effort to contain future harm done by the first test in the series, the Project 57 dirty bomb. Out in the desert, men with extraordinary power and punis.h.i.+ng schedules worked without any effective oversight. As one EG&G weapons engineer remarked, "Things at the test site rolled fast and loose." Not until as late as 1998 was the top layer of earth from Area 13 sc.r.a.ped up and removed. By then, earthworms in the area, and birds eating those earthworms, had been moving plutonium-laden soil who knows how far for more than forty years.

With the plutonium-contamination test out of the way, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project began moving forward with the rest of the 1957 open-air nuclear-test series. It was a boon to the Las Vegas economy, supplying millions of dollars in resources and in jobs. Each test was reported to cost about three million dollars-approximately seventy-six million in 2011 dollars-although it is impossible to learn what that figure did or did not include.

Nearly seven thousand civilians were badged to work at the test site during Operation Plumbbob. Another fourteen to eighteen thousand employees of the Department of Defense also partic.i.p.ated; official figures vary. But despite all the money being pumped into Las Vegas, the debate over fallout threatened to cancel the tests. Just two weeks before Project 57 contaminated 895 acres adjacent to Groom Lake with plutonium, n.o.bel Prize winner Linus Pauling made a statement that spooked the public and threatened the tests. Pauling said Pauling said that as a result of nuclear tests, 1 percent of children born the following year would have serious birth defects. The Atomic Energy Commission responded by positioning their own doctors' opinions prominently in the news. Dr. C. W. s.h.i.+lling, deputy director of biology and medicine for the Atomic Energy Commission, ridiculed Linus Pauling, saying that "excessively hot baths can be as damaging to the human s.e.x glands as radioactive fallout in the amount received in the last five years from the testing of atomic weapons." In hindsight, this is astonis.h.i.+ngly erroneous, but at the time it was what Americans were willing to believe. that as a result of nuclear tests, 1 percent of children born the following year would have serious birth defects. The Atomic Energy Commission responded by positioning their own doctors' opinions prominently in the news. Dr. C. W. s.h.i.+lling, deputy director of biology and medicine for the Atomic Energy Commission, ridiculed Linus Pauling, saying that "excessively hot baths can be as damaging to the human s.e.x glands as radioactive fallout in the amount received in the last five years from the testing of atomic weapons." In hindsight, this is astonis.h.i.+ngly erroneous, but at the time it was what Americans were willing to believe.

Almost every newspaper in the country carried stories about the debate, often presenting diametrically opposed views on the subject in columns side by side. "Children are smaller on island sprinkled with nuclear fallout," read the Santa Fe New Mexican; Santa Fe New Mexican; "Study Finds Kids Born to Marshall Islanders Are Perfectly Normal," headlined another; "2000 Scientists Ask President to Ban Bomb Tests," the "Study Finds Kids Born to Marshall Islanders Are Perfectly Normal," headlined another; "2000 Scientists Ask President to Ban Bomb Tests," the Los Angeles Mirror Los Angeles Mirror declared. Editorials, such as the one published on June 7 in the declared. Editorials, such as the one published on June 7 in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, suggested that a recent influx of seagull and pelican deaths along the California coast was proof that the biblical End of Times was at hand. suggested that a recent influx of seagull and pelican deaths along the California coast was proof that the biblical End of Times was at hand.

All across Europe there were protests. j.a.pan tried to get the tests canceled. When it became clear that the tests would go forward, one hundred enraged j.a.panese students protested at the U.S. emba.s.sy in Tokyo. When things turned violent, heavy police reinforcements were called in. Prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru called the tests a "menace" and, in a personal appeal to President Eisenhower, proclaimed that unless all nuclear tests were stopped, the Earth would be hurled into a "pit of disaster." Soviet scientist Professor Federov publicly accused the United States of developing a weapon that was meant to cause worldwide drought and flood. To counter the campaign aimed at putting an end to nuclear testing, the Atomic Energy Commission kept the propaganda rolling out. Colorful characters such as Willard Frank Libby, one of the Agency's leading scientists and known as Wild Bill of the Atom Bomb, insisted that "science is like an art. You have to work at it or you will go stale. Testing is a small risk." In the end the weaponeers won. When it was finally announced that the Plumbbob series had received presidential approval, the press release described the twenty-four nuclear tests (the other six were called safety tests) as "low yield tests," promising none would be more than "30 kilotons." The six "safety tests" were generally excluded from mention. The magnitude of the megaton bombs set off in the Pacific had fundamentally warped the notion of atomic destruction. The Hiros.h.i.+ma bomb, which killed seventy thousand people instantly and another thirty to fifty thousand by radiation poisoning over the next few days, was less than half the size of what the U.S. government was now calling "low yield."

The tests were important, the president promised the public. The government needed to build up its "encyclopedia of nuclear information." The Army needed its troops to practice "maneuvers" on a nuclear battlefield and to record how soldiers would perform in the event of a nuclear battle. The government had to know: At what distance could a military jeep drive through a nuclear shock wave? How did a blast wave affect a hill versus a dale? What effect would weapons have on helicopters, blimps, and airplanes when they flew close by a mushroom cloud? The Pentagon wondered The Pentagon wondered and said it needed to find out. And so, in the spa.r.s.ely populated desert of southern Nevada, the Plumbbob nuclear weapons tests went ahead as planned. and said it needed to find out. And so, in the spa.r.s.ely populated desert of southern Nevada, the Plumbbob nuclear weapons tests went ahead as planned.

Following Project 57, the first nuclear explosion in the series to form a mushroom cloud was called Boltzmann, detonated on May 28, 1957. At twelve kilotons, it was approximately the same size as the Hiros.h.i.+ma bomb and caused Area 51 personnel caused Area 51 personnel located eleven miles over the hill to be temporarily evacuated from the base. The bomb was described in a press release simply as a "Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory device." On June 9, 1957, the located eleven miles over the hill to be temporarily evacuated from the base. The bomb was described in a press release simply as a "Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory device." On June 9, 1957, the New York Times New York Times printed the Atomic Energy Commission's "partial schedule" of the Operation Plumbbob atomic tests so that summer tourists wanting to see a mushroom cloud could plan their itineraries accordingly. "This is the best time in history for the non-ancient but none the less honorable pastime of atom-bomb watching," the printed the Atomic Energy Commission's "partial schedule" of the Operation Plumbbob atomic tests so that summer tourists wanting to see a mushroom cloud could plan their itineraries accordingly. "This is the best time in history for the non-ancient but none the less honorable pastime of atom-bomb watching," the New York Times New York Times said. According to Richard Mingus, it seemed that higher-ranking CIA officers at Area 51 did not agree with the Gray Lady's a.s.sessment. "After one blast really shook the place, a group of them jumped in someone's private aircraft and took off pretty fast." One report, decla.s.sified in 1993, noted the damage: "The blast buckled aircraft hangar doors, shattered windows in the mess hall and broke a ventilator panel on a dormitory." Area 51 employees were once again evacuated. Neither Richard Bissell nor his team was prepared for such drastic effects and certainly not as a matter of course. Whether the Agency protested or complied remains cla.s.sified, but the U-2s were quickly flown to a remote area of the north base at Edwards Air Force Base in California and hidden in hangars there. Nothing was going to stop the Atomic Energy Commission and its tests. Operation Plumbbob was in full swing. said. According to Richard Mingus, it seemed that higher-ranking CIA officers at Area 51 did not agree with the Gray Lady's a.s.sessment. "After one blast really shook the place, a group of them jumped in someone's private aircraft and took off pretty fast." One report, decla.s.sified in 1993, noted the damage: "The blast buckled aircraft hangar doors, shattered windows in the mess hall and broke a ventilator panel on a dormitory." Area 51 employees were once again evacuated. Neither Richard Bissell nor his team was prepared for such drastic effects and certainly not as a matter of course. Whether the Agency protested or complied remains cla.s.sified, but the U-2s were quickly flown to a remote area of the north base at Edwards Air Force Base in California and hidden in hangars there. Nothing was going to stop the Atomic Energy Commission and its tests. Operation Plumbbob was in full swing.

Then came the Hood bomb.

It was the middle of the night on July 5, 1957. Richard Mingus was getting ready to head to the test site for work. Gloria was finally pregnant again, and it had been a celebratory Fourth of July. Now Mingus prepared himself for what he knew was going to be an exceedingly long day. The shot was going to be big; so big, the commission had already evacuated every last person from Area 51. Only the caretakers were left. Richard Mingus kissed Gloria good-bye and climbed into his new 1957 DeSoto. How Mingus loved his car, with its four doors and long fins, a luxury made affordable by long overtime hours at the test site. The morning of the Hood bomb, Mingus drove the sixty-five miles to the main gate at Camp Mercury, located at the southernmost end of the test site, off Highway 95. It was somewhere around 1:30 a.m. Hood was scheduled for detonation early that morning, in Area 9. On the seat beside him, Mingus carried his lunch, always lovingly packed by Gloria in a small, wooden lunch box. Inside there was a sandwich, a can opener, and a can of Mingus's favorite: Dinty Moore stew. Once inside the gates of the test site, Mingus parked his DeSoto and transferred his belongings into an Atomic Energy Commission truck. Then he drove the familiar route from Camp Mercury to the control point. First he made sure to stop by the ice house, where he could fill up a five-gallon can with water, making sure to put a big block of ice inside. "The size of the Hood bomb was cla.s.sified but everyone knew it was going to be really big," Mingus explains.

Three miles to the north, at Area 9, the Army would be conducting hundreds of tests during and immediately after the explosion. Seventy Chester White pigs wearing military uniforms were enclosed in cages facing the bomb and placed a short distance from ground zero. The pigs had been anesthetized to counter the pain of the beta radiation burns they were certain to receive. Using the pigs, the Army wanted to determine which fabrics best withstood an atomic bomb blast. Farther back, lying in trenches, were one hundred soldiers, all of whom were partic.i.p.ating in twenty-four scientific experiments. In cla.s.sified papers obtained by the author, scientists called this the Indoctrination Project the Indoctrination Project. A committee called the Committee on Human Resources Committee on Human Resources was conducting these secret tests on soldiers to determine how they would react psychologically when nuclear bombs started going off. The Committee on Human Resources wanted to study the "psychology of panic" and thereby develop "emotional engineering programs" for soldiers for future use. was conducting these secret tests on soldiers to determine how they would react psychologically when nuclear bombs started going off. The Committee on Human Resources wanted to study the "psychology of panic" and thereby develop "emotional engineering programs" for soldiers for future use.

A second battalion of 2,100 troops was stationed farther back, in Area 4 and Area 7, troops whose job was to simulate a "mythical attack by an aggressor force against Las Vegas, conducted over four days." A mile to the south, twenty-five hundred Marines would be working on combined air-ground exercises during Hood, using an amphibian tractor called the LVTP5, the s.h.i.+p-to-sh.o.r.e vehicle that was used in the Pacific during World War II, an "armored monster capable of bringing Marines ash.o.r.e with dry feet." Dozens of helicopters performed maneuvers as well. Medical divisions were present, tasked with studying "blast biology," to determine the primary and secondary effects of flying bricks, timber, and gla.s.s. Different types of wood houses had been built to see what could withstand a nuclear blast best: wood or wallboard; masonry or metal; asbestos-s.h.i.+ngle or tar-paper roof. The Federal Civilian Defense Administration was testing different types of bomb shelters and underground domes. One structure was ninety feet by ninety feet across and had a reinforced door weighing a hundred tons that was mounted on a monorail. The Mosler Safe Company sponsored and paid for a $500,000 nuclear-bombproof steel vault, ideal for insurance companies and banks seeking ways to mitigate loss after a nuclear attack. against Las Vegas, conducted over four days." A mile to the south, twenty-five hundred Marines would be working on combined air-ground exercises during Hood, using an amphibian tractor called the LVTP5, the s.h.i.+p-to-sh.o.r.e vehicle that was used in the Pacific during World War II, an "armored monster capable of bringing Marines ash.o.r.e with dry feet." Dozens of helicopters performed maneuvers as well. Medical divisions were present, tasked with studying "blast biology," to determine the primary and secondary effects of flying bricks, timber, and gla.s.s. Different types of wood houses had been built to see what could withstand a nuclear blast best: wood or wallboard; masonry or metal; asbestos-s.h.i.+ngle or tar-paper roof. The Federal Civilian Defense Administration was testing different types of bomb shelters and underground domes. One structure was ninety feet by ninety feet across and had a reinforced door weighing a hundred tons that was mounted on a monorail. The Mosler Safe Company sponsored and paid for a $500,000 nuclear-bombproof steel vault, ideal for insurance companies and banks seeking ways to mitigate loss after a nuclear attack.

Richard Mingus was at the control point when the Hood bomb went off, all seventy-four kilotons of it. Almost immediately after the bomb detonated, a call came in from Mingus's boss, a man by the name of Sergeant May. There was a major security problem, May was told. The Atomic Energy Commission had forgotten to secure Area 51. May needed to send Mingus over to the evacuated CIA facility immediately. "Once Sergeant May got off the phone he turned to me quick and said, 'Go to rad safe, check out a Geiger counter and get over to Building 23 fast.'" Mingus followed orders. He jumped into his Atomic Energy Commission truck and raced toward Building 23.

Not only the yield size of Hood was cla.s.sified; so was the fact that despite the Atomic Energy Commission's a.s.surance that it was not testing thermonuclear bombs, Hood was a thermonuclear bomb test. At seventy-four kilotons, it was six times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiros.h.i.+ma and remains in 2011 the largest bomb ever exploded over the continental United States. The flash from the Hood bomb was visible from Canada to Mexico and from eight hundred miles out at sea. "So powerful was the blast that it was felt and seen over most of the Western United States as it lighted up the pre-dawn darkness," reported the United Press International. It took twenty-five minutes for the nuclear blast wave to reach Los Angeles, 350 miles to the west. "LA Awakened. Flash Seen, Shock Felt Here. Calls Flood Police Switch Board," headlined the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Right around the time the blast reached Los Angeles, Richard Mingus reached Building 23, a solid concrete bunker where radiation safety officers stayed during the explosions. In the distance, Right around the time the blast reached Los Angeles, Richard Mingus reached Building 23, a solid concrete bunker where radiation safety officers stayed during the explosions. In the distance, Mingus saw that a large swath of the desert was on fire Mingus saw that a large swath of the desert was on fire.

"You know about Delta?" the security officer inside Building 23 asked Mingus.

"I've worked there many times," Mingus said.

"Grab another fella and get out there," the man said. "Find a place with the least amount of radiation and set up a roadblock between the test site and Delta." The Atomic Energy Commission may have moved Area 51 workers off the test site for the nuclear test, but entire buildings full of cla.s.sified information remained behind. That the facility was not being physically secured by a guard had been an oversight. Now Richard Mingus was being asked to plug that security hole.

Mingus drove quickly up through the test site, heading north toward Area 51. "The whole of Bandit Mountain was on fire," Mingus explains, referring to the low hills between Papoose Lake and Yucca Flat. "You could see individual Joshua trees on fire." Mingus kept on driving, moving as fast as he could while avoiding an accident. But to get to where he needed to go, Mingus had to drive straight through ground zero. "There were huge rocks and boulders in the road sent there by the blast," Mingus explains. "I had my windows rolled up tight and I was driving like h.e.l.l and my Geiger was screaming. I was worried if I drove too fast and had a wreck in that area, that wouldn't have been good. At guard post three eighty-five, my Geiger counter was chirping like h.e.l.l. I remember distinctly it was reading eight point five Rs [never considered a safe amount]. We'd already deactivated that post because of the bomb and now it was way too hot to stay there so I drove on over the hill to Area 51."

When Mingus arrived at Groom Lake, his Geiger counter finally settled down. It had been approximately fifty minutes since the bomb had gone off. Having reached forty-eight thousand feet, the mushroom cloud would have already floated over Area 13 and Area 51 by that time. Most likely, it was somewhere over Utah now. "When I pulled into Area 51, it was like a ghost town," Mingus recalls. "I set up a west-facing post. I could see far. Pretty soon, the other guard arrived. He took up the post at the control tower and I stayed in the truck, parked there on the road facing west." Mingus was fewer than ten miles from ground zero, where the Hood bomb had exploded just an hour before. The blast wave had hit Area 51 with such force, it buckled the metal doors on several of the west-facing buildings, including a maintenance hangar and the supply warehouse. Radioactive ash floated down from the sky. And yet, despite the near-constant rain of nuclear fallout, the requirement for security took precedent. Mingus drank water from his five-gallon jug and waited for the smoke from the nuclear bomb to clear. He ate the sandwich that Gloria had made for him and watched the hills burn. After several hours, he took the can of Dinty Moore stew from his lunchbox and opened it with the can opener that Gloria always made sure to pack. Mingus got out of the AEC truck and opened the hood. He set the soup can on the control block and stirred it with a spoon. It didn't take long for the liquid to heat up. Mingus got back in the car and checked to see if his radio was working. "Delta is secure," Mingus said before kicking back to enjoy his stew. For the rest of the day and well into the night, every half hour a voice came over the radio from the control point asking if everything was "okay." Each time, Mingus let his boss know that Groom Lake was secure. He didn't see another soul out there in the desert for the rest of the day. By nightfall, all that was left of the fire were the Joshua trees smoldering on the hills. The land at the test site had been appropriately chosen; mostly it was just creosote bush and sand. The bushes had burned, and the sand, after being subjected to 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, had fused into little pieces of gla.s.s. Between the fallout and the structural damage, Area 51 had become uninhabitable Area 51 had become uninhabitable. After Hood, the once-bustling cla.s.sified facility transformed into a ghost town overnight-not unlike the mining towns that had preceded it a century before. The future of the secret base was, almost literally, up in the air.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

From Ghost Town to Boomtown After the Plumbbob atomic tests rocked Area 51, the CIA base sat like a ghost town. Very little is known about what happened there from the summer of 1957 through the summer of 1959. According to Richard Mingus, a pair of caretakers lived at the Groom Lake facility, a man and his wife. No record of their names has been found. What is known is that after the Plumbbob series effectively shut down operations at Area 51, workers from the Atomic Energy Commission roamed the hills and valleys measuring fallout with Geiger counters in hand measuring fallout with Geiger counters in hand. As impossible as it is to imagine in the twenty-first century, in the early days of atomic testing there was no such thing as HAZMAT suits for workers performing tasks in environments laden with WMD. Instead, workers combed the desert floor dressed in white lab coats and work boots dressed in white lab coats and work boots, looking for particles of nuclear fallout. According to Atomic Energy Commission doc.u.ments made public in 1993, this radioactive debris varied in size, from pinhead particles to pencil-size pieces of steel from pinhead particles to pencil-size pieces of steel.

Much to the surprise of the nuclear scientists surprise of the nuclear scientists, the atomic weapons tests revealed that sometimes, in the first milliseconds of destruction, the atomic energy actually jettisoned splintered pieces of the bomb tower away from the intense heat, intact, before vaporization could occur. These highly radioactive pieces were then carried aloft in the clouds and deposited down on places like Groom Lake, and Atomic Energy Commission workers could then locate them with magnets could then locate them with magnets. But while workers measured fallout patterns, weapons planners moved ahead weapons planners moved ahead with preparations for the next atomic test series, which would take place the following fall. The Operation Hardtack II nuclear test series would prove even bigger than Plumbbob, in terms of the number of tests. From September 12 to October 30, 1958, an astonis.h.i.+ng thirty-seven nuclear bombs were exploded-from tops of tall towers, in tunnels and shafts, on the surface of the earth, and hanging from balloons. Areas 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 15 served as ground zero for the detonations, all within eighteen miles of Area 51. with preparations for the next atomic test series, which would take place the following fall. The Operation Hardtack II nuclear test series would prove even bigger than Plumbbob, in terms of the number of tests. From September 12 to October 30, 1958, an astonis.h.i.+ng thirty-seven nuclear bombs were exploded-from tops of tall towers, in tunnels and shafts, on the surface of the earth, and hanging from balloons. Areas 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 15 served as ground zero for the detonations, all within eighteen miles of Area 51.

All but abandoned by the CIA and left to the elements, the once-bustling Area 51 facility took on a spooky, postapocalyptic feel. Guards from the test site did occasional spot tests, but the cla.s.sified material had all been moved. While the barren landscape weathered the fallout, the animals observed the animals observed around Groom Lake suffered terribly. Wild horses, deer, and rabbits roamed around the abandoned hangars and vacant airfields covered with beta radiation burns-the skin lesions caused by radiation poisoning that had plagued so many people and animals in Hiros.h.i.+ma and Nagasaki after the war. It was also during this period that a rare breach of security over Area 51 airs.p.a.ce occurred. On July 28, 1957, a Douglas Aircraft Company employee named Edward K. Current made what he said was an around Groom Lake suffered terribly. Wild horses, deer, and rabbits roamed around the abandoned hangars and vacant airfields covered with beta radiation burns-the skin lesions caused by radiation poisoning that had plagued so many people and animals in Hiros.h.i.+ma and Nagasaki after the war. It was also during this period that a rare breach of security over Area 51 airs.p.a.ce occurred. On July 28, 1957, a Douglas Aircraft Company employee named Edward K. Current made what he said was an emergency landing on the former U-2 airstrip emergency landing on the former U-2 airstrip at Groom Lake. Mr. Current told Atomic Energy Commission security officers who questioned him that he had been on a cross-country training flight when he became lost and ran low on fuel. He was held overnight and released. The following day, the Nevada Test Organization uncharacteristically issued a press release stating that a private pilot had mistakenly landed on the "Watertown landing strip." Mr. Current never made a public statement about his curious visit and remains the only civilian who ever landed at Area 51 uninvited in a private airplane, got out, and roamed around. at Groom Lake. Mr. Current told Atomic Energy Commission security officers who questioned him that he had been on a cross-country training flight when he became lost and ran low on fuel. He was held overnight and released. The following day, the Nevada Test Organization uncharacteristically issued a press release stating that a private pilot had mistakenly landed on the "Watertown landing strip." Mr. Current never made a public statement about his curious visit and remains the only civilian who ever landed at Area 51 uninvited in a private airplane, got out, and roamed around.

Meanwhile, in Was.h.i.+ngton, DC, Richard Bissell waited for presidential approval to plan more overflights using U-2s stationed at secret CIA facilities overseas. And on the West Coast, in Burbank, California, Lockheed's Kelly Johnson was busy drawing up plans for the secret new spy plane. If Johnson was able to secure the new CIA contract he was working on with Bissell, it would likely mean Lockheed would spend the next decade fulfilling contract work out at Area 51. But what Kelly Johnson needed at this point was a radar cross-section wizard.

It was September of 1957, and Edward Lovick was standing on Edward Lovick was standing on Lockheed's antenna pattern range tinkering with echo returns when Kelly Johnson approached him for a chat. Lovick, then a thirty-eight-year-old physicist, was known among colleagues as Lockheed's radar man. Radar was still a relatively new science but Lovick knew more about the subject than anyone else at Lockheed at the time. Lockheed's antenna pattern range tinkering with echo returns when Kelly Johnson approached him for a chat. Lovick, then a thirty-eight-year-old physicist, was known among colleagues as Lockheed's radar man. Radar was still a relatively new science but Lovick knew more about the subject than anyone else at Lockheed at the time.

"Would you like to come work on an interesting project?" the boss asked Lovick. In his eight-and-a-half-year tenure at the company, Lovick had never seen Kelly Johnson before. But standing beside Johnson were William Martin and L. D. MacDonald, two scientists Lovick considered to be brilliant. Martin was Lovick's former boss, and the three men used to work together in the antenna lab. Martin and MacDonald had since disappeared to work on projects inside Building 82, a large, nondescript hangar at the north end of the facility where Lockheed's black operations went on. As for the project that Kelly Johnson was asking Lovick to join, Johnson said it might finish in six weeks. Instead, it lasted thirty-two years. Although Lovick had no idea at the time, he was being invited into Lockheed's cla.s.sified group, officially called Advanced Development Projects but nicknamed the Skunk Works. In 1957, its primary customer was the CIA.

Lovick was granted his top secret security clearance and briefed on the U-2 aircraft. He learned about the death of test pilot Robert Sieker at Area 51, just four months before. "My first a.s.signment at Lockheed came as a direct result of this tragedy," Lovick recalls. Sieker's death had inadvertently played a role in the invention of the most significant military application of the twentieth century, and it led Ed Lovick to become known as the grandfather of stealth grandfather of stealth. What the Boston Group at MIT had attempted to do-add stealth features via paint to an existing airplane-had proved futile. But what Lovick and his team would soon discover was that stealth could be achieved if it was designed as a feature in the early drawing boards.

"The purpose of stealth, or antiradar technology," Lovick explains, "is to keep the enemy from sensing or detecting an aircraft, from tracking it, and therefore from shooting it down. The goal is to trick the enemy's air defenses though camouflage or concealment." Camouflage has been one of the most basic foundations of military strength since man first made spears. In ancient warfare, soldiers concealed themselves from the enemy using tree branches as disguise. Millennia later, American independence was gained partly because the British ignored this fundamental; their bright red coats made them easy targets for a band of revolutionaries in drab, ragtag dress. In the animal kingdom, all species depend on antipredator adaptation for survival, from the chameleon, which defines the idea, to the arctic fox, which turns from brown in summer months to white in winter. Lockheed's U-2s were being tracked over the Soviet Union because they had no camouflage or antiradar technologies, so the Soviets could not only detect the U-2s but also accurately track the spy planes' precise flight paths.

To stay ahead of the Russians, Richard Bissell envisioned a new spy plane that would outfox Soviet radar. The CIA wanted an airplane with a radar cross section so low it would be close to invisible, the theory being that the Russians couldn't object to what they didn't know was there.

The aircraft would be radically different aircraft would be radically different, unlike anything the world had ever seen, or rather, not seen, before. It would beat Soviet advances in radar technology in three fields: height, speed, and stealth. The airplane needed to fly at ninety thousand feet and at a remarkably unprecedented speed of twenty-three hundred miles per hour, or Mach 3. In the late 1950s, for an aircraft to leave the tarmac on its own power and sustain even Mach 2 flight was unheard-of. Speed offered cover. In the event that a Mach 3 aircraft was tracked by radar, that kind of speed would make it extremely difficult to shoot down. By comparison, a U-2, which flew around five hundred miles per hour, would be seen by a Soviet SA-2 missile system approximately ten minutes before it was in shoot-down range, where it would remain for a full five minutes. An aircraft traveling at Mach 3 would be seen by Soviet radar for fewer than a hundred and twenty seconds before it could be fired upon, and it would remain in target range for fewer than twenty seconds. After that twenty-second window twenty-second window closed, the airplane would be too close for a Soviet missile to fire on it. The missile couldn't chase the airplane because, even though the top speed for a missile at the time was Mach 3.5, once a missile gets that far into the upper atmosphere, closed, the airplane would be too close for a Soviet missile to fire on it. The missile couldn't chase the airplane because, even though the top speed for a missile at the time was Mach 3.5, once a missile gets that far into the upper atmosphere, it loses precision and speed it loses precision and speed. Shooting down an airplane flying at three times the speed of sound at ninety thousand feet was equivalent to hitting a bullet whizzing by seventeen miles away with another bullet.

Lockheed was confident the speed element was possible, but it wasn't in charge of building the jet engines; the Pratt and Whitney corporation was. Height was achievable; Lockheed had mastered flying at seventy thousand feet with the U-2. Stealth was the feature that would be the most challenging, and it was also the single most important feature of the spy plane to the CIA. To create stealth, Lovick and his team had to master minutiae involving radar returns minutiae involving radar returns. Eventually, they'd need a wide-open s.p.a.ce and a full-size airplane, which is how Ed Lovick and the Lockheed radar cross-section team became the first group of men after the atomic blast to set up shop at Area 51. But first, they did this inside a room within a hangar at Lockheed.

"Radar works a.n.a.logous to a bat," Lovick explains. "The bat squeaks and the sound hits a bug. The squeak gets sent back to the bat and the bat measures time and distance to the bug through the echo it receives." So how does one get the bug to absorb absorb the squeak? "The way in which to solve the radar problem for us at Lockheed was to create a surface that would redirect radar returns. We needed to send them off in a direction other than back at the Soviet radars. We could also do this by absorbing radar returns, like a diaper absorbs liquid. In theory it was simple. But it turned out to be quite a complicated problem to solve." the squeak? "The way in which to solve the radar problem for us at Lockheed was to create a surface that would redirect radar returns. We needed to send them off in a direction other than back at the Soviet radars. We could also do this by absorbing radar returns, like a diaper absorbs liquid. In theory it was simple. But it turned out to be quite a complicated problem to solve."

Lovick had been solving problems ever since he was a child growing up in Falls City, Nebraska, during the Depression-for instance, the time he wanted to learn to play the piano but did not want to disturb his family while he practiced. "I took the piano apart and reconfigured its parts to suppress the sound. Then I sent the vibrations from the strings electronically through a small amplifier to a headset I wore." This was hardly something most fourteen-year-old children were doing in 1933 fourteen-year-old children were doing in 1933. Four years later, at the age of eighteen, Lovick published his first article on radar, for Radio-Craft Radio-Craft magazine. Inspired to think he might have a career in radar technology, he wrote to Lockheed Corporation in faraway California asking for a job. Lockheed turned him down. So he took a minimum-wage job as a radio repairman at a local Montgomery Ward, something that, at the age of ninety-one, he still considers a serendipitous career move. "What I learned at Montgomery Ward, in an employment capacity that today some might perceive as a dead-end job, would later play an important role in my future spy plane career." Namely, that there is as much to learn from what doesn't work as from what does. magazine. Inspired to think he might have a career in radar technology, he wrote to Lockheed Corporation in faraway California asking for a job. Lockheed turned him down. So he took a minimum-wage job as a radio repairman at a local Montgomery Ward, something that, at the age of ninety-one, he still considers a serendipitous career move. "What I learned at Montgomery Ward, in an employment capacity that today some might perceive as a dead-end job, would later play an important role in my future spy plane career." Namely, that there is as much to learn from what doesn't work as from what does.

To learn how to outfox radar, Lovick returned to the trial-and-error principles he'd first cultivated as a child. He set about designing and overseeing the building of Lockheed's first anechoic chamber to test scale models of Skunk Works' proposed new spy plane. "An anechoic chamber is an enclosed s.p.a.ce covered in energy-absorbing materials, the by-product of which is noiselessness," Lovick explains. It is so quiet inside the chamber that if a person stands alone inside its four walls, he can hear the blood flowing inside his body. "Particularly loud is the blood in one's head," Lovick notes. Only in such a strictly controlled environment could the physicist and his team accurately test how a one-twentieth-scale model would react to radar beams aimed at it. Lockheed's wood shop built tiny airplane models for the physicists, not unlike the models kids play with. Lovick and the team painstakingly applied radar-absorbing material to the models then strung them up in the anechoic chamber to test. Based on the radar echo results, the shape and design of the spy plane would change. So would its name. Over the next several months, the design numbers for the Archangel-1 the Archangel-1 went up incrementally, through eleven major changes. This is why the final and official Agency designation for the airplane was Archangel-12, or A-12 for short. went up incrementally, through eleven major changes. This is why the final and official Agency designation for the airplane was Archangel-12, or A-12 for short.

While imaging and then designing Lockheed's new spy plane, Edward Lovick accompanied Kelly Johnson on trips to Was.h.i.+ngton, DC. There, the men met with Richard Bissell and President Eisenhower's science advisers to deliver progress reports and attend briefings on the aircraft. President Eisenhower called it "the Big One." On these trips to DC, Bissell, whom Lovick knew only as Mr. B., would pepper Kelly Johnson with technical questions about stealth, or "low observables," which Lovick was responsible for answering. "We shared test data from the chamber work, which was going along fine," Lovick recalls. "But the Customer always wanted better. No matter how low we felt our observables were, the Customer always wanted them to be lower." This meant more work. In a final design stage, Skunk Works aerodynamicists and the radar team added downward slopes, called chines, on either side of the body of the aircraft, making the airplane look like a cobra with wings. With the plane's underbelly now flat, its radar cross section was reduced by an astonis.h.i.+ng 90 percent. Still, Richard Bissell wanted a spy plane closer to invisible. Lovick needed a full-scale laboratory. Johnson got an idea: return to Area 51.

Johnson had met privately with an unnamed official to try to convince the CIA to allow a small cadre of Lockheed scientists and engineers to return to Area 51 for proof-of-concept tests. There and only there, Johnson argued, could his group do what needed to be done to meet the CIA's grueling radar-evasion demands. During this intense design phase, and despite the secrecy of the project, Lockheed was not the only contractor bidding on the job. Who exactly would land the CIA's contract to build the U-2's replacement airplane was still up in the air. The federal government liked to foster compet.i.tion between defense contractors, which meant aeros.p.a.ce contractor Convair was also in play, hoping to secure the CIA's hundred-million-dollar contract for itself. Johnson knew reducing the aircraft's observables was his best shot at getting the contract. Permission was granted, and in the late summer of 1959, fifty Skunk Works employees returned to Area 51 fifty Skunk Works employees returned to Area 51.

The days of measuring child-size airplane models in a tiny chamber in Burbank were over. The time had come to put a full-scale model of the world's first stealth airplane to the test. "On 31 March we started to build a full scale mockup build a full scale mockup and elevation device to raise the mockup 50 feet in the air for radar tests," Johnson wrote in doc.u.ments decla.s.sified in July 2007. What Johnson was imagining in this "elevation device" would eventually become the legendary Area 51 pylon, or radar test pole. and elevation device to raise the mockup 50 feet in the air for radar tests," Johnson wrote in doc.u.ments decla.s.sified in July 2007. What Johnson was imagining in this "elevation device" would eventually become the legendary Area 51 pylon, or radar test pole.

Lockheed engineers brought with them a mock-up of the aircraft so detailed that it could easily be mistaken for the real thing. For accurate radar results, the model had to represent everything the real aircraft would be, from the size of the rivets to the slope on the chines. It had taken more than four months to build. When it was done, the wooden airplane, with its 102-foot-long fuselage and 55-foot-long wooden wings, was packed up in a wooden crate in preparation for its journey out to Area 51. Getting it there was a daunting task, and the road from Burbank to Area 51 needed to be prepared in advance. The transport crate had been disguised to look like a generic wide load, but the size made it considerably wider than wide. Crews were dispatched before the trip to remove obstructing road signs and to trim overhanging trees. In a few places along the highway, the road had to be made level.

What kind of cleanup went on at Area 51 before the arrival of Lockheed's radar cross-section crew remains unknown. Twelve months had pa.s.sed since the last atomic bomb had been exploded next door; it was code-named t.i.tania code-named t.i.tania, like the mischievous queen of the fairies from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. A Midsummer Night's Dream. If there was a formal decontamination of Area 51 or a summation of what the radiation levels were and whether it was safe to return, those details remain cla.s.sified. As it was, the radar test system Lockheed set up was only temporary. The CIA did not yet have presidential approval to proceed with the A-12. "I had no more than 50 people on the project," Johnson wrote in a doc.u.ment called If there was a formal decontamination of Area 51 or a summation of what the radiation levels were and whether it was safe to return, those details remain cla.s.sified. As it was, the radar test system Lockheed set up was only temporary. The CIA did not yet have presidential approval to proceed with the A-12. "I had no more than 50 people on the project," Johnson wrote in a doc.u.ment called History of the Oxcart by the Builder, History of the Oxcart by the Builder, decla.s.sified in 2007. The small group of Skunk Workers bunked down in the Quonset huts where the U-2 pilots and engineers had once lived. decla.s.sified in 2007. The small group of Skunk Workers bunked down in the Quonset huts where the U-2 pilots and engineers had once lived.

Beginning in the fall of 1959, a Lockheed C-47 shuttled engineers and mechanics from Burbank to Area 51 on Monday mornings and returned them home to their families late Friday afternoons. It was Ed Lovick's first experience working at what he'd been told was Paradise Ranch. Because of Lovick's key role in this phase of the project, he was transported in a Lockheed twin-engine Cessna, usually alone with the pilot. He disliked the commute because the fumes from the Cessna made him queasy. But once he arrived and deplaned he would lose himself in the intensity of the radar work going on. In Burbank, in the silence of the anechoic chamber, Lovick had been testing airplane models the size of his shoe. This full-size mock-up would reveal the results of two years' worth of chamber work. "The only way to get accurate information of how a full-size aircraft would perform in radar testing was to subject the full size mock-up of the A-12 to radar beams," Lovick explains.

At the edge of the dry lake bed, scientists mounted the airplane on the fifty-five-foot-high pole, centered in a concrete pad that would rise up and down from an underground chamber in the desert floor. "A control room was located underground to one side of the pad. An anemometer and a wind-direction weather vane were located near the edge of the pad, away from the line of sight," Lovick recalls. The radar antennas, manned and monitored by EG&G, were located a mile away from the pole. "The nose of the mock-up would be tipped down so the radar would see the airplane's belly, the same way that Soviet radar would see it. It was an elaborate and time-consuming process," Lovick recalls. "The mock-up that was tested on the pole had to be housed in a hangar on the base at least a mile away. It was carried out and back on special carts."

In late 1959, the CIA did not know how far the Soviets had advanced their satellite technology-whether they were capable of taking photographs from s.p.a.ce yet. The CIA's espionage concerns further complicated the radar work at Area 51. Each member of Lovick's crew Each member of Lovick's crew carried in his pocket a small chart indicating Soviet satellite schedules. This often meant working odd hours, including at night. "It also made for a lot of technicians running around," Lovick explains. "Satellites pa.s.sed overhead often. Getting an aircraft up on the radar test pole took eighteen minutes. It took another eighteen minutes to get it back down. That left only a set amount of time to shoot radar at it and take data recordings." As soon as technicians were done, they took the aircraft down and whisked it away into its hangar. carried in his pocket a small chart indicating Soviet satellite schedules. This often meant working odd hours, including at night. "It also made for a lot of technicians running around," Lovick explains. "Satellites pa.s.sed overhead often. Getting an aircraft up on the radar test pole took eighteen minutes. It took another eighteen minutes to get it back down. That left only a set amount of time to shoot radar at it and take data recordings." As soon as technicians were done, they took the aircraft down and whisked it away into its hangar.

What Lovick remembered most about life on the Ranch during this period, besides the work going on around the pole, was how intense the weather was. At night, workers needed to bundle up in heavy coats and wool hats. But during the day, temperatures could reach 120 degrees. "Once, I saw a coyote chasing a rabbit and they were both walking," Lovick recalls.

In December of 1959, the president was briefed on the status of the A-12. Eager to move ahead, Eisenhower was also aware of the hundred-million-dollar check he would be writing to Lockheed from his discretionary funds for a fleet of twelve spy planes. Eisenhower told Bissell he had decided to request that Lockheed deliver results on a last proof-of-concept test, one that focused specifically on radar-evasion technology. Bissell had been informed that Lockheed's A-12 would appear on enemy radar as bigger than a bird but smaller than a man. But he had not yet been told about a problem in the aircraft's low observables that Lovick and the team had been unable to remedy while testing the mock-up out at Area 51. Lovick explains: "The exhaust ducts from the two huge jet engines that powered the aircraft were proving impossible to make stealthy. Obviously, we couldn't cover the openings with camouflage coating. During testing, the radar waves would go into the s.p.a.ces where the engines would be, echo around, and come out like water being sprayed into a can. We'd tried screens and metallic grating. Nothing worked." Kelly Johnson believed the CIA would accept this design weakness. "Ike wants an airplane from Mandrake the magician," "Ike wants an airplane from Mandrake the magician," Johnson told the team and added that the president would settle for something less. Johnson was wrong. Johnson told the team and added that the president would settle for something less. Johnson was wrong.

With the president's final request on the table, settling for something less was no longer an option. On a final trip to Was.h.i.+ngton, DC, Kelly Johnson was going to have to explain to Bissell the exact nature of the design problem. "The meeting took place at an old ramshackle building in Was.h.i.+ngton, DC, inside a conference room with a mirrored wall," Lovick remembers. "Killian and [Edwin] Din Land were there, so was 'Mr. B.'" Kelly Johnson told the CIA about the problem with camouflaging the A-12's engine exhaust, how it was a weakness in the airplane's overall concept of stealth. "Bissell became furious. Throughout the process, I felt so comfortable working for Kelly, I don't think I realized how serious the situation was until that meeting. Bissell threatened to cancel the entire contract if someone didn't come up with a solution." It was a tense moment. "I knew that more than a hundred men had been lost trying to look over the fence. Shot down over Russia, killed, or listed as missing in training missions. I became aware there was a serious problem of information gathering. Before that, most of my concerns were as a scientist in a lab. [In that moment] I realized how poorly things were going in the world outside the lab. How important this airplane was, and that problem with the engine exhaust needed to be solved."

There in the conference room, Edward Lovick decided to speak up about an idea he had been considering for decades, "and that was how to ionize gas," he says, referring to the scientific process by which the electrical charge of an atom is fundamentally changed. "I suggested that by adding the chemical compound cesium by adding the chemical compound cesium to the fuel, the exhaust would be ionized, likely masking it from radar. I had suggested cesium would be the best source of free electrons because, in the gaseous state, it would be the easiest to ionize." If this complicated ionization worked-and Lovick believed it would-the results would be like putting a sponge in a can and running a hose into it. Instead of being bounced back, the radar return from the engines would be absorbed. "Bissell loved the idea," says Lovick, adding that the suggestion was endorsed heartily by several of the customer's consultants. An enthusiastic discussion ensued among the president's science advisers, whom Lovick sensed had very little understanding of what it was he was proposing. In the end, the results would be up to Lovick to determine; later, his theory indeed proved correct. Those results remain a key component of stealth and are still cla.s.sified as of 2011. to the fuel, the exhaust would be ionized, likely masking it from radar. I had suggested cesium would be the best source of free electrons because, in the gaseous state, it would be the easiest to ionize." If this complicated ionization worked-and Lovick believed it would-the results would be like putting a sponge in a can and running a hose into it. Instead of being bounced back, the radar return from the engines would be absorbed. "Bissell loved the idea," says Lovick, adding that the suggestion was endorsed heartily by several of the customer's consultants. An enthusiastic discussion ensued among the president's science advisers, whom Lovick sensed had very little understanding of what it was he was proposing. In the end, the results would be up to Lovick to determine; later, his theory indeed proved correct. Those results remain a key component of stealth and are still cla.s.sified as of 2011.

Lockheed kept the contract. Lovick got a huge Christmas bonus, and the A-12 got a code name, Oxcart. It was ironic, an oxcart being one of the slowest vehicles on Earth and the Oxcart being the fastest Oxcart being the fastest. On January 26, 1960, Bissell notified Johnson that the CIA was authorizing the delivery of twelve airplanes. The specs were laid out: Mach, 3.2 (2,064 knots, or .57 miles per second); range, 4,120 nautical miles; alt.i.tude, 84,50097,600 feet. The aircraft was going to be five times faster than the U-2 and would fly a full three miles higher than the U-2. Skunk Works would move into production, and a facility needed to be readied for flight tests. There was only one place equipped to handle a spy plane that needed to be hidden from the world, including members of Congress, and that was Area 51.

It was January of 1960, and for the first time since the atomic bombs had shuttered the place, in the summer of 1957, Area 51 was back in business Area 51 was back in business. Only this time, the CIA and the Air Force were comanaging an aircraft that was bigger, faster, and budgeted at nearly five times the cost of the U-2. The program would involve more than ten times as many people, and, as it had with the U-2, the CIA hired work crews from next door the CIA hired work crews from next door at the Nevada Test Site, men with top secret security clearances already in place. There were two immediate requirements for the new airplane: a much longer runway and a 1.32-million-gallon fuel farm. at the Nevada Test Site, men with top secret security clearances already in place. There were two immediate requirements for the new airplane: a much longer runway and a 1.32-million-gallon fuel farm. The construction of a new runway and the fuel farm The construction of a new runway and the fuel farm began first. Millions of gallons of cement had to be hauled in, along with enough building materials to construct a small city. Trucking this kind of volume through the test site would draw too much attention to the project, so a new road was built, allowing access to Groom Lake from the north. Contractors worked under cover of night, resurfacing eighteen miles of highway through the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada, so fuel trucks carrying five hundred thousand gallons of specially modified fuel each month would not crack the roadbed with their heavy loads. began first. Millions of gallons of cement had to be hauled in, along with enough building materials to construct a small city. Trucking this kind of volume through the test site would draw too much attention to the project, so a new road was built, allowing access to Groom Lake from the north. Contractors worked under cover of night, resurfacing eighteen miles of highway through the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada, so fuel trucks carrying five hundred thousand gallons of specially modified fuel each month would not crack the roadbed with their heavy loads.

The A-12 Oxcart was a flying fuel tank. It held eleven thousand gallons, which made the tanks the largest portion of the airplane. The fuel had requirements the likes of which were previously unknown. During the refueling process, which would happen in the air, at lower alt.i.tudes and lower airspeeds, the temperature of the fuel would drop to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At Mach 3, it would heat up to 285 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which conventional fuels boil and explode. To allow for this kind of fluctuation, JP-7 was designed to maintain such a low vapor pressure that a person could not light it with a match. This made for many practical jokes, with those in the know dropping lit matches into a barrel of JP-7 to make those not in the know duck and run for cover. It also required extreme precision of the man who was chosen to be in charge of the fuels team, Air Force sergeant Harry Martin.

This meant Martin was one of the first men to return to the nearly deserted secret base. "Winters were freezing on Groom Lake," Martin recalls, with temperatures dropping into the low teens. "I lived in a dilapidated trailer heated with kerosene. I've never worked so hard in my life as I did that first winter at Area 51." Martin had no idea what he was working on but gathered it was important when he was woken up in the middle of the night by a two-star general. "He said we had an important task. I thought to myself, 'If a general is up working at this hour, then I'm up too.' Working at Area 51 was the highlight of my career."

The A-12 was original in every way, meaning it had unforeseen needs that came up at every turn. The eighty-five-hundred-foot runway had to be created piece by piece because the standard Air Force runways would not work when it came to Oxcart. The longitudinal sections had to be made much larger, and the joints holding them together needed to run parallel to the aircraft's roll, not horizontal, as was standard with Air Force planes. Large, new aircraft hangars went into construction, ready to conceal what would become known as the CIA's "own little air force." CIA's "own little air force." Getting the Oxcart to fly Getting the Oxcart to fly would involve its own small fleet of aircraft: F-104 chase planes, proficiency-training airplanes, transport planes, and a helicopter for search and rescue. would involve its own small fleet of aircraft: F-104 chase planes, proficiency-training airplanes, transport planes, and a helicopter for search and rescue.

Because the Oxcart would fly five times as fast as the U-2, the Agency needed a lot more restricted airs.p.a.ce at Area 51. Flying at speeds of 2,200 miles per hour, an Oxcart pilot would need a 186-mile swath just to make a U-turn 186-mile swath just to make a U-turn. This meant an additional 38,400 acres of land around the base were withdrawn from public access, allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the restricted airs.p.a.ce from a 50-square-mile box to 440 square miles. FAA employees were instructed not to ask questions about anything flying above forty thousand feet. The same was true at NORAD same was true at NORAD, the North American Aeros.p.a.ce Defense Command.

While the base was being readied for delivery of the twelve aircraft, pole testing continued on the lake bed at Area 51. All the while, the CIA feared the Russians were watching from s.p.a.ce. Across the world, at NII-88, Sergei Korolev had designed a Soviet spy satellite called Object D, but the CIA did not know what exactly it was capable of. Also under way was a follow-on espionage platform called Zenit, a modified version of the Vostok s.p.a.cecraft that had been equipped with cameras to photograph American military installations from s.p.a.ce. The Russians took great delight in rubbing what they learned in the face of the State Department. Once, using diplomatic channels, they pa.s.sed a simple sketch they pa.s.sed a simple sketch of the exact shape of Lockheed's top secret airplane to the CIA, whose employees were baffled as to how the enemy could have known such a thing, in view of the fact that operations personnel had been very careful to avoid the orbiting Soviet snoopers. Was there a double agent among them? The CIA, ever paranoid about KGB infiltration, worried in private that there could be a spy inside Area 51. Lovick finally figured it out: the Russians were using infrared satellites. In the desert heat, which could reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the mock-up of the aircraft left a heat signature as it sat on the tarmac while technicians were waiting to hoist it up on the test pole. The sketch reflected that. of the exact shape of Lockheed's top secret airplane to the CIA, whose employees were baffled as to how the enemy could have known such a thing, in view of the fact that operations personnel had been very careful to avoid the orbiting Soviet snoopers. Was there a double agent among them? The CIA, ever paranoid about KGB infiltration, worried in private that there could be a spy inside Area 51. Lovick finally figured it out: the Russians were using infrared satellites. In the desert heat, which could reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the mock-up of the aircraft left a heat signature as it sat on the tarmac while technicians were waiting to hoist it up on the test pole. The sketch reflected that.

While the Russians watched from s.p.a.ce, the CIA continued to monitor and translate the Soviets' reaction to its aerial reconnaissance program. Memos from Soviet chief marshal of artillery S. Varentsov S. Varentsov revealed the Russians' growing furor over the speed at which the United States was advancing its spy planes. Varentsov lamented that the Russians' own program had barely moved beyond technology from World War II. On the one hand, this was positive news for the CIA. In the world of overhead espionage, the Russians had been forced into a defensive posture. But it was also a double-edged sword. The Soviets couldn't advance their aerial reconnaissance program because so much of their efforts went into revealed the Russians' growing furor over the speed at which the United States was advancing its spy planes. Varentsov lamented that the Russians' own program had barely moved beyond technology from World War II. On the one hand, this was positive news for the CIA. In the world of overhead espionage, the Russians had been forced into a defensive posture. But it was also a double-edged sword. The Soviets couldn't advance their aerial reconnaissance program because so much of their efforts went into advancing surface-to-air missile technology advancing surface-to-air missile technology. If the capitalist foes were going to continue to fly over Mother Russia, Nikita Khrushchev was h.e.l.l-bent on shooting them down.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

Cat and Mouse Becomes Downfall Francis Gary Powers never slept well the night before a mission flight. When his 2:00 a.m. wake-up call came on May 1, 1960, Powers felt particularly anxious. His flight had already been postponed twice. It was sweltering hot in the ancient city of Peshawar, Pakistan, and Powers had spent the night on a cot in an aircraft hangar inside the CIA's secret facility there. Between the intense heat and the noise, sleep had been sporadic. The false starts had added a layer of uncertainty into the mix. Gary Powers got out of bed and took a shower. May was the hottest month in Pakistan. It was before 5:00 a.m. and yet the sun was already up, cooking the air. After only a few minutes, Powers would be drenched in sweat drenched in sweat again. He dressed and ate his breakfast, all the while thinking about the radical mission that lay ahead. The Agency had never attempted to fly all the way across the Soviet Union before, from the southern border near Pakistan to the northern border near the Arctic Circle. From there, Powers would fly his U-2 to a secret CIA base in Norway and land. No Agency pilot had ever taken off and landed at two different bases in a U-2. again. He dressed and ate his breakfast, all the while thinking about the radical mission that lay ahead. The Agency had never attempted to fly all the way across the Soviet Union before, from the southern border near Pakistan to the northern border near the Arctic Circle. From there, Powers would fly his U-2 to a secret CIA base in Norway and land. No Agency pilot had ever taken off and landed at two different bases in a U-2.

This overflight was particularly important to the CIA. Powers would gather valuable photographic information on two key sites. The first was the Tyuratam Cosmodrome, the Soviets' busiest missile launch base. Tyuratam was Russia's Cape Canaveral Tyuratam was Russia's Cape Canaveral, the place from where Sputnik had been launched. For years the CIA was aware of only one launchpad at Tyuratam. Now there were rumored to be two, and a U-2 overflight in April revealed preparations for an upcoming launch-of what exactly, the CIA wanted to know. After Tyuratam, Powers would fly across Siberia and head up to a facility at Plesetsk head up to a facility at Plesetsk, 186 miles south of the city of Archangelsk, in the Arctic Circle. Plesetsk was alleged to be the Soviet's newest missile-launch facility and was dangerously close to Alaska. Powers's flight would cover a record 3,800 miles, 2,900 of which would be inside the Soviet Union. He would spend nine nerve-racking hours over enemy territory. That would be a lot of time for the Soviets to try to shoot him down. The reverse would have been unthinkable. Imagine a Russian spy plane flying unmolested over the entire United States, from the East Coast to the West, snapping photographs that could provide details at two-and-a-half-foot increments two-and-a-half-foot increments from seventy thousand feet up. from seventy thousand feet up.

After breakfast, Powers sat in the hangar waiting for a final weather check. He had already sweated through his long johns. Mother Nature always had the final say. For Powers, a slight wind change meant the schedule for his mission flight that morning was disrupted yet again. Not enough to cancel the mission, but enough so that his navigational maps had to be quickly corrected. The waiting was agonizing. It was also necessary. If his photographic targets were covered in clouds, images from the U-2's camera would be useless. The navigators needed to calculate when and if the weather would clear. As Powers sat waiting it out, his commanding officer, Colonel Shelton, crossed the cement floor and indicated he wanted to speak with him indicated he wanted to speak with him.

Colonel Shelton extended his hand and opened his palm. At the center was a large silver coin. "Do you want the silver dollar?" the colonel asked Powers. What Shelton was offering was no ordinary American coin. It was a CIA suicide gadget, designed to conceal a tiny poison pin hidden inside. The pin, which the pilot could find in his pocket by rubbing a finger gently around the coin's edge, was coated with a sticky brown substance called curare, the paralytic poison found in lethal Amazonian blowpipes. One p.r.i.c.k of the poison pin and a pilot would be dead in seconds.

Gary Powers was one of the Agency's most accomplished U-2 pilots. He had flown a total of twenty-seven missions, including ones over China. He had once suffered a potentially fatal flameout over the Soviet Union and managed to survive. On many occasions he had been offered the suicide pill, and on each previous mission he had said no. But on May 1, 1960, Powers unexpectedly accepted the pin from Colonel Shelton, then slid it into the pocket of his flight suit. Later, Powers would wonder if he'd had a premonition had a premonition of what was to come. of what was to come.

At 5:20 a.m., it was go time. The personnel equipment sergeant strapped Powers into the c.o.c.kpit of the U-2. Two men held a s.h.i.+rt over Powers's head to protect him from the blaring sun and the heat while he went over radio codes with the Agency officer. Pilots knew never to use their radio while flying over denied territory, but they listened carefully for click codes being sent to them. A single click meant proceed. Three clicks meant turn around and head back to base. From under his heavy helmet, sweat poured down Powers's face, making him feel helpless. Finally Colonel Shelton came out for a briefing. Powers's overflight was now awaiting final approval by President Eisenhower himself. A last-minute delay like this had never happened before and Powers became convinced the flight would again be canceled for another day. Instead, at 6:20 a.m. a signal came from an intelligence officer. The two men who had been holding the s.h.i.+rt over Powers's head climbed down off the ladders; the personnel equipment sergeant closed the canopy, sealing him into the airplane; and Gary Powers was cleared for takeoff.

Up he went. After the U-2's extraordinarily steep and fast climb, Powers within minutes reached an alt.i.tude where it was 60 degrees below zero outside. No longer sweating, Powers switched on the U-2 autopilot mechanism so he could make notes in his flight log. Waiting was always a drag, offset immediately by the excitement of being up in the air. Using a pen, Powers wrote: "Aircraft #360, Sortie Number 4154, 0126 Greenwich Mean Time." He listened for the one-click signal over the radio, which would let him know he was good to proceed. The click came. Powers settled in for what was supposed to be a total of thirteen hours of flying time. His overflight would be the Agency's deepest penetration into the Soviet Union so far.

In Moscow, two thousand miles to the east, it was still dark outside when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sat upright in bed, awakened by a ringing telephone awakened by a ringing telephone. Defense minister Marshal Malinovsky was on the line. A high-flying aircraft had crossed the border over Afghanistan and was headed toward central Russia, Malinovsky said. Khrushchev became enraged. Today of all days. May 1 was Russia's national holiday. The streets were festooned with banners and ribbons for the May Day parade. This could mean only one thing, Khrushchev later told his son, Sergei. Eisenhower was ridiculing him again. The Soviet premier's Achilles' heel was his lack of formal education; he'd dropped out of school to work in the coal mines after the fourth grade. With his poor reading and writing skills, Khrushchev hated feeling that a more educated world leader was trying to make him appear the fool.

The Americans were especially duplicitous regarding holidays, Khrushchev believed. Four years earlier, on the Fourth of July, the Americans had double-crossed him with their first overflight of the U-2. If that overflight was a kick in the ribs, today's overflight was a sharp poke in the eye a sharp poke in the eye. "An uncomfortable situation was shaping up," "An uncomfortable situation was shaping up," Russian colonel Alexander Orlov explained in a historical review of the incident written for the CIA in 1998. Orlov, who spent most of his forty-six-year military career with Russia's air defense force, had been an eyewitness to the event; he was seated at the command post in Moscow when Gary Powers was shot down. "The May Day parade was scheduled to get underway at mid-morning and leaders of the party, the government and the Armed Forces were to be present as usual," Orlov explained. "In other words, at a time when a major parade aimed at demonstrating Soviet military prowess was about to begin, a not-yet-identified foreign aircraft was flying over the heart of the country and Soviet air defenses appeared unable to shoot it down." Russian colonel Alexander Orlov explained in a historical review of the incident written for the CIA in 1998. Orlov, who spent most of his forty-six-year military career with Russia's air defense force, had been an eyewitness to the event; he was seated at the command post in Moscow when Gary Powers was shot down. "The May Day parade was scheduled to get underway at mid-morning and leaders of the party, the government and the Armed Forces were to be present as usual," Orlov explained. "In other words, at a time when a major parade aimed at demonstrating Soviet military prowess was about to begin, a not-yet-identified foreign aircraft was flying over the heart of the country and Soviet air defenses appeared unable to shoot it down."

Not if Khrushchev had his way. "Shoot down the plane by whatever means," he shouted back at his defense minister. All across the country, the Soviet Air Force went on alert. Generals scrambled their fighter jets to go after Powers. In Siberia, officers from Soviet Air Defense Forces were summoned to their command posts with orders to shoot down the American spy. It was a matter of national pride. The orders came from Nikita Khrushchev himself.

Tucked snugly into the tiny c.o.c.kpit of his U-2, Gary Powers sailed along. He was one and a half hours into his flight. The weather was proving to be worse than expected but clicks on the radio system indicated that he was to proceed. Over the majestic Hindu Kush mountain range, clouds rose all the way up to the top of the twenty-five-thousand-foot peaks, and the cloud cover made it difficult for Powers to determine exactly where he was on the map. Flying at seventy thousand feet meant the sky above him was pitch-black. Under normal circ.u.mstances he would have used the stars to determine where on the globe he was, but today his celestial navigation computations were unreliable-they'd been laid out for a 6:00 a.m. departure, not a 6:26 a.m. one. And so, with only a compa.s.s and s.e.xtant to keep him on track, Powers flew on. Spotting a break in the clouds, he determined his location to be just southeast of the Aral Sea, high above present-day Uzbekistan. Thirty miles to the north lay Powers's first target: the Tyuratam Cosmodrome.

Realizing he was slightly off course, Powers was correcting back when suddenly he spotted the condensation trail of a jet aircraft below him. "It was moving fast, at supersonic speed, paralleling my course, though in the opposite direction," Powers explained in his memoir Operation Overflight, Operation Overflight, published in 1970. Five minutes pa.s.sed and now he knew at least one MiG was on his tail. Then he spotted another aircraft flying in the same direction as he was. "I was sure now they were tracking me on radar, vectoring in and relaying my headings to the aircraft" below him. But the MiG was so far below his U-2, it did not pose a real threat. Protected by height, Powers flew on. He felt confident he was out of harm's way. First he pa.s.sed over the Ural Mountains, once considered the natural boundary between the East and the West. He headed on toward Sverdlovsk, which was situated thirteen hundred miles inside Russia. Before the Communists took over, Sverdlovsk was called Yekaterinburg. It was there in 1918 that Czar Nicholas II and his family were lined up against a kitchen wall and shot, setting off the Communist Revolution that had made the Cold War a reality. To the Communists, the city of Sverdlovsk played an important role in the Soviet military-industrial complex, a place where tanks and rockets were built. It was also home to the published in 1970. Five minutes pa.s.sed and now he knew at least one MiG was on his tail. Then he spotted another aircraft flying in the same direction as he was. "I was sure now they were tracking me on radar, vectoring in and relaying my headings to the aircraft" below him. But the MiG was so far below his U-2, it did not pose a real threat. Protected by height, Powers flew on. He felt confident he was out of harm's way. First he pa.s.sed over the Ural Mountains, once considered the natural boundary between the East and the West. He headed on toward Sverdlovsk, which was situated thirteen hundred miles inside Russia. Before the Communists took over, Sverdlovsk was called Yekaterinburg. It was there in 1918 that Czar Nicholas II and his family were lined up against a kitchen wall and shot, setting off the Communist Revolution that had made the Cold War a reality. To the Communists, the city of Sverdlovsk played an important role in the Soviet military-industrial complex, a place where tanks and rockets were built. It was also home to the Soviets' secret bioweapons program Soviets' secret bioweapons program, which on the date of Powers's flight was not yet known to the CIA.

Nearing Sverdlovsk, Powers made a ninety-degree turn. He headed toward what appeared to be an airfield not marked on his map. Suddenly, large thunderclouds appeared, obscuring his view. He switched his cameras on. Powers had no idea that he was about to photograph a secret facility called Kyshtym 40, which produced nuclear material and also a.s.sembled weapons. Kyshtym 40 was as valuable Kyshtym 40 was as valuable to Russia as Los Alamos and Sandia combined were to the Americans. to Russia as Los Alamos and Sandia combined were to the Americans.

On the ground, a surface-to-air missile battalion tasked with guarding Kyshtym 40 had been tracking Powers's flight. At exactly 8:53 local time, the air defense battalion commander there gave the official word. "Destroy target," "Destroy target," the commander said. A missile from an SA-2 fired into the air at Mach 3. Inside his airplane, Gary Powers was making notes for the official record-alt.i.tude, time, instrument readings-when he suddenly felt a dull thump. All around him, his plane became engulfed in a bright orange flash of light. "A violent movement shook the plane, flinging me all over the c.o.c.kpit," Powers later wrote. "I a.s.sumed both wings had come off. What was left of the plane began spinning, only upside down, the nose pointing upward toward the sky." As the U-2 spun out of control, Powers's pressure suit inflated, wedging him into the nose of the airplane. The U-2 was cras.h.i.+ng. He needed to get out. Thrown forward as he was, if he pushed the b.u.t.ton to engage the ejection seat, both of his legs would be severed. Powers struggled, impossibly, against gravity. He needed to get out of the airplane and he needed to hit the b.u.t.ton that would trigger an explosion to destroy the airplane once he was gone, but he was acutely aware that he couldn't get out of the airplane without cutting off his own legs. For a man who rarely felt fear, Gary Powers was on the edge of panic. the commander said. A missile from an SA-2 fired into the air at Mach 3. Inside his airplane, Gary Powers was making notes for the official record-alt.i.tude, time, instrument readings-when he suddenly felt a dull thump. All around him, his plane became engulfed in a bright orange flash of light. "A violent movement shook the plane, flinging me all over the c.o.c.kpit," Powers later wrote. "I a.s.sumed both wings had come off. What was left of the plane began spinning, only upside down, the nose pointing upward toward the sky." As the U-2 spun out of control, Powers's pressure suit inflated, wedging him into the nose of the airplane. The U-2 was cras.h.i.+ng. He needed to get out. Thrown forward as he was, if he pushed the b.u.t.ton to engage the ejection seat, both of his legs would be severed. Powers struggled, impossibly, against gravity. He needed to get out of the airplane and he needed to hit the b.u.t.ton that would trigger an explosion to destroy the airplane once he was gone, but he was acutely aware that he couldn't get out of the airplane without cutting off his own legs. For a man who rarely felt fear, Gary Powers was on the edge of panic.

Suddenly, out of the chaos, three words came to him: Stop and think. Stop and think. An old pilot friend had once said that if he ever got in a jam, all he had to remember was to "stop and think." His thoughts traveled back to his old training days at Area 51, back when the U-2 didn't have an ejection seat. Back when escaping from the U-2 was the pilot's job, not a mechanical one. Reaching up, Powers unlocked the airplane canopy. It flew off and sailed into the darkness. Instantly, the centrifugal force of the spinning airplane sucked him out into the atmosphere. He was free at last; all he needed to do was deploy his parachute. Then, to his horror, he realized that he was still attached to the airplane by his oxygen hoses. Powers tried to think through his options, but the g-forces were too great. There was nothing he could do anymore. His fate was out of his hands. He blacked out. An old pilot friend had once said that if he ever got in a jam, all he had to remember was to "stop and think." His thoughts traveled back to his old training days at Area 51, back when the U-2 didn't have an ejection seat. Back when escaping from the U-2 was the pilot's job, not a mechanical one. Reaching up, Powers unlocked the airplane canopy. It flew off and sailed into the darkness. Instantly, the centrifugal force of the spinning airplane sucked him out into the atmosphere. He was free at last; all he needed to do was deploy his parachute. Then, to his horror, he realized that he was still attached to the airplane by his oxygen hoses. Powers tried to think through his options, but the g-forces were too great. There was nothing he could do anymore. His fate was out of his hands. He blacked out.

Nearly two thousand miles away, at a National Security Agency listening post in Turkey, NSA operators eavesdropped on Soviet radar operators at Kyshtym 40 as operators there tried to shoot Gary Powers's U-2 out of the sky. The NSA had partic.i.p.ated in many U-2 missions before. It was their job to equip CIA planes with listening systems, special recorders that gathered electronic intelligence, or ELINT. The NSA operators knew something was wrong the moment they heard a Soviet MiG pilot, the one who was chasing Powers from below, talking to the missile operators at Kyshtym 40. "He's turning left," "He's turning left," the MiG pilot said, helping the missile operator to target Powers's exact location. Just a few moments later, the MiG pilot said, helping the missile operator to target Powers's exact location. Just a few moments later, NSA operators heard NSA operators heard Kyshtym 40 say that Powers's U-2 had disappeared from their radar screens. Kyshtym 40 say that Powers's U-2 had disappeared from their radar screens.

NSA immediately sent a message to the White House marked CRITIC. Meanwhile, in the Soviet command post in Moscow, Russian colonel Alexander Orlov received an urgent report from Siberia: the American spy plane had been shot down. A missile had been fired and the target had disappeared from radar screen. The news was phoned to Khrushchev, who demanded physical proof. The White House sent a message to the CIA that was received by Bissell's special a.s.sistant, Bob King. "Bill Bailey did not come home" "Bill Bailey did not come home" was how Richard Bissell learned of the incident, in code. was how Richard Bissell learned of the incident, in code.

Over Sverdlovsk, Francis Gary Powers was free-falling through the atmosphere. Somehow, he had detached from the spinning airplane. "My body [was] just falling perfectly free. It was a pleasant, exhilarating feeling," Powers would later recall. It felt "even better than floating in a swimming pool." His parachute deployed, and Powers floated into a wide, gra.s.sy field. His thoughts during the last ten thousand feet before the ground were sharp and clear. "Everything was cold, quiet, serene. There was no sensation of falling. It was as if I were hanging in the sky." A large section of the aircraft floated by, "twisting and fluttering like a leaf." Below him, the countryside looked beautiful. There were forests, lakes, roads, and small villages. The landscape reminded him of Virginia in the spring. As Powers floated down toward Earth, he noticed a small car driving down a dirt road alongside him, as if following his course. Finally, he made contact with the ground. The car stopped and men were helping him. One a.s.sisted with his chute. Another man helped him to his feet. A third man reached over to Powers's survival pack and took his pistol. A crowd of approximately fifty people had gathered around. The men motioned for Powers to follow them. They loaded him into the front seat of a truck and began driving.

The men seemed friendly. One of them offered Powers a cigarette. The emblem on the cigarette pack was that of a dog. Taking it, Powers realized the incredible irony of it all. The brand was Laika The brand was Laika, and its emblem was the world's first s.p.a.ce dog. Laika had flown inside Sputnik 2, the second Russian satellite to be launched from the Tyuratam Cosmodrome, the CIA target that Powers had photographed a little over an hour before. Gary Powers sat back and smoked the cigarette, noting how remarkably like an American cigarette it was.

With the U-2 spy plane and the SA-2 missile system, the Americans and the Soviets had been playing a game of cat and mouse: constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes. Now that game was over. Powers, like the mouse, had been caught. But there was a second, even greater catastrophe in the works. When the White House staff learned Powers's U-2 had been shot down, they a.s.sumed he was dead. This was an a.s.sumption based on CIA "facts." Richard Bissell had personally a.s.sured the president that in the unlikely event that an SA-2 missile was able to reach a U-2 and shoot it down, the pilot would not survive. "We believed that if a U-2 was shot down over Soviet territory, all the Russians would have was the wreckage of an aircraft," Bissell later explained. And so, believing Gary Powers was dead, the White House denied that the airplane was on any kind of espionage mission, in opposition to Khrushchev's very public accusation. For five days, down over Soviet territory, all the Russians would have was the wreckage of an aircraft," Bissell later explained. And so, believing Gary Powers was dead, the White House denied that the airplane was on any kind of espionage mission, in opposition to Khrushchev's very public accusation. For five days, the White House claimed the White House claimed that Gary Powers had been gathering high-alt.i.tude weather data for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. that Gary Powers had been gathering high-alt.i.tude weather data for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA.

But Khrushchev had evidence, which he would soon make public. With great bravado With great bravado, on May 5, he gathered all thirteen hundred members of the Soviet parliament inside the Great Kremlin Palace speaking hall and addressed them from the stage. The United States has been making a fool of Mother Russia, Khrushchev declared. The Americans had been sending spy planes over the Soviet Union for nearly four years. To underscore the significance of what had happened, Khrushchev gave a bold a.n.a.logy. "Just imagine what would have happened had a Soviet aircraft appeared over New York, Chicago or Detroit? That would mean the outbreak of war!" Amid gasps of horror, Khrushchev explained how the Soviet Union had first used diplomatic channels to protest the spy flights. That he had called upon the U.N. Security Council to take action, but nothing was done. Just four days earlier, Khrushchev explained, on May 1, yet another illegal espionage mission had occurred. Only this time the Soviets had succeeded in shooting down the spy plane. The audience broke into wild cheers. Then came the heart of the matter in the form of a question. It was also Khrushchev's bait. "Who sent this aircraft across the Soviet frontier?" he asked. "Was it the American Commander-in-Chief who, as everyone knows, is the president? Or was this aggressive act performed by Pentagon militarists without the president's knowledge? If American military men can take such action on their own, the world should be greatly concerned." By now, Khrushchev's audience members were stomping their feet.

Halfway across the world, President Eisenhower continued to have no idea that Gary Powers was alive and had been talking to his captors. All the White House and the CIA knew was that the Soviets had a wrecked U-2 in their possession. Khrushchev had laid a dangerous trap, one in which President Eisenhower got caught. The White House sent its press officer Walter Bonney to the press room to greet journalists and to tell the nation a lie. Gary Powers's weather-sampling airplane was supposed to be flying over Turkey. Instead, it had gone astray. Two days later, on May 7, Khrushchev sprung his trap. "Comrades," he told the parliament, who'd been gathered for a second revelatory speech. "I must let you in on a secret." He smiled. "When I made my report two days ago I deliberately refrained from mentioning that we have the remains of the plane and we also have the pilot who is quite alive and kicking," Khrushchev said. For the United States, it was a diplomatic disaster of the worst order.

The president was trapped. Were he to deny knowing what his "militarists" were up to, he would appear uninformed by his own military. Were he to admit that he had in fact personally authorized Powers's flight, it would become clear he'd lied earlier when he claimed the downed airplane had been conducting weather research, not espionage. So despondent was the commander in chief about his untenable position that when he walked into the Oval Office two days later, he told his secretary Ann Whitman, "I would like to resign." "I would like to resign." Spying on Russia and defying Soviet airs.p.a.ce was one thing; lying about it after being caught red-handed made the president look like a liar in the eyes of the world. In 1960, American presidents were expected to be truth tellers; there was no public precedent for lying. Spying on Russia and defying Soviet airs.p.a.ce was one thing; lying about it after being caught red-handed made the president look like a liar in the eyes of the world. In 1960, American presidents were expected to be truth tellers; there was no public precedent for lying.

Khrushchev demanded an apology from his nemesis. Eisenhower wouldn't bow Eisenhower wouldn't bow. Apologizing would only open Pandora's box. There were too many overflights to make them transparent. There had been at least twenty-four U-2 flights over Russia and hundreds more bomber overflights by General LeMay. To reveal the dangerous game of cat and mouse that had been going on in secret-at a time when thermonuclear weapons on both sides were ready to fly-would likely shock and frighten people more than having a president who lied. A national poll revealed that more than half of adult Americans believed they were more likely to die in a thermonuclear war with the Russians than of old age. So Eisenhower made the decision to keep the focus on Gary Powers's flight only and admit that he personally had authorized it. This was "the first time any nation had publicly admitted it was engaged in espionage," noted Eisenhower's lead U-2 photo interpreter at the time, Dino Brugioni. it was engaged in espionage," noted Eisenhower's lead U-2 photo interpreter at the time, Dino Brugioni.

Khrushchev could play the game too. And he did so by making a dangerous, offensive move. By the summer of 1960, he had authorized a Soviet military base authorized a Soviet military base to be set up in Cuba. The island, just ninety miles off the coast of Florida, was in America's backyard. Khrushchev's plan was to put nuclear warheads in striking distance of Was.h.i.+ngton, DC. In this way, Soviet missiles could be launched from Havana and obliterate the nation's capital in just to be set up in Cuba. The island, just ninety miles off the coast of Florida, was in America's backyard. Khrushchev's plan was to put nuclear warheads in striking distance of Was.h.i.+ngton, DC. In this way, Soviet missiles could be launched from Havana and obliterate the nation's capital in just twenty-five minutes' time twenty-five minutes' time. Khrushchev was showing Eisenhower that he could play cat and mouse too.

Immediately after Gary Powers had been shot down in his U-2 and picked up by the Soviets, he was flown from Sverdlovsk to Moscow, where he was put in a cell inside Lubyanka Prison, which doubled as headquarters for the KGB. There, his interrogation began. Powers had already decided on a tactic. He'd tell the Russians the truth, but "with definite limitation." The KGB wanted to know about Area 51. Where had he trained to fly the U-2? Powers was asked. According to Powers's memoir, he told the KGB that training took place at a base on the West Coast called Watertown. Powers wrote that the Soviets believed Watertown was located in Arizona and that they produced a map of the state, asking him to mark Watertown's exact location. Whether the Soviets were playing a game with Powers or whether he was telling his readers the truth but "with definite limitation" remains unclear. Either way, trial transcripts from August of 1960, decla.s.sified by the CIA in 1985, revealed that the Soviets knew exactly where Watertown was and that it was located inside the Nevada Test Site. During Powers's trial During Powers's trial, Soviet procurator-general Rudenko asked his comrade judges if they were familiar with "the deposition of the accused Powers which he gave in the preliminary investigations and here in court on the preparations for flights in the U-2 aircraft at the Las Vegas firing range (poligon) in the Nevada desert Las Vegas firing range (poligon) in the Nevada desert," and then he fingered the base as being used by the CIA for "the training in the use of special reconnaissance aircraft." Not before the publication of this book has it been understood that the KGB clearly knew about Area 51 during the Powers trial.

Further, the trial revealed that the Soviets also had a much clearer picture of the inner workings of the American military-industrial complex and its defense-contracting system than the CIA had previously known. Rudenko was able to name "Lockheed company" as the manufacturer of the U-2. He argued that the existence of the "Las Vegas firing range," aka Area 51, and the Lockheed spy plane exemplified what he called a "criminal conspiracy" "criminal conspiracy" between "a major American capitalist company, an espionage and reconnaissance center, and the military of America." In his speech to the USSR International Affairs Committee, Rudenko had correctly identified the three players in the triangle of Area 51: defense contractors, the intelligence community, and the Pentagon. between "a major American capitalist company, an espionage and reconnaissance center, and the military of America." In his speech to the USSR International Affairs Committee, Rudenko had correctly identified the three players in the triangle of Area 51: defense contractors, the intelligence community, and the Pentagon.

After a three-day trial, the Soviets determined that Gary Powers, having been caught spying on Russia, exposed the United States for what it really was: "an enemy of the peace." Powers was sentenced to ten years in prison. President Eisenhower was judged to be a "follower of Hitler," "follower of Hitler," the lowest insult in the Russian lexicon. Hitler had double-crossed Khrushchev's predecessor, Joseph Stalin, in 1941, and the result of that double cross was twenty million Russians dead. In comparing Eisenhower to Hitler, Khrushchev was sending a clear message: diplomacy was off the table. The upcoming east-west summit in Paris was canceled. How bad could things get? the lowest insult in the Russian lexicon. Hitler had double-crossed Khrushchev's predecessor, Joseph Stalin, in 1941, and the result of that double cross was twenty million Russians dead. In comparing Eisenhower to Hitler, Khrushchev was sending a clear message: diplomacy was off the table. The upcoming east-west summit in Paris was canceled. How bad could things get?

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics issued a press release identifying Watertown as the U-2 training facility Watertown as the U-2 training facility but stating falsely that it was no longer used as a training base. The Russians knew that statement was meant to mislead the American public and not Russia's intelligence service, the KGB-and the CIA knew the Soviets had first-person information about Area 51 in the form of Gary Powers, not just photographic images of the facility from the satellites they'd been sending overhead. but stating falsely that it was no longer used as a training base. The Russians knew that statement was meant to mislead the American public and not Russia's intelligence service, the KGB-and the CIA knew the Soviets had first-person information about Area 51 in the form of Gary Powers, not just photographic images of the facility from the satellites they'd been sending overhead.

With the White House absorbing the fallout from the Gary Powers affair, the CIA and the Air Force were deeply involved in the Mach 3 replacement for the U-2 out at the Ranch out at the Ranch. The 8,500-foot-long runway, designated 14/32 and believed to be the longest in the world, had been finished, complete with a two-mile semicircular extension called the Hook, which would allow an A-12 pilot extra room for maneuvering were he to overshoot the runway. Four new aircraft hangars were built, designated 4, 5, 6, and 7. The former U-2 hangars whose metal doors had buckled in the atomic blast were converted into maintenance facilities and machine shops. Navy housing units, 140 in all, were transported to the base and laid out in neat rows. The commissary was expanded, as was the movie house and fire station. Richard Bissell had a tennis court put in Richard Bissell had a tennis court put in, and plans for an Olympic-size swimming pool were drawn. The airs.p.a.ce over the entire region was given its own designation, R-4808N, separate from what had previously been designated Prohibited Area P-275 Prohibited Area P-275; it included the Nevada Test Site, Area 13, and Area 51. All the CIA was waiting for was Lockheed's delivery of the A-12 airplanes.

At Lockheed, each Mach 3 aircraft was literally being hand forged, part by part, one airplane at a time. The production of the aircraft, according to Richard Bissell, "sp.a.w.ned its own industrial base. Special tools had to be developed, along with new paints, chemicals, wires, oils, engines, fuel, even special t.i.tanium screws. By the time Lockheed finished building the A-12, they themselves had developed and manufactured thirteen million different parts thirteen million different parts." It was the t.i.tanium that first held everything up the t.i.tanium that first held everything up. t.i.tanium was the only metal strong enough to handle the kind of heat the Mach 3 aircraft would have to endure: 500- to 600-degree temperatures on the fuselage's skin and nearly 1,000 degrees in places close to the engines. This meant the t.i.tanium alloy had to be pure; nearly 95 percent of what Lockheed initially received nearly 95 percent of what Lockheed initially received had to be rejected. t.i.tanium was also critically sensitive to the chemical chlorine, a fact Lockheed engineers did not realize at first. During the summer, when chlorine levels in the Burbank water system were elevated to fight algae, inside the Skunk Works, airplane pieces started to mysteriously corrode. Eventually, the problem was discovered, and the entire Skunk Works crew had to switch over to distilled water. Next it was discovered that t.i.tanium was also sensitive to cadmium, which was what most of Lockheed's tools were plated with. Hundreds of toolboxes had to be reconfigured, thousands of tools tossed out. The next problem was power related. Wind-tunnel testing in Burbank was draining too much electricity off the local grid. If a reporter found out about the electricity drain, it could lead to unwanted questions. NASA offered Kelly Johnson an alternative wind-tunnel test facility up in Northern California, near the Mojave, which was where Lockheed engineers ended up-performing their tests late at night under cover of darkness. The complicated nature of all things Oxcart pushed the new spy plane further and further behind the schedule. had to be rejected. t.i.tanium was also critically sensitive to the chemical chlorine, a fact Lockheed engineers did not realize at first. During the summer, when chlorine levels in the Burbank water system were elevated to fight algae, inside the Skunk Works, airplane pieces started to mysteriously corrode. Eventually, the problem was discovered, and the entire Skunk Works crew had to switch over to distilled water. Next it was discovered that t.i.tanium was also sensitive to cadmium, which was what most of Lockheed's tools were plated with. Hundreds of toolboxes had to be reconfigured, thousands of tools tossed out. The next problem was power related. Wind-tunnel testing in Burbank was draining too much electricity off the local grid. If a reporter found out about the electricity drain, it could lead to unwanted questions. NASA offered Kelly Johnson an alternative wind-tunnel test facility up in Northern California, near the Mojave, which was where Lockheed engineers ended up-performing their tests late at night under cover of darkness. The complicated nature of all things Oxcart pushed the new spy plane further and further behind the schedule.

At Area 51, the concern continued to be stealth. The radar results from the pole tests were promising, but as the Oxcart advanced, so did Soviet countermeasures to shoot it down. Russia was spending billions of rubles Russia was spending billions of rubles on surface-to-air missile technology and the CIA soon learned that the Oxcart's new nemesis was a system called Tall King. Getting hard data on Tall King's exact capabilities before the Oxcart went anywhere near it was now a top priority for the CIA. on surface-to-air missile technology and the CIA soon learned that the Oxcart's new nemesis was a system called Tall King. Getting hard data on Tall King's exact capabilities before the Oxcart went anywhere near it was now a top priority for the CIA.

To understand countermeasures, the CIA initiated an esoteric research-and-development program called Project Palladium. The program would get its legs over Cuba and eventually move to Area 51. It would involve ELINT. In 1960, "there were many CIA officers who thought ELINT was a dirty word who thought ELINT was a dirty word," recalls Gene Poteat, the engineer in charge of Project Palladium, which originated with the CIA's Office of Scientific Intelligence. Poteat was one of the early pioneers who helped change that perception inside the CIA. "We needed to know the sensitivity of Soviet radar receivers and the proficiency of its operators," Poteat explains. With Khrushchev using Cuba as a military base in the Western Hemisphere, the CIA saw an opportunity. "When the Soviets moved into Cuba with their missiles and a.s.sociated radar, we were presented with a golden opportunity to measure the system sensitivity of the SA-2 aircraft missile radar," says Poteat. To do this, the CIA needed a brigade of missile wizards. This included men like T. D. Barnes.

Thornton "T.D." Barnes was a CIA a.s.set at an age when most men hadn't graduated from college yet. Married at seventeen to his high-school sweetheart, Doris, Barnes became a self-taught electronics wizard, buying broken television sets, fixing them up, and reselling them for five times the amount. In doing so, he went from bitter poverty-raised on a Texas Panhandle ranch with no electricity or running water-to buying his new bride a dream home before he was old enough to vote. Barnes credited his mother for his becoming one of the CIA's most important radar countermeasure experts. "My mom saw an article on radar in Life Life magazine when I was no more than nine or ten. She said I should write a school report on the subject and so I did. That's when I got bit with the radar bug." magazine when I was no more than nine or ten. She said I should write a school report on the subject and so I did. That's when I got bit with the radar bug."

At age seventeen, Barnes lied about his age to join the National Guard so he could go fight in Korea. He dreamed of one day being an Army officer. Two years later he was deployed to the 38th Parallel to defend the region alongside a British and a Turkish infantry company. It was in Korea that Barnes began his intelligence career at the bottom of the chain of command. "I was the guy who sat on the top of the hill and looked for enemy soldiers. If I saw 'em coming, it was my job to radio the information back to base," Barnes recalls. He loved the Army. The things he learned there stayed with him all his life: "Never waste a moment. s.h.i.+ne your boots when you're sitting on the pot. Always go to funerals. Look out for your men." Once, in Korea, a wounded soldier was rushed onto the base. Barnes overheard that the man needed to be driven to the hospital, but because gas was scarce, all vehicles had to be signed out by a superior. With no superior around, Barnes worried the man might die if he didn't get help fast, so he signed his superior's name on the order. "I was willing to take the demerit," Barnes explains. His actions caught the attention of the highest-ranking officer on the base, Major General Carl Jark, and later earned him a meritorious award. When the war was over General Jark pointed Barnes in the direction of radar and electronics. "He suggested I go to Fort Bliss and get myself an education there," Barnes explains. So T.D. and Doris Barnes headed to Texas. There, Barnes's whole world would change. And it didn't take long for his exceptional talents to come to the attention of the CIA.

Barnes loved learning. At Fort Bliss, he attended cla.s.ses for Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules missile school by day and cla.s.ses at Texas Western University by night for the next fifty-four months. These were the missiles that had been developed a decade earlier by the Paperclip scientists, born originally of the German V-2 rocket. At Fort Bliss, Barnes read technical papers auth.o.r.ed by former n.a.z.i scientists. Sometimes the Paperclip scientists taught cla.s.s. "No one really thought of them as former n.a.z.is," says Barnes. "They were the experts. They worked for us now and we learned from them." By early 1960, Barnes was a bona fide missile expert. Sometimes, when a missile misfired over at the White Sands Missile Range, it was T.D. Barnes who was dispatched to disarm the missile sitting on the test stand. "I'd march up to the missile, take off the panel, and disconnect the wires from the igniter," Barnes recalls. "When you are young, it doesn't occur to you how dangerous something is." Between the academics and the hands-on experience, Barnes developed an unusual apt.i.tude in an esoteric field that the CIA was just getting involved in: ELINT. Which was how at the age of twenty-three, T. D. Barnes was recruited by the CIA Barnes was recruited by the CIA to partic.i.p.ate in a top secret game of chicken with the Russians that was part of Project Palladium. Although Barnes didn't know it then, the work he was doing was for the electronic countermeasure systems that would later be installed on the A-12 Oxcart and on the ground at Area 51. to partic.i.p.ate in a top secret game of chicken with the Russians that was part of Project Palladium. Although Barnes didn't know it then, the work he was doing was for the electronic countermeasure systems that would later be installed on the A-12 Oxcart and on the ground at Area 51.

American military aviation began at the Fort Bliss airfield in 1916, when the First Aero Squadron used it as a staging base while hunting Pancho Villa in nearby Mexico. Now, almost half a century later, the airfield, called Biggs, was part of the Strategic Air Command and served as home base for heavy bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress. Beginning in 1960, the facility was also a staging area for secret CIA missions that were part of Project Palladium, and that same year, T. D. Barnes found himself standing on the tarmac at Biggs Airfield watching a group of airmen as they delicately loaded a Hawk missile into the cargo bay of an airplane. Weapons are supposed to go in the weapons bay, Barnes thought to himself. But the project Barnes was partic.i.p.ating in was unusual, dangerous, and top secret. Barnes did not have a need-to-know what the big picture involved and he knew better than to ask. Instead, he climbed into the cargo bay and sat down beside the missile. "We had the nose cone off and part of the skin off too. The missile was loaded on a stand inside the plane. It was my job to watch the electronics respond," Barnes explains. The airplane and its crew took off from the airbase and headed for Cuba. The plan was for the airplane to fly right up to the edge of Cuban airs.p.a.ce but not into it. Moments before the airplane crossed into Cuban airs.p.a.ce, the pilot would quickly turn around and head home. By then, the Russian radar experts working the Cuban radar sites would have turned on their systems to track the U.S. airplane. Russian MiG fighter jets would be sent aloft to respond. The job of Project Palladium was to gather the electronic intelligence being sent out by the radar stations and the MiGs. That was the first step in figuring out how to create a jamming system for the A-12 at Area 51.

The Cubans and their Russian patrons could not have had any idea whether the Americans were playing another game of chicken or if this act meant war. "Soviet MiGs would scramble toward us," Barnes recalls. "At the time, ECM [electronic countermeasure] and ECCM [electronic counter-countermeasure] technology were still new to both the plane and the missile. We'd transmit a Doppler signal from a radar simulator which told their MiG pilots that a missile had locked on them. When the Soviet pilots engaged their ECM against us, my job was to sit there and watch how our missile's ECCM responded. If the Soviet signal jammed our missile and made it drift off target, I'd tweak my missile's ECCM electronics to determine what would override a Soviet ECM signal." Though primitive by today's standards, what Barnes and the NSA agents with him inside the aircraft did laid the early groundwork for electronic warfare today. "Inside the airplane, we'd record the frequencies to be replayed back at Fort Bliss for training and design. Once we got what we wanted we hauled a.s.s out of the area to avoid actual contact with Soviet planes."

The info that Barnes and his colleagues were getting over Cuba was filling in gaps that had previously been unknown. Back at Fort Bliss, Barnes and the others would interpret what NSA had captured from the Soviet/Cuban ECM transmissions that they had recorded during the flight. In listening to the decrypted Soviet responses to the antagonistic moves, the CIA learned what the Soviets could and could not see on their radars. This technology became a major component in further developing stealth technology and electronic countermeasures and was why Barnes was later placed by the CIA to work at Area 51. For the U.S. Air Force, this marked the beginning of a new age of information warfare.

Even though the U.S. military airplane with a team of engineers, NSA agents, and a Hawk missile hidden inside would U-turn and fly away at the last moment, just before violating Cuban airs.p.a.ce, "there were repercussions," according to Barnes. "It scared the living daylights out of them and it escalated things." In January of 1961, Khrushchev gathered a group of Cuban diplomats at their emba.s.sy in Moscow. "Alarming news is coming from Cuba at present, news that the most aggressive American monopolists are preparing a direct attack on Cuba," Khrushchev told the group. Barnes believes Khrushchev "may have been referring to our messing with them with our Hawk missiles homing in on their planes." Were that the case, Khrushchev had a valid point. But the mercurial dictator had his own difficulties in sticking to the facts. Disinformation was a hallmark of the Soviet propaganda machine.

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