Read The Pentagon's Brain Online

Authors: Annie Jacobsen

Tags: #History / Military / United States, #History / Military / General, #History / Military / Biological & Chemical Warfare, #History / Military / Weapons

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BOOK: The Pentagon's Brain
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“Directed energy is the weapon of the future,” said retired four-star general Paul F. Gorman in a 2014 interview for this book. “But that is a sensitive area and we can’t get into that.”

CHAPTER SIX
Psychological Operations

A
handsome dark-haired war hero named William H. Godel was commanding the attention of a crowd of reporters outside Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was June 3, 1959. Godel wore the wire-rimmed glasses of an intellectual and walked with the slight limp of a Marine wounded in battle, in his case the hellhole of Guadalcanal. As director of policy and planning for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Godel had a few facts to share with the press corps about America’s tiniest space pioneers, four black mice. Not far away from where Godel was standing at the podium, a seventy-eight-foot Thor Agena A rocket, carrying the
Discoverer III
life-sustaining satellite, pointed upwards at the sky. The four black mice were inside the rocket’s nosecone. They were about to be shot into space.

The mice, Godel announced, were “happy and healthy.” They were all males and were about two months old. These were not “ordinary mice” but members of the C-57 strain, making them “the best specimens of a special strain of hardy laboratory animals, selected and trained specifically for their road trip into space and
planned return to earth.” They had been selected, at random, from a pool of sixty similarly trained mice. Their mouse capsule, roughly two feet long and two feet wide, was air-conditioned and soundproof. They had a food supply of unsalted ground peanuts, orange juice, and oatmeal. Each rodent had a tiny instrument pack on its back containing mini-transmitters that would record its heartbeat, pulse, and body temperature and then send that information back to Air Force veterinarians on the ground.

Godel cautioned people to be realistic about the fate of the mice. Most likely they would not return to earth alive, he said. The chances that the mice astronauts would live through the journey were roughly one in seven hundred.

“We don’t want to humanize them in any way,” said a colleague of Godel’s, an Air Force officer. The mice were purposely unnamed because “it would just make it worse for those people who have tender feelings about these things.”

So much rested on the success of the mission. The space race was about creating ICBMs capable of annihilating the other side, but it was also a psychological race, about humans and science and who was best. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had succeeded in getting animals into space, but neither side had been able to launch living beings into space with enough acceleration to escape the earth’s gravity and achieve orbital motion, that mysterious balancing point somewhere between gravity’s pull on the satellite and a satellite’s inherent inertia. The satellite had to reach an altitude of 150 miles above the earth’s surface while traveling at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour. Too slow and the satellite would fall back to earth; too fast and it would disappear into deep space. The plan was for the
Discoverer III
life-sustaining satellite to achieve orbit, circle the earth seventeen times, then return back to earth with the mice, ideally, alive. The Navy had been rehearsing “a dramatic rescue effort” to retrieve the capsule once it landed in the ocean.

In the Cold War space race, each side sought to be the first nation to achieve specific scientific milestones. Getting mice into orbit was a big one. The Discoverer program was, as a “satellite technology effort,” a scientific experiment that would eventually allow humans to travel into space. That was all true, but there was another side.
Discoverer III
was a highly classified spying mission, a cover for America’s first space-based satellite reconnaissance program, called Corona. The CIA had done the heavy lifting in Corona’s early years, with the support of the U.S. Air Force. ARPA had inherited the program from the Air Force in 1958. The mission of Corona was to photograph the Soviet Union from space so that the United States could better understand Soviet military hardware on the ground. Corona would remain one of America’s most closely guarded secrets, and would stay classified for thirty-six years, until February 1995. Like the U-2 spy plane, also a highly classified CIA program, this was where technology, espionage, and the quest for military superiority fused.

It was ARPA’s job to put satellites in space for intelligence-gathering purposes, and William Godel oversaw these early programs. Satellite technology gave birth to a whole new world of intelligence-collection disciplines, including IMINT, or imagery intelligence (like Corona); SIGINT, signals intelligence; GEOINT, geospatial intelligence; and MASINT, measurement and signature intelligence. Some of ARPA’s most successful early satellite programs included SAMOS (signals intelligence), GEODESY (mapping), NOTUS (communications), TRANSIT (navigation), and MIDAS (early warning). Most of these programs were highly classified, while others, like TIROS, the Television-Infrared Observation Satellite Program, amazed and informed the general public in remarkable ways.

TIROS was the world’s first true weather satellite. ARPA had inherited much of the technology from an Army program called JANUS. The TIROS satellite, a first-generation remote-sensing
instrument, was developed by RCA. It weighed 270 pounds and contained a television system that transmitted images of the earth’s weather—most notably its cloud cover—from a 450-mile altitude orbit back to a ground station at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The first launch took place on April 1, 1960; by then the program had been transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. In its seventy-six-day life, TIROS transmitted 22,952 images back to earth. Every image was revolutionary. The spiral banded structure of oceanic storms, the vastness of mountain-wave cloud structures, the unexpected rapid changes in cloud patterns—none of this had been seen before. Technology offered a view of the planet previously beyond human comprehension, a new and spectacular perspective on Mother Earth. Before TIROS it was unknown.

The first set of photographs were pictures of cloud formations along the St. Lawrence River, over the Baja Peninsula, and across Egypt near the Red Sea. They were so magnificent that the director of NASA personally delivered them to President Eisenhower for him to see. The president called a press conference and shared details of the breathtaking photographs with the American public. The
New York Times
ran a four-column page-one article about TIROS. The very notion that it was now possible to see photographs of a storm front out at sea, before it hit land, inspired awe, if not disbelief, in millions of people. The photographs were marvels of modern science.
National Geographic
dedicated a large portion of its August 1960 issue to the seminal images.

To William Godel, satellites provided access to legions of foreign intelligence. Hired just weeks after ARPA’s creation, Godel held the second-most-important job after Herb York. His nebulous title, originally director of foreign developments, then director of policy and planning, purposely concealed the classified nature of Godel’s work. Godel was in charge of ARPA’s psychological warfare programs as well as its overseas research programs, both of
which would intensify during the Vietnam War. When Godel departed the agency under FBI investigation for financial misconduct in 1964, he left behind the most controversial and most toxic legacy in the agency’s fifty-seven-year history. Notably, his presence at ARPA has been largely erased from the official record. “The Pentagon library has no information about him in our collection,” confirmed Pentagon librarian Myron “Mike” Hanson in 2013. Declassified files located at the National Archives and other documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal a story of intrigue.

William Godel began his career in espionage. By the time of the
Discoverer III
launch of the four black mice, Godel had more than a decade of experience working with and among spies. He moved back and forth between military intelligence and civilian intelligence, between the CIA and the Pentagon, with great self-confidence and aplomb. From his earliest beginnings as a Marine Corps intelligence officer until he began working for ARPA in February 1958, Godel had already forged a brilliant record in the uppermost echelons of the U.S. intelligence community. He was intensely patriotic, physically brave, and intellectually bold. He joined the Marine Corps in 1940, at the age of nineteen, and one month after turning twenty-one he fought at Guadalcanal, the remote jungle-covered island in the Pacific where Allied forces won their first major offensive against the Empire of Japan. At Guadalcanal, Godel was shot in the leg and suffered a near-fatal injury that left him with a leg brace and a limp.

After the war, Godel worked at the Pentagon, in military intelligence. His boss was Major General Graves B. Erskine, a hard-charging war hero who had already fought in both world wars. In World War II, the forty-seven-year-old General Erskine led the Third Marine Division in the battle for Iwo Jima. In the spring of 1950, Godel was chosen by General Erskine to accompany him on
an elite mission to Southeast Asia, a mission that would profoundly affect how William Godel saw the world and how he would do his job at the Pentagon over the next fourteen years.

On its face, the mission to Southeast Asia in July 1950, led by Erskine and the diplomat John F. Melby, was a joint State Department–Defense Department diplomatic effort to determine the long-range nature of American objectives in the region. Its real purpose, classified secret, was to examine how communist-backed fighters, also called insurgents or guerrillas, were resisting and undermining French colonial rule in Vietnam. When the Melby-Erskine team arrived in Vietnam, French military officers handed General Erskine and his associates five thousand pages of reports to read. Erskine found the request ridiculous.

The French “haven’t won a war since Napoleon,” he told Godel and the team. “Why listen to a bunch of second raters when they are losing this war?” Instead, General Erskine told his team to go out into the field with South Vietnamese army units of the French Expeditionary Corps and make military intelligence assessments of their own. For several weeks the Erskine team accompanied the soldiers on tours of military installations, including forays into Vietnam’s neighbors Laos and Cambodia. One night the Erskine group accompanied a South Vietnamese army unit on a nighttime ambush of a camp of communist insurgents. The French ordered the South Vietnamese unit to capture the communist soldiers, called Viet Minh, and bring them back to French Expeditionary Corps headquarters for interrogation. The French believed that the Viet Minh soldiers had information that could help them gain a strategic edge.

The ambush was a success but the mission was a failure. In an after-action report, Godel’s colleague Captain Nick Thorpe explained why. “The Vietnamese refused to bring back heads with bodies still attached to them,” Thorpe wrote. To Godel, the ramifications
were profound. The French wanted the soldiers’ minds; the South Vietnamese brought them heads. French commanders wanted intelligence; South Vietnamese soldiers wanted revenge.

The way Godel saw it, the French colonialists were trying to fight the Viet Minh guerrillas according to colonial rules of war. But the South Vietnamese, who were receiving weapons and training from the French forces, were actually fighting a different kind of war, based on different rules. Guerrilla warfare was irrational. It was asymmetrical. It was about cutting off the enemy’s head to send a message back home. When, in the spring of 1950, William Godel witnessed guerrilla warfare firsthand in Vietnam, it shifted his perspective on how the United States would need to fight future wars. Guerrilla warfare involved psychological warfare. To Godel, it was a necessary component for a win.

Halfway across the world in Korea, during some of the heaviest fighting of the Korean War, a most unusual element of ARPA’s psychological warfare programs found its origins near a hilltop called Outpost Bunker Hill. It was the fall of 1952 on the western front, and soldiers with the First Marine Division were freezing and tired in their rat-infested trenches. For months the Marines had been battling the enemy here for control of area hills. Once a hilltop was conquered, the Marines would dig in and build bunkers and trenches with their shovels. Sometimes they could rest.

The Korean War, like so many wars, began as a civil war between the North and the South. In June 1950 the conflict became international when the United Nations joined the war to support the South, and the People’s Republic of China joined the war to support the North. The international war began as a mobile campaign, with UN forces led by an American, General Douglas MacArthur. The initial ground assault was supported by U.S. airpower. But after more than two years of battle, by the fall of 1952 the conflict had devolved into trench warfare, the old-fashioned,
grueling style of warfare that defined World War I and had come to symbolize stalemate.

“We hated to dig,” recalled A. Robert Abboud, First Marine Division Company commander at Outpost Bunker Hill. “The Chinese were wonderful diggers. They had tunnels they could drive trucks through,” said Abboud. “We couldn’t get to them with our air power because they were underground all the time.”

Yet these tunnels were a lifeline for the Marines at Outpost Bunker Hill. And so with their shovels they dug and dug, creating a labyrinth of trenches and tunnels that provided them with some degree of safety from enemy attack. “We had lumber, really six-by-sixes… in the trenches,” explained Abboud, “that we’d set up and then we’d put a roof of lumber on top and sand bags on top of that.” In this manner, the Marines created firing positions along a number of the topographical crests. Individual men maintained guard over their own sliver of the hill. “You had to make sure that there was integrity, that nobody came in and infiltrated your area,” said Abboud. The Marines relied on one another.

It was tough and brutal work, keeping enemy infiltrators at bay. The weather was hellish and cold. It snowed much of the time, and there were rats running around the trenches. Late at night the youngest soldiers, whom Abboud called “just kids with bayonets,” got sent out into the darkness, down the hill and into the rice paddies on patrol. Their job was to poke their bayonets around on the ground in an effort to locate Chinese land mines. Other times, more senior officers led dangerous patrols to check the integrity of the perimeter wire. Abboud himself went so many times he lost track of the number. Sometimes his deputy went, a young machine gun officer whose safety Abboud felt particularly responsible for, and whose name was Allen Macy Dulles. The young soldier’s father, Allen Welsh Dulles, was the deputy director of the CIA.

BOOK: The Pentagon's Brain
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