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Authors: Jeffrey T Richelson

The Wizards of Langley

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Praise for
The Wizards of Langley

“Dr. Richelson has assembled a remarkable body of information describing the Directorate of Science and Technology at CIA, based primarily on declassified documents. With his research now available, one can begin to appreciate the extraordinary capability that was created at CIA during the Cold War and the enormous contribution DS&T made to its peaceful outcome. His account accurately portrays the tensions between the Air Force and CIA officers who created these capabilities and Robert McNamara’s civilian officials who sought to annex and frustrate them.”

—Albert D. Wheelon, Deputy Director for
Science and Technology, CIA (1963–1966)

“Instead of cloaks they wear lab coats, and their daggers are laser pointers. They are the men and women of CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, the little-known organization responsible for pushing the art of spying beyond the edge of reality. In
The Wizards of Langley
, Jeff Richelson takes the reader behind the heavy curtain to show, for the first time, how the wizards perform their magic. It is a unique look into one of the most shadowy areas of espionage by a master of intelligence literature.”

—James Bamford, best-selling author of
The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets

The Wizards of Langley
is a marvel of balance, new information, and solid research. Richelson rightly focuses on the Division of Science and Technology of the CIA, which played and plays as important a role in enhancing American security as spies—the covert warriors who would be empty-handed had not the wizards provided the tools of the trade. Like his previous books, this one will soon be indispensable.”

—Thomas Powers, Author of
The Man Who
Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA

“Jeffrey Richelson reads, reads, and reads some more before he writes, and it’s paid off, as it has in the past.
The Wizards of Langley
is complete in every way—an inside account of the personalities and policies that drove America’s most top-secret operations in the harrowing days of the Cold War.”

—Seymour Hersh

Inside the CIA’s Directorate
of Science and Technology
T. R

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey T. Richelson

Westview Press books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge MA 02142, or call (617) 252-5298 or (800) 255-1514, or e-mail
[email protected]

Published in 2002 in the United States of America by Westview Press, 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877, and in the United Kingdom by Westview Press, 12 Hid’s Copse Road, Cumnor Hill, Oxford OX2 9JJ

Find us on the World Wide Web at

A Cataloging-in-Publication data record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 0-8133-4059-4
eBook ISBN: 9780786742660

If ever legends and stories of American technological genius were deserved and not yet realized, they would be about scientists and engineers, the wizards of CIA and American intelligence who pioneered reconnaissance aircraft like the U-2 and SR-71, photographic satellites from the KH-4 to KH-11, an amazing array of signals intelligence satellites . . . people who worked brilliantly but anonymously to serve their country.

—Robert Gates, November 19, 1999,
at a conference on “U.S. Intelligence and the Cold War.”


To most of the public, reference to the Central Intelligence Agency elicits visions of espionage and covert operations. To the more knowledgeable, the CIA also produces finished intelligence—from the highly controlled
President’s Daily Brief
to a multitude of less exclusive intelligence assessments. Far fewer think of the agency in terms of its efforts to exploit science and technology for intelligence purposes. Even an 800-page history of the agency, published in 1986, included only a few references to the agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology. Yet, the history of that directorate is a key element in the history of both the CIA and the entire intelligence community.

The directorate has had a dramatic impact on the collection and analysis of intelligence. Several of the most important collection systems the United States operates today are direct descendants of earlier CIA programs. The directorate has designed and operated some of America’s most important spy satellites as well as the A-12 (OXCART) and U-2 spy planes, been heavily involved in the collection of signals intelligence (SIGINT), and helped pioneer the technical analysis of foreign missile and space programs. Its satellites and SIGINT activities proved vital in allowing intelligence analysts to assess the capabilities of Soviet missile systems. It is also responsible for a number of scientific advances—including a key component of heart pacemaker technology—that have been made available for medical and other purposes.

Of course, as might be expected of an organization that has been in existence for almost four decades and has tried to operate on the cutting edge, the directorate has not been completely free from folly. Most notably, it funded research in which alleged psychics attempted to report on activities at Soviet military facilities by “viewing” those activities from California. And some of its activities would win no awards from animal welfare leagues. But the directorate’s foresight and successes far outdistance its follies and failures.

One element of the directorate’s history is the hardware it designed and operated; another is the intelligence it produced through its collection and analysis activities. But at the heart of those activities were individuals—managers, analysts, technicians, and operators. The individuals involved in the directorate’s early years overcame a number of obstacles, both bureaucratic and technical, that permitted the directorate to make such a significant contribution to U.S. intelligence capabilities and national security. Others who came along later were instrumental in ensuring that the directorate continued to make key contributions. In each era, a number of those individuals risked their lives in performing their missions.

As part of its celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in 1997, the CIA designated fifty individuals as CIA trailblazers. Included in the list of honorees were four of the seven Deputy Directors for Science and Technology along with numerous directorate employees who made contributions in the areas of signals intelligence, research and development, support to clandestine operations, the design and development of overhead reconnaissance systems, and imagery interpretation. Thus, this book focuses on both the activities and individuals that are crucial elements of the directorate’s history.

The Wizards of Langley
takes the form of a chronological narrative that traces the evolution of the Directorate of Science and Technology over the almost four decades of its existence. The first chapter covers the period 19471961 and tracks the CIA’s growing involvement in scientific intelligence analysis as well as the use of technology to collect intelligence. The length of the first chapter is a testament to how deeply involved the agency became in such matters during its first fifteen years. By 1961, the CIA was producing key studies of Soviet and Chinese nuclear weapons programs, operating space and aerial reconnaissance systems, and operating stations along the Soviet periphery to eavesdrop on missile tests.

Chapter 2
focuses on the first attempt, in 1962, to establish a directorate for science and technology, then designated the Deputy Directorate for Research. Each of the subsequent eight chapters focuses on developments during the tenure of a specific Deputy Director for Science and Technology—except that two chapters each are devoted to the tenures of Albert Wheelon (1963–1966) and Carl Duckett (1966–1976). Over the course of Chapters 2 through 10, each aspect of directorate activity—from the development of reconnaissance systems to support to clandestine operations—is covered on two or more occasions.

The final chapter covers the very brief tenures of Gary Smith and (at the time of this writing) his successor, Joanne Isham. It also examines the factors that contributed to the directorate’s record of success and what the directorate must do to remain a significant contributor to U.S. intelligence capabilities.

Jeffrey T. Richelson


A variety of sources made this book possible. The reporting of academics, researchers, and journalists on various elements of the CIA’s scientific and technical activities provided a foundation on which to build. In addition to their reporting, many also provided advice or passed on material they believed might be helpful. Among the individuals I gladly acknowledge are Matthew Aid, Desmond Ball, Chris Pocock, John Prados, and Robert Windrem. Documents, advice, and assistance were also provided by a number of colleagues at the National Security Archive, including Thomas Blanton, William Burr, Malcolm Byrne, and Michael Evans.

The CIA’s Public Affairs Office and Office of the Information and Privacy Coordinator, and the National Reconnaissance Office’s FOIA office provided information and documentation that enabled me to go well beyond what had been written before. My thanks go both to the personnel of those offices as well as to others in those organizations who reviewed requested documents for release. CIA releases to the National Archives also proved to be of great value.

I greatly appreciate the willingness of a number of individuals to make time in their schedules to be interviewed, almost all on the record. A list of interviewees I can acknowledge is contained in the Sources section at the end of the book. Special thanks go to Albert “Bud” Wheelon for his willingness to sit for repeated interviews as well as for the hospitality he and his wife, Cicely, showed me. In addition, he, along with Evan Hineman and John McMahon, were kind enough to read a first draft of the manuscript. All errors are, of course, my responsibility.

Finally, I should note that the support of Leo Wiegman at Westview Press proved crucial in turning a proposal into a completed project.



On July 26, 1947, while waiting for Air Force One to fly him to see his dying mother, President Harry S Truman took care of some important government business. By signing the National Security Act, Truman approved creation of a National Security Council (NSC), a unified National Military Establishment under a Secretary of Defense, and a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The new agency would report to the President and be headed by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

The CIA replaced the Central Intelligence Group (CIG), which the Secretaries of State, War, and the Navy had established in January 1946 on Truman’s orders. The CIG had operated with personnel and facilities borrowed from their departments and was supervised by a National Intelligence Authority (NIA) consisting of the three secretaries and the president’s personal representative, Admiral William Leahy. By July 1946, CIG chief Hoyt S. Vandenberg and key White House advisers agreed that the CIG had proved ineffective. An independent agency, explicitly authorized by Congress, and with its own resources, was required.

Heading the new agency was Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, who had been the CIG’s director since May 1. His appointment interrupted Hillenkoetter’s second tour of duty as the naval attaché in Paris. His intelligence experience dated back to World War II, when he served on Admiral Chester Nimitz’s staff, with responsibility for intelligence on the Pacific theater. To make a point, Hillenkoetter was fond of quoting Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.

The CIA faced hostility from the military services, whose leaders considered a central intelligence organization a threat to their prerogatives as well as a competitor for resources. A brick building with white Ionic columns on the 2400 block of E Street, N.W., in downtown Washington served as headquarters. Another twenty-five buildings spread across Washington, including temporary wooden structures around the
Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and by the Tidal Basin, housed other CIA units. According to one account, “the buildings were so rickety that it was not uncommon for safes used to hold classified documents to come crashing down from the upper floors.” Whether or not such lifethreatening events transpired, there was at least the fear that safes and basic office machinery would suddenly come hurtling through the ceiling.


The new CIA absorbed a number of CIG components, including the Office of Reports and Estimates (ORE), whose products during 1947 and 1948 included assessments of Soviet foreign and military policy, Soviet weapons, Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia, and the situation in Iran.
Scientific studies—on weapons, nuclear energy, medicine, or electronics—were the responsibility of the office’s Scientific Branch.

The branch’s Nuclear Energy Group had been established on March 28, 1947, when the personnel and files of the Manhattan Engineering District’s Foreign Intelligence Section had been transferred to CIG. The group was charged with coordinating and conducting research on foreign nuclear energy developments, as well as determining the information required for solid intelligence analysis.
Among those joining the CIG that day in March was Henry S. Lowenhaupt, a Yale University Ph.D. in chemistry, who in 1999 would be named a “trailblazer” by the CIA for his contributions to the field of nuclear intelligence. At that time, Lowenhaupt was still consulting for the agency, having retired in 1990 after forty-three years of service.

But in 1947, and for a number of years afterward, the notion that the CIA should play a significant role in the production of scientific intelligence—particularly as it related to foreign weapons—was not universally shared. The Joint Research and Development Board (JRDB), established by the Secretaries of War and Navy in summer 1946 and chaired by Dr. Vannevar Bush, viewed support from the Scientific Branch as vital.
In January 1947, the JRDB concluded an agreement with the CIG that would make the resources of the Scientific Branch “fully available” to the board’s chairman.

In October, Dr. Wallace Brode, who had headed the Paris liaison office of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during the war, became head of the Scientific Branch—based on Bush’s advice.
For the next year, he faced a series of what were, for him, insurmountable obsta
cles. In December 1947, a senior JRDB official informed Bush that conflict over the size and missions of the CIA had “Dr. Brode completely stymied,” and was “blocking his attempts to recruit and organize his staff, and preventing RDB [as JRDB had been renamed] from obtaining any useful intelligence from CIA.”

Over the next eleven months, Brode tried to obtain a clear and wide mandate for his organization. Using the guided missile as an example of a modern weapons system that required detailed investigation, he argued that his branch should examine such systems from the basic technology involved through to the beginning of production of operational weapons.

But in October 1948, Bush reported to Defense Secretary James Forrestal that the CIA was highly inefficient, particularly in the scientific intelligence area. Brode lacked resources as well as authority, the latter making it impossible for him to compel the Army, Navy, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and other organizations to share information. Brode received little assistance from Hillenkoetter, who had minimal appreciation for the special requirements of scientific intelligence and permitted other agency components to usurp the responsibilities of Brode’s branch. Thus, the DCI approved the March 1948 transfer of the Nuclear Energy Group to the Office of Special Operations (OSO), responsible for espionage, an action that violated the 1947 arrangement with Bush’s board.

Brode resigned in October for those and other reasons—including Hillenkoetter’s failure to support him when his clearance for nuclear data was challenged, as well as the DCI’s unwillingness to grant him temporary leave to head the National Bureau of Standards. In a September memo, he had written that the obstacles he was facing could be overcome only by creating an Office of Scientific Intelligence. Not surprisingly, the DCI did not respond.

Although Hillenkoetter felt free to ignore Brode, he could not so easily disregard two key outside reviews. In late 1948, a task force headed by Ferdinand Eberstadt observed that the “failure [to] properly . . . appraise the extent of scientific developments in enemy countries may have more immediate and catastrophic consequences than failure in any other field of intelligence.” What was needed was “a central authority responsible for assimilating all information concerning developments in the field of science abroad and competent to estimate the significance of these developments.” Such an authority, Eberstadt’s group pointed out, would need “access to all available information bearing on the problem” and “must
also be able to provide intelligence direction” in the collection of relevant information.

A report prepared for the NSC by future DCI Allen Dulles and two colleagues was also critical of the CIA’s scientific intelligence effort. It noted that ORE’s Scientific Branch “was expected to become the central group for stimulating and coordinating scientific intelligence. It has not yet filled this role.”
Dated January 1, 1949, the report had been sent to the White House two weeks earlier. On the last day of 1948, the DCI removed the Scientific Branch from ORE, reattached the Nuclear Energy Group to it, transformed the branch into the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), and designated its chief the Assistant Director for Scientific Intelligence (ADSI). At the same time, OSI was no longer asked to serve as the scientific intelligence adviser to the President or provide intelligence support to the RDB or Atomic Energy Commission.

Heading the new office was Willard Machle, an M.D. and former professor of medicine, who had conducted wartime combat studies, headed the Armored Force Medical Research Laboratory in Kentucky, and been awarded the Legion of Honor for his physiological research. His selection was probably a response to the Eberstadt committee’s observations about CIA deficiencies in medical intelligence, particularly with regard to biological warfare and human physiology.

But during the first three quarters of 1949, Machle experienced little more success than Brode, as he and other OSI officials attempted to consolidate the collection and analysis of national scientific intelligence within the CIA. The Office of Naval Intelligence retained primacy in the area of earth sciences data—even though such information was essential for assessing developments not only in undersea warfare but also in guided missile intelligence, areas of considerable importance to national policy.

But Machle was given a golden opportunity in September 1949 when analysis of particles collected by an Air Force weather reconnaissance plane—a method of detection that had been recommended by Henry Lowenhaupt in 1947—led to the inescapable conclusion that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic device in late August, sixteen months earlier than the CIA had thought possible. Six days after President Truman told the American public about the event, Machle sent Hillenkoetter a memo entitled “Inability of OSI to Accomplish Its Mission.” He argued that little had been achieved in correcting the problems cited in the Eber-stadt report, “highlighted by the almost total failure of conventional in
telligence in estimating Soviet development of an atomic bomb.”
Machle identified conditions within and outside the CIA that he believed prevented OSI from producing vital intelligence on atomic and biological weapons, aircraft and guided missiles, electronics, medicine, and basic scientific research. Among the problems Machle cited were a lack of CIA authority to coordinate intelligence activities and the failure of intelligence collection offices within the CIA to understand that they existed to serve the intelligence analysts.

A virtually immediate result of Machle’s memo was the drafting of Director of Central Intelligence Directive (DCID) 3/3 on “Scientific Intelligence.” Written by OSI deputy chief Karl Weber, a Ph.D. in organic chemistry who had joined the agency in 1947, it was approved by Hillenkoetter on October 28. The directive established a Scientific Intelligence Committee (SIC), to be chaired by Machle, that was to coordinate and evaluate the collection and production of national scientific intelligence.

The directive, combined with the belief of Machle and Weber that scientific and technical intelligence included all research and development up to production for operational use, rather predictably resulted in protests from the military services. The CIA was presuming to issue reports on the characteristics and capabilities of foreign weapons systems—a prerogative the military believed to be its exclusively. But the dissatisfaction of the influential RDB with the intelligence it was receiving from the military on just such topics neutralized the services’ attack.

Machle, however, would soon leave the scene. He was, according to an official history, “outraged that scientific intelligence should be dependent on clandestine collection by ignorant spooks.” When he suspected that the OSO was withholding nuclear-related information required by OSI, he asked members of his nuclear energy branch to exploit their contacts with OSO personnel to obtain that information—a breach of protocol that cost him his job. On March 6, 1950, he was replaced by Dr. Marshall Chadwell from the New York office of the Atomic Energy Commission. Machle, recalls Weber, “had too many corpuscles for people in CIA, particularly the ops [operations] people.”
Chadwell, in contrast, was a mild-mannered conciliator. And with Chadwell in charge, the military was able to curb and even roll back the authority of OSI.

The generals and admirals were willing to accept SIC jurisdiction over committees on atomic energy, biological and chemical warfare, electronics, and even guided missiles and aircraft. But Chadwell’s plan to estab
lish committees on undersea warfare and Army ordnance, which the Navy and Army considered their respective and exclusive jurisdictions, brought a counterattack.

In February 1951, the Army member of the SIC questioned whether it should have any jurisdiction over weapons systems applications—which ultimately led to a decision by DCI Walter Bedell Smith, who had replaced Hillenkoetter in October 1950, to commission a survey of OSI. The survey, by CIA inspector general Stuart Hedden, concluded that the military services had “considerable justification” for their belief that certain areas of science were “their exclusive prerogatives.”

When Smith then appointed a committee, with representatives from the military services, Joint Staff, and AEC, to examine the question of scientific intelligence and appointed Loftus Becker as its chair, OSI’s position was destined to be weakened further. Although Becker was head of the agency’s Deputy Directorate for Intelligence, which Smith had established in January 1952 to unify intelligence analysis, Becker had already expressed his view that the military should be encouraged to expand its work in the scientific intelligence area.

The report Becker presented to the DCI and the interagency Intelligence Advisory Committee in August 1952 resulted in replacement of Weber’s directive. The new directive abolished the SIC and supplanted it with a Scientific Estimates Committee that had no coordination authority, even on paper. It also assigned to the military responsibility for intelligence on weapons systems and military equipment, as well as research and development leading to military systems. OSI was to handle intelligence on the basic sciences, scientific resources, medicine, and “pertinent” applied research and development. The directive did specify that no agency would be considered the final authority in any field, and that any agency could produce internal studies it believed necessary in order to fulfill its responsibilities.

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