Subject:      CORONA symposium
From:         [email protected] (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1995/05/25
Message-Id:   <[email protected]>
Newsgroups:   sci.space.policy

                        TOP SECRET RUFF

                Handle Via Talent-Keyhole Channels 

                        (just kidding)


Net denizen Dwayne Day (take a bow, Dwayne) of the Space Policy 
Institute at George Washington University has been instrumental in 
setting up a truly amazing symposium on the first U.S. 
photoreconnaissance satellites held on Tuesday and Wednesday.  
Co-sponsored by GWU and the CIA's Center for the Study for Intelligence, 
this meeting brought together many of the people responsible for the 
CORONA/KH-4 spysat program. 

The degree of openness uniformly displayed by the speakers (including 
several who are still working at CIA) was remarkable, and the 
proceedings will be a valuable historical document.  In parallel, the CSI 
produced a collection of declassified documents and pictures relating to 
the creation of the CORONA program and the use of the photographs taken 
by the satellites.  These also served as a vehicle for the outing of the 
former codeword RUFF and the name of the satellite photography 
compartmentation channel "Talent-Keyhole."  

The 18 new photos released at the symposium are much more interesting 
than the initial four which were given out at the February declassification 
ceremony -- the N-1 pads at Tyuratam, missile sites in the FSU, and 
the Chinese nuclear test site a few days after a test are among 
them.  They, along with a CORONA satellite, will be at the 
Smithsonian Air & Space museum for a short time, and then be taken 
away for some months while a permanent display is prepared. 17,000 
cans of film from the 100+ CORONA/ARGON/LANYARD (the latter two were 
substantially improved CORONA-class satellites) missions flown 
between 1960 and 1972 will be transferred to the National Archives 
in College Park, MD and the USGS' EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, 
SD. Geographical indices and reduced resolution browse images will 
be available from the USGS GNIS server on the internet by August 
1996. 

Random factoids and observations from the symposium:

- In 1972 DCI Richard Helms (who was on a panel at the symposium, and 
looking his age) had a film called "A Point in Time" made about CORONA 
with the intent that the  program be declassified in the not-too-distant 
future.  As an aside, when I was in the gummint in 1978, I saw the CORONA 
vehicle now at the Smithsonian in the NPIC building in the Washington 
Navy Yard. The person who was escorting our tour remarked that the 
satellite was going to be sent to the Smithsonian "soon." 

- The CORONA program, start to finish, 12 years and more than 100 
flights, cost ~$850 M. It's not clear what kind of dollars are 
meant: I'd guess then-year ones. 

- John Deutch, in a keynote address, explained a bit more about his 
concept for a unified National Imagery Agency: It's to incorporate all 
requirements-generation, imagery interpretation, and product 
distribution. NRO continues to exist as the designer-to-requirements and 
builder of spysats, but NIA controls the money.  Richard Kerr, a former 
acting DCI who headed one of the panels, observed that there was danger 
in too much unification, particularly in the analytical area where 
competition and argumentation are essential to the process. J.D., BTW, 
comes across on stage as a more relaxed and sympathetic figure than his 
reputation would indicate. 
 
- Gen Lew Allen, PFIAB member, ex-DIRNSA, ex AF space guy, says that 
the extreme covertness of CORONA was mandated by Eisenhower and 
motivated by "political" concerns.  Other statements and material in 
the symposium say that the then-existing sensitivity to violation of 
sovereign airspace was the motivating concern. The Powers U2 fiasco 
shortly before the first CORONA returns lend credence to this 
interpretation. OTOH, a senior ex-CIA official I spoke with and the 
"Point in Time" movie both indicate that the US knew the USSR 
realized the mission of the CORONA satellites by at least the 
early/mid-60s. So what was the blackness for after that? 

- The positive role of Eisenhower was emphasized by several participants,
and historians there said the declassified material will add significantly
to their understanding of the Eisenhower administrations.

- Approximately 40,000 of a program total of 866,000 images (1960 - 
1972) were taken of the U.S., mostly for engineering calibration. A 
CIA panel member was asked if there were a legal problem with this 
(CIA spysat took a picture of my house!). CIA guy replied that their 
lawyers had agonized long and hard over this question, and had 
decided that "the risk was acceptable." (Since 2 m resolution was 
the very best that the CORONAs ever did, it's hard to see a general 
problem. Maybe forbidden agriculture, but I can't think of anything 
else.) 

- A high-priority use of the CORONA product was to identify and 
locate targets for the new ICBM and SLBM forces. Apparently geodesy 
at the time was in a very primitive state, and the relative location 
of points on different continents could be off by miles. Because 
there was no PhD program in the US at the time, DOD and CIA helped 
set one up at up a Ohio State using European faculty. The people 
coming out of this program revolutionized geodesy and were largely 
responsible for the WGS-84 coordinate system now underlying GPS. 

- At the start of the U-2 program, it was anticipated that the 
aircraft could overfly the USSR several times before the Soviets 
detected it. In fact, Soviet radar coverage was better than expected 
and the U-2 was detected and tracked on the first and all subsequent 
flights. (It would be very interesting and perhaps instructive to know 
the details of this story, and how we came to underestimate the USSR's 
capabilities for detection and tracking. "Those who do not learn from
history...") 

- The primary and classified purpose of the Manned Orbiting 
Laboratory was strategic reconnaissance. The program was killed after 
an independent panel concluded that the presence of humans on a 
spysat added little value. 

- The DCI was given special authority to conduct programs unburdened 
by the usual paperwork requirements; this authority was transferred 
to the DNRO. John McMahon, former DDCI and LMSC president, said that 
this authority still exists and "we enjoy it but don't like to talk 
about it much." There was also mention of "unvouchered" funds used 
in the black projects. 

- The imaging system on Lunar Orbiter was derived from the WS-117L 
project which preceded CORONA. 

- The people there who'd worked on the program and used its product all 
seemed to be delighted to be able to talk about it and to show people 
what they'd done. OTOH, a senior NRO official famous for his extreme 
adherence to secrecy was looking somewhat glum during the two days. 
(Rumor has it that he went to the mat to prevent the wave of 
declassification that led to the symposium, and lost decisively. Since 
he was also involved in the NRO attempt to prevent publication of my
recent satellite vulnerability paper, I observed his pique with a certain
amount of schadenfreude.)

- I met several APOC and ssp netizens in the flesh for the first time.
There's a lot to be said for being virtual. ;)