Secret Space Program
'Secret Empire' Changed Cold War

By Bob Hirschfeld

Lack of congressional oversight, and hidden, unaudited budgets helped change the course of the Cold War. That’s the opinion of the
New York Times’ Philip Taubman, the Lab’s latest speaker in the Director’s Distinguished Lecturer Series.

Taubman is the author of “Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage.” Addressing a capacity audience Wednesday afternoon, Taubman described the origins of the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and the Corona spy satellite. They grew out of the U.S. inability to determine the military strength of the Soviet Union, especially its arsenal of intercontinental missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.

President Dwight Eisenhower approved the U-2 program in 1954. Only four members of Congress knew about it and paperwork was essentially nonexistent.The funds came from a discretionary fund in the CIA director’s unaudited budget, Taubman said. It wasn’t until pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the USSR in 1960 that the unique “jet-powered glider” became public knowledge. According to Taubman, “Eisenhower had faith in science. He had openness to technology that I don’t think many other presidents have had. And finally, he had extraordinary patience. And he needed it, because these projects were very difficult to pull off.”

For example, the first 12 launches of the Corona spy satellite ended in failure. Taubman said, “Today, there would never be the tolerance in Washington to sustain a program that had such a high failure rate. It wouldn’t happen.” But it was worth it, according to Taubman. “It probably saved the nation billions of dollars in defense spending,” because it proved that the USSR possessed only a handful of ICBMs, far fewer than predicted by CIA analysts.

“All of this was amazing engineering,” said Taubman. “We’d never done any of this. There were no models. And don’t forget, there were only the most primitive computers at the time. The guys who did these projects were still working with sliderules.”  Years later, Eisenhower was quoted as saying, “This bunch of scientists was one of the few groups I encountered in Washington who seemed to be there to help the country and not to help themselves.” 

The talk will be rebroadcast on Lab TV channel 2 Thursday, April 10, at 10 a.m., noon,
2, 4 and 8 p.m. and Friday, April 11 at 4 a.m. For more information, check the Web at:

SOURCE: LLNL Newsletter 04-04-2003

The Top-Secret Warplanes of Area 51
Stealth jets? Hypersonic bombers? 
What's really being developed at the military's most famous classified base?
By Bill Sweetman Posted 10.01.2006 at 1:00 am 

The black airplane world has, without question, produced the most significant advances in aviation technology. In the 1950s, it spawned the U-2 spyplane, which flew higher and farther than anyone had thought possible. It gave birth a decade later to the SR-71 Blackbird, the exotic, revered speed king. It also produced the slow but stealthy, origami-like F-117 fighter.

But for aerospace sleuths, there´s been little activity recently in the form of declassified vehicles that might hint at current efforts. (Classified programs can be unveiled to aid in broad combat deployment or when the technology appears in other programs.) The F-117 came out of the black world during the first Iraq war 15 years ago, and only three aircraft have been introduced since. One was Polecat. Another was Northrop Grumman´s ungainly reconnaissance aircraft Tacit Blue, nicknamed â€the Whale.†The third was Boeing´s Bird of Prey, which tested visual stealth strategies, including shaping that minimizes shadows and contrast and, rumor has it, body illumination that allows it to blend into its background.

This dearth of unveiled prototypes does not mean, however, that the black-aircraft community is dormant. In fact, all signs point to steadily increasing activity. Google Earth reveals a newly constructed additional runway and multiple new hangars and buildings at the base. The usual vague, untraceable allocations in congressional budgets that often signal classified programs are on the rise, and modern technological innovations are now enabling aircraft designs that might have floundered in the black world for years. Further, there are significant gaps in the military´s known aviation arsenal-gaps that the Pentagon can reasonably be assumed to be actively, if quietly, trying to fill.

The need for such secrecy is simple: It is essential to preserving technological surprise. The Pentagon wishes to prevent enemies from developing strategies to counter the technology. The challenge is to figure out what precisely is happening-without betraying national security-because the bigger the black world gets, the better it conceals its activities. What follows is inescapably an educated guess, arrived at by analysis of the available evidence, at the tantalizing designs being cooked up on the sly at Area 51, including a radical special-forces transport, a stealthy UAV, an agile new bomber, and my own white whale-the mythical, hypersonic dragster and presumed source of those faux earthquakes: Aurora.

SOURCE: Popular Science

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