Author Topic: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5  (Read 38675 times)

Offline Jester

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FOIA request via governmentattic.org and the black vault

maybe an interresting read
« Last Edit: 09/19/2011 02:02 pm by Jester »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #1 on: 01/28/2010 11:58 am »
They are the official histories of the KH-7 and KH-9, respectively.  But redactions make them practically useless.

The only real meat that I found (new to me anyway) was a discussion of how the contract for the KH-7 had to be changed.  It turned out that the contractor (GE) had incentives for rushing the vehicle to launch and coming under budget, but not for performance.  This might have been okay for a development program, but when the KH-7 went operational, it meant that the contractor cut corners on testing and quality assurance.  The result was that a number of vehicles reached orbit and failed. 

So NRO redrew the contract. They figured that once the program matured, costs would be well known and so no incentive for coming under cost was really necessary.  They changed the incentives to emphasize on orbit performance.

The KH-9 history only concerns development, and it is really hard to figure out because it discusses at least two competing systems, but the reader often cannot figure out which one is being discussed.  It is also short on technical details.

Offline Jim

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #2 on: 01/28/2010 02:10 pm »
They are the official histories of the KH-7 and KH-9, respectively.  But redactions make them practically useless.


Once those systems are declassified, will these documents be re-released.?

Edit to add question mark
« Last Edit: 01/28/2010 03:42 pm by Jim »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #3 on: 01/28/2010 03:41 pm »
I should add a warning: don't try to print out the entire thing.  You will burn up all your toner because of all the black pages.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #4 on: 01/28/2010 03:49 pm »
Once those systems are declassified, will these documents be re-released.

Certainly.  Eventually.

However, there have been a number of official histories of reconnaissance programs over the years, and these are the least interesting and most poorly written ones.  There is a better history of the KH-7 and of the KH-9, and it would be best if those were officially declassified first.

Here is a brief overview of the official histories that I know about, going from memory.  I have a bunch of these, but I'm not basing my list on actually digging them out of my files.

Corona
-the Studies in Intelligence short history released during the 1995 declassification  (This is not a very good history, and contains some mistakes.  CIA released it because they had control of the document.)
-an official CIA multi-volume history of Corona, with volumes on organization, technology, recovery, etc.  (This is pretty good, and contains a lot of information not in other sources.  But it is rather sprawling.)
-a volume on Corona by Robert Perry (This is not very good.  Perry did not have access to CIA sources.  Most of the history is about bureaucratic issues, not technology, and there are some maddening holes in the narrative.)
-a monograph (~100 pages) history of Corona by Oder and Worthman  (This is the best single source on Corona.  It's well-written and objective.  Oder and Worthman produced it in the 1980s, along with volumes on Gambit and Hexagon.)

Gambit
-a volume by Robert Perry (provided above)
-a monograph (probably the same approximate length as the Corona history) by Oder and Worthman.  This is still classified, but it is probably excellent like their Corona history

Hexagon
-a volume by Robert Perry (provided above)
-a monograph by Oder and Worthman, see above

Samos
-a volume by Robert Perry (declassified)

Real-time reconnaissance
-a volume by Robert Perry (declassified)

More on Perry in another post.
« Last Edit: 01/28/2010 03:50 pm by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #5 on: 01/28/2010 03:56 pm »
Working from memory, I believe that the Studies in Intelligence history of Corona was declassified in 1995.  It was not until 1997 or so that the Perry history of Corona was declassified, along with the CIA multi-volume history of Corona was declassified.  I don't believe that the excellent Oder-Worthman history of Corona was declassified until 1998 or later.  I believe that a significant number of Corona documents were declassified in 1998 and even in 2000, and more have been declassified since then.

What this demonstrates is that even though the program was declassified in 1995, it took several years before even some important basic documents (like the official histories) were declassified.  When I worked on our book on Corona, we had the Studies in Intelligence history, and some documents (and I did a bunch of interviews), but we did not have these later histories.  I think that led to one mistake in the book where we said that the NRO bureaucratic battles did not affect day-to-day Corona operations, only some management issues.  It turns out that they did, but I did not learn that until years later when some documents were released.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #6 on: 01/28/2010 04:12 pm »
Robert Perry wrote a multi-volume history of satellite reconnaissance starting in the 1960s and finishing it around 1972 or so.  Off the top of my head, here is what the volumes cover:

Volume 1-Corona
Volume 2-Samos
Volume 2A-the weather satellite program
Volume 3A-Gambit (KH-7 and 8)
Volume 3B-Hexagon development (KH-9)
Volume 4-The quest for real-time reconnaissance systems (like the KH-11) during the 1960s
Volume 5-The NRO organization and bureaucracy

All of these have been released (I got volumes 2, 2A and 4 declassified under FOIA myself).  Some have a lot more deletions than others.

My personal opinion is that the overall quality is low.  Perry often mentioned things in passing that he never followed-up on.  And he wrote in a way that makes it hard to determine if he was reporting on something, or providing a personal opinion.  Still, for many of these subjects it is better to have something than nothing.
« Last Edit: 01/28/2010 04:12 pm by Blackstar »

Offline gwiz

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #7 on: 01/28/2010 04:13 pm »
Samos
-a volume by Robert Perry (declassified)

Real-time reconnaissance
-a volume by Robert Perry (declassified)
Are these available on-line anywhere?

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #8 on: 01/28/2010 06:34 pm »
Are these available on-line anywhere?

Yeah, probably.

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol IIIA/B
« Reply #9 on: 01/28/2010 07:06 pm »
And the un-blacked out versions ;)
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Offline Jester

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 4
« Reply #10 on: 01/28/2010 07:17 pm »
first post updated with more volumes, happy black bar dancing ;)

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 4
« Reply #11 on: 01/28/2010 07:36 pm »
first post updated with more volumes, happy black bar dancing ;)

Uuummm, I no longer see the links...
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Offline Jester

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 4
« Reply #12 on: 01/28/2010 07:39 pm »
first post updated with more volumes, happy black bar dancing ;)

Uuummm, I no longer see the links...

Sorry found better copies, updated first post, now vol 1 through 5

Offline gwiz

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 4
« Reply #13 on: 01/31/2010 02:25 pm »
Looking through the histories, I see mention of an appendix volume with all the illustrations.  Has this been declassified?  If so, is it available online?


Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #14 on: 01/31/2010 03:06 pm »
Where does it mention the appendix volume?

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #15 on: 02/01/2010 01:33 am »
Where does it mention the appendix volume?

I think it was in the forward. I noticed that also, and quickly scrolled to the end of the document with high hopes only to be blacked out ;)
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Offline Jester

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #16 on: 03/14/2010 04:24 pm »
Vol III A and B have been updated with a 2010 FOIA release, less redaction this time, but still not all.....

I've posted them on the first post.
« Last Edit: 03/14/2010 04:25 pm by Jester »

Offline Jester

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #17 on: 12/23/2010 10:14 pm »
CIA version of Vol1 added to the first post

Offline Jester

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #18 on: 09/19/2011 02:13 pm »
Vol III A and B have been updated with the NRO Sep. 2011 release of Gambit and Hexagon details.

I've added them to the firs post.
« Last Edit: 09/19/2011 02:15 pm by Jester »

Offline hoku

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #19 on: 01/29/2012 10:55 pm »
FWIW, NRO has now released an edited version of Vol. 3A and 3B. Redactions have been removed "to smooth the flow of the language" - this includes entire sentences in some cases:
http://www.nro.gov/foia/declass/GAMHEX/Perry_Gambit_Hexagon_History_single_pages.pdf

And no, the name of the name of the chief editor is not Winston Smith..  ;)

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #20 on: 12/18/2012 08:29 pm »
New versions are now up on the NRO website. Contain fewer deletions.

Offline libra

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #21 on: 12/26/2020 01:27 pm »
Per lack of a dedicated SAMOS thread... bringing back this one from the grave, as I made a little discovery related to Perry.

A HISTORY OF SATELLITE RECONNAISSANCE - VOLUME IIA - SAMOS

(I prefer attaching it to this post - it has no omission AFAIK, must be one of the very recently declassified ones)

Page 174 of the attached Pdf  - looks like NASA and Samos E-1 "love affair" started long before Lunar Orbiter and long before 1963 !

Right from April 1961, actually. That is, two-and-a-half years before late 1963, when the E-1 technology transfer for Lunar Orbiter  happened.

Quote
There was one additional, almost afterthought aspen to the E-l program. In April 1961. representatives of the National Aeronautics and Spac<, Admmistration (NASA) contacted Dr. Charyk's office to ask perrnisSlOn to .,xamme and use E-l technology in thea own programs. It seemed possible for a time that the physical products of the E-l development might actually find their way into a moon vehicle. One stnnulant was the obvious parallel between £-1 equipment and techniques and the de vic es used by the Soviets to photograph the back surface of the muon in October 1959.

Quote
In the realm of the theoretical, it seemed that the slightly lTIOre SOphisl1cated--on paper, at 1east--E-l or its E-2 successor might permit the United States to obtam better pictures. At least NASA seemed (vnvinced--so much so that Undersecretary Charyk authorized that agency to deal With the E-l contractors through General Greer's office.
...
Charyk instructed Greer to permit access to technical data on the came ra and on-board processing equipment, data transmission elements, and th" ground processing system. However, he forbade the release 10 oi specific satdlite photography or detailed test results. ' There was considerable doubt in informed quarters that the C-l devices had any useful application to the problem of lunar photog-raphy; both Rand and Colonel King freely expressed reservations on thaL p'oint. Indeed, as analysis of E-l results continued and as the fund of preClS., information on system capability increased, confidence 11) the "yst"m t"nded to decrease proportionately.
« Last Edit: 12/26/2020 05:52 pm by libra »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #22 on: 12/26/2020 06:13 pm »
I have been thinking about writing a detailed history article on Samos for a long time. All of the accounts in print and the internet (and I do mean all of them) either misunderstand the program or leave out important aspects or both. And even the declassified material is inconsistent. To fully understand it, you have to look at multiple sources.

One other problem is that the available photos are not great. More on that later.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #23 on: 12/27/2020 10:00 pm »
There were six Samos photo-reconnaissance satellite programs:

E-1  Film-readout, very low resolution
E-2  Film-readout, low resolution
E-3  Film-readout, studied but never built
E-4  Film recovery, built but never flown
E-5  Film recovery, several flown, none successful
E-6  Film recovery, several flown, none successful

We have no photos of the E-3 or E-4, not even drawings.

We have drawings/artwork of E-1, 2, 5 and 6. We have some photos of E-1 and 2, and low-quality photos of the E-6 mockup hardware. We also have a poor quality photocopy of a photograph of part of the E-6 camera. But no photos of the actual E-5 or E-6 hardware. Nothing.

Now considering that they built actual hardware for 5 of the 6 Samos spacecraft, you'd think we would have more photos of them. They were not highly classified compared to CORONA and GAMBIT, and we have photos of the latter. But I've given up hope that somewhere in a classified warehouse there is a collection of photos of Samos hardware. So little showed up in the official, declassified histories that it is clear that they just didn't have anything.

A couple of years ago I came across an interesting find in an archive: an actual photo of the first Samos E-1 camera system prepared for flight. It's not the most exciting image, because the camera was encased in a container that looked a bit like a big silver pot. But the photo, as far as I can tell, has never been published. The reason is kinda humorous: the USAF photo was stamped to only be released once the mission was successful, and because the vehicle did not reach orbit, the Air Force never released the photo. I'll use it in an upcoming article.

Offline libra

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #24 on: 12/28/2020 08:11 am »
I had never quite realized that Lunar Orbiter was related to E-1 rather than E-2. The differences between the two (AFAIK) were not big (resolution ?)

(I know that Perry isn't the best source on hand. Basically trying to get a generic picture of the whole film readout  thing.)

He says that E-3 was to use a RCA tape system, they desperately tried to make it work (on the laboratory) until spring 1963, but to no avail.

By mid-1963, all solutions to film readout had been meticulously explored (there were some others bar SAMOS E-1 / E-2 / E-3) and the verdict seemed to be clear enough: none worked properly. At least not fast enough.

Film return had won by K.O, really - CORONA and GAMBIT.

Film readout seem to have been "dead" until mid-1965, when early work on FROG started.

What is really interesting is that Perry mentions that E-1 / E-2 Bimat was the one and only film readout system that worked during that period, but nothing could be done out of it.

At least for spysats orbiting 100 - 200 miles high and circlcing Earth is 1.5 hour.
- The system could not take enough pictures, compared to film-return (perhaps 1%)
- And the few pictures it could make, overwhelmed ground stations, bandwith, or the few internal storage available.
- So not only the number of pictures was too few, but some were lost - they couldn't be stored onboard, and they couldn't be transmitted fast enough

I find it interesting that E-1 tech that wouldn't work around Earth, worked superbly around the Moon, for NASA. The reason is that the requirements were completely different. The slow and clumsy bimat had an easier time around the Moon, taking 200 pictures per mission, transmitting them over two weeks thereafter.
Compared to CORONA or GAMBIT massive output around Earth, these numbers are ridiculous.

In a sense, Lunar Orbiter and NASA kept film readout "alive" during the difficult 1963-1965 years (through  a very different mission), before FROG and "a new hope" in 1965.

Atempts at near real time imaging never really stopped from 1958 to KH-11 inception - even between 1962-1965. The E-3 RCA tape system, and NASA interest for Bimat, kind of filled the gap.


Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #25 on: 12/28/2020 01:36 pm »
(I know that Perry isn't the best source on hand. Basically trying to get a generic picture of the whole film readout  thing.)


I think that while Perry is never the best source, he's an essential source. In other words, while you can find better stuff on all of the declassified programs, you always want to take a look at what Perry wrote.

I find Perry to be an annoying writer. He used a form of passive voice that often makes it hard to figure out what he wrote was based upon solid sourcing, vs. what he was speculating about. This is often combined with incomplete footnoting of his sentences. So I have at times gotten really confused/aggravated when I looked at something he wrote and I scratch my head and say to myself "Is he basing that statement on something that he confirmed, or was he guessing about it?" And then looking at the source material (if I can find it) doesn't often help.

A good example is Perry's statement that the Samos E-6 reentry vehicle shape was based upon the cover story that the vehicle was an orbiting nuclear weapon. It looks a lot like a test nuclear RV. But would the Air Force really want to use such an inflammatory cover story to cover for a reconnaissance vehicle? Usually cover stories are intended to attract less attention, not more.

However, there is stuff in the Perry histories that you cannot find in other sources. And he was focused on writing histories of all the programs over a lengthy period of time, so nobody else who wrote about these things in the classified world had such broad access as he did. He could see connections between programs that other people could not because they just didn't spend as much time or have the specific security clearances as he did.
« Last Edit: 12/28/2020 01:49 pm by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #26 on: 12/28/2020 01:47 pm »
Atempts at near real time imaging never really stopped from 1958 to KH-11 inception - even between 1962-1965. The E-3 RCA tape system, and NASA interest for Bimat, kind of filled the gap.

There certainly exists a history named "The KENNEN Story," considering that NRO commissioned them for CORONA, GAMBIT and HEXAGON. I don't know if it is called exactly that, but NRO was diligent about commissioning official histories for these programs, and KENNEN was very important. CIA probably also commissioned its own history of that program. It would not surprise me if there are at least three still-classified official histories of KENNEN. (After all, we have "The HEXAGON Story," Perry's limited history of HEXAGON, and "The HEXAGON Mapping Camera" history. Plus I think there's one other HEXAGON history whose title I'm blanking on. Addendum: Phil Pressel, who helped design the HEXAGON camera system and wrote a book about it, told me that this last history that I cannot remember was very good.)

What we can hope is that these KENNEN histories delved deep into the pre-KENNEN technologies. When I wrote my big article about KENNEN that appeared in The Space Review last year, one of the things that bugged me about these earlier years is that I could find the name of a technology, but no details about it. As an example, what does "electrostatic tape" mean? How did it differ from some of the other options? There were something like a half dozen different technologies that were explored between about 1958 and 1966, at which point they seem to have narrowed down to an updated version of the Samos film-readout technology (apparently using a laser for scanning instead of a white light) and the electro-optical system. But even EO appears to have been at least two different technology options for awhile. And we still don't have a good schematic of how FROG worked. It was better than Samos, but how was it better? What enabled it to be better?

Hopefully we'll get an answer to what the other options were. My suspicion is that what has been written in the open literature about the origins of CCD technology has some big gaps, but that those gaps are not readily apparent. I think that the histories essentially say "They developed X," but the writers don't realize that other options were considered and abandoned, because the research was classified.
« Last Edit: 12/28/2020 01:54 pm by Blackstar »

Offline libra

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #27 on: 12/28/2020 07:27 pm »
Let's have a thought for these brave historians and writers, working for the CIA or NRO, that are writing very interesting stuff...And that stuff can't be published, or will only be published 50 years later, because the reconnaissance satellite is classified.

Poor Perry, for a start, didn't lived long enough to even see NRO very existence been acknowledged by the government, in 1992... nor even CORONA being declassified some years later.

I hope they are well paid (at least) because it must be quite frustrating...

Took me a while to realize that Perry history hasn't been written AFTER the whole thing were declassified (that is, recently) but at the time they were designed and build. And that decades passed between these dates.

"We want you to write the history of the KH-11"

"But it is classified !"

"We need somebody to write the history of the decisions we took, it is important, for the future... "

"Ok, so will it be published ?"

"No, of course, it is classified.

"Who will read it then ?"

"Oh, it will be of interest to many people. In 50 years..."

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #28 on: 12/28/2020 08:00 pm »
Let's have a thought for these brave historians and writers, working for the CIA or NRO, that are writing very interesting stuff...And that stuff can't be published, or will only be published 50 years later, because the reconnaissance satellite is classified.

Poor Perry, for a start, didn't lived long enough to even see NRO very existence been acknowledged by the government, in 1992... nor even CORONA being declassified some years later.

I hope they are well paid (at least) because it must be quite frustrating...

Took me a while to realize that Perry history hasn't been written AFTER the whole thing were declassified (that is, recently) but at the time they were designed and build. And that decades passed between these dates.


Well, a lot of government historians write histories that are classified. But just because it is classified does not mean it is not read. The NRO histories are available to people who have the security clearances. I was told that a bunch of them were all available on an internal database for people authorized to see them. I sure hope that the ones available on the server within the community are better quality than some of the crappy photocopies that have been released. I've looked at some of these released versions and it's clear that there was a bound volume of some of them at some point. If those bound volumes still exist, it would be great if somebody produced good-quality scans, especially the photographs. If you look at some of the MOL documents, there are photographs in them of full-scale MOL camera hardware, with people standing nearby. And yet the quality is horrible. But I digress...

People like Perry had access to material that nobody else did, so that was some compensation for knowing that their histories would not be public for a long time. They could do the job knowing that theirs was going to be the definitive account, and would also inform members of that community, for decades. Not everybody writes history to have it be widely read, they can do it for other reasons too. There is an association of government historians, and a field known as public (i.e. government) history. They are different than academic or popular history communities.

There are Air Force histories that get written that could be public if they simply removed the classified stuff that is only a percentage of the overall history. I've seen some of these things that can have 5 pages of text and maybe only a few paragraphs are classified--remove those paragraphs and the rest could be made public. Alas, that doesn't happen and nobody is interested in making it happen.

Offline leovinus

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #29 on: 12/28/2020 09:12 pm »
Let's have a thought for these brave historians and writers, working for the CIA or NRO, that are writing very interesting stuff...And that stuff can't be published, or will only be published 50 years later, because the reconnaissance satellite is classified.

Poor Perry, for a start, didn't lived long enough to even see NRO very existence been acknowledged by the government, in 1992... nor even CORONA being declassified some years later.

I hope they are well paid (at least) because it must be quite frustrating...

Took me a while to realize that Perry history hasn't been written AFTER the whole thing were declassified (that is, recently) but at the time they were designed and build. And that decades passed between these dates.


[snip]

There are Air Force histories that get written that could be public if they simply removed the classified stuff that is only a percentage of the overall history. I've seen some of these things that can have 5 pages of text and maybe only a few paragraphs are classified--remove those paragraphs and the rest could be made public. Alas, that doesn't happen and nobody is interested in making it happen.

You probably mean "from the Air Force side there is no interest in making this happen".  However, from the public side (us here on the forum) there is interest :) Just wanted to voice that and I read your articles with interest and enjoy the occasional digging in the archives. Happy to help where I can. While I seem to recall that you mentioned that some FOIAs take years, the few I did myself where so focussed that they were dealt with quickly. Which makes me wonder if it would be possible do a small and targeted FOIA  to the Air Force historians to get started?

In the context of the upthread discussion on SAMOS, I came across https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/NROStaffRecords/937.PDF
which is from March 1960 which is probably no news to anyone here but it just indicates that the E-[1-5] analysis was ongoing
Quote
c. (And this is the sensitive portion). An analysis of the probable success of getting appropriate intelligence information via the several methods (E-1, E-2, E-5, Samos system, and Discoverer) within a specified critical time period.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #30 on: 12/28/2020 10:13 pm »
You probably mean "from the Air Force side there is no interest in making this happen".  However, from the public side (us here on the forum) there is interest :) Just wanted to voice that and I read your articles with interest and enjoy the occasional digging in the archives. Happy to help where I can. While I seem to recall that you mentioned that some FOIAs take years, the few I did myself where so focussed that they were dealt with quickly. Which makes me wonder if it would be possible do a small and targeted FOIA  to the Air Force historians to get started?

What I was thinking about when I wrote that was the Space Command histories that covered programs like DMSP, DSCS, DSP and so on. They produced annual histories throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. The late Jeff Richelson FOIA'd select portions of them for his DSP book. So he would get back the DSP chapter of everything the Command was doing that year, and often most of it was intact, with few deletions. If he was able to do that for DSP, somebody could have gone after the entire history for each of those years. I don't know if organizations like The Black Vault or Government Attic have tried that, but there's no reason why the DSCS, DMSP, etc. sections of those histories from the 1970s-1990s could not be released now. There's probably very little in them that has to remain classified. Sadly, not many people write in the open literature about military space, so not many people are interested in going after that stuff with FOIA. I have my hands full with my day job and writing space history is a mostly-unpaid hobby, so I don't have time to go after everything that I think might be interesting.

Offline Skyrocket

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #31 on: 12/28/2020 10:25 pm »

What I was thinking about when I wrote that was the Space Command histories that covered programs like DMSP, DSCS, DSP and so on. They produced annual histories throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. The late Jeff Richelson FOIA'd select portions of them for his DSP book. So he would get back the DSP chapter of everything the Command was doing that year, and often most of it was intact, with few deletions. If he was able to do that for DSP, somebody could have gone after the entire history for each of those years. I don't know if organizations like The Black Vault or Government Attic have tried that, but there's no reason why the DSCS, DMSP, etc. sections of those histories from the 1970s-1990s could not be released now. There's probably very little in them that has to remain classified. Sadly, not many people write in the open literature about military space, so not many people are interested in going after that stuff with FOIA. I have my hands full with my day job and writing space history is a mostly-unpaid hobby, so I don't have time to go after everything that I think might be interesting.

Concerning FOIAs: can FOIAs only be requested by US citizens or can foreigners do this as well? I remember that someone told me, that foreigners can request FOIAs but these would rarely be processed (perhaps it simply took so long, that this guy thought, it would not have been processes). Any information?

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #32 on: 12/28/2020 10:29 pm »
In the context of the upthread discussion on SAMOS, I came across https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/NROStaffRecords/937.PDF
which is from March 1960 which is probably no news to anyone here but it just indicates that the E-[1-5] analysis was ongoing
Quote
c. (And this is the sensitive portion). An analysis of the probable success of getting appropriate intelligence information via the several methods (E-1, E-2, E-5, Samos system, and Discoverer) within a specified critical time period.
Definitely interesting. See the two boxes I've added. The first one says that Discoverer (meaning CORONA) offered the mostest.

But that second box, about Samos offering "substantial contribution at an acceptable probability of success" was later disputed. I don't remember the timeline on Samos, but the film-readout Samos was diminishing before it even launched. There were people even inside the Samos organization (i.e. Bill King) who were doubting that it was going to be useful.

I mentioned up-thread that historians of classified subjects had/have great access. But one of the great things they can do is interview people involved in the programs at that time, so we're not left to rely upon interviews done decades later. We never got those interviews for Samos, nobody did them. Something that would be really helpful in understanding Samos is knowing what the key people involved thought at the time and how their views changed over time. My impression (and I need to caveat all of this: I'm going on my memories of looking deeper into this subject a few decades ago and have not looked at Samos more recently) is that the people in charge of making Samos film-readout work were enthusiastic about it in 1956-1958/9, but started to lose their enthusiasm around 1958/9. After that, the support for Samos film-readout was mainly external, from Strategic Air Command and maybe elsewhere.

It was pretty clear that once CORONA started working, it was going to provide hundreds, probably thousands of photos from a single short flight, whereas Samos was going to provide a few dozen photos a day and would only last a few weeks in orbit. And once you're working in that area and understanding what is going on, you realize that the timeliness of Samos imagery (i.e. take a picture and then look at it on the ground only a few hours later) is largely illusory, because it would take so few pictures. It's not "fast" if it never takes the picture you need. You get more waiting a week for CORONA to return and process its film and then you have thousands of photos to look at.
« Last Edit: 01/06/2021 02:48 pm by zubenelgenubi »

Offline leovinus

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #33 on: 12/28/2020 10:56 pm »

What I was thinking about when I wrote that was the Space Command histories that covered programs like DMSP, DSCS, DSP and so on. They produced annual histories throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. The late Jeff Richelson FOIA'd select portions of them for his DSP book. So he would get back the DSP chapter of everything the Command was doing that year, and often most of it was intact, with few deletions. If he was able to do that for DSP, somebody could have gone after the entire history for each of those years. I don't know if organizations like The Black Vault or Government Attic have tried that, but there's no reason why the DSCS, DMSP, etc. sections of those histories from the 1970s-1990s could not be released now. There's probably very little in them that has to remain classified. Sadly, not many people write in the open literature about military space, so not many people are interested in going after that stuff with FOIA. I have my hands full with my day job and writing space history is a mostly-unpaid hobby, so I don't have time to go after everything that I think might be interesting.

Concerning FOIAs: can FOIAs only be requested by US citizens or can foreigners do this as well? I remember that someone told me, that foreigners can request FOIAs but these would rarely be processed (perhaps it simply took so long, that this guy thought, it would not have been processes). Any information?

https://www.foia.gov/faq.html
Quote
Generally any person - United States citizen or not - can make a FOIA request.
Processing time is correlated with both scope and correct government facility. NASA mentions an initial response time of <20 days but with some caveats. In other words, good preparation and clarity of request helps.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #34 on: 12/28/2020 11:12 pm »
Processing time is correlated with both scope and correct government facility. NASA mentions an initial response time of <20 days but with some caveats. In other words, good preparation and clarity of request helps.

"Initial response time" means relatively little. It simply refers to how quickly they acknowledge that they received your request, which is sort of like somebody responding to your email by saying "I have seen your email and will respond to it later."

Response time varies according to lots of things, including how many FOIAs an agency gets, how many people they have working on them (usually very few), and the difficulty of the requests. If you see the FOIA request logs for agencies like NASA, you see that a lot of them are commercial (companies or individuals requesting information so that they can try to get NASA contracts--this is a lousy way to get business with NASA, and the people who do it are ill-informed) and that a lot of them are goofy (requests for information on UFOs). For some of those common requests, like the UFO stuff, I think that NASA can simply point you to a website where they have already released information, and then consider that a formal and complete response. If it takes an agency a long time to locate the information, or to review it for release, you are going to wait a long time.

I think that agencies used to be required to respond to requests on a first-come-first-served basis. But I think that in more recent years they got more leeway in how to respond. In other words, if an agency gets a request for something small and easy to release, they'll bump that ahead in the queue, rather than make you wait behind the request that is going to take forever to fulfill.

I don't use FOIA very often. I'm just too busy trying to keep up with the material I already have. If you are in a subject for long-haul research, meaning you are going to keep studying and writing about something over many years, then FOIA can work for you. You just have to be willing to wait for stuff. If you're researching a book and you plan on publishing in under two years, FOIA is a bad choice and won't work for you.


Offline libra

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #35 on: 12/29/2020 04:35 pm »
Just to return to the original subject of my post - it would be interesting to check how that April 1961 brief consideration of Samos E-1 by NASA influenced the Lunar Orbiter decision 2.5 years later. 

The relation with the Luna own film readout system is interesting, too.

NASA somewhat connected the dots
"Seems the Soviet are flying a film readout system on their Lunas. Didn't our military flew a similar system ? maybe we could examine the military system to get some idea of how Soviet film readout works..."  NASA used Vidicon electronic cameras but their resolution was not very good.

The agreement with the spooks for using E-1 tech for Lunar Orbiter was done in the summer of 1963.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #36 on: 12/29/2020 05:34 pm »
I wrote an article many years ago about NASA cooperation with the intelligence community that mentioned a CIA document about meeting with new NASA administrator James Webb. The CIA considered Webb to be friendly toward the agency and possible technology cooperation. That's mentioned in one of my TSR articles. It was an important issue, because the previous NASA administrator felt--justifiably--that the CIA had screwed over NASA on the U-2 incident. NASA provided the cover story, and then when Gary Powers got shot down it made NASA look bad. My suspicion is that at some point, maybe only verbally, CIA and NASA agreed that the agency would not provide cover stories for intelligence operations any more.


Offline leovinus

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #37 on: 12/29/2020 05:46 pm »
Just to return to the original subject of my post - it would be interesting to check how that April 1961 brief consideration of Samos E-1 by NASA influenced the Lunar Orbiter decision 2.5 years later. 

Sure, love to check, but per earlier discussion with you and Blackstar, all the relevant documents are sprinkled out over the internet. In particular the NRO, AF, governmentattic sites. While I see occasional interesting documents on these sites, it is not always clear (to me :) ) whether they advance the story. Also, when preparing a new FOIA/MDR, having a list of known sources to refer to would help.

If you guys like a bit of help with indexing documents relevant to SAMOS, E-x cameras, relationships to Lunar observation, etc then an index list like
<date> < document title> <URL>
of "known" documents would help immensely, to verify whether a "newly found" document was already read or not.

For example,
* 28 March 1960 "Samos, Midas, Discoverer Meeting (Sensitive)" https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/NROStaffRecords/937.PDF

If you think as well such an index list of "known" documents is useful then we could make it a sticky post or L2 History thread while new documents are accumulated before publication or another FOIA later? Just a thought.

Offline hoku

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #38 on: 02/03/2021 11:53 am »
Somewhat related (best matching thread I could identify, since we can only speculate on the "major declassification activities"):

NRO's 60th anniversary is coming up this September. In an interview the official "historian" Dr. James Outzen (Director of the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance) gives an outlook on the planned activities and provides some info on how NRO documents its histories:

https://www.nro.gov/News/News-Articles/Article/2464886/connecting-the-past-to-the-future/

quote from the interview:
The 60th anniversary commemoration will be both similar and different from past anniversary celebrations. It will be similar insofar as we have planned major declassification activities as well as recognition of NRO pioneers. And, fingers crossed, we hope to have in person workforce celebrations, like in the past. On the other side of the coin, a few things are different this year. In particular, we have prepared some activities involving the worldwide workforce, and we are highlighting decades-long innovations and innovators instead of just those associated with a major program declassification.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #39 on: 02/03/2021 01:18 pm »
They had a plan to declassify low altitude signals intelligence information in three phases. Phase 1 was the AFTRACK payloads that flew on the early photo-reconnaissance satellites, mounted on the aft rack of the Agena. Phase 2 was the large low-altitude satellites that were part of Program 770. These included the MULTIGROUP and STRAWMAN satellites that flew into the early 1970s. Phase 3 includes the small Program 11 and Program 989 satellites that were ejected off the back of Agenas carrying CORONA and GAMBIT payloads.

Phase 3 was supposed to happen around 2018 or so. It just seems to have sputtered to a stop. NRO has declassified some information on the small satellites (I've got illustrations of many of them, for instance, and basic descriptions), but there was nothing systematic about the information they released. For instance, there is an entire chapter on these satellites in an official history, and they haven't released that chapter even though there's probably a lot of it that is no longer classified.

So, considering that they've had years to work on the Phase 3 SIGINT stuff, I would assume that's something they will put out in September. But there has also been talk for years about declassifying the early KH-11 history. So that is another option, and having photos to show off seems like something they would want to do.

Other options? The POPPY program is still kinda mysterious and they could release more about that. And the PARCAE program of the 1970s would represent a new mission that NRO has not previously released anything about. If they are looking to use the event to connect with some of their communities, then that might be attractive, because they can show the Navy how they've served them. I highly doubt that they'll be any bolder than that, although the first RHYOLITE satellite was launched in June 1970 and the first JUMPSEAT was launched in March 1971, so both have 50-year anniversaries that NRO could acknowledge.

I'd like to see something on the KH-11, but I don't know how they could do that. Maybe only declassify the block 1 satellites? The imagery from those satellites is all more than 25 years old, which seems like one of their criteria for release. But would they really be able to cut it off at only block 1 and not raise questions about the follow-on satellites? Dunno.

Offline Pappystein

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #40 on: 02/04/2021 10:24 pm »
I'd like to see something on the KH-11, but I don't know how they could do that. Maybe only declassify the block 1 satellites? The imagery from those satellites is all more than 25 years old, which seems like one of their criteria for release. But would they really be able to cut it off at only block 1 and not raise questions about the follow-on satellites? Dunno.

Given the core optics, diameter distance between lenses, lens shape, etc., likely hasn't changed.   I hate to say it, but I doubt we will see any information on the KH-11.   For the hopefully obvious reason, it is likely too easy for anyone to reverse engineer the whole optics system (and thus know the CCD or whatever sensor tech is in the KH-11s array and core resolution.   

Since I doubt the KH-11 has seen major changes to its lens and aperture array...

On the flip side, I would love to learn more about the KH-11.

Why do we persist with calling these Satellites KH when most fSoviet and Russian Air to surface missiles are Kh... It gets confusing! :D   I keep wanting to type Kh-8, Kh-11 :D



Offline libra

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #41 on: 02/05/2021 05:15 am »
Quote
Why do we persist with calling these Satellites KH when most fSoviet and Russian Air to surface missiles are Kh... It gets confusing! :D   I keep wanting to type Kh-8, Kh-11

The Chinese did the synthesis... DF-21 is launched by a rocket (like the KH Key Hole) and is a weapon to destroy ships (like the Soviet-era Kh missiles)...

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #42 on: 02/05/2021 02:15 pm »
I think that it's worth posting the entire NRO interview here in case it disappears off their website (and there's no copyright). I highlighted some stuff at the end that is worth reading:

Connecting the past to the future

By Karen Gilbert National Reconnaissance Office
CHANTILLY, Va., Jan. 7, 2021 —
An interview with NRO's director of CSNR History was always one of my favorite subjects in school, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Dr. James Outzen, Director of the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance (CSNR) as part of NRO’s efforts to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Karen: Dr. Outzen, thank you for giving this history buff a chance to sit down and talk with you.

Dr. Outzen: Karen, always glad to talk history.

Karen: Before we talk about NRO history and the 60th anniversary, I’m sure our readers would like to learn about the historian himself. Did you always want to be a historian? What draws people to the history field?

Dr. Outzen: The history of the historian. (Laughs.) Well, I have always been interested in how past experiences and lessons can help organizations be more effective. The Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance (CSNR) provides a unique opportunity for intelligence officers to do just that—whether through the documentation of history, describing lessons learned, or telling the national reconnaissance story through exhibits and recognition of the best of the NRO’s people and practices.
As for what draws people to this field, I believe it is a desire to connect the past to the future to make that future more successful.

Karen: Much like “what’s past is prologue” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest?”

Dr. Outzen: (Laughs.) Shakespeare said it much better than I, but yes, exactly.

Karen: What other positions did you hold before your current one and did they prepare you for a career as a historian?

Dr. Outzen: I joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1997 as an analyst. My first assignment was assessing the way the CIA recruited and developed its workforce. I then assisted in establishing an office in the analysis directorate where I eventually worked as a planner of the President’s Daily Brief and later as a briefer of the daily briefing for the president to a National Security Council staff member. Later, I moved into other assignments as an intelligence analyst and manager including serving as the chief knowledge officer for an analysis office. As you can see, my past positions gave me the opportunity to observe how understanding the past can lead to a more effective future.

Karen: What exactly does an NRO historian do? How long have historians existed in the IC and the NRO?

Dr. Outzen: NRO historians carry out three basic types of projects. First, they document the history of NRO programs and elements of the organization. Second, they have the privilege of siting with the best and brightest of the NRO to record their experiences through formal oral history interviews. Finally, historians share that rich history through outreach to both the public and the workforce with classroom presentations, public lectures, media and documentary interviews and other similar activities.
As for our history, elements in the NRO have hired historians since the 1960s to document NRO programs, but it was not until the 1990s that the NRO established a position for an NRO historian.

Karen: Do other members of the IC have historians, and, if so, how does CSNR interact with them?

Dr. Outzen: Members of the Intelligence Community as well as Department of Defense elements have had active historian offices and functions for many decades. We meet as a group regularly and work in partnership on specific projects.

Karen: Dr. Outzen, we have established what CSNR does, so how does it fit in with the NRO’s overall mission? What value does your office bring to the NRO?

Dr. Outzen: The CSNR is responsible for documenting the unique and critical mission of the NRO and its incredibly talented and diverse NRO workforce. The CSNR connects the NRO’s heritage of success to the future of challenges faced in building cutting-edge reconnaissance satellite systems for the United States. Understanding organizational heritage is essential for assuring future organizational success and that is the reason the NRO provides taxpayer resources for the CSNR.

Karen: As an historian, can you be objective in your presentation of history when working for the NRO? Is objectivity an important quality to maintain in this job?

Dr. Outzen: Karen, those are really interesting and important questions. Part of my academic training is in philosophy, and accordingly, I cannot claim that anyone can approach any intellectual undertaking with objectivity. Our experiences shape us and mold our biases. It is critical to recognize this as a condition of our lived experience and then strive to carry out our activities to productive ends based on that understanding. Experience as an intelligence officer is essential for telling the history of national reconnaissance. History is about context or dynamics that allow events to unfold and in this case, the context and dynamics of intelligence. This allows an experienced intelligence officer to render a more complete and fulsome account of the history of national reconnaissance.
Practitioners often make the best historians not in spite of their bias, but in recognition of their bias. For this reason, NRO histories will endure the test of time, as we have some of the best histories written by practitioners.

Karen: Many of us have heard of historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough, and Michael Beschloss. How do government historians differ from historians in the public sector or academia? How are they the same?

Dr. Outzen: NRO historians are public history practitioners. We work outside an academic setting on a wide-range of projects from routine inquiries on historical events, creating displays and exhibits on key national reconnaissance stories, to comprehensive book length histories that you might expect from an historian. Our writing and research is not for advancement purposes as in an academic setting, though we follow very similar standards such as extensive research and sourcing for written projects, peer review of projects, and editorial review for finished publication. Like academic historians, we publish materials that we hope will inform the larger community interested in national reconnaissance studies, but we also have the unique responsibility to support decision-making within the NRO and support the NRO leadership and the workforce to that very important end.

Karen: Dr. Outzen, in your opinion as a historian, what was a truly defining moment in NRO history?

Dr. Outzen: In my view, it was the end of the Cold War. After almost exactly 30 years, the people who were either working in the NRO or had worked in the NRO from its founding in 1961 saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and validation of the purpose of the NRO for those first decades. That purpose was exposing the threats and facades of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations through exquisite technology. This ability empowered the leadership of the United States to make better decisions that avoided a hot war, protected the nation, and eventually defeated the Soviet threat. Reliable information on an adversary is the heart of good intelligence and that is what the NRO provided during the Cold War.
Today, the NRO is well- positioned to leverage its incredible intelligence collection capabilities to meet new challenges faced by the U.S. by continuing to develop exquisite intelligence gathering systems to protect the U.S. and its citizens.
By continuing to declassify its Cold War activities and the essential role NRO played in winning the Cold War, U.S. citizens can see that the pattern for success was during the Cold War and that it continues to meet the pressing challenges today and into the future.

Karen: So here we are in 2021, the 60th anniversary of the NRO. Can you give the workforce an idea of plans to commemorate the occasion? I would imagine the pandemic probably hinders a big celebration.

Dr. Outzen: Yes, this year we celebrate 60 years of unparalleled innovation success. For this celebration we want to help the workforce better understand this legacy of innovation and innovators that keeps the paths open for the NRO’s current and future efforts.
In the fall of 2019, we formed a planning committee to plan events and activities to commemorate the 60th anniversary. Originally, the plan called for in-person activities at all NRO sites during 2021, but we have modified those plans due to the pandemic. The planning committee cancelled in-person activities until the summer of 2021, contingent upon controlling the pandemic. Instead, we will share short stories on the innovations and innovators of the past and also distribute printed materials such as a calendar. As the year progresses, we hope we can celebrate in person. If not, we will carry out virtual celebrations as we approach the NRO’s 60th anniversary on September 6, 2021.

Karen: Is this anniversary particularly different from past anniversaries? Is there something special being recognized this anniversary? Do you believe it is a good thing for an organization to look back and celebrate its past?

Dr. Outzen: The 60th anniversary commemoration will be both similar and different from past anniversary celebrations. It will be similar insofar as we have planned major declassification activities as well as recognition of NRO pioneers. And, fingers crossed, we hope to have in person workforce celebrations, like in the past. On the other side of the coin, a few things are different this year. In particular, we have prepared some activities involving the worldwide workforce, and we are highlighting decades-long innovations and innovators instead of just those associated with a major program declassification.

Karen: I knew a historian who was often fond of saying, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Do you see a lot of “rhyming” occurring in intelligence history? Have you seen evidence where we have learned from the past and did not repeat it?

Dr. Outzen: (Laughs.) Ah, yes. Mark Twain is attributed to that quote though there is no definitive evidence he said it. Nonetheless, it is a fair way to think about history. At a macro level, general repetitive patterns seem to repeat in history accounting for the rhyming such as struggle for freedom of the many and the thirst for power of the few forging millennia of human conflict. I think, from a micro level, that history remains a rhyme rather than an exact repeat. Humans do not purposely replicate exact failure, nor do we settle for replicating exact success. A close historical examination of events that seem similar at a high level have notable differences when examined in detail.
At NRO, the consequences of this are evident in many cases such as the high level of launch and on-orbit success the NRO experiences today compared to the early days of NRO programs, or NRO’s ability to quickly adapt systems to meet new intelligence requirements compared to the early days. The many things that the organization did to learn from mistakes and maximize improvements keeps the NRO’s history from repeating itself and instead is harmonizing. A few years ago, continuous improvement was a popular concept in business journals and press. For the NRO, however, it has been a 60-year mainstay of how we work. We just happen to call it systems engineering and it has worked to keep the mistakes from repeating and enabled each success to build upon each other for fresh innovation.

Karen: Dr. Outzen, do you have a favorite time-period in intelligence history and a favorite figure from that period? What can we, as intelligence officers, learn from them?

Dr. Outzen: For technical intelligence collection, to me the most important period is the second term of the Eisenhower administration. I believe Eisenhower was under-appreciated as a technologist when he left office. In hindsight, he is perhaps the best technologist to have served as president. While Eisenhower gained fame through his World War II leadership, he gained his bearings during the years after World War I. Perhaps no better example of this exists than his efforts within a year of the conclusion of World War I to solve the problem of mass movement of military forces and equipment across a large land mass. In 1919, Eisenhower led efforts to move US army troops and equipment from one coast of the U.S. to the other. The purpose of the experiment was identifying transportation challenges and the technological solution to those challenges.
In the years between the two “Great Wars,” Eisenhower continued undertaking similar experiences involving identifying better technology for more effective combat. He also understood the importance of information or intelligence in better understanding problems and better defining those problems.

In his second term, confronted by dramatic nuclear proliferation and the existential threat it posed to the U.S., he doubled down on technology that would yield reliable intelligence. He called upon some of the nation’s best technologists to consider the problem and Edwin “Din” Land, president and CEO of the Polaroid Corporation, a great inventor in his own right, answered the call. Land studied the use of technology for combating the nuclear threat to the U.S. along with many other notable scientists and industrialists. They advised Eisenhower to seek the “high ground” that technology permitted—first with the U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft and then with national reconnaissance satellites. Eisenhower knew the technological risks were great, but the payoffs in terms of technology and intelligence could and would prevent a nuclear cold war turning hot. Today, we continue to live in an era that still has not seen a massive nuclear exchange and, if we are lucky, that will always be the case.


Karen: Dr. Outzen, as a history buff I really enjoyed my conversation with you. I, along with the rest of the NRO workforce, look forward to this anniversary year.

Dr. Outzen: Thank you.

(Do not know much about NRO history? You can read the CSNR’s histories on its web page.)

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #43 on: 02/05/2021 03:43 pm »
A couple of articles about required declassification of documents 25 years or older. I doubt that this applies to NRO, but worth thinking about.

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2021/01/drop-dead-date/

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2020/12/declass-deadline-2020/

Offline Targeteer

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #44 on: 02/05/2021 05:53 pm »
A couple of articles about required declassification of documents 25 years or older. I doubt that this applies to NRO, but worth thinking about.

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2021/01/drop-dead-date/

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2020/12/declass-deadline-2020/

There are exemptions
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Offline Star One

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NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #45 on: 02/05/2021 06:52 pm »
I'd like to see something on the KH-11, but I don't know how they could do that. Maybe only declassify the block 1 satellites? The imagery from those satellites is all more than 25 years old, which seems like one of their criteria for release. But would they really be able to cut it off at only block 1 and not raise questions about the follow-on satellites? Dunno.

Given the core optics, diameter distance between lenses, lens shape, etc., likely hasn't changed.   I hate to say it, but I doubt we will see any information on the KH-11.   For the hopefully obvious reason, it is likely too easy for anyone to reverse engineer the whole optics system (and thus know the CCD or whatever sensor tech is in the KH-11s array and core resolution.   

Since I doubt the KH-11 has seen major changes to its lens and aperture array...

On the flip side, I would love to learn more about the KH-11.

Why do we persist with calling these Satellites KH when most fSoviet and Russian Air to surface missiles are Kh... It gets confusing! :D   I keep wanting to type Kh-8, Kh-11 :D
The problem with that argument is that it’s quite clear others have developed and are deploying similar satellites. In my view nothing is achieved by not declassifying what others already have or have surpassed. Anyway it’s not so much the optics but what sits behind them in the area of avionics and  the like. I mean even the mirror manufacturing technology and what can be done with the same sized mirrors must have changed. Also there is nothing to say the size of the mirror hasn’t changed along the line.
« Last Edit: 02/06/2021 03:25 pm by Star One »

Offline Jim

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #46 on: 02/08/2021 01:33 pm »

Why do we persist with calling these Satellites KH when most fSoviet and Russian Air to surface missiles are Kh... It gets confusing! :D   I keep wanting to type Kh-8, Kh-11 :D


Because that is what they are called.

Most that deal with the satellites don't deal with Soviet and Russian Air to surface missiles.  I, for one, have never used the Kh nomenclature. 

Offline hoku

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #47 on: 06/28/2021 06:49 am »
Spycast episode from June 22 has NRO historian James Ousten as a guest:
https://www.spymuseum.org/spycast/episode/spy-satellites-outer-space-the-nro-beyond-the-karman-line/

Plans for NRO's 60th anniversary on Sep 6, 2021, and a brief description of the declassification policies for major programs are addressed starting at 1h02m08s

No major declassification is foreseen for the anniversary, but could come at a later time when pubic events are again possible. Overall, the podcast is covering quite a number of topics, though it doesn't delve into much detail on any specific topic.
« Last Edit: 06/28/2021 07:17 am by hoku »

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #48 on: 06/28/2021 03:22 pm »
No major declassification is foreseen for the anniversary, but could come at a later time when pubic events are again possible. Overall, the podcast is covering quite a number of topics, though it doesn't delve into much detail on any specific topic.

So likely no KH-11 reveal.

I have heard from somebody who interacted with him that there are documents that are being declassified to be released at that time. Of course, maybe those plans have shifted. Or maybe the documents are related to stuff that has has already been declassified. We're still awaiting the "SIGINT Phase 3" release, which covers the P-11 satellites and I think was supposed to happen back in 2018. They also have not done any significant declassification releases this year. For the past several years they released collections of documents that were 50 years old, so they should be releasing material from 1970.



Offline hoku

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #49 on: 02/14/2023 11:18 pm »
Finally, a history of all "histories", including a listing of all of Perry's unfinished drafts: 8)
"CHRONOLOGY OF SELECTED SATELLITE SYSTEMS - LISTING OF NRO HISTORIES - SAFSP HISTORY"

NRO placed 3Q22 and 4Q22 FOIA releases online: lots of "closure recommendation memos" and org charts, the 2022 QUILL Trailblazer collection of docs released in 2012, a few docs on POPPY, WS 117L funding history with actual numbers up to 1959, a few RAND studies on various topics, overviews on the status of recent FOIA requests, ...

https://www.nro.gov/FOIA/FOIA-For-All-Other-Public-Releases/FOIA-For-All-Releases-FY22/

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #50 on: 02/15/2023 01:06 am »
Finally, a history of all "histories", including a listing of all of Perry's unfinished drafts: 8)
"CHRONOLOGY OF SELECTED SATELLITE SYSTEMS - LISTING OF NRO HISTORIES - SAFSP HISTORY"

NRO placed 3Q22 and 4Q22 FOIA releases online: lots of "closure recommendation memos" and org charts, the 2022 QUILL Trailblazer collection of docs released in 2012, a few docs on POPPY, WS 117L funding history with actual numbers up to 1959, a few RAND studies on various topics, overviews on the status of recent FOIA requests, ...

https://www.nro.gov/FOIA/FOIA-For-All-Other-Public-Releases/FOIA-For-All-Releases-FY22/

Did they do any public releases during 2022 other than in response to FOIA? I don't think so. Did they even do a "Sunshine Week" release? My impression is that after releasing all the EOI documents, they were exhausted and didn't release anything else. They had been periodically releasing a set of documents from 50 years ago, so in 2018 they release 1967, and in 2019 they released 1968. I don't think they did 1971 last year.

Some of those FOIAs were released to me. I've already used some of them in articles (see my arms control article, for example). There are others that I've used in articles not yet published. There are a few things that I have not yet FOIAd that I should FOIA now.

It would be nice if they finally acknowledged something about CANYON, RHYOLITE, or JUMPSEAT, but I don't expect that. Personally, I'd like to see more about the LEO SIGINT satellites during the 1970s, including ocean surveillance. I'd also like to see more about SDS. And I wouldn't mind if they released more info on the later part of Program 989, when the satellites grew 10 times.


Offline hoku

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #51 on: 02/15/2023 05:32 am »
Finally, a history of all "histories", including a listing of all of Perry's unfinished drafts: 8)
"CHRONOLOGY OF SELECTED SATELLITE SYSTEMS - LISTING OF NRO HISTORIES - SAFSP HISTORY"

<snip>
https://www.nro.gov/FOIA/FOIA-For-All-Other-Public-Releases/FOIA-For-All-Releases-FY22/

Did they do any public releases during 2022 other than in response to FOIA? I don't think so. Did they even do a "Sunshine Week" release? My impression is that after releasing all the EOI documents, they were exhausted and didn't release anything else. They had been periodically releasing a set of documents from 50 years ago, so in 2018 they release 1967, and in 2019 they released 1968. I don't think they did 1971 last year.
They had a small "Sunshine Week" release in 2022, which can be found in a collection of releases from 2015, and 2017 through 2020:
https://www.nro.gov/FOIA/From-the-NRO-Archives/

Quote
<snip>
It would be nice if they finally acknowledged something about CANYON, RHYOLITE, or JUMPSEAT, but I don't expect that. Personally, I'd like to see more about the LEO SIGINT satellites during the 1970s, including ocean surveillance. I'd also like to see more about SDS. And I wouldn't mind if they released more info on the later part of Program 989, when the satellites grew 10 times.

My impression is that NRO still has to deliver (at least in part) on their 60th anniversary "major declassification" promise:

NEWS | March 10, 2021
NRO's 60th Anniversary
By Staff

CHANTILLY, Va.  – 
This year the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) marks its 60th anniversary. <snip> For this celebration, by way of major declassifications, articles, exhibits and recognition of NRO Pioneers, we will be focusing on the legacy of innovation and innovators that paved the way to NRO's present and chart NRO's future efforts. <snip>

In an interview, NRO lead historian Dr. Outzen (director CSNR) indicated that they postponed the major release event as pandemic restrictions prevented them from holding an event similar to their 50th anniversary party. The 60th anniversary "era before KENNEN" and "SIGINT Story" chapters, and the EOI document releases might indicate the topics of the next "major declassifications" (which might also include some actual satellite hardware?).

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #52 on: 02/16/2023 09:23 pm »
They had a small "Sunshine Week" release in 2022, which can be found in a collection of releases from 2015, and 2017 through 2020:

I think I saw that at the time and was not overwhelmed, or even whelmed. My impression was that they spent so much effort on the EOI release that they ignored the Sunshine Week topic.

I should add that I thought that some of the Sunshine Week releases were really good. It was like they put some thought into what would be good documents to release across a range of topics. They didn't just grab a handful of stuff and put it out there. Other years were less impressive.

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #53 on: 02/16/2023 09:27 pm »
In an interview, NRO lead historian Dr. Outzen (director CSNR) indicated that they postponed the major release event as pandemic restrictions prevented them from holding an event similar to their 50th anniversary party. The 60th anniversary "era before KENNEN" and "SIGINT Story" chapters, and the EOI document releases might indicate the topics of the next "major declassifications" (which might also include some actual satellite hardware?).

My interpretation of that was that they would throw a big party and invite the old-timers and they would unveil some piece of hardware, like an engineering test article of a KH-11 and maybe an SDS. But they didn't want to bring together a bunch of old guys and have everybody get covid. (Lest we forget, there have been superspreader events that later put a bunch of people in the hospital or the grave.)

I do think that the SIGINT people and the SAFSP (Los Angeles) people never really got their event/recognition.

But we still got nothing. I don't hold my breath on these things. I have learned to be happy with what they have released. After all this time, it is clear that they won't suddenly decide to be a lot more open about their past activities.

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #54 on: 02/16/2023 09:55 pm »


I do think that the SIGINT people and the SAFSP (Los Angeles) people never really got their event/recognition.


Their numbers are dwindling.

http://www.safsp.net
« Last Edit: 02/16/2023 09:55 pm by Jim »

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #55 on: 02/16/2023 09:56 pm »


I do think that the SIGINT people and the SAFSP (Los Angeles) people never really got their event/recognition.


Their numbers are dwindling.

http://www.safsp.net

Yes, I believe that. It was something I realized back in 1995 when they did the CORONA unveiling. If they didn't do some more of those things, most of those people would never get a public event to discuss their service.

Online catdlr

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #56 on: 10/16/2023 10:33 pm »
Roads not taken in satellite photo-reconnaissance: Part 1, the 1960s

by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, October 16, 2023
as posted on The Space Review

Quote
During the 1960s there were many proposals for reconnaissance satellites that never got much beyond the concept stage. Dwayne Day examines what is known about some of those ideas for photo-reconnaissance space systems.

https://www.thespacereview.com/article/4671/1

Discuss the following:

Samos E-3 Year: 1961?

Samos E-4 Years: 1960–1961

Mercury Reconnaissance Satellite: Years: 1960

SPARTAN: Year: 1962–1963

Fairchild “1961 CORONA Reconnaissance System”: Year: 1960

LANYARD PRIME and QUAD-L: Year: 1963–1964?

MURAL-2: Year: 1962

UPWARD/LMSS: Year: 1964-1967

AP-12 OXCART-Launched Satellite: Year: 1962

Project TOWN HALL: Year: 1962

ISINGLASS/RHEINBERRY: Years: 1964–1967

Geodetic Orbital Photographic Satellite System (GOPSS): Year: 1966

PERCHERON: Year: 1967

CORONA J-4: Year: 1967

Film Read Out GAMBIT/FROG: Years: 1965–1971
« Last Edit: 10/17/2023 02:36 am by catdlr »
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Offline Targeteer

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Best quote heard during an inspection, "I was unaware that I was the only one who was aware."

Offline Emmettvonbrown

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #58 on: 01/05/2024 09:16 am »
609,6 km. My mind is blown.  :o :o :o :o

Recently I tried to assess the number of film buckets recovered between 1960 and 1986 (when the last KH-9 exploded) And found (very aproximately) 500 of them.
What complicates matters are the KH-4A & KH-4B with two buckets (from August 1963) and the KH-8 with two buckets (from 1969).
CORONA started flying with two buckets from mission 69 (out of 145)
GAMBIT-3 started flying with two buckets from mission 23 (out of 54)
KH-10 never flew, KH-11 had no film buckets.
On paper at least, 20*KH-9s with five film buckets each (4 for the main camera plus one for the mapping camera) should be close from one hundred buckets.

Is there a document somewhere with the exact number of film bucket recoveries ? 
« Last Edit: 01/05/2024 09:27 am by Emmettvonbrown »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5
« Reply #59 on: 01/05/2024 12:46 pm »
On paper at least, 20*KH-9s with five film buckets each (4 for the main camera plus one for the mapping camera) should be close from one hundred buckets.

Is there a document somewhere with the exact number of film bucket recoveries ? 


You need to recalculate for KH-9, because not all missions carried the mapping camera. Also, one SRV sank.

Also, and I don't have any info on this, they may have reused some of them, so the total number may be lower.

Tags: NRO 
 

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