Author Topic: NRO: A History of Satellite Reconnaissance, Vol 1 through 5  (Read 38345 times)

Online 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 »

Online 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.

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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.


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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 »

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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..."

Online 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Online 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.

Tags: NRO 
 

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