As I discussed in my last article on a case of gonorrhea that disrupted an unspecified CIA covert project, the CIA announced in a press release on January 17, 2017, that it had made available online more than 12 million pages of previously declassified CREST documents. CREST stands for “CIA Records Search Tool,” which is a stand-alone database located at the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland.
The 930,000 documents, per CNN, had previously only been available to access from the four computer terminals physically located at the National Archives in Maryland. As of now, though, any old enterprising amateur journalist or historian can go digging through the documents.
Yours truly is still making his way through the archives, and once again, I have stumbled across an intriguing one-page memo that hints at all sorts of intrigue, technological derring-do, and international espionage. Sadly, however, there are no venereal diseases involved (this time).
First, some background to add context to the memo. According to Norman Polmar’s book “Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified,” the joint CIA-Air Force overhead surveillance program that would eventually lead to the development of the Lockheed U-2 and A-12 aircraft was run out of the “Project Staff” of the CIA in the mid-1950s.
This was the program that would produce the U-2 in which Francis Gary Powers would unfortunately crash over Soviet airspace in 1960 during one such surveillance flight. The “Project Staff” would later be enlarged and renamed the Development Projects Staff in 1958.
When Richard M. Bissell was named deputy director for plans in January 1959, he assumed responsibility for the Deputy Directorate for Plans (DD/P). This was the precursor to the Directorate of Operations (DO) and what would become known as the National Clandestine Serice (NCS). It was the CIA’s operational directorate, in other words, running clandestine operations across the globe.
That same year, Bissell turned the Development Projects Staff into the Development Projects Division (DPD) within the DD/P, thus allocating it even more resources and staff. Bissell also placed all CIA air assets within the DPD that same year.
Thus, within the CIA’s operational division (the DD/P), the DPD controlled Agency air assets. Hence the below memo originated from the chief of the Operations Branch of the DPD, and was addressed to the chief of the Research and Development Branch of the same division.
In other words, the guy in charge of running air operations in the CIA was reaching out to the guy in charge of developing technology for presumably all manner of purposes and objectives for the CIA’s fleet of aircraft. Let us now look at the memo:
Per the text, the chief of the Operations Branch is asking the chief of the Research and Development Branch to expedite the completion of some [redacted] project for use with a CIA C-130 aircraft. Specifically, the ops chief is asking that the “engineering and functional testing” of the project be expedited to facilitate the project’s use in some unspecified “air operation” in the “Far East” (presumably some area in East Asia, possibly over China or the Korean peninsula).
Just what was this piece of gear or spying equipment? And over what territory was this unspecified air operation flying? What was its target? Did the Research and Development Branch complete its work in time to facilitate the operation?
Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions. Also unfortunately, that is probably going to be the case with many of these files the CIA has made widely available online. It might be decades before these gaps in information are filled in. Or they may never be.
Meanwhile, we shall keep digging.
(Image courtesy of wallpapercave.com)