About CIA



Ambush in Manchuria

Dru Blair
Mixed Media on Illustration Board, 2010
Donated Courtesy of Alan Seigrist

November 1950 marked the entry of Chinese Communist military forces into the Korean War as the new Communist government in China was rapidly expanding its influence elsewhere in Asia. The Truman Administration turned to the fledgling (three-year-old) CIA to frustrate China’s expansionism through a covert-action program on the Chinese mainland designed to foster internal democratic opposition to the Communist regime and divert some of its military resources from combat with US forces in Korea.

One particularly sensitive program in the early 1950s involved the Civil Air Transport (CAT), a CIA proprietary company that aided CIA’s efforts to support anti-Communist Chinese guerrillas along the China-Korea border and inside mainland China. While leaflet, supply, and agent airdrops posed considerable dangers, the most perilous flights were air exfiltrations in which low-altitude, slow-moving planes hoisted agents from the ground—only the most trusted and experienced pilot volunteers flew these missions.

Norman A. Schwartz and his friend and fellow pilot, Robert C. Snoddy, were among the elite group of CAT volunteers to fly agent exfiltration missions. They trained to fly a C-47 aircraft (the military version of a commercial DC-3) specially outfitted with a unique retrieval system of a pole, hook, cable, and winch designed to snatch a person from the ground and reel him into the plane on the fly.

On November 29, 1952, Schwartz and Snoddy piloted the C-47 on an exfiltration mission in Manchuria. Also aboard were two young CIA paramilitary officers—John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau. Leaving a Korean airfield at 10 pm, the flight reached the pickup zone just after midnight and headed for the pickup point, well marked with three bonfires flaring out of the darkness. The aircraft was about 50 feet off the ground at a near-stalling 60 knots on its final approach. With the plane’s rear door removed, Fecteau and Downey had extended the pole with hook and cable attached, ready to catch the awaiting agent’s line and then to winch him in.

The crew proceeded according to plan, unaware that Chinese Communist units had been tipped off about the flight and were waiting in ambush. Suddenly, a murderous barrage of gunfire erupted from ground troops hiding in the darkness. The pilots were able to prevent an immediate crash; however, when the engines cut out, the aircraft glided to a controlled crash. Schwartz and Snoddy were killed. Other than suffering bruises and being shaken up, Downey and Fecteau were not seriously hurt.

Downey and Fecteau were captured, convicted of espionage, and imprisoned. Over the years, numerous US efforts to obtain their release failed. Fecteau was eventually released in December 1971, nearly a year shy of his 20-year sentence. Downey was released 15 months later, serving just over 20 years of his life sentence.

Schwartz and Snoddy posthumously received the CIA Distinguished Intelligence Cross in recognition of their exceptional valor and sacrifice. Downey and Fecteau received the CIA Distinguished Intelligence Medal for “courageous performance” in enduring “sufferings and deprivations…with fortitude [and an] unshakable will to survive and with a preserving faith in [their] country.” They returned to the Agency in 1998 to receive the Director’s Medal.

An Air Combat First

by Keith Woodcock
Oil on Canvas, 2007
Donated by Marius Burke and Boyd D. Mesecher

Known as “Site 85,” the US radar facility perched atop a 5,800-foot mountain in northeast Laos—less than 150 miles from Hanoi—was providing critical and otherwise unavailable all-weather guidance to American F-105 fighter-bombers flying strike missions against Communist supply depots, airfields, and railroad yards in North Vietnam. CIA proprietary Air America provided critical air support to the US Air Force technicians (working under civilian cover), several CIA case officers, and the CIA-directed Hmong and Thai security forces at the isolated site.

Recognizing the threat posed by this facility, the People’s Army of Vietnam vowed to destroy it.  On January 12, 1968, four North Vietnamese AN-2 Colt biplanes—painted dark green and modified to drop “bombs” improvised from 122-mm mortars and 57-mm rockets—headed for Site 85.

At about 1:30 pm, as they approached their target, the four Colts split into two equal formations—one pair began low-level bombing and strafing passes while the other pair circled nearby. Coincidently, Air America pilot Ted Moore was flying an ammunition-supply run to the site in his unarmed UH-1D “Huey” helicopter when he saw the biplanes attacking.  Moore and his flight mechanic Glenn Woods took chase of the first Colt. Woods pulled out his AK-47 rifle and began firing at the lumbering biplane. The pursuit was relentless, continuing for more than 20 minutes until the second Colt (hit by ground fire) joined the first in an attempt to escape back into North Vietnam. Both attacking Colts suffered severe bullet damage and crashed before reaching the border. Fearing a similar fate, the two unengaged Colts retreated unharmed.

The painting captures one North Vietnamese Colt fleeing and the other being pursued by the Air America Huey piloted by Moore as mechanic Woods fires his AK-47 at the cockpit. This daring action by Moore and Woods gained them—and Air America—the distinction of having shot down an enemy fixed-wing aircraft from a helicopter—a singular aerial victory in the entire history of the Vietnam War.

Two months later in a night raid, North Vietnamese commandos overran Site 85 in the deadliest single ground loss of US Air Force personnel during the Vietnam War. A year later, Glenn Woods was killed in action in Laos.

On July 27, 2007, CIA officially received the painting in an event attended by members of the Air America Board; pilot Ted Moore; Sawang Reed, the wife of flight mechanic Glenn Woods; CIA paramilitary legend Bill Lair; and the donors of the painting, former Air America officers Marius Burke and Boyd D. Mesecher.

Black Rhythm

Gene Davis
Vincent Melzac Collection
Washington Color School

This is the Agency’s only work by Gene Davis, one of the most noted of the Washington Color School artists. In a conscious effort to “purify” his work, he reduced painting to the fewest possible elements, that of equal-width stripes. He felt that this matrix allowed him to emphasize color orchestration, saying: “I paint by eye as a jazz musician plays by ear.”  The stripes, like a drummer’s beat, provide the unity through which colors interact. Such a painting cannot be grasped all at once: Davis suggested that the viewer follow one color across the composition, seeing how the intervals work, what the rhythms are like between related colors. He described it as a kind of syncopation. A Washington native, Davis was a sports writer and a White House correspondent before he dropped that career to become a painter.

Cast of a Few, Courage of a Nation

by James Dietz,
Oil on Canvas, 2008 
Donated by Alan Seigrist and Christopher Exline

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush ordered DCI George Tenet to launch operations immediately against the al-Qa’ida terrorist organization and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. This order called for CIA to collect real-time, actionable intelligence in the prelude to Operation Enduring Freedom and to use all possible means to target al-Qa’ida. Within 15 days of the attacks on US soil, the first team of CIA officers was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan.

The combined efforts of US intelligence, US military forces, Afghan allies, and America's coalition partners formed the cornerstone of success in Afghanistan. CIA leadership provided guidance and sent numerous paramilitary teams consisting of extremely resourceful and courageous specialists hand-picked to work alongside key opposition tribal groups around the country, doing whatever was necessary to accomplish the mission.  eams typically worked in complete isolation, far behind enemy lines or away from ground reinforcements, to reveal the enemy’s capabilities, plans, and intentions. In just two months, their combined efforts had liberated Kabul and all major cities in the north, overthrown the Taliban, killed or captured a significant number of the al-Qa’ida leadership, and denied surviving terrorist elements their safe haven.

The painting depicts a Russian-built, CIA-modified Mi-17 helicopter conducting a night resupply mission of food, equipment, operational funds, and ammunition to a collection team in Afghanistan—an activity performed countless times in support of each team’s operations. This dramatic scene conveys the hardships and challenges of the hostile environment in which CIA officers have operated with indigenous allies and US military forces during this counterinsurgency effort. Not shown, but critical to the success of such missions and often oceans away, are the many highly skilled support officers who collect intelligence, acquire equipment and materiel for timely delivery, arrange security, and plan and coordinate each mission.

Cast of a Few, Courage of a Nation commemorates the Intelligence Community’s collaborative paramilitary intelligence collection operations—in remote areas of the world and austere field environments—to prosecute the Global War on Terrorism. The painting honors their valiant efforts in pursuit of national security objectives across far-flung battlefields and serves as a memorial to our colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The painting was unveiled on April 17, 2008.  Co-donor Alan Seigrist said that with this donation he has also honored the contribution to CIA operations over a three-decade period of his father, Connie Seigrist, who, as a CIA contract pilot, logged more than 30,000 hours in Agency aircraft, including the B-17 pictured in the painting of the COLDFEET mission.

Continental Air Service's Pilatus Turbo Porter Landing Up Country in Laos, 1969

Keith Woodcock
Oil on Canvas, 2010
Donated Courtesy of Owen Lee Gossett

Continental Air Service, Inc. (CASI) provided essential contract flying services to the Central Intelligence Agency during the war in Southeast Asia. The original CASI holdings came from the aviation division of Bird and Sons, Inc., a San Francisco heavy-construction company operating in Vietnam and Laos. Owner William H. Bird sold the aviation division, including many of its aircraft and employees, to Continental Airlines in 1965 to form CASI, which began operations that September.

Between 1965 and 1975, more than 260 CASI pilots and maintenance personnel operated aircraft and ground facilities in support of the CIA as well as the US Agency for International Development, US Operations Mission, and other US Government organizations throughout South Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.

Included in CASI’s fleet was the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter depicted in the painting. Designed and built by Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. in Stans, Switzerland, this single-engine turboprop aircraft was known for its unique STOL (short takeoff and landing) capability. Unloaded, the PC-6 needed only the length of a football field to take off and even less to land; with a 3,300-pound payload, it needed about double those distances. This STOL capability, combined with high reliability and versatility in almost all weather and terrain conditions, made the Turbo Porter ideal for “up country” missions.

CASI pilots regularly operated from primitive dirt landing sites, often flying in poor weather, with few navigational aids, under the constant threat of enemy fire, and in the midst of towering mountains and unforgiving karst formations. Despite this challenging environment, CASI played a vital role during the war, delivering food, medicine, and other essential supplies to isolated outposts throughout the war-torn Lao Kingdom. Always alert to on-going military operations and at great personal risk, CASI crews also performed numerous rescues of downed airmen. Their crucial work required the very best aviators and aircraft. CASI pilot Lee Gossett flew his trusty PC-6 Turbo (shown in the painting with Lao registration XW-PCI) during the late 1960s and early 1970s, fondly recalling, “The old girl brought me home every night.”

Because many of CASI’s flights were in support of covert missions, many of CASI’s accomplishments have remained in the shadows. Even family members were often unaware of the true nature of CASI’s dangerous work. On August 2, 2007, the Hon. Loretta Sanchez told the CASI story on the floor of the US House of Representatives, honoring the gallant CASI personnel who “sacrificed their own safety for the safety of American soldiers and for our country.” The painting is a tribute to the importance of this historic aircraft and CASI’s support to CIA operations in Southeast Asia.

Earthquake’s Final Flight

by Jeffrey W. Bass
Oil on Canvas, 2006
Donated by the Fairchild Corporation

This painting commemorates air operations of Civil Air Transport (CAT, an Agency proprietary) and its CIA contract pilots in support of French forces at Dien Bien Phu during the final days of the conflict between the French and Viet Minh in 1954. In Fairchild C-119s with US Air Force markings hurriedly painted over with French Air Force roundels, 37 CAT pilots volunteered to fly supplies from the French airbase at Haiphong to the battlefield near Vietnam’s border with Laos.

In a concentrated operation to resupply the beleaguered French forces, the pilots and crews made 682 airdrops between March 13 and May 6, 1954, flying through murderous antiaircraft fire that ringed the valley at Dien Bien Phu.  On May 6, the day before the Viet Minh overran the French fortifications, antiaircraft flak hit an engine and control surfaces of the C-119 flown by legendary CAT pilot James McGovern (nicknamed “Earthquake McGoon”) and copilot Wallace Buford, who struggled gallantly to stay airborne. The plane limped over the border into Laos and crashed, killing McGovern and Buford—the first two Americans to die in the early days of a conflict later to be known as the Vietnam War—and two French paratroopers.

The painting depicts McGovern’s C-119 shortly after a flak burst has disabled its port engine over the drop zone at “Isabelle,” an outpost of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. After the shell impact, oil streams out of the engine nacelle, causing the engine to seize and its propeller to become frozen at operational pitch in a cross position. Having ejected the plane’s cargo over Isabelle, the cargo kickers sit in the rear opening of the fuselage, resigned to their fate.

The crash site was located in 2002, and DNA tests in 2006 confirmed the recovered remains were McGovern’s. He was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 24, 2007.  Pieces of his valiant C-119 are now in the CIA Museum collection.

When the painting was unveiled at his residence in 2005, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte presented the French Republic’s highest award (the Légion d’Honneur) to five of the six surviving CAT pilots for their heroic performance in the epic battle that marked the end of French colonial rule in Indochina.

First Sting

Stuart Brown
Oil on Canvas
Donated Courtesy of Richard J. Guggenhime and Donald Elster

In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan to protect its new socialist puppet government. The US along with the vast majority of nations condemned this Soviet attempt to extend its colonial domination. The Mujahedin, Afghan rebels fighting Soviet occupation, were ill-equipped to defeat the far superior Soviet forces. Initially hoping to tie Moscow down in a prolonged war of attrition, the US provided the Mujahedin with only limited support.

President Reagan championed the idea that if the Mujahedin forces actually defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, the broader impact would be to stem future global communist aggression. By 1985, America’s attrition strategy gave way to a more aggressive approach intended to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Soviet Union.

Thanks to a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson, the CIA received increased funding to press the war against the Soviets. The most audacious move was a 1986 decision to supply the Mujahedin with heat-seeking, shoulder-launched Stinger antiaircraft missiles. These missiles turned the tide of the war by giving Afghan guerrillas the capability to destroy their most dreaded enemy weapon in the rugged Afghan battlefield—the Soviet Mi-24D helicopter gunship. The first three Stingers fired took down three gunships. Rebel morale soared overnight. Devastating Soviet losses mounted. A Soviet retreat was within sight.

In 1988, President Gorbachev announced his intention to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The last Soviet soldier left in February 1989. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze later lamented, “The decision to leave Afghanistan was the first and most difficult step. Everything else flowed from that.” This view implied that the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan—believed by many to be due to the Stinger missiles that CIA provided to the Mujahedin—led to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.

First Sting depicts the turning point in the Afghan war with the first of many shoot-downs of Soviet helicopter gunships by Mujahedin fighters armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles.

Irrawaddy Ambush

Stuart Brown
Oil on Canvas
Donated Courtesy of Michael DeSombre

During World War II, the Burma Road in northeast Burma was a lifeline for the Nationalist Chinese fighting the Japanese. A primary reason for the Japanese invasion of Burma, which was a British colony at the time, was to cut this supply link. The Imperial Army accomplished this task by the summer of 1942. The Allies then began airlifting materiel from India to China over the Himalayas, nicknamed “the Hump” by American fliers, all the while trying to reopen the road.

In April 1942, Coordinator of Information and future Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Director William J. Donovan activated Detachment 101 to create an indigenous guerrilla force charged with gathering intelligence, harassing the Japanese occupiers, identifying bombing targets for the Army Air Force, and rescuing downed Allied airmen—all deep behind enemy lines in Burma. Detachment 101 pioneered the art of unconventional warfare, foreshadowing the missions of today’s US Army Special Forces.

Never more than a few hundred Americans strong, Detachment 101 relied on support from various Burmese tribal groups, most notably the staunchly anti-Japanese Kachins. Combined with the efforts of the British Wingate’s Raiders, Merrill’s Marauders of the US Army, and Nationalist Chinese troops, Detachment 101 was so successful that Japan had to divert significant numbers of troops to Burma to protect the new railroad that it had built to move supplies overland after US Navy submarines had blocked Japanese shipping routes.

The painting depicts one of Detachment 101’s many guerrilla operations staged to disrupt Japanese supply and reinforcement routes in Burma. Staked out on one side of the Irrawaddy River, OSS-trained Kachin rangers ambush Japanese rafts bringing troops and supplies to the Japanese-held town of Myitkyina in July 1944. Such actions helped lead to the Allied re-capture of the town and, ultimately, the defeat of Japanese forces in northern Burma.

By the time of its deactivation in July 1945, OSS Detachment 101 had amassed an impressive list of accomplishments, performing against overwhelming enemy strength and under the most difficult and hazardous conditions. The courage and fighting spirit of the Kachin guerrillas and their American advisors earned Detachment 101 a Presidential Unit Citation and recognition as the “most effective tactical combat force” in the OSS.

Les Marguerites Fleuriront ce Soir

by Jeffrey W. Bass
Oil on Canvas, 2006
Donated by Richard J. Guggenhime

When France fell under the Nazi boot in June 1940, Great Britain stood alone against the enemy. Fearing a similar fate for his country, Winston Churchill created the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organization specializing in irregular warfare against German forces in occupied countries. SOE’s early recruits for espionage operations were from a variety of people from all classes, pre-war occupations, and countries—including a 35-year-old American woman by the name of Virginia Hall from Baltimore, Maryland. Hall had seen the Nazi devastation in France firsthand and was eager to do her part to defeat fascism. She underwent SOE’s rigorous preparation, remarkably, not because she was a woman, but because her left leg was made of wood, the result of a below-the-knee amputation necessitated by a pre-war hunting accident.

Fluent in French, Hall was sent to Lyon, France, in August 1941 where she helped develop the area’s newly born Resistance operation. Over the next 15 months working under cover as a journalist, Hall provided instructions, counterfeit money, and contacts to every British agent arriving in France. In addition, she was responsible for orchestrating supply drops and helping captured agents escape and make their way back to England. By November 1942, she had to use her own escape route out of France, just steps ahead of her pursuer, the now infamous Gestapo officer, Klaus Barbie, nicknamed “The Butcher of Lyon.”

By this time, the Americans had also created a paramilitary organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Hall transferred to the OSS and asked to return to occupied France. She hardly needed training in clandestine work behind enemy lines, and the OSS promptly granted her request, sending her to south-central France. Because her artificial leg kept her from parachuting in, she landed in Brittany from a British PT boat. As “Diane,” she eluded the Gestapo and contacted the Resistance. Often disguised as a milkmaid, she mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allies landed at Normandy. Hall helped train three battalions of Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare against German forces and kept up a stream of valuable reporting until Allied troops overtook her small band.

For her efforts in France, OSS chief General Donovan personally awarded Virginia Hall a Distinguished Service Cross—the only one awarded to a civilian woman during World War II.  The medal is currently on display in the CIA Museum’s OSS Gallery. Hall later worked for the CIA, serving in many capacities as one of CIA’s first female operations officers.

The painting portrays Hall in the early morning hours, radioing London from an old barn near Le Chambon sur Lignon to request supplies and personnel. Power for her radio was provided by a discarded bicycle rigged to turn an electric generator, the clever invention of one of her captains, Edmund Lebrat. Using codes such as “Les marguerites fleuriront ce soir” (the daisies will bloom tonight), Hall was apprised of what airdrops to expect from London and when.

Message from Moscow

Deborah D.
Oil on Canvas
Intelligence Art Collection

Radio broadcasting technology developed rapidly during the 1930s. Shortwave transmissions from powerful new stations could be heard over great distances. As Nazi ideologues and Japanese propagandists were quick to exploit radio as a new war-time tool, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the need to monitor shortwave radio broadcasts of the Axis powers and established the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS) in February 1941. Initially operating under the Federal Communications Commission, FBMS became the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) in 1942. During the war, FBIS recorded, translated, transcribed, and analyzed valuable information from the radio airwaves for the Office of Strategic Services and US Departments of State, War, and Navy. At war’s end, FBIS moved to the US Department of the Army, and in 1947 the National Security Act of 1947 reassigned it to the newly created Central Intelligence Agency. In 2005, FBIS became the Open Source Center (OSC). The value of open-source intelligence continues unabated with the expansion of openly available information and communication media centered on computer technology and the Internet.

Formed in 1939, the British Broadcasting Corporation Monitoring (BBCM) Service pioneered the monitoring of foreign broadcasting stations as European governments increasingly used radio to publicize official communiqués, policy statements, and propaganda. After supporting Allied operations during World War II, BBCM resumed its role as a peace-time arm of the BBC news service and continues as such today. FBMS and its FBIS successor established and maintained a close working relationship with BBCM, learning from their experiences, sharing information, and stationing a small staff at their Caversham Park headquarters. Over the years, CIA’s open-source partnership with BBCM has steadily strengthened, initially through FBIS and now with OSC.

The painting depicts a significant example of FBIS work that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis. When Central Intelligence Agency photointerpreters discovered Soviet nuclear-capable, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) bases in Cuba—less than a hundred miles from US shores, President John F. Kennedy quarantined all Soviet ships carrying MRBM-related equipment to Cuba and demanded the removal of the existing MRBM bases from the island.  Despite their claim that the missiles were strictly defensive and posed no threat to the US, on 28 October 1962 through diplomatic channels, the Soviets dispatched their decision to comply with Kennedy’s demand. To assure that this important message reached the White House as quickly as possible, Moscow Radio simultaneously broadcast it in Russian over the airwaves.  FBIS, in cooperation with its BBCM partners in England, monitored and translated this message from Premier Nikita Khrushchev to President Kennedy and flashed it to the White House and other US Government offices:

“The Soviet Government has ordered the dismantling of bases and the dispatch of equipment to the USSR…. I wish to again state that the Soviet Government has offered only defensive weapons.”

The radio route—via FBIS—proved to be the fastest communication means, and President Kennedy responded immediately through a State Department telegram to Khrushchev:

“I am replying at once to your broadcast message…even though the official text has not yet reached me...I welcome this message and consider it an important contribution to peace.”


Dru Blair
Mixed Media on Illustration Board
Donated Courtesy of Richard J. Guggenhime and Donald Elster

On January 23, 1968, North Korea seized the US Navy Ship Pueblo while it was on a signals intelligence collection mission in international waters off the coast of North Korea.  Pyongyang claimed it had caught the US spying inside its territorial waters. Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, aware of the A-12 OXCART’s quick-reaction, overhead-photographic capabilities, urged its use to find the missing ship.  Helms assured President Lyndon B. Johnson, reluctant at first, that the A-12 supersonic aircraft “could photograph the whole of North Korea, from the DMZ to the Yalu River, in less than 10 minutes and probably do so unobserved by air-defense radar.”  With the President’s approval, on January 26, 1968 CIA pilot Jack Weeks flew a three-pass mission over the southern part of North Korea and the Demilitarized Zone to locate the Pueblo and to determine whether Pyongyang was mobilizing for possible hostilities with the US in reaction to the seizure.

Depicted in the painting is Weeks’s highly successful A-12 flight, 25th of the 29 BLACK SHIELD missions in East Asia. In a detailed examination of the imagery collected by the aircraft’s panoramic camera, photointerpreters found the Pueblo, apparently undamaged and guarded by two patrol boats in a small bay north of Wonsan, but saw no sign of North Korean preparations for a possible US military response to the incident. As a bonus, the imagery also yielded substantial intelligence on North Korea’s armed forces.

With photographic proof that North Korea held the Pueblo and its crew, the US immediately began negotiations to get them back. After difficult and protracted discussions, North Korea released the surviving crewmembers 11 months later. The ship, however, remains captive in Pyongyang where it is a popular tourist attraction.

On June 4, 1968, some four months following his successful overflight of North Korea, Jack Weeks died while piloting A‑12 Article 129 on a functional checkout flight between Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and the Philippines. The plane’s last radio transmission came from a location 520 miles east of Manila. Search and rescue missions failed to locate any trace of the pilot or plane. The onboard monitoring system indicated engine trouble; a catastrophic failure was the most likely explanation. Weeks was one of two Agency pilots to die while flying the A-12. The CIA commemorates both pilots with stars on its Wall of Honor.


Seven Days in the Arctic

by Keith Woodcock
Oil on Canvas, 2007
Donated by Gar and Audrey Thorsrud

During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union notoriously vied for technological advantage in thermonuclear weapons, advanced manned aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and satellites. Less well known were their competing efforts to study the Arctic for its scientific and military value.

In 1961, the prospect of obtaining firsthand information about Soviet technology arose when an abandoned Soviet research station in the high Arctic was sighted. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) decided to pursue this rare intelligence opportunity, and Project COLDFEET was born. Nearly a year later, as planning continued, a second abandoned site known as NP8 was found, but ONR funding had run out, so CIA agreed to take over the project. Within a month, CIA gave the go-ahead to Intermountain Aviation (an Agency proprietary headed by Garfield Thorsrud) and veteran contract pilots Connie Seigrist and Douglas Price—experts in agent exfiltration using a WWII-era B‑17 “Flying Fortress” equipped with a state-of-the-art Fulton “Skyhook” aerial retrieval system.

On May 28, 1962, an experienced team aboard the Intermountain Aviation B-17 reached the NP8 drop site. Maj. James F. Smith, USAF, and Lt. (jg) Leonard A. LeSchack, USNR, parachuted down for a 72-hour exploration. They photographed the facility and collected 150 pounds of documents and samples of equipment left behind by the Soviets. Because of dense fog, the pickups began a day late, despite hazardous 30-knot surface winds and poor visibility.  Flying at 125 knots, 425 feet above the ice, the B-17 first hooked and hoisted aboard a canvas bag filled with the intelligence “booty.” Next was LeSchack’s turn, which didn’t go as well when high winds dragged him forward on his stomach 300 feet across the ice before he was hooked incorrectly facing into the wind. He was able to correct his position before being hoisted in.  Smith then positioned himself for the final pickup, struggling in the strong wind that began to drag him across the ice until he was able to catch an ice crack with his heels. Smith was pulled aboard and joined his team in celebrating the completed mission.

The painting depicts the B-17 successfully catching LeSchack while Smith waits at the NP8 pickup point marked with red smoke. The 7-day mission yielded valuable intelligence on Soviet advanced acoustical detection of under-ice submarines and Arctic anti-submarine warfare techniques—thanks to the persistence, courage, and resourcefulness of that small team of dedicated professionals who planned and executed this remarkable feat.

The painting’s unveiling at CIA Headquarters on April 21, 2008 and the ceremony honoring COLDFEET participants brought team members together for the first time in 46 years. Many of the family members who joined them had never been to CIA Headquarters, let alone heard of the contributions their relatives had made in an extraordinarily challenging Cold War mission.


The Airmen’s Bond

Keith Woodcock
Oil on Canvas
Donated Courtesy of the Air America Association Board

When President Kennedy decided in 1961 to forcefully resist rising Communist aggression against the remote but strategically located Kingdom of Laos, the CIA—and its proprietary airline Air America—were ready. Flying in a mountainous land-locked country with few roads, continually shifting weather conditions, and virtually no navigational aids, Air America crews routinely conducted hazardous resupply missions to hundreds of government outposts. This aerial lifeline provided essential assistance to Royal Lao and US-directed forces battling North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao Communist troops.

Air America crews became expert in the terrain and unique flying conditions of Laos, but they were not immune to enemy ground fire and the perils of being shot down over enemy-controlled territory. They soon created their own search and rescue (SAR) force of UH-34D helicopters and T-28D attack aircraft and began to respond to their own emergencies. As more US military aircraft began flying missions over Laos (and later over North Vietnam), Air America took on the prime responsibility for rescuing all downed US aviators.

The Airmen’s Bond depicts the heroism of an Air America UH-34D crew conducting one such rescue of two US Air Force A1E bomber pilots. Overhead, a “Raven” forward air controller flying an O-1 observation plane directs two Air America-piloted T-28Ds in strafing runs against advancing Communist forces. The rescue takes place on the Plaine des Jarres, a critical Communist supply route in the high plateau of north-central Laos. The area, which became one of the most bombed places on earth, derives its name from the presence of hundreds of large stone jars. Believed to have been used as funerary urns by a Bronze Age people, the jars range in size from 3 to 10 feet in height and can weigh more than 10 tons.

Over the long and difficult course of the Vietnam War, the Central Intelligence Agency provided extraordinary and mostly unheralded support to the US military. From 1964 to 1965, when the US military had few SAR aircraft in the region, Air America rescued 21 American pilots. Although the US Air Force did not continue to publish further statistics on Air America rescues and the CIA never tracked such data, anecdotal information suggests that Air America air crews saved scores and scores of American military airmen. Often at great personal risk, they did so for their fellow flyers and for their country.


The Day the Wall Came Down

by Veryl Goodnight
Bronze, 2004
Donated by Sarah and John Lindahl, Jr.

Veryl Goodnight watched raptly with the rest of the world as the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. That night, she says, in a dream, her plan for a sculpture of five horses racing across a prairie was transformed into a sculpture depicting the spirited animals leaping to freedom over the Berlin Wall’s ruins. Today, two monumental (1-1/4 life-size) installations of her sculpture exist. One is at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. The other, donated by the American people to the German people, is in Berlin. In 2004, US patrons of the arts, Sarah and John Lindahl, Jr., commissioned a one-quarter life-size version for presentation to the CIA. In explaining their reasons, John Lindahl recalled reading DCI George Tenet’s farewell remarks in July 2004, in which he said, “I am convinced that if the American people were fully aware of what you do—around the clock and around the world—they would line up at that front gate in huge, record numbers, come in here, and say thank you.” Lindahl offered the Goodnight work as such a thank you, coming, he said, “from a sincere appreciation for the patriotic sacrifice that our fellow citizens (neighbors and friends) make on our country’s behalf. . . . Our hope is that Veryl’s visionary sculpture will add a little balance to the landscape and perhaps lift a spirit or two along the way.” Today, The Day the Wall Came Down stands in the entrance of the New Headquarters Building.

At our request, Goodnight added, as graffiti on the ruins of the wall, symbols with particular meaning for CIA’s workforce. First, she added the inscription “And Ye Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Make You Free,” which graces the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building. Now, employees and visitors entering either portal will see the inscription drawn from the Bible (John 8:32) that serves as a philosophical foundation of our work. Also on the wall’s fragments is President Ronald Reagan’s famous admonition: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Finally, Goodnight added a single white star. Like the stars on CIA’s Wall of Honor that pay tribute to fallen colleagues, this star honors the fallen. But in this case, it marks the sacrifices of CIA’s foreign agents who gave their lives in a common mission during the Cold War. The CIA has recognized few such people publicly, but they were memorialized collectively in November 1999 at a ceremony in front of Goodnight’s statue at the Bush Library attended by many US political and intelligence leaders, including former President George H. W. Bush, DCI Tenet, and other former DCIs.


by Dru Blair
Mixed Media on Illustration Board, 2007
Donated by Daniel K. Hilton

Under the highly secret Project OXCART, CIA developed the A‑12 as the U-2’s successor, intended to meet our nation’s need for a very fast, very high-flying reconnaissance aircraft that could avoid Soviet air defenses. CIA awarded the OXCART contract to Lockheed (builder of the U-2) in 1959. In meeting the A‑12’s extreme speed and altitude requirements, Lockheed—led by legendary engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson—overcame numerous technical challenges with cutting-edge innovations in titanium fabrication, lubricants, jet engines, fuel, navigation, flight control, electronic countermeasures, radar stealthiness, and pilot life-support systems. In 1965, after hundreds of hours flown at high personal risk by an elite team of CIA and Lockheed pilots, the A‑12 was declared fully operational. It subsequently attained a sustained speed of Mach 3.29 (just over 2,200 miles per hour) at 90,000 feet altitude—to this day, an unbroken record for piloted jet aircraft.

CIA’s operational use of the A-12 faced not only many technical challenges but also political sensitivity to aircraft flights over denied areas and competition from imaging satellites. After the U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960, all overflights of the USSR were halted, thus blocking the A‑12’s original mission to monitor the Soviet Bloc. By the time of CIA’s first A-12 deployment in 1967, CORONA satellites were being launched regularly to collect thousands of images worldwide each year. Although its imagery was less timely and of poorer resolution than the A-12’s, CORONA was invulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles and much less provocative than A-12 overflights. At the same time, the US Air Force was developing the SR‑71, a modified version of the A-12. Seeing little value in maintaining both overt SR-71 and covert A-12 fleets with similar capabilities, President Johnson ordered retirement of the A‑12 by 1968.

The only A-12 reconnaissance operation, codenamed BLACK SHIELD, took place from May 1967 to May 1968. A detachment of six pilots and three A-12s based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa flew 29 missions over East Asia. The panoramic stereo camera aboard each aircraft yielded considerable high-quality imagery that within hours of landing was processed and under the eagle eyes of photointerpreters, who provided valuable intelligence in support of US military operations during the Vietnam War. Also, A-12 imagery of North Korea enabled them to locate the intelligence ship USS Pueblo illegally seized by North Korea and to confirm no further hostilities were imminent.

To commemorate this pioneering and unsurpassed aeronautical achievement, the painting depicts the first BLACK SHEILD reconnaissance flight on May 31, 1967 over North Vietnam.  Piloted by Mele Vojvodich, Article 131 took off in a torrential downpour just before 1100 local Okinawa time. The A-12 had never operated in heavy rain before, but weather over the target area was forecast as satisfactory, so the flight went ahead. Vojvodich flew the planned route at 80,000 feet and Mach 3.1, refueled immediately after taking off and during each of two loops over Thailand, and safely touched down at Kadena with a total flight time of three hours and 39 minutes. The intelligence mission was a resounding success:  after detailed examination of nearly a mile of film that was collected, photointerpreters found no surface-to-surface missiles that might threaten US and allied military forces in the South and assessed the status of 70 of the 190 known surface-to-air missile sites and nine other priority targets. Contrary to some published accounts, Chinese or North Vietnamese radar did not track the aircraft, nor did North Vietnam fire any missiles at it. The A-12 had proven itself a valuable imagery collector, untouchable by hostile air defenses far below.

Posted: Jul 23, 2012 09:04 AM
Last Updated: Nov 21, 2012 08:30 AM