CIA's Office of Technical Service Celebrates 60 Years of Innovation
September 16, 2011
Last week, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) celebrated 60 years of supporting clandestine operations through its Office of Technical Service (OTS). Founded as the Technical Services Staff in 1951, the office’s track record of developing cutting-edge technologies is a prime example of CIA’s longstanding commitment to mission. Much of the unique technical capabilities from the original OTS and of the Directorate for Research expanded and evolved into what is now the DS&T.
“For sixty years, OTS and its forerunners have given the CIA a critical advantage over our adversaries. They’ve done a phenomenal job of applying technical know-how to the needs of Agency officers in the field,” said CIA Director David H. Petraeus during an anniversary reception held at Agency Headquarters.
The DS&T is proud of its history of innovation and creativity in solving the many technical problems that come its way. Though much of what OTS did and today's DS&T Technical Intelligence Officers do remains classified—in today’s world, technology and operational tradecraft cannot be separated—the dramatic history of this unit offers glimpses into the way technical expertise is applied to accomplish the Agency’s mission.
OTS played a central role in the development of the U-2 spy plane, including contributions to help pilots endure long-range, high-altitude flights. OTS scientists engineered the first ultra-miniature camera and were instrumental in the development of safe, very-high-energy lithium carbon monoflouride batteries.
OTS officers excel in the field in addition to the lab. In 1980, an OTS officer participated in the rescue of six American diplomats who had sought refuge in the Canadian Embassy in Tehran following the storming of the US Embassy. The OTS officer—an expert in disguises—developed a plan using the guise of a fictional Canadian film production company to smuggle the Americans out of Iran.
A decade later, an OTS electronics expert provided critical testimony in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, having matched a circuit board fragment that survived the explosion with a timing device from a Libyan terrorist attack the CIA had thwarted years earlier. In 1997, OTS specialists were involved in preparing and placing equipment that helped locate Mir Aimal Kansi—who had killed and wounded several CIA employees outside the Agency’s Headquarters in 1993. In 2009, an OTS officer in the field analyzed insurgent electronic devices, revealing critical information about an imminent attack planned against a US military convoy.
“In many places around the world—including in the war zones of the past decade—OTS officers have distinguished themselves by their bravery as well as by their technical acumen,” Petraeus commented.