Books Monographs

CORONA: America's First Satellite Program

CIA Cold War Records

Edited by Kevin Ruffner (1995)


Since the CORONA satellite made its first successful flight in August 1960, the Intelligence  Community’s overhead reconnaissance programs have been among the nation’s most closely guarded secrets. The end of the Cold War, however, has at last made it possible to declassify both information  and imagery from the first American satellite systems of the 1960s. To do this, President William  Clinton in February of this year ordered the declassification within 18 months of historical intelligence  imagery from the early satellite systems known as the CORONA, ARGON, and LANYARD.

Because the President’s Executive Order 1295 1 (see appendix) envisions scientific and environmental uses for this  satellite imagery, the declassified photographs will be transferred to the National Archives with a copy  sent to the US Geological Survey. Vice President Albert Gore, who first urged the Intelligence  Community to open up its early imagery for environmental studies, unveiled the first CORONA  photographs for the American press and public at CIA Headquarters on 24 February 1995.

To mark this new initiative, CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence and the Space Policy Institute at  George Washington University cosponsoring a conference, “Piercing the Curtain: CORONA and the Revolution in Intelligence,” in Washington. On the occasion of the conference, the CIA History Staff published this collection of then-newly declassified documents and imagery from the  CORONA program.

This is the fourth volume in the CIA Cold War Records Series, which began in 1992  when Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates launched CIA’s Openness Policy and reorganized the  Center for the Study of Intelligence to include both the History Staff and a new Historical Review  Group to declassify historically important CIA records.

The editor of this new volume, Dr. Kevin C. Ruffner, has an A.B. from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. in history from the University of Virginia. He joined the CIA History Staff in 1991, soon  after he received his Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University.

The documents and imagery in this volume were reviewed and declassified with unusual dispatch by a  special working group of declassification officers from the National Reconnaissance Office, the Central  Imagery Office, CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, and its National Photographic Interpretation Center. The group’s prompt work is especially notable since many documents required  consultation with the US Air Force, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department  of Energy, Department of State, and CIA’s Collection Requirements and Evaluation Staff.

—Kenneth McDonald

Editor in Chief


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