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Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA, and Cold War Aerial Espionage

Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Cold War Aerial Espionage by Dino Brugioni. Naval Institute Press, 2010, 572 pp..

During the fateful days of the Cuban missile crisis, Dino Brugioni was working at the National Photographic Interpretation Center with the first images of Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles in the Sierra del Rosario. He and a team of imagery analysts prepared the first images for President John F. Kennedy, and the rest, as they say, is history. Two decades ago, Brugioni wrote Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Random House, 1991) as a comprehensive insider’s account of the crisis and a historical survey of US photo reconnaissance.

Brugioni’s recent book Eyes in the Sky offers a deeper study of US photo reconnaissance. He is well positioned to do this since he has been an expert “eye in the sky” since the mid-1950s, interpreting the first U-2, SR-71, and Corona satellite photos. Using newly declassified documents, Brugioni provides detailed, firsthand knowledge of an exhaustive collection of classified programs and an important resource for students and scholars of Cold War intelligence.

The strengths of the book include new insights into President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interest in aerial reconnaissance during the early Cold War. In 1955 Eisenhower proposed “mutual aerial observation” to Soviet premier Nikolai Bulganin, but the Soviets immediately rejected this proposal. Undeterred, Eisenhower tasked the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to evaluate Soviet military and nuclear capabilities unilaterally. The depth and range of these programs were immense. Although others have written on the importance of the U-2 aircraft in dispelling the “bomber gap” and “missile gap” between the US and Soviet military, Brugioni goes even further, exploring the use of imagery analysis to support US policy during crises and conflicts in the Suez, Hungary, Lebanon, Tibet, the Quemoy and Matsu Islands, Belgian Congo, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Israel. He offers fascinating details on an exhaustive list of specific covert missions and an impressive cast of characters.

Eisenhower comes across as a clear advocate of new aerial reconnaissance technology, and the author gives ample credit to Arthur Lundahl and Richard Bissell, the masterminds of high-altitude intelligence exploitation. The US Air Force role, however, though deeply intertwined, is not fully explored. Brugioni lauds Gen James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle for his vision and encouragement of reconnaissance innovation but portrays Gen Curtis E. LeMay and Strategic Air Command as disobliging rivals to the CIA (note the comments about LeMay on p. 161).

Brugioni’s work may be difficult to follow at times as it travels back and forth between various programs and historical developments with rich operational detail; nevertheless, it remains a remarkable achievement in the scholarship on Cold War aerial reconnaissance. Eyes in the Sky should serve as an important reference for many years to come and as a starting point for much more research in the future.

Dr. Michael R. Rouland
Naval History and Heritage Command
Washington Navy Yard, DC

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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