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ISSUE 141 - October 2010
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A Single Event

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

Amazing how those single, seemingly isolated events have changed the world. More amazing is how those “single events” grow increasingly complex the more you delve into them.

I ran across the recently declassified CIA documents concerning the events surrounding Gary Powers. I was digging up some information on my old Aviation Cadet's class when I discovered Gary Powers had begun his career as an Aviation cadet a few years my senior. For me the program ran training, fighters, bombers, fighters, Viet Nam and the airlines. For Gary, things were different.

The events that swirled around his life might have entrapped any Air Force pilot of the time, but Gary happened to be that guy. It would be his destiny to trigger one of those “single events”.

We all know the story; just a simple flight from Peshawar Pakistan to Bodo Norway via Baikonur, Sverdlovsk and Plesetsk. Problem was the Soviets didn’t appreciate our overflying their sovereignty and shot him down.

An isolated ”single event”. End of story.

But if ever there were a “single event” to changed the world, this would be it.

The nations involved would paint a complex picture of the events of May 1st, 1960, which now, after 50 years, we are able to piece together from their many unclassified records. The events of that day included what may have been sabotage; there certainly was subterfuge and the suspected ‘missile gap’ played it’s part as well. Contributing to the picture were the players; Khrushchev, Eisenhower, Dullas, Kennedy, Nixon, a mysterious East German woman reputed to be Soviet spy, two Pakistani mechanics later executed for sabotage of the plane and a U.S. Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald. Beyond the immediate players would be tens of thousands drawn in beyond any of there control. The deeds and misrepresentations of these few participants would play on the world for decades. Billions of dollars would be spent, along with the lives of tens of thousands on both sides of the Cold and Hot wars to follow.
The story actually begins three years earlier in April of 1957, when Lee Harvey Oswald is graduated from the Advanced Radar Operator's school at Kessler, AFB Biloxi, Mississippi. He was posted to the Atsugi air base in Japan which happened to be the largest U2 installation set up by the CIA. His duties in the radar hut were restricted to the plotting board and although he may not have been exposed to anything classified other than the radar scopes tracking all air activity within 300 miles of the air base, the fact remained that he had been graduated from the Advanced Radar Operators School.

Initially he was given a temporary secret security clearance and knowledge of the U-2 program, but he had no sooner arrived at Atsugi when he was court martialed for fighting with two NCO's and reduced to the rank of Private. His temporary secret clearance was rescinded and Oswald came to be generally regarded as a screw up by the Marine Corps. Oswald eventually separated from the Corps and made his way to Russia. He must have initially convinced the Russians that he learned much more about secret U. S. Air Force and CIA activities then he actually did while at Atsugi, for he remained in Russia for some time. It was later speculated that Oswald had supplied the Russians Radar information which might later have aided them in shooting down high flying targets such as the U 2s. Had this been true, Oswald might have been treated better and not become disenchanted with Russian life. Had he remained there, we may have been spared the assassination of President Kennedy, effectively halting the Viet Nam build up.

In truth, Oswald was soon shunned by the Russians for his lack of any worthwhile secret information. Then, after having his request for Russian citizenship rejected, he sat in a bathtub and slit a vein in his left arm. Saved from that, he was granted temporary residence and assigned work at a radio factory in Minsk. In April 1961, he married a nineteen-year-old Russian student Marina Prusakova. Fourteen months later, Oswald, Marina, and their newborn son left the Soviet Union for Dallas.

Pres. Dwight Eisenhower was preparing, along with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, General de Gaulle and Harold Macmillan, for what was regarded as the most important summit since World War ll. The summit was scheduled to begin on May 16th and not wishing to jeopardize it, Eisenhower had ordered that no over flights of the Soviet Union were to be conducted after 30 April.

Allen Dullas however, Director of the CIA, in order to advise the President for the summit, needed information regarding the most recent state of operational Russian ICBM installations. An over flight of Russian ICBM installations had been scheduled for the 28th of April but had been delayed by bad weather. Dullas petitioned Eisenhower claiming the Russians could neither interfere, nor acknowledge the flight and on April 30th permission was granted to conduct the flight.

Late on May 1st came news that the flight was overdue. Although this caused great consternation within the Eisenhower administration, fears of a ruined summit were as waged by Dulles who insisted that Powers would be dead and the plane destroyed. No evidence that the flight was conducted by the United States would remain. Not to worry.

President Eisenhower and the U.S. Delegation, thus placated, proceeded to the summit and were almost immediately confronted by accusations of espionage and intrusion of the sovereignty of the Soviet Union. The U.S. denied the charges for several days saying only that a U.S. weather plane may have accidentally strayed into Soviet air space.

Khrushchev allowed the US to continue the story for nearly a week before announcing that the pilot had survived and was in Soviet custody. Eisenhower then admitted the truth behind the mission and the U-2 program, but refused to publicly apologize to Khrushchev. This refusal caused the Paris Summit to collapse when Khrushchev stormed out of negotiations effectively delaying the hoped for détente for decades.

Three months later in July, 1960, Allen Dulles, then the outgoing CIA chief, would visited John Kennedy to brief the Democratic presidential candidate on national security. Kennedy asked about the “missile gap” — was the US behind the Soviet Union in production of ICBMs. The U2 overflights had not uncovered a single operational Soviet ICBM base but Powers had come down an hour short of the last place the CIA had wanted to photograph, Plesetsk in the Russian Arctic. Without the Plestsk evidence Dullas told Kennedy he could not be certain there was no missile gap.

Mr Kennedy continued to attack Vice-President Nixon for neglecting national security in allowing a “missile gap” and won the White House by the narrowest margin since 1916.

18 months later US spy satellites revealed that the Soviets had only four operational ICBMs. Released Soviet documents now reveal that Mr Khrushchev had been willing, until the U2 affair, to destroy even these four ICBMs and was prepared to embark on a purely peaceful contest of economics. The shooting down of Powers also convinced Moscow that the Americans were not be trusted. an arms race ensued whose legacy haunts the world to this day.

But what about that mysterious East European woman and the Pakistani aircraft mechanics? The U.S. Buba Ber base, Peshawar, Pakistan had no runway and all planes, including the U2s took off and landed at the towns civilian airstrip nearby. The U-2 used by Powers was stored the night before under a tarpaulin at the airstrip and was guarded only by the local Pakistani security, not the CIA. Immediately following news of Power’s disappearance over the Soviet Union there was an investigation at the base where it became common knowledge that two Pakistani mechanics, seen near Power’s U2 the night before, had been picked up and handed over to Pakistani military intelligence. They were executed for sabotage of the U2. At the same time, an East German woman, a stocky 36 year-old woman with dyed-blonde hair who had resided at the Deans Hotel in Peshawar, was arrested as the agent who had hired the Pakistani mechanics. This woman was later taken to a border crossing on the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan and exchanged for an Armenian agent working for U.S. intelligence. The exchange, former Air Force officers report, was organized by the CIA. Seemingly, the CIA, embarrassed at the security foul-ups at Peshawar went along with the missile shoot down story as a cover-up.

The sabotage story however conflicts with those put forward by Powers, the CIA and by the Soviet Union. Power’s reported that there was a flash and his plane went down. But the Soviets and the American CIA had reason to cooperate with the missile story with the Soviets exalting their missilery and the CIA avoiding unwelcome questions about their performance at Peshawar.

Oswald’s significance in history depends upon exactly what happened to the U-2—whether he, indeed, played a crucial role in aborting the Summit Conference of 1960, as well as in later assassinating the President of the United States.

But the greatest impact of this “single event” rests in a change of perception. Following days of denials, when President Eisenhower finally admitted at the UN that he had authorized the U-2 flight, it was one of the first times that the American people knew they had been deceived by their government and lied to by their President.

Now, after Nixon and Watergate, Johnson and Vietnam, Reagan and Iran Contra, Monica and Bill, Bush and Weapons of Mass Destruction, embellishment by Presidents is something the American public now takes for granted.

Regarding the “single events”of history, the more you delve into them, the more they shed their simplicity.

Want to read the CIA's own files on the story? Read it here.

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

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