Secrecy and U.S. Satellite Reconnaissance, 1958-1976

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on July 13, 2007

Press release: “Throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s, while the U.S. government conducted its space reconnaissance program under a veil of absolute secrecy, officials debated whether information about the program (including the “fact of” its existence and certain photographs) should be disclosed to other elements of the government, public, allies, and even the Soviet Union, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and archival research and posted today by the National Security Archive.
The documents published today show that some officials argued that even with a program as sensitive as satellite reconnaissance, greater openness, both within and outside the government, could help a variety of U.S. policy objectives. A certain degree of transparency, these officials believed, would legitimize space reconnaissance (by removing the stigma of espionage), allow more extensive use of satellite imagery for both national security and civilian purposes, and preserve the credibility of the classification system. As the documents demonstrate, other officials naturally raised objections, often citing the likely unfavorable reactions from the Soviet Union and other nations as well as operational security concerns.
Compiled by National Security Archive Senior Fellow Dr. Jeffrey T. Richelson, the documents in this briefing book include National Security Action Memoranda, national intelligence estimates, and other sensitive internal records produced by the White House, the CIA, the United States Intelligence Board, the National Photographic Interpretation Center, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Defense, and the Air Force.”

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