|The following pdf file contains the full
The BEACON HILL Report, 17-23
In 1951 the Air Force sought even more assistance from scientists because the Strategic Air Command's requests for information about targets behind the Iron Curtain could not be filled. To look for new ways of conducting reconnaissance against the Soviet Bloc, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Development, Maj. Gen Gordon P. Saville, added 15 reconnaissance experts to an existing project on air defense known as Project LINCOLN, then under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology By the end of the year, these experts had assembled in Boston to begin their research. Their headquarters was located over a secretarial school on Beacon Hill, which soon became the codename for the reconnaissance project. The con-
sultants were called the BEACON HILL Study Group.
The study group's chairman was Kodak physicist Carl F. P. Overhage, and its members included James G. Baker and Edward M. Purcell from Harvard: Saville Davis from the Christian Science Monitor, Allen F Donovan from the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Peter C. Goldmark from Columbia Broadcasting System Laboratories, Edwin H. Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation, Stewart E. Miller of Bell Laboratories, Richard S. Perkin of the Perkin-Elmer Company, and Louis N. Ridenour of Ridenour Associates, Inc. The Wright Air Development Command sent Lt. Col. Richard Leghorn to serve as its liaison officer.
During January and February 1952, the BEACON HlLL Study Group traveled every weekend to various airbases, laboratories, and firms for briefings on the latest technology and projects The panel members were particularly interested in new approaches to aerial reconnaissance, such as photography from high-flying aircraft and camera-carrying balloons One of the more unusual (albeit unsuccessful) proposals examined by the panel was an "invisible" dirigible. This was to be a giant, almost flat-shaped airship with a blue-tinted, nonreflective coating, it would cruise at an altitude of 90,000 feet along the borders of the Soviet Union at very slow speeds while using a large lens to photograph targets of interest.
After completing these briefings at the end of February 1952, the BEACON HILL Study Group returned to MIT, where the panel members spent the next three months writing a report detailing their recommendations for ways to improve the amount and quality of intelligence being gathered on the Soviet Bloc. Published as a classified document on 15 June 1952, the BEACON HILL Report advocated radical approaches to obtain the information needed for national intelligence estimates. Its 14 chapters coveted radar, radio, and photographic surveillance, examined the use of passive infrared and microwave reconnaissance, and discussed the development of advanced reconnaissance vehicles. One of the report's key recommendations called for the development of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
Concern About the Danger of a Soviet Surprise Attack
The Air Force did not begin to implement the ideas of the BEACON HILL Report until the summer of 1953. By this time interest in reconnaissance had increased after Dwight D. Eisenhower became President in January 1953 and soon expressed his dissatisfaction with the quality of the intelligence estimates of Soviet strategic capabilities and the paucity of reconnaissance on the Soviet Bloc.
To President Eisenhower and many other US political and military leaders, the Soviet Union was a dangerous opponent that appeared to be moving inexorably toward a position of military parity with the United States. Particularly alarming was Soviet progress in the area of nuclear weapons In the late summer of 1949, the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb nearly three years sooner than US experts had predicted Then in August 1953-a scant nine months after the first US test of a hydrogen bomb-the Soviet Union detonated a hydrogen bomb manufactured from lithium deuteride, a technology more advanced than the heavy water method used by U.S. scientists Thus, new and extremely powerful weapons were coming into the hands of a government whose actions greatly disturbed the leaders of the West. Only two months before the successful hydrogen bomb test, Soviet troops had crushed an uprising in East Berlin And, at the United Nations, the Soviet Bloc seemed bent on causing dissension between Western Europe and the United States and between the developed and undeveloped nations This aggressive Soviet foreign policy, combined with advances in nuclear weapons, led officials such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to see the Soviet Union as a menace to peace and world order.
The Soviet Union's growing military strength soon became a threat not just to US forces overseas but to the continental United States itself In the spring of 1953, a top secret RAND study pointed out the vulnerability of the SAC'S U.S. bases to a surprise attack by Soviet long-range bombers.
Concern about the danger of a Soviet attack on the continental United States grew after an American military attache sighted a new Soviet intercontinental bomber at Ramenskoye airfield, south of Moscow, in 1953. The new bomber was the Myasishchev-4, later designated Bison by NATO Powered by jet engines rather than the turboprops of Russia's other long-range bombers, the Bison appeared to be the Soviet equivalent of the US B-52, which was only then going into production Pictures of the Bison taken at the Moscow May Day air show in 1954 had an enormous impact on the US intelligence community. Unlike several other Soviet postwar aircraft, the Bison was not a derivative of US or British designs but represented a native Soviet design capability that surprised US intelligence experts. This new long-range jet bomber, along with the Soviet Union's large numbers of older propeller and turboprop bombers, seemed to pose a significant threat to the United States, and, in the summer of 1954, newspapers and magazines began publishing articles highlighting the growing airpower of the Soviet Union. Pictures of the Bison bomber featured prominently in such stories.
The Air Force Intelligence Systems Panel
Even before the publication of photographs of the Bison raised fears that the Soviet bomber force might eventually surpass that of the United States, the Air Force had already established a new advisory body to look for ways to implement the main recommendation of the BEACON HILL Report -the construction of high-flying aircraft and high-acuity cameras Created in July 1953, the Intelligence Systems Panel (ISP) included several experts from the BEACON HILL Study Group, Land, Overhage, Donovan, and Miller. At the request of the Air Force, the CIA also participated in the panel, represented by Edward L Allen of the Office of Research and Reports (ORR) and Philip Strong of the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI).
The chairman of the new panel was Dr James G Baker, a research associate at the Harvard College Observatory. Baker had been involved in aerial reconnaissance since 1940, when he first advised the Army Air Corps on ways to improve its lenses He then established a full-scale optical laboratory at Harvard - the Harvard University Optical Research Laboratory - to produce high-quality lenses. Since the university did not wish to continue manufacturing cameras and lenses after the end of the war, the optical laboratory moved to Boston University, which agreed to sponsor the effort as long as the Air Force would fund it Baker decided to remain at Harvard, so his assistant, Dr Duncan E. Macdonald, became the new head of what was now called the Boston University Optical Research Laboratory (BUORL). Baker's association with the Air Force did not end with the transfer of the optical laboratory to Boston University, because he continued to design lenses to be used in photoreconnaissance.
The ISP first met at Boston University on 3 August 1953. To provide background on the poor state of U.S. knowledge of the Soviet Union, Philip Strong informed the other panel members that the best intelligence then available on the Soviet Union's interior was photography taken by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Since the German photography covered only the Soviet Union west of the Urals, primarily west of the Volga River, many vital regions were not included The ISP would, therefore, have to look for ways to provide up-to-date photography of all of the Soviet Union. Several Air Force agencies then briefed the panel members on the latest developments and proposed future projects in the area of aerial reconnaissance, including new cameras. reconnaissance balloons, and even satellites.Among the Air Force reconnaissance projects discussed were multiple sensors for use in existing aircraft such as the RB-47, RB-52, and RB-58: Project FICON - an acronym for "fighter conversion" for adapting a giant, 10-engine B-36 bomber to enable it to launch and retrieve a Republic RF-84F Thunderflash reconnaissance aircraft, reconnaissance versions of the Navajo and Snark missiles, the high-altitude balloon program, which would be ready to go into operation by the summer of 1955, and the search for a new high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
The wide variety of programs discussed at the conference were all products of the Air Force's all-out effort to find a way to collect intelligence on the Communist Bloc Some of the schemes went beyond the existing level of technology, others, like the camera-carrying balloons, were technically feasible but involved dangerous political consequences.