Books by Frances T. Pudlo

Released: May 1, 1996

A reticent but still revealing memoir by the man who was in overall charge not only of the development of the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes and the spy satellite program, but also of the Bay of Pigs. Bissell was one of the best of that remarkable group of public servants that emerged during and immediately after the Second World War. In 1954, shortly after joining the CIA, he was given responsibility for the U-2, and only 20 months elapsed before its first overflight of the Soviet Union. Eisenhower insisted on approving each and every flight, and though Bissell blames himself for recommending the mission of Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down just before the summit with Khrushchev, it is clear that the program gave the US invaluable insight into Soviet capabilities, which were considerably less than the public feared. That knowledge, Bissell contends, enabled Eisenhower to be calm in periods of great international tension and also to resist efforts to build more expensive weapons systems. It later completely discredited the notion of the ``missile gap.'' By contrast, even Bissell is not sure that the Cuban Brigade could have succeeded in overthrowing Castro, but he is certain that the effect of Kennedy's decision to change its objective away from an area where defections were possible and guerrilla operations more feasible, and then to reduce the air strikes by 80 percent (so that Castro's air force of four or five aircraft survived) doomed the enterprise. Again Bissell blames himself for not recommending cancellation of the invasion when it should have become clear that it could not succeed. This is not a book of moral anguish or the telling personal detail. But as the record of an honorable and effective public servant in dangerous times, it is wise and worthwhile. Read full book review >