High-flying history of the U-2 spy plane program and its unlikely clutch of fathers.
In this constantly surprising tale of espionage and under-the-table diplomacy, Bloomberg Businessweek contributor Reel (Between Man and Beast: A Tale of Exploration and Evolution, 2013, etc.) puts an unlikely figure at the center of events: photographic innovator Edwin Land, developer of, among many other things, the Polaroid camera. He code-named prototypes of that camera U-2, “an acknowledgment of his ‘other life,’ which was an open secret among the scientists inside the Polaroid labs.” That “other life” involved Land’s putting his talents at the disposal of the CIA, which put much more powerful versions of the camera in successive versions of its spy planes. Within the agency, the high-altitude U-2 was managed by a career employee who is best remembered today, a touch unfairly, as the architect of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. The U-2 was controversial: Dwight Eisenhower, the president at the project’s inception, insisted that it be under civilian control to keep espionage and warfare at arm’s length; even so, Eisenhower predicted that he would “catch hell” if one of them wound up in enemy territory. One of them did, famously, with Francis Gary Powers serving as living evidence—he was not supposed to live, but he did, while a Soviet pilot was killed by friendly fire during the incident—of capitalist perfidy. After much diplomatic wrangling, Powers was released; Reel notes that he chafed to reveal his side of the story but was ordered to keep silent, living out his few final years working as a helicopter-flying traffic reporter in Los Angeles. The U-2 program was not unsuccessful altogether, however. As Reel writes, it turned up evidence of the Soviet space program before Sputnik even launched, and the photographs it delivers can pinpoint a footprint in the Afghan snow, for which reason the spy plane is still in service today.
Intriguing stuff for fans of true spy tales and students of the Cold War alike.