30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

President’s Daily Brief Spotlighted Soviet Missile and Space Programs in 1960s and 1970s

Published: Dec 20, 2016

Edited by James E. David

For more information, contact:
James E. David, davidj@si.edu or
The National Security Archive 202/994-7000, nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Daily Briefings Underscored Threats to National Security, Propaganda Value of Rival Programs

President’s Daily Brief Spotlighted Soviet Missile and Space Programs in 1960s and 1970s

Washington, D.C., December 20, 2016 – Soviet missile and space programs were among the most frequent topics briefed to the president of the United States by  U.S. intelligence during the administrations of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford, according to a review of recently declassified excerpts of the President’s Daily Brief posted today by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.  Of all the issues that crossed the president’s desk during this tense period of the Cold War, the USSR’s strategic capabilities and space program represented constant areas of concern because of the threat they posed both to U.S. national security and to American prestige in the propaganda war with its superpower rival. 

Today’s Electronic Briefing Book presents a selection of entries on both programs compiled and introduced by James E. David, curator for national security space programs at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  In addition to excerpts from 66 PDB entries, the posting provides further background and context. 

After years of legal battles under the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA released significant portions of the PDBs from the Kennedy-Johnson era (in 2015) and the Nixon-Ford period (in 2016).  In late 2016, the National Security Archive published a highly indexed collection of those materials as part of the “Digital National Security Archive” through ProQuest.  The materials in this posting are available through DNSA or by visiting the Archive’s offices in Gelman Library at The George Washington University.


Soviet Missile and Space Programs in the President’s Daily Brief

By James E. David

After years of efforts by the National Security Archive and others, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) finally released in 2015 and 2016 portions of the following intelligence reports prepared for Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford: President’s Intelligence Checklist (PICL) from 17 June 1961 to 30 November 1964, President’s Daily Brief (PDB) from 1 December 1964 to 20 January 1977, Highlights of the Week from 18 December 1964 to 28 February 1965, and Supplemental Documents to the PICLs and PDBs.They are available through the Digital National Security Archive as well as on the CIA website.

Although heavily redacted in places, they present a wealth of information on the intelligence and analysis the CIA was providing the president on current and future national security issues. The CIA tailored the content, length, and format to meet the requirements of each. Oral and written comments by the president provided feedback and helped shape the reports. They were one of the few intelligence reports that incorporated all types of classified material and had no classification limit. Furthermore, they had the most restricted distribution.[1]

Presidents during those years also saw at times publications routinely disseminated to others in the White House such as the U.S. Intelligence Board’s National Intelligence Estimates and Special National Intelligence Estimates, the CIA’s Central Intelligence Bulletin and its successor, the National Intelligence Daily, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Intelligence Summary and Weekly Highlights, and the National Security Agency’s various reports on intercepted messages.[2]

Presidents also received a large amount of intelligence information orally in National Security Council meetings and meetings with the director of central intelligence, the national security advisor, and other high-level officials.[3]

Two of the most critical intelligence targets throughout the Cold War were Soviet missile and space programs. U.S. intelligence agencies devoted a huge amount of resources to acquiring timely and accurate data on them. Photoreconnaissance satellites located launch complexes and provided data on the number and type of launchers, buildings, ground support equipment, and other key features. They located R&D centers, manufacturing plants, shipyards, naval bases, radars, and other facilities and obtained technical details on them. The satellites also occasionally imaged missiles and rockets on launch pads. There were four successful photoreconnaissance satellite programs during the four administrations in question. CORONA, a broad area search system, operated from August 1960 until May 1972. The first successful high resolution system, GAMBIT-1, flew from 1963-1967. The improved GAMBIT-3 high resolution satellite was launched from 1966-1984. HEXAGON, the broad area search successor to CORONA, operated from 1971-1984.[4] High-resolution ground photography of missiles and rockets displayed at Moscow parades and other events also proved valuable at times.[5]

Signals intelligence platforms also contributed greatly to understanding Soviet missile and space programs. Satellites such as GRAB (1960-1962), POPPY (1962-1971), and AFTRACK payloads (1960-1967) located and intercepted air defense, anti-ballistic missile, and other radars and added significantly to U.S. knowledge of Soviet defensive systems and to the development of countermeasures. Other still-classified signals intelligence satellites launched beginning around 1970 reportedly intercepted telemetry and other data downlinked from missiles, rockets, and satellites to Soviet ground stations, and commands uplinked from the stations to these vehicles. Antennas at intercept sites also recorded this downlinked data. During the latter stages of missile and rocket tests to the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Pacific, ships and aircraft also intercepted telemetry and acquired optical data of the vehicles. Analysis of the telemetry and other data enabled the intelligence agencies to determine the performance characteristics of missiles, rockets, and satellites and helped establish their specific missions. Radars at ground stations detected launches, helped determine missile trajectories, observed the reentry of vehicles, and assisted in estimating the configuration and dimensions of missiles and satellites.[6] Space Surveillance Network radars and optical sensors detected satellites and established their orbital elements. The optical sensors apparently also photographed satellites.[7]

Open sources provided only limited intelligence on the missile and space programs because of Soviet secrecy and their practice of deliberately disseminating misinformation in speeches and the press. Human intelligence similarly made only modest contributions, although liaison with U.S. government officials and scientists after meeting their Soviet counterparts occasionally was valuable.[8]

Exploitation of Soviet hardware also provided important information at times. This included examining debris that had returned to Earth and complete vehicles on display.[9]

The reports from the four administrations contained many hundreds of entries regarding the USSR’s missile and space programs. As with all entries from the array of presidential briefing materials, they were highly concise and did not always provide the source of the information or place it in a larger context. Nevertheless, they offer a revealing sense of the critical importance attached to these issues by the U.S. government during tense periods of the Cold War, as well as conveying a useful picture of how much (or little) U.S. intelligence knew about Soviet capabilities in these areas. This briefing book contains a selection of representative entries and at times discusses the source of the information and the larger context, often gleaned from National Intelligence Estimates and other primary intelligence sources.



[Note: These entries are divided by subject – Soviet missiles and the Soviet space program. A brief introduction precedes each section.]

Soviet Missiles

Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) were top priority intelligence targets. The USSR successfully tested the world’s first ICBM in August 1957, but the United States soon had both a quantitative and qualitative advantage in this strategic nuclear weapon. The USSR began deploying second-generation ICBMs in the early 1960s to help achieve parity, which was reached in the early 1970s. In contrast to the United States, the Soviets throughout the Cold War always placed the majority of its strategic nuclear weapons on ICBMs.

The USSR was similarly initially behind the United States in the development of SLBMs and the submarines to carry them. Because they had lower priority than the ICBM program, the first long-range SLBMs and submarines did not enter service until the late 1960s.

In May 1972, the two nations signed the first agreement limiting nuclear offensive weapons. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) froze the number of launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs during its five-year duration. Construction of new ICBM launchers after 1 July 1972 was prohibited (at the time, the United States had 1,054 and the Soviets 1,618). They agreed to freeze the number of SLBM launchers and modern ballistic missile submarines, although SLBM launchers could be added if old ICBM launchers were retired. A protocol allowed the United States to deploy up to 710 SLBM launchers on 44 submarines and the Soviet Union up to 950 SLBM launchers on 62 submarines. SALT I did not limit long-range bombers and their weapons, cruise missiles, or the number of warheads ICBMs and SLBMS could carry. It expressly prohibited each nation from using “deliberate concealment measures which impede verification by national technical means of compliance with the provisions.” Although not defined in the treaties, “national technical means” was clearly understood to refer to satellite photography and signals intelligence.[10]

The treaty did not stop the Soviet Union from continuing to modernize its strategic nuclear forces, however. In the mid-1970s, it began deploying third-generation ICBMs and a more robust SLBM force which greatly narrowed the gap with the U.S. program.

Other missile systems were intelligence targets as well. These included surface-to-air missiles which could bring down Strategic Air Command bombers in the event of nuclear war (and were widely exported to such allies as North Vietnam and Egypt), anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) which could destroy U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles which could devastate Western Europe with their nuclear warheads, submarine-launched cruise missiles which carried nuclear warheads, air-to-ground missiles, and air-to-air missiles. However, almost all the entries in the presidential intelligence reports concerned ICBMs, SLBMs, and ABMs.

At the same time SALT I was signed, the two countries signed the first agreement limiting defensive weapons against ICBMs and SLBMs. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which had an unlimited duration, permitted both nations to deploy ABM interceptors at two sites, one at their capital and the other at an ICBM complex. Each site could have up to 100 ground-based launchers for ABM missiles, along with specified radars and sensors. (A protocol signed in 1974 restricted each nation to up to 100 interceptors at one site.) Testing and deployment of space-based, sea-based, and air-based ABM systems was prohibited and qualitative limits on missile defense programs were imposed. The treaty did not limit defenses against aircraft, cruise missiles, or theater ballistic missiles. It had the same verification provisions as SALT I.[11]

Documents #1 through #3 concern ICBM tests during 1961 and #4 and #5 SLBM tests the following year. Deployment of a new surface-to-air missile is the subject of a 1963 entry in #6.

ICBM, SLBM, ABM, and surface-to-air missile testing and deployment, technical details, and submarine construction from 1964-1969 are covered in #7 through #21.

ICBM and ABM deployments and Soviet compliance with SALT I and the ABM Treaty from 1971-1976 are treated in #22 through #26. Document #27 concerns surface-to-air missile deployments in 1974 and #27 through #31 SLBM developments and Soviet compliance with SALT I from 1973 and 1975.

Document 1

Excerpt from PICL, 31 July 1961

ICBM tests from Tyuratam – in present-day Kazakhstan – the only complex for conducting these tests at the time, were frequently mentioned in PICL entries. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that first-generation SS-6 ICBMs and two new ICBMs were being tested. However, they were unable to determine the new missiles’ configuration, propulsion, guidance, range, or payload and simply designated them Category B and C (when these characteristics were determined later they were designated SS-7 and SS-8).[12] John J. McCloy was head of the Ford Foundation and President Kennedy’s chief disarmament advisor during this period.

Document 2

Excerpt from PICL, 17 August 1961

The Soviets initially tested all their ICBMs from Tyuratam to Kamchatka Peninsula. From January through August 1961, 39 tests of the SS-6, Category B and C missiles, and space boosters took place on this range. Beginning on 13 September 1961, they began launching Category B missiles into the Central Pacific after successfully testing them to Kamchatka.[13] A key indicator of the Central Pacific tests was the deployment of missile range instrumentation ships along the flight path and in the impact area. These ships enabled telemetry collection during the latter stages of flight and the recovery of any reentry vehicles and other debris for analysis.

Document 3

Excerpt from PICL, 7 October 1961

Another indicator of ICBM tests into the Central Pacific was the notification the USSR gave that it would be conducting them in a certain time period to a specified area. By this date, CORONA had detected four operational ICBM complexes but still had not photographed large areas of the USSR. Nevertheless, based largely on this photography U.S. intelligence agencies drastically revised downward their estimate of Soviets ICBM launchers to only 10-25. This soon was confirmed by additional CORONA photography and finally ended the “missile gap” debate as the United States had 63 deployed ICBMs at the time.[14]

Document 4

Excerpt from PICL, 26 May 1962

The USSR had about 40 ballistic missile submarines in mid-1962. However, their SS-N-4 SLBMs only had a range of 400 miles, each submarine only carried three missiles, and they had to surface to fire them. There were also approximately 15 submarines which carried the SS-N-3 nuclear-tipped cruise missile with a range of 350 miles. These too could only be fired from the surface. Neither type of submarine conducted patrols within striking range of the United States.[15] This entry describes one of a continuing series of tests of a longer-range SLBM that were being fired from a submerged vessel for the first time. U.S. intelligence agencies believed the new missile could be deployed on existing submarines (after their modification) or on an entirely new class under construction.

Document 5

Excerpt from PICL, 12 June 1962

In another of the continuing series of new SLBM tests, the intelligence agencies were uncertain about whether it reached its maximum range of 2,300 miles. As shown on the map, the fact that the test flights were almost entirely over the interior of the USSR must have posed major problems in collecting data on the missiles at this time.

Document 6

Excerpt from PICL, 7 October 1963

Long-range bombers (mostly B-52s) carrying gravity bombs and air-to-surface missiles were an important part of the U.S. strategic nuclear striking force. This entry describes the deployment and capabilities of the recently developed SA-3 surface-to-air missile.

Document 7

Excerpt from President’s Intelligence Review, 19-25 February 1964

CORONA had become a reliable, broad area search system for locating missile complexes and other key targets, and monitoring developments at them. It flew 11 broad area search missions in 1963, for example, of which nine returned film with a maximum resolution of ten feet. They monitored developments at the 18 ICBM complexes CORONA had previously detected and located one new complex.[16] Described here are the numbers of hard and soft launchers completed or under construction at these complexes for the second-generation SS-7 and SS-8. These missiles constituted the entire ICBM force, except for four SS-6s at one complex.

Document 8

Excerpt from President’s Intelligence Review, 18-20 March 1964

GAMBIT-1, carrying the KH-7 camera with a best resolution of two feet, was the first successful high-resolution photoreconnaissance satellite. The photography was essential to acquiring technical intelligence which CORONA could not do.

Document 9

Excerpt from President’s Intelligence Review, 13-15 May 1964

ABM development was centered at the Sary Shagan facility.

Document 10

Excerpt from President’s Intelligence Review, 12-14 August 1964

CORONA had been tracking construction of new widely dispersed single silos since early 1964, and this entry describes the detection of these new silos at a second complex. It was believed at the time that they were for the second-generation SS-9, whose testing had commenced in late 1963. The SS-9 was a larger and more accurate ICBM and carried a bigger warhead. As a result, it was the only missile capable of destroying U.S. ICBMs deployed in silos.[17]

Document 11

Excerpt from PICL, 9 November 1964

U.S. officials used hand-held cameras to photograph weapons systems at the annual May and October parades in Moscow. The high resolution photographs often proved valuable.

Document 12

Excerpt from PDB, 8 June 1965

This entry is based on a recent GAMBIT-1 photograph, one of the few satellite photographs that captured vehicles outside their storage buildings or on a launch pad.

Document 13

Excerpt from PDB, 25 June 1965

Both satellite photography and signals intelligence contributed to this map of the Tyuratam test and space launch center and the vehicles launched at its launch areas. Although some ICBMs were now being tested from the Plesetsk and Omsk ICBM complexes, the majority were still conducted from Tyuratam. Tyuratam also continued to be the launch complex for most space launches.[18] Satellite photography and signals intelligence, as well as ground photography during a recent Moscow parade, provided the information in the summary of the Soviet ICBM program.

Document 14

Excerpt from PDB, 13 October 1965

This entry describes a GAMBIT-1 photograph of a prototype ABM launch site at Sary Shagan that was identical to eight sites being constructed around Moscow.

Document 15

Excerpt from PDB, 6 September 1966

From CORONA’s monitoring of the ICBM deployment complexes and other data, analysts had concluded that the larger single silos were for the SS-9 and the smaller ones for the second-generation SS-11, first tested in 1965. Along with the SS-9, it was initially deployed in 1966.[19]

Document 16

Excerpt from PDB, 2 November 1967

The ABM system around Moscow utilizing Galosh missiles was nearing completion at this time. This entry describes the status of two early warning and tracking radars which were part of the system. The United States was studying building an ABM system at this time, but no program had been approved.

Document 17

Excerpt from PDB, 8 May 1968

Satellite photography disclosed continued production of the new Y-class of nuclear-powered submarines at Severodvinsk, the biggest submarine construction yard. It would carry the SS-N-6, which had a much longer range (1,700 miles) than any previously deployed SLBM. At this time, the USSR had 38 ballistic missile submarines with either the shorter-range SS-N-4 or the SS-N-5. It also had 60 submarines armed with the SS-N-3 cruise missile.[20]

Document 18

Excerpt from PDB, 12 July 1968

The SA-5 was the third and longest-range surface-to-air missile deployed by the Soviets. There was lengthy debate within the intelligence community on whether the missile also had an ABM capability, but in the end the IC concluded it did not.[21]

Document 19

Excerpt from PDB, 26 August 1968

Multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs) enabled an ICBM or SLBM to carry more than one warhead, although they could only hit separate targets that were close together. Multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) were able to hit targets far apart and posed an even greater threat. This entry describes the preliminary analysis of the first MRV test using a SS-9 on 23 August. The United States was ahead of the USSR in developing these technologies. It soon began deploying the Polaris A-3 SLBM with three MRVs and was developing the Poseidon SLBM with up to 14 MIRVs and the Minuteman III ICBM with three MIRVs.[22]

Document 20

Excerpt from PDB, 18 December 1968

Both satellite photography and signals intelligence contributed to this entry about the development of the second-generation SS-13 ICBM, which carried a single warhead and began to be deployed the following year. As of late 1968, the USSR had 896 deployed ICBMs (142 SS-7s and SS-8s in soft launchers, 78 SS-7s and SS-8s in silos, 156 SS-9s in silos, and 520 SS-11s in silos) and was building more silos. The United States had 1,054 deployed ICBMS and was not constructing any new silos.[23]

Document 21

Excerpt from PDB, 7 April 1969

Satellite photography contributed to this entry on developments at the Moscow ABM system, which was believed to have a limited operational capability at this time. The intelligence community had not detected any other ABM deployment sites. In March 1969, President Nixon announced his approval of the Safeguard ABM system, primarily designed to defend against a Soviet first strike on U.S. ICBMs to the extent that a devastating retaliatory second strike could still be launched. Congress narrowly approved the program later that year. The two ABMs ultimately developed, the Sprint and Spartan, were operational for only a brief time in 1975-1976.[24]

Document 22

Excerpt from PDB, 20 June 1969

CORONA photography provided the information for this entry on the deployment of SS-9s and SS-13s.

Document 23

Excerpt from PDB, 12 February 1971

Satellite photography disclosed evidence of possible testing of a new ABM at Sary Shagan.

Document 24

Excerpt from PDB, 24 November 1971

The status of construction of new silos at ICBM complexes described here is based on satellite photography.

Document 25

Excerpt from PDB, 4 October 1972

This entry demonstrates the key importance of satellite photography in determining compliance with the ABM Treaty. CORONA had flown its last mission in May 1972 and it is unknown whether a GAMBIT-3 or HEXAGON took the photography in question.

Document 26

Excerpt from PDB, 1 May 1973

The Soviets continued modernizing their ICBM force after SALT I. By the end of 1973, they had a total of 1,485 operational ICBMs (184 SS-7s, 19 SS-8s, 282 SS-9s, 940 SS-11s, and 60 SS-13s). Except for about one-third of the SS-9s with three MRVs, all the other missiles at this time still only carried a single warhead. The United States continued to be ahead in this technology, with several hundred Minuteman IIIs with three MIRVs each having been deployed already.[25]

Document 27

Excerpt from PDB, 21 February 1974

Soviet air defenses continued to be monitored closely.

Document 28

Excerpt from PDB, 18 January 1975

Testing of three new third-generation ICBMs commenced in early 1972. The SS-X-17 was a successor to the SS-11 and could be fired from modified SS-11 silos. It had greater accuracy and could carry MIRVs. The SS-X-18 was the successor to the SS-9 and could be fired from modified SS-9 silos. Testing of the Mod 1 version with a single warhead had been more extensive than testing of the Mod 2 version with MIRVs. The SS-X-19 was another successor to the SS-11 and was the first deployed ICBM with MIRVs.[26]

Document 29

Excerpt from PDB, 27 August 1975

The Soviets continued modernizing their ballistic missile submarine force after SALT I. At this time, they had 78 ballistic missile submarines carrying 815 SLBMs of four types. These included 156 SS-N-8s that now had been flown to a range of 4,800 miles. All the SLBMs had a single warhead. Some of the submarines were routinely conducting patrols within striking distance of the United States. In contrast, the United States had 41 ballistic missile submarines, each carrying either 16 Polaris A-3s with three MRVs or 16 Poseidons with up to 14 MIRVs.[27]

Document 30

Excerpt from PDB, 5 November 1976

Deployment of the SS-18 with MIRVs continued at two ICBM complexes in converted SS-9 silos.

Document 31

Excerpt from PDB, 6 November 1976

Deployment of the SS-19 with a single warhead or six MIRVs continued at four ICBM complexes in converted SS-11 silos. At this time, the USSR had 1,485 deployed ICBMs. These included 69 SS-7s, 272 SS-9s (some of which carried three MRVs), 770 SS-11s (over half of which carried three MRVs), 60 SS-13s, 50 SS-17s (each of which carried three MIRVs), 36 SS-18s (each of which carried eight MIRVs), and 210 SS-19s (over half of which carried six MIRVs).[28] The United States still had the 1,054 ICBM launchers completed in the late 1960s, but the mix of missiles had changed somewhat. There were now 550 Minuteman IIIs with three MIRVs each, 450 Minuteman IIs with a single warhead, and 54 Titan IIs with a single warhead.

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The Soviet Space Program

The USSR launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I, in October 1957. An intense and very visible competition quickly developed with the United States in certain space programs, particularly human spaceflight (with the biggest prize being the first to land men on the Moon), but also in scientific satellites and lunar and planetary probes.

There were also Soviet military and intelligence space programs, most of which were covert.[29] The USSR launched photoreconnaissance satellites beginning in the early 1960s and shortly thereafter began deploying signals intelligence payloads on them. Later in the decade it began orbiting dedicated signals intelligence satellites. Development of weather, communications, navigation, and geodetic satellites lagged behind the United States, but by the 1970s fairly effective systems were in orbit. Successful testing of an anti-satellite weapon began in 1968 and caused great concern over the survivability of U.S. spacecraft in low-Earth orbits.

Documents # 32 through # 49 concern the human spaceflight program, including Complex J at Tyuratam built to launch the massive new booster necessary to send cosmonauts to the Moon. Lunar and planetary probes are covered in # 50 through # 56. Document # 57 discusses the SL-12 space launch vehicle and # 58 through # 66 reconnaissance satellites and anti-satellite weapons.

Document 32

Excerpt from PICL, 7 August 1961

The Soviets placed the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961 on a one-orbit mission and earned tremendous prestige from the accomplishment. This entry describes their second human spaceflight in which the cosmonaut completed 17 orbits. The first U.S. orbital human spaceflight took place in February 1962 with John Glenn.

Document 33

Excerpt from PICL, 8 August 1962

Because the Soviet Union did not have a worldwide network of tracking and command and ground stations, they deployed ships and aircraft before human spaceflights to increase the amount of time the cosmonauts were in contact with ground controllers. These deployments were a key indicator of a pending mission.

Document 34

Excerpt from PICL, 15 August 1962

The Soviets orbited two cosmonauts in separate capsules at the same time in their third and fourth human spaceflights. This was another “first” in the competition with the United States.

Document 35

Excerpt from PICL, 19 June 1963

The Soviets again orbited two cosmonauts in separate capsules at the same time in their fifth and sixth human spaceflights. Vostok 6 carried Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Document 36

Excerpt from PDB, 21 January 1966

Open sources were monitored closely for information on current and future spaceflight events. However, the information was not always reliable. The Soviets had conducted just one human spaceflight in 1964 and one in 1965. Meanwhile, the Gemini program flew ten successful missions in 1965 and 1966 and the United States overtook the USSR in the human spaceflight competition.

Document 37

Excerpt from PDB, 1 March 1966

In contrast to the United States, the USSR never publicly committed to a manned lunar landing program. Its political leaders and scientists made conflicting statements on the importance of such a project. U.S. intelligence agencies constantly struggled with the question of whether they had a manned lunar landing program and, if so, whether it was competitive with Apollo. One key piece of evidence was the massive Launch Complex J being constructed at Tyuratam, which was frequently photographed by CORONA and GAMBIT satellites. The USSR needed both a larger rocket and this complex to launch it if the country were ever to attempt to land humans on the Moon. At the same time, the complex and rocket could be used for other missions such as launching a large, manned space station.[30]

Document 38

Excerpt from PDB, 26 July 1966

This entry covered problems with the Soviets’ human spaceflight program. The next attempted flight took place in April 1967 but ended with the death of the cosmonaut.

Document 39

Excerpt from PDB, 9 August 1966

The new camera system which photographed Complex J was the GAMBIT-3, which was first launched on 29 August and stayed in orbit for five days. Its maximum resolution was better than two feet, exceeding that of GAMBIT-1 (the exact resolution remains classified, as does all of the imagery).[31]

Document 40

Excerpt from PDB, 7 June 1968

Continuing photography of Complex J disclosed that the construction of one of the two launch pads was nearly complete. However, the failure to test new spacecraft and to test other required equipment and techniques for a manned lunar landing led U.S. intelligence agencies to conclude that if the Soviets were to attempt such a mission it would not be until mid-1971.

Document 41

Excerpt from PDB, 22 August 1968

An 11 August GAMBIT-3 photograph of Complex J captured the Soviet Moon rocket for the second time. The United States had designated it the “J vehicle.”

Document 42

Excerpt from PDB, 2 November 1968

In October 1968, the Soviets conducted their first human spaceflight mission since April 1967. Two Soyuz capsules were launched, one of which carried a cosmonaut. U.S. intelligence agencies had for several years been predicting that the USSR might fly a manned circumlunar mission before the United States to recapture some of the prestige its early human spaceflights had earned and blunt the expected propaganda value of Apollo. Beginning in fall 1967, they closely monitored the unmanned Zond missions that were part of such a program. NASA started preparing for a manned lunar orbital mission (Apollo 8) in August 1968, but did not announce it until late October after extensive reviews had determined that it was feasible. The flight was set for December. As noted in the Annex, there was insufficient information at this date to state whether the Soviets would try a manned circumlunar mission before then.[32]

Document 43

Excerpt from PDB, 26 November 1968

By this time, additional intelligence had been collected to support the conclusion that the USSR would not attempt a manned circumlunar mission before Apollo 8. This apparently included the lack of deployment of ships for tracking, command and control, and recovery of the spacecraft. Apollo 8 launched on December 21 and orbited the Moon 10 times before returning to Earth. The Soviets never attempted a manned circumlunar or lunar orbital flight.

Document 44

Excerpt from PDB, 28 November 1968

Satellite photography provided the basis for this entry on Complex J.

Document 45

Excerpt from PDB, 15 January 1969

Soyuz 5 and 6 were the next Soviet human spaceflights after the October 1968 mission.

Document 46

Excerpt from PDB, 23 June 1969

The second and last launch pad at Complex J was nearly complete and a J-vehicle was on it. Intelligence agencies had still not detected any flight tests of the rocket, although one had taken place in February 1969, which had ended in failure shortly after launch.[33] The first manned lunar landing, Apollo 11, took place in July 1969 and thus ended the race to the Moon.

Document 47

Excerpt from PDB, 7 May 1970

Notwithstanding the fact that the United States had won the race to Moon, it continued to monitor Complex J and other aspects of a possible Soviet manned lunar landing program.

Document 48

Excerpt from PDB, 14 September 1972

Information on cosmonaut training facilities was important in evaluating likely future human spaceflight missions.

Document 49

Excerpt from PDB, 15 May 1973

Manned Salyut space stations were a major part of the human spaceflight program during this period and had both civilian and military applications, but there were early failures. Salyut 1 reached orbit in April 1971 and one group of cosmonauts boarded it for several weeks. However, they were killed when the Soyuz capsule returning them to Earth malfunctioned.[34] The next successful boarding was with Salyut 4 in early 1975.

Document 50

Excerpt from PICL, 5 November 1962

Lunar and planetary probes obtained important scientific data but were also part of the space competition between the superpowers. Both of the spacecraft described here were in fact Mars probes but did not acquire any data.[35]

Document 51

Excerpt from PICL, 2 April 1963

The Lunik IV lunar probe passed within 4,000-8,000 miles of the Moon but did not send back any data.[36]

Document 52

Excerpt from PICL, 19 February 1964

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that this was probably an engineering test of a planetary probe. It did not reach orbit.[37]

Document 53

Excerpt from PDB, 12 April 1965

This unsuccessful lunar probe failed to reach its parking orbit.[38]

Document 54

Excerpt from PDB, 14 August 1965

Zond III was the second successful lunar probe out of 16 attempts since 1958. The Soviets enjoyed greater success in the coming years, with six of fourteen spacecraft returning data from August 1965 to October 1970.[39] The U.S. lunar probe record by August 1965 was only slightly better. None of the four Pioneer spacecraft launched in 1958-1959 returned data, but the last three of nine Rangers launched from 1961-1965 did. The record improved in the coming years. All five Lunar Orbiters in 1966-1967 returned data and five of the seven Surveyors from 1966-1968 did the same.[40]

Document 55

Excerpt from PDB, 25 September 1970

Luna 16 was the first Soviet spacecraft to collect a lunar soil sample and return it to Earth.[41]

Document 56

Excerpt from PDB, 12 February 1974

Several of the Mars probes discussed here were successful and returned data to Earth. They were the first to do so after numerous attempts beginning in 1960.

Document 57

Excerpt from PDB, 27 March 1969

Development of all types of boosters was followed closely. The SL-12 was the largest operational launch vehicle at the time and was used for a variety of Earth-orbital, lunar, and planetary missions.[42]

Document 58

Excerpt from PDB, 17 March 1962

The first successful Soviet photoreconnaissance mission was in 1961, more than a year after the first U.S. success. Both the USSR and United States utilized film return systems in their early programs. However, in contrast to the United States the Soviets deorbited the entire satellite instead of just the film return capsule. By the end of 1962, the USSR had successfully flown seven photoreconnaissance satellites. It became the most successful of all the Soviet robotic satellite programs.[43]

Document 59

Excerpt from PDB, 17 April 1965

U.S. intelligence agencies had detected the first Soviet high resolution photoreconnaissance satellite in 1964, and the Soviets continued to launch them as well as low resolution satellites. The former’s resolution was estimated to be between five and ten feet, the latter’s between 10 and 30 feet.[44] This entry also describes expansion of the Soviet signals intelligence ship program.

Document 60

Excerpt from PDB, 19 May 1965

The Soviet communications satellite program was not as advanced as the U.S. program. In 1964, the USSR launched the first two Molniya satellites and it continued to launch them in subsequent years. They were placed in highly elliptical orbits to provide coverage to all areas of the USSR. By this time, the United States had successfully launched several civilian communications satellites and Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program satellites into geosynchronous orbit.[45]

Document 61

Excerpt from PDB, 4 November 1965

The United States and its allies were not the only targets of Soviet photoreconnaissance satellites. Although intercepts of downlinked telemetry were fragmentary, through analysis of them and precise tracking of the spacecraft U.S. intelligence agencies were still able to determine some of the areas of the Earth photographed.[46]

Document 62

Excerpt from PDB, 7 June 1966

Most likely through the interception and analysis of downlinked telemetry and other data as well as uplinked commands, U.S. intelligence agencies determined that some of the photoreconnaissance satellites also carried signals intelligence payloads. The United States placed signals intelligence payloads on CORONA satellites from 1960-1967 under the AFTRACK program.[47]

Document 63

Excerpt from PDB, 17 August 1966

After many failures, the Soviets launched their first successful weather satellite in June. The United States intercepted and analyzed the downlinked imagery and other data to determine how well they were operating. [48] The United States enjoyed much greater success in its civilian and military weather satellite programs.

Document 64

Excerpt from PDB, 9 April 1970

This entry refers to one of the two types of non-recoverable signals intelligence satellites the Soviets had begun launching in 1968.[49] As described, it took the U.S. intelligence agencies some time before determining exactly what their missions were.

Document 65

Excerpt from PDB, 4 December 1971

Soviet testing of an anti-satellite interceptor started in 1968. This capability posed a major threat to the growing reliance of the United States on national security satellites in low-Earth orbit. At the time, the United States had a very limited operational anti-satellite system, which utilized nuclear-tipped Thor missiles based on Kwajalein that could destroy some satellites in low-Earth orbit.[50]

Document 66

Excerpt from PDB, 12 October 1973

This entry describes photoreconnaissance and signals intelligence satellite coverage of the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War.



[1] Celia Mansfield, “From the Pickle Factory to the President’s Daily Brief - Delivering Intelligence to Kennedy and Johnson,” in The President’s Daily Brief, Delivering Intelligence to Kennedy and Johnson (Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2015) (accessed November 20, 2016 at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/PDB%20CM%20Final%20Kennedy%20and%20Johnson_public%208%20Sep%202015.pdf.

[2] Memorandum for Henry A. Kissinger, December 1, 1970, Intelligence Publications and Their Distribution; CREST Electronic Database (CREST), National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland (NARA). 

[3] Richard Kovar, “An Interview with Richard Lehman,” in The President’s Daily Brief, Delivering Intelligence to Kennedy and Johnson and John Helgerson, “Intelligence Support for Richard M. Nixon,” in The President’s Daily Brief, Delivering Intelligence to Nixon and Ford (Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2016) (accessed November 20, 2016 at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/PDB%20Symposium%20Nixon%20and%20Ford%2024%20Aug%202016.pdf.

[4] Dwayne Day, John Logsdon, and Brian Latell, ed., Eye in the Sky, the Story of the Corona Spy Satellite (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), pp. 215-230. Frederic Oder, James Fitzpatrick, Paul Worthman, The Gambit Story (National Reconnaissance Office, 1991), pp. 136-136-175. Frederic Oder, James Fitzpatrick, Paul Worthman, The Hexagon Story (National Reconnaissance Office, 1992), pp. 144-181.

[5] NPIC/R-85/66 – Scrooge Missile, Moscow Parade, 7 November 1965, CREST, NARA.

[6] Stanley Zabetakis and John Peterson, “The Diyarbakir Radar”, David Brandwein, “Telemetry Analysis”, Henry Plaster, “Snooping on Space Pictures”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Fall 1964), CREST, NARA. Albert Wheelon and Sidney Graybeal, “Intelligence for the Space Race”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 5, No. 4
(Fall 1961), CREST, NARA. Jerold Klaimon, “Reentry Vehicle Analysis”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 12, No. 3
(Summer 1968), CREST, NARA. Jeffrey Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community (2nd ed.) (Cambridge, Ballinger, 1989), pp. 167-199. Dwayne Day, “The wizard war in orbit (part 1), Early American signals intelligence satellites” (accessed November 22, 2016 at http://thespacereview.com/article/3011/1). Dwayne Day, “The wizard war in orbit (part 2), Black black boxes” (accessed November 22, 2016 at http://thespacereview.com/article/3017/1).

[7] The U.S. Intelligence Community (2nd ed.), pp. 209-214 and “Space Defense System”, Spaceflight, Vol. 8, No. 2 (February 1966), 48-49. 

[8] Memorandum from Roland F. Herbst, Deputy Director (Strategic and Space Systems) to Dr. Foster, 12 January 1971. The author obtained this from the Office of the Secretary of Defense pursuant to a Mandatory Declassification Review request. 

[9] James David, “Was It Really ‘Space Junk’? U.S. Intelligence Interest in Space Debris that Returned to Earth”, Astropolitics, Vol. 3 (2006), 43-65. Sydney Finer, “The Kidnapping of the Lunik”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Winter 1967), CREST, NARA. M.C. Wonus. “The Case of the SS-6”, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 13 (Winter 1969).

[10] Amy Wolf, Paul Kerr, and Mary Beth Nikitin, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2016), pp. 4-6. Strobe Talbott, Endgame, the Inside Story of SALT II (New York, Harper & Row, 1979), p. 30. 

[11] Ibid.

[12] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8/1-61, Strength and Deployment of Soviet Long Range Ballistic Missile Forces, Record Group (RG) 263, NARA. 

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. Edward Kaplan, To Kill Nations, American Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2015), p. 213.

[15] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-62, Soviet Capabilities for Long Range Attack, July 6, 1962, RG 263, NARA. 

[16] Guided Missiles and Astronautics Intelligence Committee, United States Intelligence Board, Report of Tri-Partite Working Party on Soviet Strategic Surface-to-Surface Missile Deployment, 19 December 1963, CREST, NARA. 

[17] Deployment Working Group, Guided Missiles and Astronautics Intelligence Committee, United States Intelligence Board, Evaluations of Soviet Surface-to-Surface Missile Deployment, 16th Revision, January 1965, CREST, NARA. Memorandum to Holders of National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-64, Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack, May 10, 1965 and National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-66, Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack, 20 October 1966, RG 263, NARA.

[18] Evaluations of Soviet Surface-to-Surface Missile Deployment, 16th Revision, January 1965. National Intelligence Estimate 11-1-67, The Soviet Space Program, 2 March 1967, RG 263, NARA. 

[19] Evaluations of Soviet Surface-to-Surface Missile Deployment, 16th Revision, January 1965. Memorandum to Holders of National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-64, Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack, May 10, 1965 and National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-66, Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack, 20 October 1966.

[20] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-68, Soviet Strategic Attack Forces, 3 October 1968, RG 263, NARA.

[21] National Intelligence Estimate 11-3-68, Soviet Strategic and Missile Defense, 31 October 1968, RG 263, NARA. 

[22] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-68.

[23] Ibid. Memorandum to Holders, National Intelligence Estimate, 11-8-68, Soviet Strategic Attack Forces, 23 June 1969, RG 263, NARA. 

[24] Richard Hunt, Melvin Laird and the Foundation of the Post-Vietnam Military, 1969-1973 (Washington, D.C.: Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2015), pp. 395-408.

[25] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-72, Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack, 26 October 1972 and National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-73, Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Attack, 25 January 1974, RG 263, NARA. 

[26] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-73. Steven J. Zaloga, The Kremlin’s Nuclear Sword, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002), pp. 132, 241.

[27] National Intelligence Estimate 11-8-73. The Kremlin’s Nuclear Sword, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000, pp. 243-245. John Watson, “The Strategic Missile Submarine Force and APL’s Role in its Development”, Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1992), 125-137.

[28] The Kremlin’s Nuclear Sword, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000, pp. 235-241. 

[29] For a major compendium of documentation on the subject, see Jeffrey T. Richelson, U.S. Military Uses of Space, 1945-1991, part of the “Digital National Security Archive” published through ProQuest.

[30] James David, Spies and Shuttles, NASA’s Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015), pp. 34-46.

[31] The Gambit Story, p. 74.

[32] Spies and Shuttles, NASA’s Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA, pp. 47-57.

[33] Ibid, pp. 57-58.

[34] National Intelligence Estimate 11-1-73, Soviet Space Programs, 20 December 1973, RG 263, NARA. 

[35] National Intelligence Estimate 11-1-67.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid. National Intelligence Estimate, 11-1-71, The Soviet Space Program, 1 July 1971, RG 263, NARA. 

[40] Linda Ezell, NASA Historical Data Book, Volume II, Programs and Projects 1958-1968 (Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1988), pp. 302-331. 

[41] National Intelligence Estimate, 11-1-71.

[42] Ibid.

[43] National Intelligence Estimate 11-1-67.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Intelligence Memorandum, Soviet Comsat Program: Status and Prospects, June 1968, CREST, NARA. Donald Martin, Communications Satellites, 1958-1992 (El Segundo: The Aerospace Corporation, 1991), p. x.

[46] Memorandum for the Director, Joint Staff re Soviet Photoreconnaissance Program, 14 May 1969, Entry UD-05D 80, Box #1, RG 373, NARA.

[47] The Air Force AFTRACK and [redacted] (accessed 8 December 2016 at http://www.nro.mil/foia/declass/aftrack/56.pdf).

[48] “Snooping on Space Pictures.” 

[49] National Intelligence Estimate, 11-1-71. 

[50] Ibid. Robert Kligo, “The History of the United States Anti-Satellite Program and the Evolution to Space Control and Offensive and Defensive Counterspace”, Quest, The History of Spaceflight Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer 2014).