U-2 And Its Repercussions

U-2 And Its Repercussions

PEACETIME SPYING is politically hazardous. It affects national attitudes in much the same way that the peeping tom affects the neighborhood. Invasions of privacy prompt indignation. They make for anger and desperate unreasonableness. That is why the big blunder with respect to the U-2 may have been made when the plane was sent up, rather than after it came down.

Since the ancillary products of spying make its political costs high, I, for one, would like to see these weighed. In the case of the U-2, I rather doubt that this was done. At least we have the word of the Secretary of State to this effect. The Central Intelligence Agency apparently continues to wield the political power inherent in secrecy and remoteness. CIA dictated the U-2 decision. The Agency’s certification of need was enough. Had the U-2 been in fact the obvious instrument of defense against surprise attack that everyone, including the President, has claimed it was, then the U-2 incident might not have been so serious.

In any case it should have been handled differently. But if the U-2 looked more like an offensive than a defensive instrument, then I for one am shocked by the cavalier fashion in which it was flown on the eve of the summit. True, a reconnaissance plane is a low-risk vehicle. True too that the USSR had known, through Radar contact, about the U-2 for years. But a man plus a machine is, after all, a mating of the unstable with the unreliable. Hence, the U-2 could be expected to come down one day.

Because “prevention of surprise attack” could scarcely be construed to be a primary mission, this factor of marginal unreliability was politically of the greatest importance. Everything has been mentioned in the press but this simple inescapable fact.

How many times have you flown in the last month when skies were really clear both above and beneath you? Imagine a plane at 60,000 feet. Guess at the number of days per year on which the pilot could photograph the ground accurately enough to pick up plane disposition or conventional troop movement that just might be an indication of a surprise attack. Conclusion: The contribution of the U-2 was, as Secretary Gates has testified, to pick up missile sites, to check on new missiles, and new industry, to calibrate airfields. The U-2 was a reconnaissance plane. Targeting was its mission. It was preparing a counterforce strategy. It was not preparing for a second, but primarily for a first strike. At least, had I been a Russian, this is how I would have interpreted the flight. If this conclusion is correct, and frankly it does seem embarrassingly inescapable, then the USSR’s barbaric rudeness seems a bit more comprehensible.

Moreover, although the U.S. did enter the summit meetings like a lamb, this was due more to technological failure than to intention. President Eisenhower had intended to enter like a lion. The Triton, our nuclear submarine, had gone around the world und...