Thursday, 7 May 2020

spy-in-the-sky

Having disappeared seven days prior whilst presumably over Soviet airspace and the US government issuing a detailed cover story to the press about a missing NASA research aircraft lost in northern Turkey with the possibility that the auto-pilot had kicked in and led the plane further afield, Nikita Khrushchev made the surprise announcement (previously) on this day in 1960 that CIA espionage operative Francis Gary Powers (*1929 – †1977) had been intercepted and was in Soviet custody, embarrassing the Eisenhower administration who faced a dilemma in either owning up to the act or denying responsibility and blaming inscrutable bureaucracy in the intelligence agencies—both alibis potentially endangering a settlement at the upcoming Paris Peace Summit.
In the summer of 1958, the US government negotiated with Pakistan to establish a base of operations to run secret intelligence-gathering sorties over the USSR, using U-2 spyplanes to photograph missile silos and other infrastructure—aloft in the upper stratosphere and out of range of Soviet countermeasures, or so it was believed. The captured agent and photographic evidence was impossible to deny and Powers acceded his actions. Caught in a lie, the US disclosed the full nature of the U-2 missions and the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency—which was in itself another surprising revelation. Powers, though sentenced to three years in prison with seven additional years of hard labour, was treated very well by his captors and spent most of the time with handicrafts, was freed after two years in a prisoner exchange on the Glienicker Brücke (the Bridge of Spies that connected West Berlin with East German Potsdam) for KGB officer and Soviet spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (*1903 - †1971). After being repatriated, Powers retiring from the CIA and took a job as a helicopter pilot for a television station in Los Angeles, dying in a crash whilst filming footage of wildfires, reportedly wilfully diverting his descent to avoid children playing near his intended landing spot.