Saturday, October 24, 2015
Francis Gary Powers
Powers was discharged from the Air Force in 1956 with the rank of captain. He then joined the CIA's U-2 program at the civilian grade of GS-12. U-2 pilots flew espionage missions using an aircraft that could reach altitudes above 70,000 feet (21.3 km), making it invulnerable to known Soviet anti-aircraft weapons of the time. The U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera designed to take high-resolution photos from the edge of the stratosphere over hostile countries, including the Soviet Union. U-2 missions systematically photographed military installations and other important sites.
Soviet intelligence was aware of encroaching U-2 flights since 1956 but lacked effective countermeasures until 1960. On May 1, 1960, Powers' U-2, which departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan with support from the US Air Station at Badaber (Peshawar Air Station), was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. Powers was unable to activate the plane's self-destruct mechanism before he bailed out and was captured.
Powers' U-2 plane was hit by the first missile fired. A total of eight were launched; one of them hit a MiG-19 jet fighter which was sent to intercept the U-2 but could not reach a high enough altitude. Its pilot, Sergei Safronov, ejected but died of his injuries. Another Soviet aircraft, a newly manufactured Su-9 in transit flight, also attempted to intercept Powers' U-2. The unarmed Su-9 was directed to ram the U-2 but missed because of the large differences in speed. In The Skunk Works, Powers claimed that upon ejecting he saw the parachute of another pilot deploy behind him.
When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance over the Soviet Union, they issued a cover statement claiming a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment". What CIA officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in espionage. The incident set back talks between Khrushchev and Eisenhower. On August 17, 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage against the Soviet Union and was sentenced to a total of ten years, three years in imprisonment followed by seven years of hard labor. He was held in Vladimir Central Prison, 100 miles east of Moscow. The prison contains a small museum with an exhibit on Powers, who allegedly developed a good rapport with Russian prisoners there. Some pieces of the plane and Powers' uniform are on display at the Monino Airbase museum near Moscow.
On February 10, 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicized spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as "Rudolf Abel", who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage.
In 2010, CIA documents were released indicating that American officials did not believe Powers' account of the incident at the time, because it was contradicted by a classified National Security Agency report. However, newly released declassified CIA documents confirm the accuracy of Powers' report. The NSA report remains classified. (Francis Gary Powers) (U-2 SPY-in-the-SKY 1)