tv Declassified CNN September 4, 2016 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
it's time to bring him in. as a former fbi agent and chairman of the house intelligence committee, i had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligence agencies. my name is mike rogers. i had access to classified information gathered by our operatives. people who risked everything for the united states and our families. you don't know their faces or their names. you don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure, until now. we don't normally use the term spying. it's used freely in certainly the media and the public use it, but there's actually a relatively small part of the intelligence community that's
devoted to what people conjure up in their mind as spying. kind of james bond context. in fact, much of what is done in the intelligence community is technical. the whole point of intelligence is if you can, it rarely happens, but if you can to eliminate uncertainty for a decisionmaker. the decisionmaker is in the oval office or if i can stretch the metaphor, in a little foxhole. so as we are confronted with challenges on access, on collecting information, that necessity gives rise to the invention. in this case, the hexagon satellite. the necessity is pretty crucial. national security and keeping the country safe and secure. ♪
general. >> information is power. the hexagon is a story about information and security. >> this is a story about capabilities, both our technological capabilities and the military and economic capabilities of others throughout the world. >> we want to protect the safety of the united states citizens. and the one way to do that is to counteract what the enemy has. and our biggest enemy after world war ii was the soviet union. in order to find out what they are capable of, you need to spy. >> want to eavesdrop on somebody, attach a small hidden device and the telephone caller will have an audience he never suspected. >> spying is a necessity.
>> more important, overhead photography gives our nation the ability to keep a vigilant watch on its potential enemy. >> spying has been necessary ever since probably the first tribes started to fight with each other and figure out what the other guy is doing so that you're prepared for it. >> the urgency to develop reconnaissance methods was underscored by the detonation of the first soviet hydrogen bomb in august 1953. >> the cold war was very scary time for americans. the soviets were definitely a threat to the united states because they had developed the nuclear weapons just a few years after we did. and the mood was somewhat scary when you actually thought about the possibility of nuclear warfare. >> it became extremely important to monitor soviet progress in
nuclear-armed intercontinental range ballistic missile systems. >> we knew that the soviets were building missile sites, nuclear submarines. they were testing. >> now we must be ready for a new danger. the atomic bomb. >> people who were building shelters in their backyard. we had a clearly defined enemy. it was the soviet union. >> they were, in fact, a mortal enemy of the united states. on the part of the intelligence community, there was great pressure to gain access to the soviet union. >> attention. the united states is under nuclear attack. >> though overarching fear, of course, they're going to push the button.
and we worry a lot about that because we really didn't have a firm understanding of the decision-making process and what their threshholes were for the use of nuclear weapons. >> president eisenhower was very concerned about not knowing what the soviet union were up to. there was a question of how many ballistic missiles, how many submarines, airplanes, bombers and so forth existed. >> the soviet union was a denied area in many respects during the cold war. the ability of the u.s. to find out anything of importance militarily was near zero. it was the highest priority for the intelligence community and, in particular, the cia to find out what was going on.
and so the idea of sending an aircraft camera system was endorsed by the president. >> no one wants another pearl harbor. this means we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world. >> some high-flying picture takers look down rather than up. the high altitude u2 aircraft is a good example. >> i can't tell you the value of the u2 program. it was immeasurable. the information that was not obtainable any other way. but the u.s. government knew it was only a matter of time before the soviets developed a ground launch missile that would shoot it down. >> the u2 piloted by francis gary powers was brought down by a missile. >> the overhas reconnaissance program was the most comprehensive, systematic way of observing activity in the soviet
union. so we have the realization that the only option we had to safely conduct overhead reconnaissance of these large denied areas since we couldn't do it with a manned vehicle any longer, that's was clear, was from space. ♪ [tires screeching] ♪ [tires screeching] ♪ experience the thrill of the lexus performance line. because the ultimate expression of power, is control. this is the pursuit of perfection.
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the soviet union was our enemy because they wanted to take over the world. and we had to take measures to prevent that. >> we, frankly, recognize that the soviets are building up types of power that could, if we were attacked, damage us seriously. >> we didn't know what their intent was in terms of the size of their arsenal. >> photography produces pretty hard evidence. airplanes were always risky. because the risk of being shot down was there. >> so the reconnaissance satellite was the answer to that. the thoughts moved to an unmanned satellite that could remain in orbit to take pictures not otherwise obtainable. >> so president eisenhower in april 1958 signed an executive
order to start the world's first spy satellite program. >> the u.s. air force established a forward-looking development plan for a satellite systems to collect various types of intelligence, including photographic coverage of denied areas. >> it was difficult for cia to obtain successful human intelligence during the cold war. that's why the hexagon program was so important. >> the advantages, the higher you get, the more you can see. the other advantage is, the higher you are, the more impervious you are to any threat from countries you're traveling over. >> we can do it over time, over a period of months. and then we can learn something about their doctrine by just observing on a snapshot by snapshot basis what they were doing. this was a very, very sensitive operation. even within the program, there were layers of detail that were not exposed to people unless it
was absolutely critical. >> it was based on need to know. did you need to know that to do your job? >> we started launching spy satellites under the corona program in the late '50s, early '60s. >> it went through a traumatic birthing if you will. there were 13 failures. before they got it to work. >> but our initial capability was not very good in terms of resolution. its best resolution was around six feet, no better. >> needed to get a better camera system while in orbit was obvious to everybody. it was urgent. >> cia decided to form a design
for a new, more capable satellite. >> two cameras. billions of dollars. miles of film being launched into space. and four large 1100-pound capsules to be returned one at a time about three months apart. it was quite innovative. >> its name, hexagon. >> in 1965, i was hired by the perkin elma corporation in danbury, connecticut. the perconomic corporation was an expert at cameras, optics, and the cia knew that. they came to us to dedesign a new reconnaissance camera with extremely good resolution. the hexagon program, its magnitude was humongous.
the program was ultra secret. but we had to hire 1,000 people, so we interviewed people ourselves. the trouble was, you could not tell these people what they were going to work on. there were a lot of people, other companies, machine shops, companies that's made our electronics. they didn't know what they were working on. they had no clue that it was reconnaissance satellite. >> we did not want to compromise it. particularly with the adversary who was interested in doing the same type of things. >> we worked in a building that had no windows. there were guards at every door. we had special phones. of course, we could never divulge anything to our friends or families about, what did you
do? i worked on a project. that was it. you couldn't say anything about it. they were mind-boggling requirements. this camera system which was very complicated had to work perfectly because it was an unmanned system. we couldn't send anybody up there to fix something. we had to map the whole earth. today the reconnaissance cameras are digital. they don't have many moving parts. it's all computerized. so this was the most challenging, mechanical device ever put in orbit. we had to invent several new pieces of technology. things that had never been done before. kodak supplied the film. and the film was about 6.6 inches wide. and each roll of film weighed approximately 1,200 pounds. there were 30 miles of film. that's incredible, for each camera. and the film had to travel
extremely fast in order to get the resolution the cia wanted. at 200 inches per second, like that. we also had to make sure all the equipment after being subjected to launch, you know, high gs and vibration, stayed in alignment and stayed in focus. people really don't understand what it takes to build something like this. >> because the hexagon camera was the largest and most complex ever put in space, a very large launch vehicle was required. >> the size of the hexagon vehicle itself was about the size of a school bus, yes. >> the hexagon used an adaptation of the titan missile upgraded with solid fuel boosters like the space shuttle had to get this whole system up there, 100 miles into orbit. >> yeah, it was a huge vehicle. absolutely. >> the first launch of the hexagon was june 15th, 1971.
that was a nail-biter. sometimes rockets exploded above the pad. that was my baby. i went into this large conference room which we call the war room. had all these maps and data. and there was a squawk box. it just said, okay, we're ready to launch. >> 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. [cheering] ♪ the highly advanced audi a4. ♪
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first launch of the hexagon was june 15th, 1971. that was a nail-biter. there was a squawk box. it just said, okay, we're ready to launch. >> 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. >> ignition, liftoff. we're now in orbit. we were all thrilled with that. i felt great. >> it was a major, major step forward. >> the hexagon satellite went in a polar orbit. as the satellite went around and the earth rotated, it would capture every square foot of earth. miles of film with cameras, obviously, concentrating on the soviet union.
they had airplanes and tanks, and so it was necessary to examine those closely. count the number of planes, number of tanks. airplanes could not do that. satellites could. >> the way the reconnaissance targets were chosen for hexagon was through a structure within the intelligence community back in washington. it was a balance between the priority of the target itself and how that played with the expected weather for that target at that time because you don't want to waste the film on nice pictures of clouds. the hexagon camera was really fine tuned for its mission. but unfortunately, you had to wait until the film bucket came down before you could see what you took a picture of. three or four of them altogether. the hexagon buckets were caught by the 65 94th test group, an element in the air force based at hickam air force base,
hawaii. when it was time to return the capsule with film in it, one of the film capsules would be ejected from the satellite, which would then re-enter the earth's atmosphere and come down close to hawaii at 55,000 feet, the parachute would be deployed. >> the normal deployment for any of these recoveries was five airplanes. any one of the five could have made the recovery. the designated primary aircraft commander was positioned closest to the expected area where the parachute came down. there was a beacon on the capsule. it was beautiful to hear it when we're sitting out there waiting for it. and then we would be guided to the capsule by that beacon. and at about 25 to 30,000 feet, we would be able to visually pick up the parachute.
>> sighting at 23-37 zulu. >> you want to match the descent rate so the parachute and airplane are descending. >> the secret to aerial recovery is the aerial recovery hooks to engage the load lines going from the capsule all the way up through the parachute. and that has the strength then to keep all that system behind the airplane at 150 miles an hour. when it came time to make the recovery, just pointed the nose of the airplane at the parachute. drive over the top of it. try to get the center right alongthe c-130 and everything is good. and then you reel it all on board to take it back to the people who need to see the film that's in that capsule.
>> when we got film back from the very first launch and saw that photographs met our requirements, we were thrilled. >> once we started receiving the data from the spy satellite film coverage, we had a distinct advantage over the soviets and the military poker game they were playing. >> the hexagon hit was certainly the best camera we had for broader area surveillance. had about a two-foot resolution. two-foot resolution means you would be able to discern an object at a certain diameter from around 90 to 100 nautical miles up. >> for example, we could see a picnic blanket, count the number of people. we might be able to have seen a ball being tossed. >> that's like google earth. >> yeah, but much better pictures than google earth. >> that morning of the third
mission on the first hexagon was very typical of a morning going out to catch a deorbited space capsule. >> the first re-entry vehicle was a success. the second bucket came back. it didn't have any problems. but the third one, we had all sorts of backup capability to effect a recovery. but every once in a while, it didn't work out quite that way. >> it was very natural for us as we get closer to the estimated time of parachute deployment for everybody on the crew to be very tense and concerned. have we done everything right? have we got our equipment ready? >> we had an approach where the primary aircraft would be above the highest cloud deck. our parachute harnesses are on.
we're ready to open the airplane as soon as it's time. and we were out there waiting that morning for the signal. i started getting the telemetry signal, the beacon from the capsule, and then -- it disappeared. the signal was gone. it was like 13 seconds, and no signal. nothing. i looked at the edf operator next to me who was also tracking the same beacon, and we both just held up our hands and said, what happened? where's the signal? i was very concerned when i lost the beacon signal so quickly. i knew something was wrong. there's no one road out there. no one surface... no one speed... no one way of driving on each and every road. but there is one car that can conquer them all. the mercedes-benz c-class.
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we were just doing the best we could to search to see if we could find a capsule or parachute or anything on the water. we found nothing that day after hours of searching. we came home with nothing. >> it didn't appear that the parachute even opened, and it just stream ed down. >> the parachute didn't deploy. it hit the water. it sank. i just said, oh, my god, that's awful. we lost a whole vehicle. a quarter of the film. >> the film in that third bucket was taken over the soviet union during an extremely clear weather period. the intelligence community was extremely interested and eager to get this information. some scientists and some people from the cia decided that
perhaps the edges of the film could swell up with the water and seal up the center portion of about 2 1/2 inches and they wanted to recover it hoping there would be some photographic data on there. >> another reason why this huge effort to recover this thing that went in the drink it was just on the off chance that the soviets were aware of it and would make an attempt to recover it themselves. learn from what we had been doing and get a leg up on us technologically. >> there was nothing that anybody could do, in my outfit, except, well, there goes one and somebody else will have to get that. >> and that's when we got the call to go do it. to go recover it. >> i didn't know anything about the hexagon program. in the summer of 1971, we at the treest got notified to go recover an object at the bottom
of the ocean. and that's all we knew about it. we were the only unit in the u.s. navy that could do this. the triest is a deep submergent vehicle. it's capable of going deeper than 20,000 feet. the pressure at that depth, it's around 7,200 pounds per square inch is the outside pressure while you're there. >> we used to do this. >> if you take a styrofoam coffee cup that's this big on the surface, you leave it on the outside, you go to 16,000 feet and it comes out the size of a shot glass. squeezes the life out of things. but that's the challenge of the deepwater is to be able to have equipment that will operate down there. the only major pressure resistant portion of trieste is the sphere that you ride in.
the sphere is eight inches thick. the window that we look out as you go deeper, it gets forced into the seating area of the sphere so it seals tighter n tighter as you go deep. so if that leaked, you would be gone. i mean, there's no -- that would just be it. the way the dive starts is the three pilots get in the sphere. you had to be live enough to climb down a ladder that was 12 feet long. i am scared to death of heights. i don't like ladders or anything. once you start the dive, what you feel is closeness of the other two crew members that are with you because you have 16 cubic feet per person in there. think of your refrigerator. get in it. there's no visible light once
you leave about 400 feet. it is darker than the darkest night or cave you've ever been in. there is no light. let me flash a light through it. you can see big undulating jellyfish-like creatures in front of your window. no matter what you were doing, you would see something that would amaze you and be wonderful. the navy knew where the capsule hit the surface. and so they had an area of probability where this thing would be. they estimated what the currents would be, what the speed it would have as it went through the water. and it's all scientific guesses at that point because you really didn't know. it's like finding a needle in a haystack. it's harder than that. at least you know where the haystack is. the navy had a contract with scripps institute and dr. spietz was the head of that program and a real pioneer of underwater
search. he devised a sled that hat sensors on it. film cameras and communication stuff on it. that they towed at the end of a long tow wire from the surface ships. so they went out, and it took them, i think it was two days. and, boom, there it was. they found it. at 16,400 feet. now we were looking at the task to go out and recover this object from the bottom of the ocean. it had never been done before. we weren't told what the object was. the russians were developing a deep submergence capability but we didn't know where they were. it was important enough for us to go out and get it and bring it back. >> chosen to design this hook to grasp the vehicle on the bottom. >> in the end, looked like a big
hay hook. the thing where you reach down with the hook and pick up the fuzzy toy. we did our training down around 4,000 to 5,000 feet. the air force sent us out a spare bucket. and we took that out to sea, put it on the bottom and then got the hay loader and tried to pick it up. we had some problems with that. had some real problems with that. in maneuvering to pick up the bucket, the lift line on the hay hook broke. and we lost the hay hook. it was gone. the whole thing that the operation resolved around had just failed. hmmmmmm..... hmmmmm... [ "dreams" by beck ]
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>> the cia wanted to recover the film. and the best case scenario after the impact and the sinking of the vehicle, they might be some good photography in the central 2 1/2 inches of the film stacks, and there were always russian trollers in the area. and they certainly did not want the russians to go down and recover it to find out what we were doing, as far as reconnaissance is concerned. >> on one of our first training dives, we had some mechanical problems, and we lost the hay hook. it was gone. so, you know, that's devastating. so we maneuvered back, picked up the hay hook with our mechanical arm and brought it back to the surface. saved the operation. when they found the hexagon bucket, they marked the area that it was in with three things they were called the deep ocean
transponders, d.o.t.s, which are electronic devices that you put down on the bottom of the ocean so that you can go back and find it again. we got out to the dive site in early november of 1971. made our first dive. took us about two hours to reach the bottom. got down on the bottom and started our search patterns using information given to us as to the position of the dots we were supposed to be navigating with. in the process of this dive, we just got garbage. we had no context. we found nothing. we got back to the surface and started analyzing the navigational data we collected and found out the position of two of the d.o.t.s had been reversed. so we were navigating some 2,500 yards outside the area where the bucket should have been.
the crew is busting their tails and we get out there and we're in the wrong place? yeah, it's frustrating as heck. when the weather improved in the fall, late november, we went out again and made a second dive on the site. didn't find anything right off the bat, but toward the end of the dive, we picked up a promising contact using our search sonar. the object came out and went and passed down the starboard side of the trieste. went right by the window. we tried to maneuver to get back to it. driving the trieste is like driving a semi truck. you don't stop it and turn it around. it takes power, and it takes time to do it. it was at the end of the dive and we used up our battery, which is not a good thing. we had to go back to the surface. so we thought, okay, we have
seen this object. we can't go back and get it at this point so we'll mark it with a mini d.o.t. to launch the mini d.o.t., you had to use the mechanical arm. tried to use the mechanical arm at 16,400 feet. we'd never been that deep to try to use it before. it didn't work. would not work that deep. worked fine on the surface. worked fine on some other shallow dives. got to 16,000 feet. nothing. we needed to correct that problem because we had to use the mechanical arm. to make the hay hook work. so we had to surface. we had to mark it. our whole morale, well it was down. we were there. we had it. at that point, the weather started picking up, and we had to take the trieste back to port. at the higher levels, people
started thinking, do we really need to keep going and paying to do this mission? >> we needed to do it. recovering it was necessary. they wanted to recover it so the soviets didn't recover it. >> there's no question they were very eager to learn what we were doing, understand and, of course, if they could learn anything about our technology, they would. >> i wanted the mission to be completed, and that was getting the bucket. that was the important thing. >> we knew that we had to make the claw operate without using the mechanical arm. you have to be able to change things, use your ingenuity and imagination to get it to work right. and, you know, traditionally, submarine sailors are that way. they can do that. in this case, we did it again. two of our guys did it using
lift wire and some shackles. surgical tubing. plastic-type things. we didn't have any duct tape or we probably would have used that. >> we were anxious it had to work. and the pressure of that depth. if we had sprung a leak, i wouldn't be here today. and i remember this distinctly, we had several sonar contacts and we went to investigate them, first thing we found was a big pile of junk. it wasn't what we were looking for, but it was manmade, so we knew we were in the area where something had gone down. we investigated another contact, more manmade debris. the third contact that we investigated, we found our bucket. when we saw it, i thought, wow. here we are. now let's do it.
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it was a big object with gold pieces hanging off the edges of it. i knew it was film at that point. i was thinking it must have been very important to the defense of the united states to spend this amount of money in this time to do this. the film reel had broken out of the bucket and had probably happened when it impacted the surface. so we moved over and put the claw down over it. operated our wench to try and pick it up. it didn't work the first time. didn't work the second time. took us five tries and on the fifth try, everything came together just right. we were able to pick it up. on the way back up, we got to about 2,000 feet from the surface, and i was watching the claw with the film capsule inside it. i was watching it out the window. the pieces started falling off of it. you could see silver-like
objects falling from it. i called the surface and told them to have the divers ready when we get there, this thing looks like it's breaking up. and when we got to the surface, essential essentially, there was a cloud of dust and it was gone. >> when the reentry vehicle hit the water, it hit it at 2,000 gs. and unfortunately the impact force was so large that it destroyed most of the structure and the film just unravelled and fell down. >> it wasn't until 2012 when the hexagon operation was declassified. that i learned what the hexagon program was and what we were after.
we hadn't failed. we the team found an object at 16,400 feet, and we picked that thing up and brought it to the surface. never been done before. a one ton object. and in the cias eyes, soviet union didn't get it. >> i think the hexagon program contributed significantly to the security of this country. >> i would say that the ability to get the hexagon system may have been the most intelligence contribution that's ever been made. >> to have it operate so successfully for as many years as it did, it's just remarkable. it was remarkable then and it's still remarkable today. >> the capabilities that were represented by the program and it's success were, in fact, remarkable. by the end of the hexagon program, the system had probably
covered just about every square mile land mass in the northern latitudes. it contributed mightily to better gauge the adversary and what the adversaries capabilities were. >> it is a testament to our technological prowess, to be able to operate in space and to recover something at the depth of the ocean. it is also where we have to operate. and the lengths that we'll go to, if we need to, to collect vital information. >> the hexagon program, i believe, it contributed greatly to our national security allowing us to sign treaties with the soviets on reducing the number of missiles. >> the soviet union and the united states concluded the first treaty in 1972. >> and we could, through the spy satellite program, absolutely confirm that they were destroying some of these
systems. i did not feel like a spy in the sense of where you have an undercover identity, but i guess you could say technological age of the '60s and '70s, we were spies, yes. >> we launched 19 hexagon satellites over 15 years. our cameras verified what was going on in the world and with the soviets capabilities were. i honestly think that the hexagon program was responsible for preventing world war iii.
as a former fbi agent and chairman of the house intelligence committee, i had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligence agencies. my name is mike rogers. i had access to classified information gathered by our operatives. people who risked everything for the united states and our families. you don't know their faces or their names. you don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure, until now. it's not a fear as in petrified. it's more like, make sure you do