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The U-2 Spy Plane Incident

 

At the height of the cold war, as critics of the Eisenhower administration complained about the growing "missile gap," the United States secretly gathered data on Soviet missile capabilities through photographs obtained from U-2 reconnaissance plane overflights of the Soviet Union. In May 1960, plans were finalized for a crucial Paris summit conference between western nations and leaders of the Soviet Union with disarmament to be the main focus. Hopes for a successful summit were dashed when on May 1, May Day, an American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet air space. On the first day of the Paris summit, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stormed out after delivering a condemnation of U.S. spy activities.

Memorandum of Conference with the President on November 24, 1954; authorization by the President to produce thirty U-2 aircraft [DDE's Papers as President, Ann Whitman Diary Series, Box 3, ACW Diary November 1954 (1)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding continuation of overflight program, December 22, 1958 [ Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (7)]

Memorandum for Record regarding cancellation of Baltic area overflights, January 19, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (8)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding recent progress in reconnaissance devices, February 13, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (8)]

Memorandum for Record regarding discontinuation of overflights, March 4, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (9)]

Report on Project Corona, March 17, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (10)]

CIA report on U-2 Vulnerability Tests, April 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (9)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding enemy ICBM development, April 3, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (10)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding approval of overflights, April 11, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (10)]

Memorandum for the Record regarding possibility of additional overflights, July 7, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (12)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding overflight concerns, July 8, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (12)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding successor aircraft to U-2, July 20, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (12)]

Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence Agency concerning use of U-2 reconnaissance to determine status of Soviet ICBM program, August 25, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Box 15, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Intelligence Matters (13)]

Memorandum of conference with the President on October 26, 1959 concerning U-2 reconnaissance flights over Russia, dated October 30, 1959 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Box 15, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Intelligence Matters (13)]

Memorandum for the Record discussing overflights, February 8, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Box 15, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Intelligence Matters (13)]

Memorandum for Record of April 25, 1960, authorizing one additional U-2 flight prior to May 1, 1960. If this flight had been cancelled, the U-2 incident may have been avoided [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (14)]

Cover plan to be used for downed U-2 flight (the U.S. did not know that the Soviets had the captured U.S. pilot), May 2, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (14)]

National Aeronautics and Space Administration press release concerning missing U-2 airplane, May 5, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

State Department press release #249 concerning U-2 incident, May 6, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

State Department press release #254 concerning U-2 incident, May 9, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

State Department telegram from American Embassy in Moscow to Secretary of State transmitting translation of Soviet note concerning U-2 plane, May 10, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

State Department telegram to American Embassy in Moscow regarding U.S. position with respect to U-2 incident, May 11, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

Statement by the President regarding U-2 incident, May 11, 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (1)]

Memorandum for Ann Whitman, discusses Khrushchev and Summit Conference, May 11, 1960 [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 50, Staff Notes May 1960 (2)]

Washington Post article, "U.S. Heard Russians Chasing U-2," May 12, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (15)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President on 5/15/60, dated May 16, 1960 regarding U-2 and summit conference [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 50, Staff Notes May 1960 (1)]

Memorandum of conversation, bipartisan leaders breakfast with the President, held in the State dining room, The White House concerning U-2 incident, intelligence and espionage, May 26, 1960 [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 50, Staff Notes May 1960 (1)]

Background Paper on Soviet overflights, May 1960 [Christian Herter Papers, Box 20, U-2 (2)]

Memorandum for Record regarding plans for U-2 successor plan, June 2, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (15)]

State Department telegram regarding coordination with British on U.S. reconnaissance flights, July 28, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (15)]

CIA memo listing overflights of the Soviet Bloc, August 18, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (17)]

Radio interview with Drew Pearson of Washington Post, August 23, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (17)]

Memorandum regarding handling of satellite reconnaissance products, August 26, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (17)]

Memorandum of Conference with the President regarding Soviet fighter capability, September 6, 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (18)]

CIA Comments on "True" magazine article, May 1960 [Office of the Staff Secretary, Subject Series, Alphabetical Subseries, Box 15, Intelligence Matters (19)]

Images in the audiovisual collection

Secondary sources on this topic include:

The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974 by Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach, History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1998.

MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair by Michael R. Beschloss, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1986.

Operation Overflight: The U-2 Spy Pilot Tells His Story For The First Time by Francis Gary Powers with Curt Gentry, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Spy Flights of the Cold War by Paul Lashmar, Sutton Publishing, 1996.

For additional information please see:

U-2, U-2 Incident, and 1960 Paris Summit Subject Guide