When Aviation Week Was Accused Of Treason


Aviation Week editors routinely get blowback when they write about sensitive topics, and the best example of that may be an October 1957 story that revealed the U.S. had been tracking Russian missile launches from advanced long-range radar units in Turkey.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s special assistant for National Security Affairs, Robert Cutler, referred to the article as “treasonable” and suggested to a group of leading businessmen that advertisers should boycott the magazine. While a White House spokesman tried to deny the remarks, “the Associated Press quoted businessmen who had attended the meeting as saying Cutler 'violently' condemned Aviation Week, used the word 'treason' three times, called the publication of the article 'prosecutable' and suggested that 'you advertisers might want to reconsider' taking out ads in Aviation Week, the magazine reported in its Nov. 4, 1957, issue.

The article that caused the fuss was published in the Oct. 21 edition of the magazine. It revealed that an AN/FPS-17 radar developed and operated by General Electric near Samsun, Turkey – a resort on the Black Sea – “can detect and track missile firings into the main Russian missile test center at Krasnyy Yar on both the intermediate range extending to the southeast toward the Afghan border and the longer range track extending eastward on about a heading of 70 degrees to the Pacific Ocean in the area around Vladivostok in Siberia…The General Electric operated radar near Samsun has provided data on the type of Russian missiles being launched from the Krasnyy Yar test complex, their speed, altitude, track and approximate range. Data is automatically recorded and transmitted to the U.S., where data reduction is handled by the Lockheed Missile Systems Division and the Stanford Research Institute.”

The story was published in a turbulent time.  Earlier that month, the Soviets had upped the ante in the Cold War by successfully launching the Sputnik satellite, generating fear by the U.S. and its allies that they were being overtaken strategically and technologically.

Still, leading U.S. newspapers came to the defense of Aviation Week’s decision to reveal the U.S. radar base in Turkey, including the Los Angeles Examiner, New York Herald Tribune,  Wichita Beacon, Milwaukee Journal and Hartford Courant. “In Sputnik, and in all that has followed about missiles and rockets and Soviet technical achievements, every one of us has had an object lesson in what it means not to know what is going on,” wrote the Courant. “For years, newspapers and scientists have been knocking on the doors of the Pentagon with a plea that the American people be told about their military strength, especially as regards scientific progress. But the doors have been closed. To this day, we keep them closed to the point of silliness.”

Read the October 21, 1957 article and the U.S. press defense of Aviation Week in the digital archives. Access to the archive is free for registered users through 2016.


Discuss this Blog Entry 23

on Aug 24, 2016

Thee should of been an investigation if we were not tracking the missiles

on Aug 24, 2016

Well, you didn't get your nickname of "Aviation Leak & Space Treachery" for nothing.

on Aug 24, 2016

Since the Cold War began.

on Aug 24, 2016

Best test of program security ever was AWAST.....if it appeared there, you knew the Soviets knew too. Treason? Must have been hysterical times....

on Aug 24, 2016

You just know that the Soviets already knew about those radars through sigint.

on Aug 24, 2016

It was a great brouhaha. Aviation Leak even made the newspapers.

The Russians couldn't do anything about it. In fact it put them on notice that we had radar good enough to give warning of a missile attack with the ICBMs they didn't have and who's reentry vehicles we knew didn't work.

What were the Soviets going to do? Shut down operations and move everything to Plesetsk which was within easy coverage from Norway? Stop testing completely? Coat their missiles with Bugs Bunny's "radar invisible paint"? Turn off all telemetry so we couldn't record it?

The real threat of the revelation was that the public might realize we knew just how capable the Soviets were and that Sputnik wasn't the end of the world.

That might have put a spike in the worst Cold War fear mongers. Damn, the Russians are only 5'6" inches tall instead of 10'11"!

No "treason" was involved, rather Aviation Week did a great service to the nation. Sputnik hysteria was rampant and many people were too scared to think straight. The article revealed that we knew what the Soviets were doing and should have eased the American crisis of self-confidence running rampant at the time.

Folks who were describing the White House as "the tomb of the well known soldier" might have understood Eisenhower's assurances we were not really far behind in the race for the ICBM.

Fortunately for the Democrats the public had entirely forgotten a few years later when Kennedy and the Alsop brothers were beating the Eisenhower administration and Richard Nixon over the head with the mythical "Missile Gap."

Eisenhower and Nixon couldn't reveal we had the photos to prove the "Gap" was a lie; nor could they reveal what we actually knew about Soviet capabilities in missiles and space.

Had the public the technical savvy to realize the implications of what Av Leak reported in 1957 Kennedy might well have lost in 1960.

p.s. I didn't realize the implications at that time and didn't read AvLeak until the next year. I do remember the controversy from reading newspapers and watching TV news at the time.

on Aug 24, 2016

A bit like today with Russia!

on Aug 24, 2016

There's an old axiom that I wholeheartedly agree with - "Sunlight is the best antiseptic".

on Aug 25, 2016

Unless you are a vampire...

on Aug 24, 2016

In the 1970s, the FPS-17 detection radar and the FPS-79 tracking radar were installed near a small village about 20 miles NW of Diyarbakir, Turkey. The purpose of the FPS-17 was to detect missile test, and satellite launches. The FPS-79 was tracking radar that fine tuned element sets for satellites, that are used to predict when a satellite will be seen by the FPS-17, and detailed tracking of missile warhead test. This is an area of Turkey that most of the population was Kurdish. Diyarbakir is nearer to Syria than the Black Sea.

on Aug 24, 2016

DoD, NRO, CIA routinely 'leaked' information so the the USSR planners stayed confused as to the technology we had. This was a common ploy with surveillance satellite technology. This 'keep 'em guessing' and 'keep 'em fearful' concept did a good job at overwhelming their tech efforts as they tried to use immature technology.

on Aug 24, 2016

Which leads me to believe that the F-35 is a cover up for something major. But then again, what is it and how much does it cost?

on Aug 24, 2016

The F-35 is well past the point where it could be covering for something else. It's at the rubber meets the road stage.

on Aug 24, 2016

Maybe those were the Pentagon guys that gave you the false story on the Russian nuclear-powered bomber that you published as true!

on Aug 24, 2016

Leaks to Aviation Leak and Space Mythology were common ploys when trying to justify programs and keep the money flowing. Still are.

The Nuclear powered bomber was one of the most idiotic concepts that was popular at the time. Keeping it alive took every boost of credulity and suspension of reason possible.

There were other moments when Av Leak got fooled. I remember seeing drawings of a six engined turbo prop bomber on TV about the time the Atlas program was becoming a real threat to the manned bomber funding. It led to the totally fictitious "Bomber Gap" which cost the taxpayer a bundle.

For a bureaucratic history of the Thor-Jupiter controversy read Michael Armacost's "The Politics of Weapons Innovation the Thor-Jupiter Controversy." For the week by week bloody knife fight, check out Aviation Weeks archives. To get to the bottom of who's rockets were working and who's arrived at the Cape half-assembled you will have to dig deeper.

p.s. The photos of that Soviet "Nuclear" Bomber were of the Myasishchev M-50, a lemon so sour that it was quickly retired to the museum at Monino.

on Aug 24, 2016

"Aviation Leak and Spy Technology" I had read somewhere after the Wall came down (I believe it may have actually been in AW&ST as former Soviet officials were starting to provide the truth behind some of our urban legends about them) that Soviet diplomats would get multiple copies of AW&ST hot off the press each week in New York, get on an Aeroflot plane back to Moscow and throughout the flight transcribe the entire magazine into Russian and had it all completed and ready to distribute to government officials when they landed in Moscow.

on Aug 24, 2016

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823. ME 15:491

"Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." --Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Amendment 1: Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, and Assembly

on Aug 26, 2016

I have been quoting Freedom of the Press statements on local television, and I used The Jefferson Newspaper quote a week ago. I am trying to save a news publication that politics is trying to destroy. Here are a few more for you.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. "That was Martin Luther King.

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” Groucho Marx

In an NBC broadcast in 1984 Mario Cuomo said “if you can manipulate the news, a judge can manipulate the law, a smart lawyer can keep a killer out of jail, a smart accountant can keep a thief from paying taxes, a smart reporter can ruin your reputation – unfairly.”

In 1990 Ted Turner was criticized for a live television interview of Saddam Hussein. He was quoted in Newsweek as saying “If we had had the technology back then you would have seen Eva Braun on the Donahue show and Hitler on Meet the Press”

The price of freedom is endless.

on Aug 24, 2016

Funny how times change. Now the media works to hide information from the American people. Like the damage Hillary did to US national security with her sleazy conduct as Sec of State. Not AWST of course,

on Aug 24, 2016

I fail to see what relevancy reporting that had in regards to our knowing vs keeping a capability out of Russian knowledge and ability to avoid.

So what is being said is we should know what the exact covering is for the stealth fighters? I don't think so.

This was not a mismanaged program, abuse of funds, simply what looks to have been a well run ability to keep an eye on the Soviet Union (and not flying over it!)

In many cases the press does not report what they should and then gets on bents of what they should not.

There is a line and its not a fine one, complete lack of judgment and detriment to all our security including freedom of the press.

Funny how other rights get trampled but if someone question Journalism the screaming starts from Journalists.

How about protecting all our rights.

on Aug 24, 2016

On the other hand, AW&ST withheld the announcement of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the XS-1 for about six months.

on Aug 25, 2016

That wasn't uncommon. Back around 1979 or 1980, Armed Forces Journal found out about the stealth program including the fact that the Have Blue technology testbeds were flying. At the Pentagon's request, they sat on the story until after Jimmy Carter revealed stealth to counter claims that he was soft on defense.

on Sep 4, 2016

Aviation Week and the Eisenhower administration had an uneven relationship. In 1955 AvLeak ran an editorial quoting a speech to the Air force Association by Theodore Koop which commended attempts by Eisenhower in 1953 to lessen the excessive classification of information which had become absurd during the Truman administration. (There Is No 'Gray' Security Area, August 22 1955).

Much of the time AW was printing articles covering Democrat attempts to overcome Eisenhower budget cuts or investigating the same.

The last editorial was "The Parthian Shots" by Robert Holtz, (January 23, 1961) denouncing Eisenhower's "Farewell Address." A speech which came to be seen as prophetic a decade later and is one of President's most quoted 55 years after he left office.

I think Cutler was wrong to accuse Aviation Week of treason in the Turkish Radar story. The story did no harm to the US, nor could it. It only served to tell those who thought of the implications that the Sputnik hysteria was baseless.

I suspect Mr. Cutler was protesting a bit too much a story which actually benefited an administration wrongly under attack as being clueless and incompetent.

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