These legendary aircraft have come a long way since launching weather balloons for information, instead flying as high as 90,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, or remotely operating a plane while hundreds of miles away while taking surveillance on the enemy. For this particular operation, the 70 kilograms (150 lb) of cargo went first, followed by the two agents. A balloon would lift a line attached to cargo or a human and then a specially modified aircraft would fly into it, snagging the line and winching the snagged load on board.

And as technology improved, so did our ability to get a “birds eye view” on our enemy – whether that was in the form of a sleek, sexy and fast SR-71 “Blackbird” or the slow moving, strike capable MQ-1B “Predator.”  Here’s a look at some of the best US military spy planes in the last 80 years.

First, they tried using aircraft to bomb the site. It was during a second tour at the U.N., in 1961, that Polyakov sought contact with FBI counterintelligence agents in Manhattan, who dubbed him Top Hat and marveled at their good fortune. In 1951, the CIA was losing out on valuable intelligence because the Soviets were switching to landlines to send messages to the East Germans. This insight may have prevented U.S. miscalculations that would have touched off a shooting war. Only recently did they learn the truth. The US tried to do this from 1948 into the early 1950s with specially built antennae. But there were also ridiculously bold, insane schemes that worked beautifully.

In an interview with Time last week, that CIA officer, who asked that he not be named, recalled how worried he felt when Polyakov was suddenly ordered to return to Moscow in June 1980. No one knows where Dmitri Polyakov is buried -- or how he died. So the US Air Force, with the cooperation of the CIA, built a top secret radar base on a 1,700-meter (5,600 ft) mountain in Laos, a country bordering Vietnam. The answer, thankfully, was no. Located 25 kilometers (15 mi) from the Laos-Vietnam border, the base was manned by CIA personnel and used to direct US heavy bombers in the ongoing … Sam is just a broke college student struggling to get by. Using such tradecraft, Polyakov obtained more than 100 issues of the classified version of Military Thought, a strategy document produced monthly by the Soviet general staff. Polyakov proved that Soviet military leaders were not crazy warmongers.

The Soviets had not destroyed their equipment before they evacuated. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union was parading its scientific achievements around the world. But none of these early attempts worked. To make things more dramatic, the helicopter carrying the American was shot down by gunfire and crash-landed in Panama City. Of all the secret agents the U.S. recruited during the cold war, says CIA director James Woolsey, "Polyakov was the jewel in the crown. Unlike most Soviet officers known to the FBI and CIA, he drank and smoked little and was faithful to his wife. In 1948, artificial radio waves were detected bouncing off the Moon, which gave US Navy technician James H. Trexler the idea for Operation Moon Bounce. The periodical contained frank assessments by leading Soviet military strategists.

And Polyakov often copied documents using film that could be developed only with a special chemical known to him and his handlers; if processed normally, it would come out blank. Insight Keywords. He asked for a lot of trinkets such as lighters and pens, which he gave to other GRU officers who did him favors. "It was breathtaking," recalls Richard Perle, an Assistant Secretary of Defense for President Reagan. The elite aircrew of 2 (pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer) wore special, high pressurized flight suits, similar to that of astronaut’s, to ensure their ability to breath and survive at altitudes exceeding 80,000 feet.

When the scientific tour reached America, the CIA suspected that the “mock-up” was actually a working production model. Among them was a mock-up of Lunik, a Soviet lunar space probe which had been launched to the Moon in 1959. This was a major achievement because the tunnel was buried less than 1 meter (3 ft) below ground near a major highway, which complicated the tapping.

By the late 1970s, CIA officers treated Polyakov more like a teacher than an informant. Even with the sheer awesomeness they provide, our need for battlefield intelligence will only grow stronger from the ISR community. But the expedition ran into trouble near the top of the mountain, and the team was forced to turn back after stashing the parts for the sensor in a crevice. burst to a receiver in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. During postings abroad, he would pass information face to face: in the back alleys of Rangoon or among the bulrushes along the Yamuna River in New Delhi, where his CIA contact would pretend to fish while a hidden recorder taped Polyakov's staccato military briefing, punctuated by peacocks screeching in the background. Operation Moon Bounce was aided by the Soviets deliberately tracking the Moon with their radar for practice. American intelligence operations during the Cold War were filled with embarrassing failures and botched projects. Says a CIA headquarters officer who handled Polyakov's case for 15 years: "He articulated a sense that he had to help us out or the Soviets were going to win the cold war, and he couldn't stand that. His career, in turn, was aided by the CIA, which gave him some minor secrets and provided two Americans whom he presented as the fruits of his recruiting.

Its twin engine, dual tail design (after its sister aircraft the P-61 “Black Widow”) called for 2 pilots with a max speed of 440 mph and a range of 4,000 miles. Aldrich Hazen Ames, a career CIA officer, was arrested in February and sentenced to life in prison after he admitted taking $2.5 million from the KGB, starting in 1985, in return for secrets that included the identities of many Soviet and East bloc citizens spying for the CIA. The aircraft is piloted by 3 remote crewmen; a launch/recover pilot, a mission control pilot, and a sensor operated. Both agents were nearly blown away by the wind before they were snagged.