cover image SECRET EMPIRE: Eisenhower, the CIA and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage

SECRET EMPIRE: Eisenhower, the CIA and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage

Philip Taubman, . . Simon & Schuster, $27 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85699-5

In this exciting, meticulously researched spy story, Taubman takes readers behind the closed doors of the Eisenhower administration to tell about the small group of Cold Warriors whose technological innovations—including the U2 spy plane and Corona, the country's first spy satellite—revolutionized espionage and intelligence gathering. The author, an award-winning New York Times editor who has reported on national security issues for more than two decades, gives an account drawn from previously classified documents, oral history archives and scores of interviews with the men who were there. The new technology was driven by the need for safer ways to spy on the Soviet Union—hundreds of pilots had been killed or lost in aerial reconnaissance missions—and, as Taubman argues, it served as a peacekeeper by eliminating the fear of surprise attack. Through the U2 program, CIA analysts determined that the U.S.S.R. was neither outpacing the U.S. in the manufacture of long-range bombers nor fielding hundreds of intercontinental missiles as feared. This book functions marvelously as a history of science, detailing the research, engineering and policy decisions behind the U2 and Corona, but it's also an excellent social history of the Cold War in the 1950s and early '60s. It's a page-turner as well, notably with Taubman's narratives of the first U2 flight, Sputnik and the downing of Francis Gary Powers's U2 over the Soviet Union and the resulting blow to the Eisenhower administration's credibility. Taubman sheds light on a era when the nation's lawmakers were regularly kept in the dark about CIA and other spy agency activities. In an epilogue, the author addresses some unintended consequences in light of September 11, exploring the neglect of conventional manned spying. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Mar.)