Eisenhower on the need for U2 missions (1960)

On May 11th 1960, days after the Soviets released information about a captured American spyplane, US president Dwight Eisenhower gave the following remarks at a press conference, where he explained the need for U2 missions:

“No one wants another Pearl Harbour. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of a massive surprise attack.

Secrecy in the Soviet Union makes this essential. In most of the world, no large-scale attack could be prepared in secret. But in the Soviet Union, there is a fetish of secrecy and concealment. This is a major cause of international tension and uneasiness today. Our deterrent must never be placed in jeopardy. The safety of the whole free world demands this.

As the Secretary of State pointed out in his recent statement, ever since the beginning of my administration I have issued directives to gather, in every feasible way, the information required to protect the United States and the free world against surprise attack and to enable them to make effective preparations for defence.

My second point: the nature of intelligence-gathering activities. These have a special and secret character. They are, so to speak, “below the surface” activities. They are secret because they must circumvent measures designed by other countries to protect the secrecy of military preparations. They are divorced from the regular, visible agencies of government, which stay clear of operational involvement in specific detailed activities.

These elements operate under broad directives to seek and gather intelligence short of the use of force, with operations supervised by responsible officials within this area of secret activities. We do not use our Army, Navy, or Air Force for this purpose, first, to avoid any possibility of the use of force in connection with these activities and, second, because our military forces, for obvious reasons, cannot be given latitude under broad directives but must be kept under strict control in every detail.

These activities have their own rules and methods of concealment, which seek to mislead and obscure – just as in the Soviet allegations, there are many discrepancies. For example, there is some reason to believe that the plane in question was not shot down at high altitude. The normal agencies of our Government are unaware of these specific activities or of the special efforts to conceal them.

Third point: How should we view all of this activity?┬áIt is a distasteful but vital necessity. We prefer and work for a different kind of world – and a different way of obtaining the information essential to confidence and effective deterrence. Open societies, in the day of present weapons, are the only answer.

This was the reason for my open-skies proposal in 1955, which I was ready instantly to put into effect, to permit aerial observation over the United States and the Soviet Union which would assure that no surprise attack was being prepared against anyone. I shall bring up the open-skies proposal again in Paris since it is a means of ending concealment and suspicion.

My final point is that we must not be distracted from the real issues of the day by what is an incident or a symptom of the world situation today. This incident has been given great propaganda exploitation. The emphasis given to a flight of an unarmed, nonmilitary plane can only reflect a fetish of secrecy.

The real issues are the ones we will be working on at the summit – disarmament, search for solutions affecting Germany and Berlin, and the whole range of East-West relations, including the reduction of secrecy and suspicion. Frankly, I am hopeful that we may make progress on these great issues. This is what we mean when we speak of “working for peace”.”