How the CIA Made a Checklist on Photographing UFO Sightings

Declassified is an original Phoblographer series that digs deep into historical documents to examine how the government used photography.

In the late 1950s, an anonymous man explored space from his backyard using his telescope. Just like many of you, he was fascinated by what’s out there. And what he found intrigued the CIA. Some probably thought that he was crazy. But a report details the high-resolution photography and emulsions he was using to get the photos. Strange objects were appearing not far from the moon. The CIA received things like this all the time, but the outstanding, high-resolution images this man shot began a vintage X-Files series of investigations. It concerned them enough that they started studies almost 62 years ago.

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In the 1970s, the C.I.A.’s Bird Camera Program Spied on the Soviets

Declassified is an original Phoblographer series that digs deep into historical documents to examine how the government used photography.

The C.I.A. is no stranger to working with animals. And for a time, the common pigeon was a clandestine photographer in the name of Uncle Sam. In the mid-1970s, the C.I.A. describes what’s called the Bird Camera Program. Tests were done all around the United States to send our feathered friends into the Soviet Union. There, the undercover pigeons would fly from point A to point B. Along the way, a camera would photograph whatever was below on the ground. A modified Minox camera was developed to do that. Minox was a company that was well known for their spy cameras and using the 110 film format to get essential photos. 110 film is around the size of a modern Four Thirds sensor. Many years before Olympus and Panasonic developed its spiritual successor, the C.I.A. was putting it to use for spying.

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In the 1960s, High-Resolution Color Photography Pained the CIA

The Declassified Series is a Phoblographer original series that digs deep into historical government documents to examine how they used photography.

To say that Color Photography was a big headache for the Central Intelligence Agency is an understatement. Considering their use of Kodak Aerochrome, it was a huge priority for them. Aerochrome was an infrared film that turned greens into reddish-purples. Ultimately, it let the government find well-camouflaged guerilla fighters in the Congo. But before that, the US had some major frustrations with the format. Depending on who you ask, color photography processes properly began in 1907 with the Lumière Autochrome process. Still, most of the world’s iconic photographs were shot on Black and White after color processes were developed. In the 1960s, the CIA needed high-resolution color photography: Black and white photography wasn’t cutting it. So they went to Kodak–the American film brand the entire country trusted.

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Declassified CIA Document Details Civilians Using Satellite Imagery to Spy on Russian Military

We’re no doubt in some pretty crazy times involving government spying and well as some crazy politics; but a recently declassified CIA document shows us that we’ve pretty much just always been in those times. You see, drone photography isn’t really a new advancement–according to said document the agency had been tracking civilians using satellites of their own to spy on the Russian military back in April 7th 1976.

In fact, civilians used to use satellites of their own to see how crops were doing, manage land, etc.

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In 1972, the CIA Went to the Bottom of the Ocean to Retrieve Film

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Photos courtesy of the CIA

Right now in America, we’ve been going through a lot of questioning of our government because of allegations of domestic spying. But what some folks don’t know is just how far America has gone before with their spying efforts. In 1971, they sent a spy satellite up into the atmosphere to collect intelligence. The satellite was part of the HEXAGON program that took loads of photos on film–mostly because digital wasn’t really progressed that far yet and film was still superior. One of the satellites was supposed to deploy its parachute upon returning to the surface, but it broke off–and so it crashed into the ocean. But it was supposed to be snagged in midair.

And that is when the CIA decided to go high tech–and went 16,400 into the Pacific Ocean.


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