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American Cartographic Transformations during the Cold War


DOI: 10.1559/152304002782008422

Cloud, John. “American Cartographic Transformations During the Cold War.” Cartography and Geographic Information Science 29.3 (2002): 261–282.

p.1: ABSTRACT: A great convergence of cartography, secrecy, and power occurred during the Cold War. In the American case, a complex series of interactions between secret and classified programs and institutions and their publicly accessible counterparts accomplished both traditional and novel objectives of military geographic intelligence. This process also yielded the World Geodetic System, a mass-centered “figure of the earth” at accuracies adequate for warfare with intercontinental ballistic missiles. A structural and institutional separation developed between enterprises charged with overhead data acquisition systems, which were classified at increasingly high levels of secrecy, and those responsible for data reduction, analysis, and mapping systems, which remained largely unclassified and publicly accessible, in part to conceal the classified data acquisition systems. This structural separation destabilized photogrammetric mapping by displacing systems that privileged dimensional stability with systems that privileged novel sensor types more appropriate to Cold War geo-political objectives and constraints. Eventually, photogrammetric mapping systems were re-stabilized by successfully implementing analytical solutions imposed in digital mapping and data management systems. This achievement re-privileged dimensional stability, now redefined to the new media of geo-referenced digital data. In the early 1970s these developments culminated in advanced research projects of Military Geographic Intelligence Systems (MGIS). Their deployment in the Vietnam War was both their apex and their undoing. In the aftermath, classified mapping and database systems diverged from civilian versions of MGIS, which became known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.1: Three critical themes organize the disparate enterprises, programs, and objectives of this great endeavor. The first of these is the complex relationship between cartography and secrecy. It has been argued that cartography is primarily a form of political discourse concerned with the acquisition and maintenance of power (Harley 2001, p. 85). Harley analyzed early modern maps and their “silences,” which were both intentional and epistemological. The Cold War was prosecuted by a complex array of institutions and programs with differing access to secret data. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.2: These exchanges culminated in a system, still in place, in which the products of highly classified technologies are displayed candidly as completely unclassified maps and data, a process that renders the entire map a kind of “silence” insofar as the map effectively conceals its secret roots as it reveals that secret’s fruits.

The second major theme is the reconfiguration of the geo-spatial sciences in their entirety, which was both the trigger and the ultimate product of this interplay of cartography and secrecy. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.2: Forbes (1980) described the milieu of eighteenth-century “mathematical cosmography” from which emerged Edney’s (1993) complex amalgam of nineteenthcentury cartographic modes. Similarly, Godlewska (1989; 1997, p. 24) has identified a scientific divergence that occurred in the late eighteenth century after the successful realization of western European national-level mapping programs. Once the objectives of the mapping programs had been substantially realized and they no longer occupied the frontiers of research, the unified discipline of geography split into the disciplines of geodesy, cartography, and geography, now redefined as written descriptions of regions and states. Godlewska notes that, from the divergence onwards, the specific histories of the disciplines were not synonymous with each other. I argue that a great re-convergence of these disciplines occurred during the Cold War, at the suites of spatial scales, extents, and tolerances necessary to either wage or prevent nuclear war. This convergence was a relatively short but enormously productive period of technological innovation coupled to major advances in geographical theory, concentrated in the 1950s and 1960s. In the decades that followed, the enriched sub-disciplines that participated in the convergence diverged again. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.2: The third theme of the essay is that of power and its own undoing. This accounts for the subsequent divergence of the geo-spatial disciplines once again, and also for the confounding of their Cold War origins that is at the heart of the incomplete and often erroneous histories that dominate contemporary American cartography and geographic information science. The great Cold War geo-spatial convergence was designed to fight nuclear war but also to preclude it. In obligatory and, therefore, ironic collaboration with the parallel cartographic enterprise in the Soviet Union, the geo-spatial convergence prevented global war for nearly half a century; that was and is its greatest triumph. The deployment of the American geo-spatial convergence in hot war, particularly in Vietnam, led to its undoing. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.2: World War II was a global conflict fought with national maps based on different map datums and different reference ellipsoids. The demands of weapons systems like bombers and missiles with vastly increased ranges made the mismatches between national mapping systems quite evident. One solution to the problem was to expand national datums to include the territory of other nations, but in 1944 this presented enormous technical and political challenges. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.3: Amrom Katz (1948), a photogrammetric specialist whose career extends through this entire story, estimated that about 80 percent of the information secured on the Axis powers and their activities during World War II resulted from aerial reconnaissance. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.4: With the war, the entire infrastructure of American cartography, including academic personnel and universities as well as civilian and military mapping personnel and institutions, was mobilized. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.4: American scientific and technical mobilization for the Second World War was accompanied by broad adoption of compartmentalized security systems and secrecy protocols, the origins of which lie in pre-war corporate intelligence systems (Dennis 1987; 1997). Examination of the re-organizing impact of secrecy systems on American science and technology has focused primarily on the weapons labs developed domestically for the war, and the subsequent Cold War (Dennis 1994; Dennis in press; Doel 1997; Forman 1987; Kevles 1990; Leslie 1992; MacKenzie 1990). -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.5: While data acquisition and management systems might be classified, potential alternative applications for cartographic data from a classified map may be numerous. Alternatively, data from an unclassified map might prove to be strategically important in another context. Therefore, the strategic commerce of secret geographic and cartographic knowledge differs fundamentally from other kinds of secrets. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.5: Both Katz and Leghorn spent their professional lives involved in the dualities of secrecy and disclosure inherent in observation systems that are vital, yet cannot be detected and should never be revealed. Leghorn retired from the Army Air Force to privatize the Boston University Optical Research Laboratory into the Itek Corporation, which has designed the optics of virtually every U.S. classified reconnaissance system. Katz was also at the heart of every early American reconnaissance system. In 1949, Katz and Leghorn were named to a committee to “conduct a survey of the electro-magnetic spectrum from the point of view of its applicability to reconnaissance” (Panel on Cartography and Geodesy 1949, p. 19). That enterprise was part of the larger secret project for “Development of Methods, Techniques and Equipment for Obtaining Information through Obscurity.” “Obscurity” has two different meanings here. The first is that intended by the staff of the Joint Research and Development Board: the relative absence of light and atmospheric clar- -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.6: ity. The specific directive of the secret committee was to develop such reconnaissance tools as radar imaging and flash photography for nighttime and clouded observation. But “obscurity” also describes the process by which scientific and technical advantage could be both gained and disguised, and also be distributed and utilized effectively across the entire range of American civilian, military, and intelligence institutions. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.6: Much of the German Materials captured by the Houghteam were publicly disclosed immediately after the war, and other materials were eventually disclosed following declassification. Even so, other treasures found in Europe were never publicly revealed for the next half-century—including the fact that on April 17, 1945, the Houghteam had located the geodetic archives of the German Army in a remote warehouse in Saalfeld, a discovery that would change the course of the Cold War (Hough 1950, p. 2). -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.7: Through several decades of “black” programs, the CIA devised a methodology for developing overhead imagery sensors and their allied technologies. “Black” programs encompass many endeavors, but for this discussion the important point is that CIA imagery acquisition programs involved small numbers of sole-source contractors cleared into top-secret codeword compartmentalized security domains and paid in unaccountable funds issued directly from the Directorate of Central Intelligence (DCI). The model began in the early 1950s with the GENETRIX program, which used experimental high-altitude reconnaissance cameras mounted in stratospheric balloons. Then came project AQUATONE, better known as the U-2, the first in a series of high-performance, high-altitude reconnaissance planes built in the middle 1950s. The imagery associated with these sensor platforms was ordered under some of the most restricted security protocols ever devised—a set of protocols originally called TALENT. Reconnaissance then went into orbit with a series of satellite-borne imagery systems, starting in 1958 with CORONA, the foundational global remote sensing system (Ruffner 1995; McDonald 1997; Peebles 1997; Day et al. 1998; Cloud 2001b; 2001c) and continuing to the present. Space-borne reconnaissance was ordered under a new set of KEYHOLE protocols. Later these were combined into the Talent-Keyhole security protocol system covering all overhead reconnaissance, which survives to the present day. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.8: In 1947, the U.S. Army Air Force separated from the U.S. Army and was reconstituted as a separate military service, the new U.S. Air Force. Over time, an often problematic division of labor and activities was made between the services, beginning with a document issued in April 1948 by James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense (Forrestal 1948). The most important division relative to cartographic history was that the entire process from imagery acquisition to map creation and production was divided between the U.S. Air Force, which was assigned the primary task of data acquisition systems, and the U.S. Army, which was to concentrate primarily on data reduction systems (Pennington 1973; Livingston 1992). There were important consequences to this division of labor, and, more importantly, to the research and development enterprises of the different services. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.8: More importantly, and in the long run more productively for the history of twentieth-century cartography, the differentiation between data acquisition and data reduction systems was paralleled and amplified by an increasing differentiation between classified programs and systems and their unclassified counterparts that developed in government and academia as unique components of the American system of Cold War knowledge production. These divisions created tensions and technological challenges, which were eventually resolved by invention of a complex ethnography of scientific and technological exchanges that triggered a cascade of novel geographic technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS), which have transformed modern American geography and cartography. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.9: Because the Air Force was responsible for data acquisition, the geo-political exigencies of the Cold War inevitably shifted Air Force priorities away from systems that optimized dimensional stability to other, more classified priorities. Four suites of applications were most important: (1) high feature resolution; (2) broad area coverage, especially angled non-vertical photography; (3) novel and untraditional sensors, including flash-illuminated nighttime photography and radar imagery; and finally (4) near-real-time data, generated largely for use under battlefield conditions. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.12: The RACOMS decade of the 1960s was a productive period for all aspects of data acquisition and reduction systems, across all platforms, secret or not. But productivity came at a high price, both in terms of capital and the difficulties imposed by security restrictions. It is probably impossible to estimate accurately the funds spent on the full cartographic enterprise. The “black” budgets for Corona and its allied secret sensors will never be disclosed. Even so, one can assume that the classified mapping applications based on top-secret sensor systems were probably even more expensive than the publicly acknowledged mapping systems for which budget figures are known. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.12: The scale of these mapping objectives, their associated budgets, and the creative tension between disparate and competitive enterprises engendered dozens of new corporations and “think tanks,” such as Itek and Autometrics, Inc., the principal mapping systems integrator for the Corona camera systems (Doyle 1998). As personnel rotated in and out of government service and private and university work, they were enrolled in what a top-secret CIA memorandum termed “the codeword mapping community” (National Reconnaissance Office 1966, p. 14). That community would take developments in remote sensing and its applications in directions unanticipated only a few years earlier in the Cold War. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.12: With the cascade of technical advancements in mapping systems during the 1960s, disparities increased between the secret systems and their publicly accessible and unclassified counterparts. In response, a series of perhaps counterintuitive initiatives developed. Originating in the secret (codeword) mapping community, they were designed to disseminate the results of their technical achievements without compromising the sources and methods by which those results had been achieved. American classified technologies during the Cold War were often referred to as “black boxes.” -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.14: The disparity between civilian and classified mapping capabilities eventually induced efforts to consolidate the entire array of federal cartographic and geodetic enterprises. In 1973, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Federal Mapping Task Force released a report advocating sweeping changes in the federal cartographic infrastructure. In their conclusion, they noted:

The lack of civilian MC&G [mapping, charting and geodesy] involvement has been accompanied by the development of expensive systems for civilian use that cannot compete in any meaningful way with DOD-developed techniques. Failing to adapt to new technology will mean continued pressure for redundant and less-efficient systems... We believe that federal civilian MC&G resources can be made more productive by a community reorganization based on establishing a comprehensive and integrated program to provide multipurpose products (OMB 1973, 7-11, emphasis added).

-- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.16: As with other Cold War technology systems, panoramic progress was all but synonymous with computational progress in the sense that the project could only accomplish what it could program (Rall 1966, p. 982). These technologies, combined with the data flows from the undescribed (and top-secret) sensor systems they paralleled, would create a system of geographic data systems. As Rall noted:

We expect, eventually, that change detection, automatic image extraction, and automatic mapping will interface into a multi-capable system of high versatility. The capacity of such a system to produce annotations, revisions, orthophotomaps and standard maps should be at least an order of magnitude above that of which we are now capable.... This forms a formidable data base which, for size and complexity, probably has no equal. We are studying the structure of such a data base and how it may be encoded for computer input and manipulation. Currently we have work in progress, in house and on contract, to study discrete portions of such a data base, and encode them and manipulate them in a specific experimental military computer system for command and control (1966, pp. 984-85).

-- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.16: As J.R. van Lopik, a theoretician of military geography, noted in 1962:

It is extremely important, however, that future descriptions of terrain in areas where performance or success of mission is evaluated be quantitative in nature. This is true because qualitative and subjective descriptions of terrain do not provide cause-effect data that can be objectively applied or transferred to other regions. In summary, terrain studies for military purposed require precise, quantitative and objective methods for describing, classifying, mapping and comparing terrain in terms that are naturalistic and not necessarily related to critical value factors (van Lopik 1962, p. 775, emphasis added).

In effect, practitioners of MGIS were uncoupling quantitative methods from critical factors for trafficability, and in doing so were themselves removing the “M” from within, to reveal GIS. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.16: I propose that the “M” in MGIS was lost in the great reduction and simplification of MGI research as the research nexus was increasingly directed to the mapping of first theoretical and then actual battlefields. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.18: And so it was that the power relations that reside in all cartography engulfed this supremely productive Army/Air Force/Intelligence Community nexus as well. Cartographic historian Brian Harley (2001) drew attention to both intentional and unintentional silences, which determined what doesn’t show on maps, and why. Besides Harley’s original silences, which are features that do not appear on the map, the history of American cartographic transformation in the Cold War reveals two other kinds of cartographic silences. The first is that presented by cartography based on secret resources for which the secret remains concealed. This is the purloining of the map, by hiding the secrets in plain view, as most contemporary American government maps do, since they are all based, to one degree or another, on classified assets. The second new type of silence is represented by battle maps that were also civilian land reallocation maps, and vice versa. The geodetic accuracy, the spatial relationships, the geographic “truth” between hamlets was identical, but the maps validated different political concepts, and the ways they were used to literally “target” the populations were quite distinct. Another, more insidious type of silence was created by the success of the targeting. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.19: In a sense, the ortho-pixel represents the final triumph of the Army’s quest for dimensional stability insofar as the privileged stable dimensions are now those of the entire volume of geo-rectified data, “the image of the world in a data barrel” (Light 1971, p. 445). Even so, that world can now be accessed only through a keyhole—of Talent-Keyhole security protocols. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.19: In the next generation of reconnaissance, however, the sensors “went digital,” which meant that the initial pixels themselves began as highly classified data. As a result of these other programs, and their classification levels, the major part of MGIS development necessarily also went top-secret.

A crucial divide was reached. The research enterprise of classified MGIS continued and expanded based on improved data from the next generations of classified sensors. MGIS systems with much lower capabilities, resolution, and funding levels were pushed out into civilian use—with the “M” removed—reborn as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The initial GIS applications were part of major efforts to transfer military systems and approaches to the problems of poor, decaying American cities (Light in press). The approaches generally targeted “urban blight” as the problem, and urban renewal as the solution. Not surprisingly, given its origins, early GIS proved useful for the task of “destroying the neighborhood in order to save it.” -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014

p.19: The relationship between MGIS and GIS is particularly contentious. The fundamental challenge of MGIS was to implement appropriate geo-rectification of panoramic photography and other novel imagery in new digital database and mapping systems; the solution involved overlaying the imagery with map base imagery. The same techniques were transferred to GIS systems to allow geographic integration by thematic overlay (Harvey 1996), a cartographic application with clearly recognized but little researched roots in analog maps of real estate and city and regional planning efforts throughout the twentieth century (Steinitz et al. 1976), and linked to earlier pioneering nineteenth-century cartographic techniques, particularly the mapping of moral statistics (Robinson 1982). Historians of GIS, through ignorance or epistemology, have ignored the MGIS roots of GIS, positing instead a history in which the technology seemingly drops from the skies in the late 1960s (Foresman 1998). This is true only in the sense that GIS may be said to have dropped out of space with the capsules of Corona panoramic photography. -- Highlighted oct 8, 2014