Saturday, November 8, 2014

Archaeology of the Cold War: The CIA Comes Clean on the Black Helicopter

As a student of the intelligence community, of conspiracy theories and of the archaeology of the cold war, I want to bring to your attention an entertaining footnote to one of the memes of the nutty boy, lunatic fringe, the concept of the “black helicopter”.

We all know the joke “just because he is paranoid doesn't mean that people are not out to get him” or variations on that theme. In a similar fashion, just because something is part of a conspiracy theory by lunatics does not mean that it is impossible for certain elements of that theory to be true, even if only partially true. Its a delicate subject, for those of us who believe (or pretend to believe) that there is a hollow earth wherein live benign superior races in a utopian society do not want to sneer too loudly at those fools who believe in other equally ridiculous fantasies. One must tread lightly when confirming a part of a conspiracy theory that one does not step on the toes of fellow-travelers by dismissing their particular craziness. It is also the case that even a clock that has stopped working is correct twice a day, as some wit once put it.

But nevertheless, when studying the history of the intelligence community, there are a number of principles one should keep in mind and these principles are a large part of the appeal. The first thing to realize is that contrary to what you are told, the intelligence community in this country is not evil, but it is very much a bureaucracy that can occasionally transcend its organizational limitations and achieve excellence, and when it does, from time to time, when it is all over, they are happy to talk about it to give credit to those who have accomplished something so that history can know about their work and so their work can act as an inspiration for the future.

It is also the case that these stories are usually also interesting because they involve national purpose in a time of crisis or conflict, and when they are allowed to move forward, also involve great cleverness and often are provided with excellent resources and often very specialized technologies that are the best that we can provide under the circumstances, whatever those may be.

But, this being the intelligence community, which by definition must keep secrets to be effective, these stories are not told until long after the fact, and usually only in part.

For those of you who know what the “black helicopter” conspiracy meme is about and how “black” projects work, you may skip to the last part of this post which describes the entertaining report from the CIA about a quiet helicopter that they built during the Cold War for some as-yet-unidentified mission. For those of you who are blessedly ignorance of the conspiracy theories of the 1990 militia movement in this country, I will try to be brief.

In the 1990s, a part of the radical right-wing fringe of this country formed what has been called the “militia movement” which involved a bunch of armed lunatics who were convinced that our military was planning a coup in conjunction with various elements of our government to end democracy in this country and bring us into a global government which would be known as the “New World Order”. I am not too sure about many of the details of this movement or its personalities and doctrines. I could not tell you for sure whether this was part of the conspiracies of the Rockefellers, the Illuminati or the Catholic Church but one of their particular and idiosyncratic fantasies was the concept of the “black helicopters”. The black helicopters were unmarked, black of course, completely silent helicopters that were run by a secret organization which was planning the aforementioned coup. They would hover above military bases and spy on the militia movement in an effort to destroy them. 

If you want to know more, just go to your favorite search engine and type in “black helicopter” and you will immediately get a bunch of references to them.

Now to any student of intelligence or the military what is funny about this is that, in the absence of any hard information, it is not so improbable that something that one might call a “black helicopter” might exist in the world.

There are several reasons for this hypothetical possibility and here are a few of them. First, “black” is a term of art in the intelligence and military to refer to a project or technology which is being kept especially secret and not acknowledged. These technologies are usually a part of projects which are directed by the security apparatus of this country, such as the National Security Council. The U2 and the SR-71 are two very famous “black airplanes” in this category and both were developed out of a requirement by the President and the NSC to get better intelligence about the USSR's ability to wage nuclear war. Second, one could imagine that there might be projects out there that would require a helicopter that had special capabilities that were held back, kept secret, to be used only under special circumstances. Third, anyone who has ever been around a helicopter knows how noisy they are, but you may not be aware that from the earliest days of helicopters, people have been doing research into how to make them quieter, and they have come up with a number of techniques to do so. Proven techniques. (1) So why dont they use them then, you might wonder. The answer is always a variation of the old adage that “nothing in this world is free”. A technology that makes a helicopter quieter might greatly increase its cost, or limit its speed and range, or reduce its reliability.

Finally, we had hard evidence that at least one stealth helicopter had been built, or two of them, because SEAL Team Six had crashed one of them on their raid on Bin Laden.

Which leads us to this interesting report.

Once upon a time, about 1970, the CIA had the need to be able to sneak into a foreign country, unnoticed, and either bring in, or bring out, someone or something. The place it would be going would be suitable for a helicopter, in other words, it could be an empty parking lot or someone's back yard. But it had to be totally silent, invisible to radar, fly in the dark, be able to go a long distance, pick something up (or drop something off) and then make the return trip.

The problems they had to solve included increasing the range of the helicopter, reducing the noise signature of the helicopter so that it could fly very close to people and not be noticed, and because it would be flying very close to the ground to avoid radar, it needed some sort of navigation aid that would let the pilot avoid obstacles and still not be visible to the naked eye.

In a remarkably short period of time, and with the help of a variety of defense contractors and individuals working on their own time, they were able to do so, and in doing so, they proved a number of technologies which were of immense value moving forward in the non-secret world, including a much better version of FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared).

The report can be found on the site and can be located here:

So now, about 40 years later, they tell us about the helicopter. But they are still not telling us a damn thing about where they used it and for what purpose. What glorious episode from the Cold War does this conceal?  A flight to freedom of one of our agents?  We will know one day.

Of course this report will not satisfy those noble seekers-of-truth who are working to prevent the government take over to create the New World Order.  But at least it does reveal that some of this technology does exist.  We must all be vigilant to see that these proud covert creators of anti-freedom helicopters are not permitted to implement socialized health care.

Its up to us.



1. An example of a “proven technique” to make a helicopter quieter is simply to move the rotors more slowly as much of the noise that a helicopter generates in flight comes from the movement of their rotors in the air. But obviously this technique has an impact on the performance of the helicopter.

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