...PROJECTS GUSTO & OXCART
The CIA knew that the U2's days were numbered from its first missions in 1956. Only a few months later, towards the end of summer, discussions began with several aviation companies about a successor aircraft to supersede the current spy plane; this endeavor was designated GUSTO . In the fall of 1957, and after MIG pilots began to perpetually give U2 pilots close calls, the Agency realized that they had to move quickly and set up a committee to evaluate the proposals from several aircraft contractors. The bar was set pretty high by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed:
It makes no sense to just take this one or two steps ahead, because we’d be buying only a couple of years before the Russians would be able to nail us again….I want us to come up with an airplane that can rule the skies for a decade or more. 
The specifications proposed by Johnson were staggering: a top speed over Mach 3 with a cruising altitude of 90,000 feet. To put the speed in perspective, that's as fast as a high-powered rifle bullet. Although Lockheed took the lead, other contractors presented proposals, and the “Skunkworks” faced stiff competition from the Convair aircraft company, which was already developing a supersonic bomber for the Air Force. Lockheed nicknamed their project “Archangel” which was a play on their working title for the U2, “Angel.” Conversely, the Convair project became know as “Kingfish.” For the next 19 months numerous proposals were presented to and rejected by the evaluation committee. Once Kelly Johnson stated that this plane should “rule the skies for a decade or more,” no one wanted to settle for anything less.
The two firms submitted what would be their final designs to a selection panel with members from the Department of Defense, Air Force and CIA on August 20, 1959 . The Convair Kingfish and the Lockheed A-12 (Archangel-12th version) were the two most advanced aircraft designs ever conceived. After little over a week, the committee chose the A-12 on August 29th . Project GUSTO had come to an end. The new program to further develop and build the A-12 became project OXCART.
An interesting curiosity arose from OXCART. Say the phrase “A-12” to anyone with even the mildest interest in aviation and you'll probably get a blank look. But if you show them a technical drawing of the A-12 from 1959, those same people will recognize it instantly as the SR-71 Blackbird. The plane designed in the late 50s and built in the early 60s lived up to the vision of the man who created it. To this day, there is no aircraft (that we know of) that has even come close to achieving the marks which the SR-71 set in the 1960s.
Right about the time that Lee Harvey Oswald joined the Marines, the CIA was not only concerned about the vulnerability of the U2, they reached the conclusion that they needed a new plane that would far exceed it. I think it would be reasonable to believe that Bissell, Cabell and Dulles thought that it would be only a matter of time, as of 1957, when the Soviets would be able to down the U2 and then down it again. Follow that train of thought, and it makes sense that the CIA would want to milk the U2 program for everything it could. Take the knowledge that the U2 is most likely going to get hit at some point and build a counter-intelligence mission around it. There was plenty of time to develop assets for the operation while the numerous project GUSTO proposals were being evaluated, over a period of 18 months in fact. And there is circumstantial evidence to support that project GUSTO was the foundation for the possible counter-intelligence operation that Oswald may have been a part of.
When you line up the dates of GUSTO with Oswald's timeline, some incredible coincidences occur. Oswald filed for his dependency discharge from the Marine Corps on Monday, August 17, 1959. The final proposals by Convair and Lockheed were presented to the evaluation committee only three days later, on Thursday, August 20th. The committee made its choice for the new aircraft on Saturday, August 29th, and the order for the new plane was placed with Lockheed. Five days later on Thursday, September 5, Lee Oswald was detached from his unit and transferred to company headquarters until his discharge was finalized. The next day, Oswald applied for his passport which he received a week later on Thursday, September 10. Passport in hand, the Marine Corp dutifully discharged the CI operative to begin his clandestine mission.
The prospect of Oswald offering limited information about the U2 (a plane which the CIA knew to be already compromised) to the Soviets in hopes that they would accept him as a genuine defector and possibly entrust him with state secrets, thisnow seems a more plausible objective. Some authors offer evidence that there was a leak in the U2 program from the beginning. If there was any mention of that in The CIA and the U-2 Program, it was hidden behind the redactions or contained within the pages which have been removed entirely. But this author is of the opinion that since the Soviets were able to track the U2 from its first missions, suspects for those leaks would not have included Lee, as he was only 15 when the first overflights began. However, that is not to say the peripheral part of his mission would have been to root out the U2 mole. Regardless of Oswald's mission/objective/goals, the U2 was already on its way to being replaced as of August 29, 1959 when the order for the A-12 was placed with Lockheed – two months before Lee set foot in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Still, the potential for a continuous and long-term yield of information filtered through Oswald as an inserted asset would be worth the short-term sacrifice of changing call signs and code names which we discussed earlier. The value of the continuous intelligence he possibly could provide surpasses the value of possibly debunking relations between the U.S. and Russia. Which is something that the rightwing Cold Warriors like Allen Dulles, Bissell, and Jim Angleton would want to do anyway. That may be my opinion, and a value judgment which may reflect differently among different researchers. But to my knowledge, I have offered here new information about the quite finite lifespan of a spy plane which, in most of the literature, was considered invincible. It turns out, that this was far from the case. Therefore, having Oswald offer up any secrets to it as a counter-intelligence ploy would not have been as costly as first imagined. Since, as noted above, when Oswald was being discharged, the order for the A-12 was being first sent to Lockheed...
Thomas Graves wrote: Interesting article, Jimbo. Thanks for posting it.
When I clicked on links 1), 7a), and 7b) at the bottom, I got the CIA's home page and the message "404 Not Found" When did this article firs appear in CTKA?
Jim DiEugenio wrote: Thanks Karl and David.
It went up yesterday.
Do you really think they withdrew it that fast? Will check on it later with the writer.
...PROJECTS GUSTO & OXCART
The CIA knew that the U2's days were numbered from its first missions in 1956. Only a few months later, towards the end of summer, discussions began with several aviation companies about a successor aircraft to supersede the current spy plane; this endeavor was designated GUSTO...
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