CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)

CIA Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)


The Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) is one of four directorates within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides support to the CIA mission through research, development, acquisition, and operation of technical capabilities and systems. DS&T also directs the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). Its most notable work, however, is its task as a "spy shop," in which some of the most innovative surveillance technology in history—the U-2 and A-12 spy planes, or the KH-11 and other satellites of the CORONA program—were first envisioned.

Early History

From the earliest days of CIA, itself created in 1947, scientific and technological support has been an important component of the agency's mission. The earliest ancestor of DS&T was the Office of Reports and Estimates, which in December 1948 merged with the Nuclear Energy Group of the Office of Special Operations to form the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The latter would remain the CIA's principal scientific research laboratory until 1962.

In researching his book on DS&T, The Wizards of Langley (2001), intelligence scholar Jeffrey T. Richelson accessed a host of documents that were once highly sensitive, but are now declassified. He posted a number of these at a permanent Web site associated with the George Washington University National Security Archive. One notable early example from the collection is a November 5, 1954, letter from Polaroid chief executive officer Edwin Land to Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles, urging him to develop a specialized aircraft that could fly at high altitudes and obtain ultra-high resolution photographs. From this letter and other early discussions would come the U-2, developed at Lockheed's Skunk Works facility in California.

Other documents from the 1950s show early CIA plans for the deployment of the first spy satellites. At that time, the Air Force had its own satellite project in the works, but the CIA's CORONA, launched in 1959, would prove much more successful, and would outlast the Air Force SAMOS program by a decade. Much less successful were CIA experiments with psychotropic drugs, including LSD, during the period 1949–1963. Richelson excerpted a January 1975 memo, written just before the CIA became the target for a series of congressional investigations, detailing those experiments, including the infamous MKULTRA program.

The 1960s. In 1962, OSI became the Deputy Directorate for Research, whose name was again changed to Deputy Directorate for Science and Technology in 1963. The directorate assumed its present name in 1965. During this period, the agency developed the A-12 Oxcart, which, though successful, never equaled the U-2 for accuracy. Its satellite programs continued to progress, yet as an NPIC photographic interpretation report from August 1962 showed, even the KH-4 satellite did not offer imagery any better than that obtained by the U-2.

A March 1967 memo, from which several details (including the recipient) were excised, provides an illustration of the folly that sometimes befell DS&T. The memorandum describes a project known as "Acoustic Kitty," whereby DS&T attempted to develop a mobile eavesdropping platform using a cat that had been surgically altered by cutting it open, inserting batteries, and wiring its tail to become an antenna. The unfortunate creature was run over by a taxi before it could be trained for its mission.

The 1970s. More indicative of DS&T's involvement in cutting-edge technology was a report from a June 1971 meeting of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in which President Richard M. Nixon, along Land (still highly involved with the Intelligence Community) and others, discussed the idea of developing a satellite that could return images in real time. Today, of course, such a concept is well known, but in an era when satellites still recorded images on film for viewing days or weeks later, the idea of a satellite that could instantaneously relay images to a ground station seemed farfetched. In December 1976, the vision discussed at this meeting was realized with the deployment of the KH-11 satellite.

Once again, documents selected by Richelson illustrate juxtaposition of scientific triumph with less successful undertakings. Even as KH-11 was being born, DS&T undertook experiments in "remote viewing," or the use of purported psychic knowledge to explore targets of interest that could not be glimpsed by ordinary means. According to a December 1975 report from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, remote viewers "saw" a number of objects that, as shown by satellite photography, were not at the site in question. After the end of the Cold War, American scientists visiting the site discovered that it was being used to develop a nuclear-powered space rocket and not—as remote viewers had supposed—for underground nuclear tests.

DS&T Today

Information about more recent DS&T activities is necessarily scanty, but these details from the first 30 years of CIA science and technology illustrate the breadth of activities with which it was associated in the past. As of 2003, the DS&T is tasked with collecting, assessing, and exploiting information to assist the agency in the execution of its mission by applying innovative scientific, technical, and engineering solutions to critical intelligence matters.

The workforce of DS&T incorporates some 50 different disciplines, ranging from computer scientists to engineers to linguists. These specialists develop, design, evaluate, and deploy highly specialized equipment intended to provide the United States with a significant advantage in intelligence and special operations.

DS&T is involved in a whole range of functions that support the entire intelligence cycle. These activities include collecting information and materials of intelligence value from foreign open sources, developing and deploying collection systems against the most challenging intelligence targets, supporting the National Reconnaissance Office in creating efficient satellite systems, providing state-of-the-art technologies for the clandestine collection of intelligence, and researching and developing advanced technologies to provide and maintain an advantage for the United States. In pursuit of these activities, DS&T in 2001 developed In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit corporation intended to seek information technology solutions to critical needs faced by CIA as a whole.



Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri, and Christopher M. Andrew. Eternal Vigilance? 50 Years of the CIA. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1997.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. The U.S. Intelligence Community, fourth edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.

——. The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.


Goodman, Melvin A. "Science at the CIA." Issues in Science and Technology 18, no. 3 (spring 2002): 90–93.

Mooney, Chris. "Spy Tech." The American Prospect 13, no. 2 (January 28, 2002): 39–41.

Prados, John. "Understanding Central Intelligence." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 2 (March/April 2002): 64–65.


Directorate of Science and Technology. Central Intelligence Agency. < > (April 24, 2003).

Richelson, Jeffrey T. Science, Technology and the CIA. National Security Archive, George Washington University. < > (April 24, 2003).


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