“I” Stood for “Intelligence” and for “Investigation”

Stood for
and for

© David Burton 2024


     Back a few decades before I retired as an engineer, I had occasion to deal with two government agencies, both of which had the letter “I” in their initials – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). If you watch television, you undoubtedly get the impression that both agencies do nothing but hunt/catch spies and criminals. My dealings with the two organizations were much more mundane. My interactions with them were on a technical level and involved the products that were being developed by the companies for which I was employed by.


     My interaction with the FBI had to do with a photographic film processor that my company had developed for the U.S. Navy.

     Way back in time, before solid state T.V. cameras had come into common use, intelligence imagery was obtained with film cameras. One method of obtaining such intelligence imagery was through the periscope of a submerged submarine. Obtaining such information was often a dangerous undertaking. Frequently, the intelligence-gathering submarine was in locations where U.S. submarines were not supposed to be.

     Since taking the clandestine photos put the submarine and its crew in danger, it was important that the submarine go into and out of the dangerous locations a minimum number of times. It was thus highly desirable that the periscope imagery be examined as soon as possible to determine if the imagery were acceptable or if the photos would have to be retaken before the submarine left danger zone.

     The company for which I worked, developed and manufactures a compact self-contained table-top black-and-white film processor that allowed a member of a submarine crew to immediately develop pictures taken through submerged submarine’s periscope. The film processor was normally set up in the galley of the submarine.

     The Federal Bureau of Investigation became interested in the possibility of installing our film processor in a truck that they would be using for surveillance purposes. This would allow an FBI agent in the truck to immediately develop surveillance photographs and to determine if the pictures so obtained were of adequate quality or had to be re-shot.

     My company was asked to send someone to Washington to describe our film processor. At the time, the FBI had just moved into a brand-new facility – the J. Edgar Hoover building.

     From its inception in 1908 until 1975, the main offices of the FBI were housed in the Department of Justice building. The first request for a separate FBI building occurred in 1939. Although the Public Buildings Agency initiated plans for an FBI building in 1941, America’s entry into World War II required postponing all government building projects. The next serious request to Congress for a separate building was not made until 1961.
     Congress approved a separate FBI building in April 1962. On January 2, 1963, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced the approval of the site for the FBI building bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street and Ninth and Tenth Streets, Northwest.
     The first FBI employees moved into the new building June 28, 1974. Thirty-eight years after the first proposal for a separate FBI building and 15 years after Congress approved construction on the Pennsylvania Avenue site, the last employees moved into the building in June 1977.
     The building received its official name, the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building, through Public Law, 92-520, which President Richard Nixon signed May 4, 1972, two days after Director Hoover’s death. President Gerald Ford dedicated the building on September 30, 1975.[1]

     I went to the recently opened FBI headquarters building and provided the FBI with the information on My company’s unique film processor. Although they expressed interest in acquiring our portable film processing system, they never did so. Shortly afterward, solid state TV cameras and compact digital computers were invented and film processors became obsolete. But, in the meanwhile, I had the opportunity to visit the then-new FBI headquarters building in Washington D.C.


     I frequently watch reruns of the TV show NCIS. When I do so I am reminded of some of my professional contacts with the Civilian Intelligence Agency (CIA). This is so because the exterior photographs of the supposed NCIS headquarters are pictures of the CNIC (Commander, Navy Installations Command) office located int the Washington Navy Yard at 716 Sicard Street in the Southeast section of Washington D.C. One of the CIA facilities I often visited was located at this site.

     Many years back, when the companies for which I was working for had occasion to do work for the CIA, such association was classified, as well as the location of this and other CIA facilities.

     At the times I visited the Washington Navy Yard, this section of the District of Columbia was run down and disreputable. I was warned not to walk the area after dark and not to leave my car parked on the nearby streets, which were inhabited by drunks, drug users, drug dealers and muggers. The sight of the fictional NCIS headquarters on TV brought back “fond” memories of some of my business visits to our nation’s capital.

          The Washington Navy Yard (WNY) is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the United States Navy in Southeast Washington, D.C. It is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy. It currently serves as a ceremonial and administrative center for the U.S. Navy, home to the Chief of Naval Operations, and is headquarters for the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Reactors, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, Naval History and Heritage Command, the National Museum of the United States Navy, the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, Marine Corps Institute, the United States Navy Band, and other more classified facilities.
     The land was purchased under an Act of Congress on July 23, 1799. The Washington Navy Yard was established on October 2, 1799, the date the property was transferred to the Navy, making it is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy.
     The southern boundary of the Yard is formed by the Anacostia River. In December 1945, the Yard was renamed the U.S. Naval Gun Factory. Ordnance work continued for some years after World War II until finally phased out in 1961. Three years later, on July 1, 1964, the activity was re-designated the Washington Navy Yard. The deserted factory buildings began to be converted to office use. The Washington Navy Yard was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and designated a National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976. It is part of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District.[2]

     My business in the Navy Yard was confined to a relatively small section. I did, however have the opportunity to visit other historic portions of the Navy Yard complex.

     Another CIA facility with which I had business was located on the Arlington, Virginia side of the Potomac River. This office was in a commercial building and had a green door behind the reception desk. Hence, I and the other people at my company who knew about our involvement with the CIA, frequently referred to the person we were working with as “the man behind the green door” and that facility as the “office with the green door.” Names and addresses were never used.

    Interestingly, in all the years that I had dealings with the CIA, I never visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia - I always visited one of their other sites.

Fun in the Field

     My dealings with the CIA were normally in relation to electro-optical (EO) devices that were used to detect and track missiles - surface-to-air missiles (SAM's), air-to-air missiles (AAM's) or anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM's) - or to detect and locate the source of weapon flashes.

     In the mid- to late-1970’s there was a very intensive period of activity involving such equipment. The reason for this was that the American intelligence community had come into possession of the latest Soviet surface-to-air and anti-tank guided missiles. The equipment my company was making could be used to detect and record the signals emitted by these Soviet weapons. Our equipment could also form part of a system to detect, track and defeat these threats. The CIA wanted to exploit the opportunity to engage in such activity.

     In 1967, the Arab nations had suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of Israel in the “Six-Day War”. Much of the reason was the Arab’s lack of means to defeat the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tanks and air force. In response to their humiliating defeat, Egypt and other Arab nations turned to the Soviet Union for military equipment with which to defeat Israel in the next war.

     Then, in 1973, Israel again defeated Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War. As a result of its decisive victory, Israel captured an enormous amount of the then most modern and sophisticated weaponry which had been provided by Russia.

     The Yom Kippur War was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The majority of combat between the two sides took place in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

     The war began on October 6, 1973, when the Arab coalition jointly launched a surprise attack against Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

     From the end of 1972, Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its armed forces, receiving the most modern and sophisticated Russian weaponry, including MiG-21 jet fighters, SA-2, SA-3, SA-6 and SA-7 antiaircraft missiles, T-55 and T-62 tanks, RPG-7 antitank weapons, and the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile .

     These advanced weapons were highly effective in the beginning of the war and nearly led to Israel’s defeat. In the Sinai, initial Israeli armored force attacks were beaten back principally by Egyptians using the portable Soviet supplied anti-tank missiles. The Egyptians had armed their ground forces with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons—rocket-propelled grenades and the less numerous but more advanced Sagger guided missiles, which proved devastating to the first Israeli armored counterattacks.

     The Israeli Air Force (IAF) also initially suffered severe losses from the Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) defense system. In the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli Air Force had pummeled the defenseless Arab armies. This time, Egypt had heavily fortified their side of the ceasefire lines with SAM batteries provided by the Soviet Union.

     With the defeat of the Arab forces – primarily the Egyptian and Syrian armies - Israel captured a large amount of the advanced weaponry that the soviets had supplied them. Partially in repayment for the enormous aid the U.S. had provided Israel during the Yom Kippur War, Israel shared much of its treasure trove of captured Russian technology with U.S. intelligence organizations, one of which was the CIA.

     At one time, I met with a member of the American intelligence community who had gone to the Middle East to meet with the Israelis. He effusively and repeatedly expressed to me his gratitude to the Israelis for all the advanced Russian equipment that they had shared with the Americans.

     It was obvious that the military and intelligence interaction between Israel and the United States was a two-way street. While Israel got much in the way of military aid from America, the U.S. received much in the way of intelligence and technological information from the Jewish nation.

     Much of my dealing with the CIA involved using my company’s sensors in field tests against these captured weapons – mainly anti-tank guided missile. These tests were performed at test ranges in Alabama, New Mexico and Arizona. Some tests, were simply the obtaining of the weapon signature while other tests involved the combining of the sensor with a countermeasure to defeat the weapon. In all cases, the tests were with the actual weapons, i.e., the weapons were live and very lethal.

     Two of these field tests were a bit more exciting than the others. One set of field tests took place at a site in Alabama. The range was set up with an access road on the left side. The weapon firing line was approximately 25 yards to the right of the access road. Our sensor was set up down range on the firing line. A van with the recording equipment connected to the sensor was left on the access road the same distance down range as the senor. For the tests, the ATGM would pass about 10 feet directly over our sensor and impact further down range.

     One of the test firings went awry – the “gunner” lost control of the ATGM immediately after launch and the missile headed down the access road toward our van with all our recording equipment. For a few panicked moments, we waited as the “gunner” struggled to regain control of the runaway missile. At the last moment before impacting the van, control of the ATGM was obtained and the missile was directed back onto the correct flight path.

     A similar event occurred at another series of ATGM test firing in Arizona. In this series of tests, the weapon was fired from the cannon of a Russian tank. The trajectory of the missile was directly over our co-located sensor and the station wagon in which our recording equipment was placed.

     These test firings took place over a span of several days. We were unable to stay for all the tests and we removed our equipment from the test site on the next to last day of testing.

     A few weeks later, I met with one of the other participants in ATGM tests. He told me that we had been fortunate to leave when we did. One of the ATGM’s had malfunctioned and had impacted short of the target – exactly where all our equipment and the rented station wagon had been placed. He jokingly said that I would have had a hard time explaining to AVIS how one of their vehicles had been destroyed by a Russian Anti-Tank-Guided Missile.

  1. History of FBI Headquarters, CNBC, Accessed 28 January 2023.
  2. Washington Navy Yard, Wikipedia, 21 August 2023.

  18 January 2024 {Article 608 ; Suggestions?_85}    
Go back to the top of the page