Robert Kohler

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ORAL HISTORIES
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Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview dates
July 2004
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Interview of Robert Kohler by Dan

Ford on 2004 July,Audio and video interviews about the life and work of Richard Garwin, 2004-2012Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/40912-16

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Abstract

In this interview Robert Kohler discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), charged-couple devices (CCD), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.

Transcript

Ford:

We’re rolling.

Kohler:

Okay, how do you want to deal with this. You want to ask questions or you want me to talk a little bit or what?

Ford:

Why don’t you talk a little bit and tell me what your interactions with Garwin have been, essentially.

Kohler:

I’ve known Dick for (I’m like you) maybe 30 years. I’d have to stop and think. But I think I first met him when I was a young GS-14 in the government. This has got to be 1970 or 71, something like that. So, I’ve known Dick a long time.

Probably the first real recollection of Dick Garwin and his contribution to the nation goes back to — it’s got to be 1971. He was on the President’s Science Advisory Committee. It used to be known as PSAC. I don’t know if that name still exists anymore, but there used to be a President’s Scientific Advisory Committee and he was part of a small group of that Committee that was known as the Land Panel. And the Land Panel was chaired by Ed Land, Chairman of the Polaroid Corporation. There was Land and Dick Garwin and I’m trying to think who else was part of that group — my memory is not very good about that. I think maybe Joe Shea. But in any event it was a fairly small group — I think it was no more than four people, in my recollection, that they kind of advised the White House in things they had to do with the NRO and the intelligence business in general. And because of the … when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia everybody realized that recovering film in buckets wasn’t such a great idea because they saw the Soviet troops amassed on the border… I mean, after they had invaded, but everybody said “My God, if we had seen this [laughter] we could have done something about it,” okay. And so there became a real sense of urgency to have what now is known as real-time imaging. And there was a big controversy at the time — this is 1970 — about how to do it. CIA was proposing a silicon based digital system which was considered at the time very risky — you know, silicon diodes. The Air Force would was proposing to take a film based system read — you know process the film onboard — and then read it out with a laser. And there was a big controversy about this — the DCI got involved, the Secretary of Defense got involved. The Agency approach was seen as just way, technically, too risky.

Ford:

Was Pete Scoville involved in any way?

Kohler:

He could have been, but that name just doesn’t ring a bell with me. At the time I was at the agency working on some other projects. I was not directly involved with this project at that time. So I was just kind of listening to what was going in the office. In any event, the decision to do the real-time system was made by President Nixon and it was made upon recommendation of this group in the PSAC who recommended the agency’s approach and that the technology was ready. Dick Garwin was part of that group and, so the story goes, Ed Land actually met privately with the President and said, “Look, this is the way we think you ought to go,” and that’s the way they went. And there was subsequently a memo signed by Henry Kissinger, September 21, of I think, 1971, saying this is what the President decided to do. So Dick played a heavy role in that and in the judgment of what were the proper technologies to be applied to the problem. He did a lot of that for us.

Ford:

What was the type of risk that was involved? That it wouldn’t work?

Kohler:

Well there was a risk that it wouldn’t work. There was a risk that… I don’t think, thinking back, that people didn’t think it wouldn’t work. There were three or four miracles that had to happen to make it work. But I think everybody believed that it could work and I think the risk that people saw was it would take a lot longer than it ended up taking and as a result it would cost a lot more money than the kind people were willing to spend. So I think people saw the risk more as time and dollars than… although, you know, going back to ’71 that wasn’t trashy technology. It was… we look back now and say “that was nothing.” But at the time working on it was pretty challenging stuff.

So, Dick, for us… I ended up running the agency still known as the Office of Development & Engineering. At the time, there’s been some organizational changes and stuff, but, at the time, that was known as Program B of the NRO. And we did all the satellite work that was assigned to the CIA for the NRO and the NRO wasn’t as integrated as it is today. And for a long long time Dick basically chaired the Technical Advisory Board for OD&E. There was a cast of characters in that group that — I’m not even sure at this point I could remember all of them. Joe Shea was one until he died, Frank Lehan, Bill Perry was one of our advisers. But this was kind of Dick’s group and they met and reviewed our stuff.

I remember, one of the famous stories I could tell about Dick Garwin and the kinds of things they did for us. We had started a new version of the real-time imaging system and we were going to transition from silicon diodes to charged-coupled devices. That was risky at the time as well — 1978, 79. We had been working on CCDs in the laboratory, would have never gotten them to work to the specifications we needed for this application, but we said we’ll make them work. So we convinced the DCI that this was a good idea and we started off. And, actually, we were doing fine and all of a sudden we couldn’t make them anymore. We just couldn’t make them. And we went three months without making a single CCD that worked [laughter]. And at the time I was the Program Manager and I was starting to get panicky [laughter] so I said to the contractor, “We’re going to go see Dick Garwin.”

Ford:

Who was the contractor?

Kohler:

Uh…, I’m not sure I want to tell you. Umm… well, they’re not in business anymore. At the time it was Westinghouse in Baltimore and they got bought by…

Ford:

[interrupted Kohler] I think, now they’re in the television business.

Kohler:

No. They had a big defense business in Baltimore — Westinghouse. They had all kinds of stuff. I think they got bought by Northrop Grumman actually. But it was Westinghouse in Baltimore. So we went up to see Dick at his facility at IBM. And they go through all their stories and all their testing and all the stuff they did to try to figure what was going wrong, etc., etc. And Dick listened to this very calmly and finally at the end he said, “Has anybody bothered to check the humidity in the plant?” It was winter. And they all kind of looked at each other [laughter] like, you know, this has got to be the craziest thing we’ve ever heard. They said, “Well, no, but it’s supposed to be 55% or whatever the number was. And he says, “Well I suggest you go check the relative humidity.” Well, sure enough, they go back and the humidifier had broken down and so the relative humidity of the plant was actually 20% or something like that. So every time somebody picked up one of these chips they were getting about a 50-volt shock across the diodes and destroying the chip. [Laughter] So, fix the humidifier, everything was fine. That is the funniest story. I mean Dick just sat there and said [laughter] … We were expecting some big design issue.

Ford:

I remember, a good friend of mine was an experimental physicist and he was one of the people who shared the Nobel Prize for discovering the quark. And so I visited the Stanford accelerator and he gave me a tour of that and I had visited Fermi Lab, etc., and he showed me this massive array of like giant metal curtains, hundreds and hundreds of them. Each of them must have been 100 ft by 100 ft. I’m not a physicist, so I was asking him what was his work on all of this? And he said, “I’m designing the air conditioning system [laughter] for the building.” And, you know, I said to him in my excessively blunt way, “Why is a Professor of Physics at MIT designing an air conditioning system? Why isn’t something just handed off to a graduate student?” He said, “It’s VERY important … when things get hot and cold they expand and contract [laughter] and whatever and we have to know how to keep this thing in certain conditions, or if it changes, we have to know how it’s changing. These are very, very, very, very fine measurements.”

Kohler:

There you go, there you go.

There is another… now we can, we can put a little… I’m not sure Dick would like me telling this story but I’m going to tell it anyway. There is another funny… this is a funny story, this is a funny story.

We used… you know, of course, we called the… it was known as the Garwin panel, but we called the group together usually twice a year. Sometimes more, depending on the situation, but at least twice a year to review our programs and give us some advice. And this particular meeting was being held at…

Ford:

Excuse me, before you go into that. So you ultimately did manufacture the CCDs…

Kohler:

[Laughter] Oh yeah, they went fine! Yeah, yeah. That fixed it. I mean that fixed it. They all got delivered on time and the whole thing worked beautifully.

Ford:

Okay, I just wanted to wrap up that.

Kohler:

Absolutely.

So, anyway, this meeting was being held in Valley Forge. The… our system integration contractor was G.E. Valley Forge, subsequently bought by Lockheed. And so we were having the meeting up there and for some reason it was really… there was something else going on in Valley Forge — it was hard to get hotel rooms. And so at the time I had an Executive Assistant, a lady by the name of Tish Vajta. And Tish was a moderately attractive looking woman and very energetic. And Dick was coming and then he wasn’t coming and then he was coming and then he wasn’t… You know, one of those things with Garwin, okay, so you never knew. And at the last minute he was coming. I mean the last minute. And we were having a cocktail party and dinner for all the Board members at one of the hotels, or the hotel where we were staying. And so Dick shows up. Well, he doesn’t have a room, see. There’s no room. So I just decided to give Tish, you know, how could you, the chairman of our group, how could you do this to Dick Garwin, you know, no room, you know. So she goes over to him, she’s really up…, she’s all flushed, and she’s really very upset now. And she runs over to Dick. And Dick is standing there holding a glass of wine, and she says, “Dr. Garwin, I am so sorry about not having a room,” she says, “you can spend the night with me.” [laughter]. I was going to die, I was laughing so hard, you know. So Dick, you know very…”Uh no. I don’t think that will be necessary, I’ll stay with Bob.” So he did stay with me. Typical Garwin. We get to the room and at that time email wasn’t quite so easy over the phone as it is today. So he had all his stuff he hooked up to the phone, you know, to do his emails and…

Ford:

You mean… modem…

Kohler:

[laughing] Yeah, he had all his stuff. Okay, he was doing all this stuff. So he was doing that for awhile and finally he says, he says “You know,” he said, very dry, he said, “Tish offered me to stay with her tonight.” And I said, “Yeah, I know.” And he says, and you know he says, “I’m just too busy for that kind of stuff.” [laughter]. I thought it was so funny. He didn’t know quite what to do with it all. And she wasn’t serious; she was just so upset, you know. It was funny. That was funny.

On a more serious note, you’ll remember Dick was a big disbeliever in Star Wars and he had written a number of pieces about Star Wars. And I think it was The New York Times, but he wrote one of these guest editorials land-blasting Star Wars. So apparently in the Pentagon the word went out, you know, Garwin is verboten. I mean, we ain’t going to have Garwin on any of our panels. The White House is pissed. So I get a call. I get a call from Pete Aldridge who, at the time, was Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the NRO. So Peter calls me and he says, “You got to,” and he knew Garwin chaired our panel. And he says, “You’ve got to get rid of Garwin.” I said, “What do you mean I’ve got to get rid of Garwin?” He says, “Well, the White House is really upset and Cap Weinberger has put out an edict that” you know “Garwin is not to be on any defense boards panels.” So he said, “You got to get rid of him.” I said, “Peter, first of all, this is CIA not defense. Secondly, he’s on my panel not yours. And thirdly, if the Director of the CIA tells me to get rid of him, I’ll get rid of him. But he’s staying because he does us too much good” [laughter]. So there is this silence on the end of the phone. So finally Pete, because Pete knew better, Pete says, “Okay, just keep it quiet.” [laughter]. So he never went off the panel.

Ford:

I’ve seen instances like that where he’s gone public or been pushed to go public. Congress got wind of the PSAC report he had done about the Supersonic Transport and insisted that he testify. I think that was the first time he had testified in public. And he said he couldn’t say what the PSAC report said, but Congress wanted to ask what his view was on any aspect of it and then he would give his answer. So he thought SST was stupid, dumb, ridiculous [laughter], etc. But nevertheless that didn’t interfere… well there might have been a temporary edict or something like that, but that did not interfere with his… because the Land Panel, I think, was after this. It’s a combination of the fact that he was a pain in the ass but [laughter] some people felt they couldn’t do without him.

Kohler:

There was another, there was another meeting I was at. This… the NRO at the time also Under Sec…, let’s see, was he Under Secretary? Yeah, he was Under Secretary — Hans Mark who became Associate Administrator of NASA and then went to the University of Texas after that. And there was a… one of these typical government battles going on between… There was a bunch of people including Congress who thought that we just ought to rely completely on electro optical imaging and get rid of all the film systems. And it was partly cost driven. So, and at that time all the film systems were I the hands of the Air Force and of course CIA was doing the electro optical stuff.

Ford:

Electro optical is the equivalent of television?

Kohler:

No. These were the CCDs. It’s not video but, but pretty fancy stuff.

So, anyway, and the Air Force was pushing real hard that they needed to have… needed to keep the film systems because you could just scan a lot more area with the film than you could with electro optical, and (they said) electro optical couldn’t do very much area coverage, and they were telling a whole bunch of lies mostly. So we ended up in a meeting with Hans Mark and his classified office over at the Pentagon and Dick was there. I’m not even sure WHY Dick was there, but maybe we invited him. And this was kind of going to be the showdown meeting. And so Hans Mark starts to go into a speech about how you can only do this with film systems and you can’t do it with electro optical systems and he goes on for awhile [laughter]. Hans looks at… I mean Dick looks at him and he says, “Hans, you’re much smarter than that. You know better than that. What you’re saying is not true.” He says, “You know you can do this.” He just cut him off like that [laughter]. And so Hans said, “Well, but it’s hard.” [laughter]. And Dick says, “Yeah, so its’s hard.” The film systems died. We went on and… but I mean it just… Dick was an invaluable guy.

Well, when we had some problems on the latest, the latest, version of electro optical which you’ll read in the press, FIA — the Future Imaging Architecture system — which is being done by Boeing. This is probably three years ago. We had some real troubles with stabilizing the optical system and how to do all that. And the Boeing program manager, Ed Nowinski, who followed me — removed by one person &dmash; as Director of OD&E and knows Dick very well. We got together and we said, we need to get Garwin to dig away at this… [laughter]. So we called Dick. I got hold of Dick and said, “Could you come to California and we’ll pay for all your expenses.” And he sure did; in about half-a-day, he made all the suggestions that were actually implemented. The guy is so quick and so good. … he says, “Well now why don’t you just put these struts here and do this and do this … put launch-locks over here and …” And we did what Dick suggested and it solved the problem fine.

Ford:

Does he get paid a king’s ransom for doing this?

Kohler:

Not my, I mean, not by my … I mean he does it, Dick. You know, as strange as he is at times he’s always been a VERY patriotic guy. I mean that’s my way of describing. I don’t know how he would describe it but he would do almost anything for the intelligence community. And for the Department of Defense to be sure… but I just saw, I just saw that side of it. I mean he never, he never… there are consultants that try to hold you up for money. That was never an issue with Dick. I mean we paid him and he got paid for all his stuff but he seemed to do it because he wanted to do it. I think he liked the technical challenge as well. I mean some of these were really pretty neat technical things.

We had, we had, this is probably the last story I can tell. But we were having a lot of troubles… One of the subsystems on this electro optical system is a traveling wave tube. And it, you know, it communicates the data out to a relay satellite and then back down to the ground. And we were having a lot of trouble with this traveling wave tube and we couldn’t figure it out. I mean we just, we had… finally we got the best people we could find from Lockheed R&D labs and Palo Alto, the best people we could find from TRW. We just, you know, the best minds we could get around the country. One guy from some UCLA or Caltech — I can’t remember which — to take a look at all this and try to figure out what was going on. And they did a bunch of analysis, a bunch of tests, etc. and finally concluded that what was happening to us was that as we went through the ionosphere ions were bombarding this tube. The ions would then collect around the tube and it would cause it to break down and get a spark. And after two or three of those arcs you just break the whole thing down and have a little carbon track and it shorted the whole thing out. And, I mean, this sounded really kind of weird and so we had a meeting with all these experts and our tech panel and Dick and all the guys in the tech panel. And my boss at the time was a Ph.D., Bernie Lubarsky, who I didn’t think very much of but he ultimately got fired by the agency and sent … TRW took him off our hands. So he’s sitting there listening to all this and he says, “This is the craziest thing I ever heard.” And Garwin says, “I think these guys are on to something.” [laughter]. Well that’s what it was. And when we finally just oriented the... controlled the orientation of the vehicle so that those tubes didn’t get hit, it worked fine [laughter]. And then we fixed them after that okay but. But Dick was the guy who just sat there listening.

The other thing I loved about Garwin…

Ford:

Could you describe, generically, what was the device that this was connected to…

Kohler:

It’s a, it’s a, you know, it’s like a tube in your TV only it’s about this big. You know it’s a, and it’s powered by a f…

Ford:

And this is like inside a satellite.

Kohler:

Inside a satellite, powered by a 14,000 volt, high-voltage power supply which is fairly unusual in space. But in any event… and this sent… I can’t tell you all the details because they are classified but it basically sent the radio frequency wave across space to a relay satellite. So without this device you were dead. Now we had two because they were redundant but…

Ford:

Was this for photo images or…

Kohler:

This was for the electro optical imaging. The CCD data got processed okay, encrypted, encoded, blah blah blah, and then sent out via this device. As I said, you know, it’s like the old TV tube in the old days. It does basically the same thing, just a lot fancier. So this is just causing things to short out. You get this little carbon track where it arced because of the ions and after two or three it gets a little carbon track and just caused a hard short … thing wouldn’t work. I mean it was fixed in subsequent satellites but in that one we had to just change it by how we operated it. So we operated it as it was going through the ion belts we oriented the vehicle so it wasn’t… this thing wasn’t getting hit, there was plenty of shield. And it worked out fine. But it was Garwin who said …”Yep,. these guys got the right answer,” not my boss.

But… the other funny thing about Dick … he had trouble staying awake in meetings. And he’d sit in his chair for all the world looking like he was sound asleep, okay. And then somebody would say something that got his attention and boom! And he’d ask some question that would… I mean he’d somehow been listening to this the whole time, okay [laughter]. It was just a penetrating question. It just… it would catch the guy completely off-guard because it looked like he was, you know, his head down and his shoulder… [laughter]. He never missed a beat, even when he was sleeping.

Ford:

When I met him 30-odd years ago I was with another physicist who wanted to meet him to ask some technical question pertaining to some basic physics experiment they were doing and he booked like a 5-minute interview. And I was just invited along to shake Dick Garwin’s hand or whatever. The whole time this physicist was talking to Garwin, Garwin was reading through what looked like notes of the meeting [laughter] he had been in. But this other guy knew him well and wasn’t put off by this — I would have stopped talking, waiting to get his attention. But no the other guy just continued talking and wanted to know whether Dick thought that approach was correct. And so Garwin says, “Yes, that’ll work just fine” [laughter]. Well, good to see you and [laughter] …

Kohler:

Yes, he’s one of the few guys I know…

Ford:

That was my first exposure to the man.

Kohler:

…that actually could multitask.

The other … he scared me. The only time he ever scared me half to … I learned, I learned with Dick Garwin and I used to tell my people the one thing you did not want to do with Dick was try to bullshit him. You know, if you knew the answer fine. If you didn’t know the answer then it was actually acceptable to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” Fine. But try to give him some line of crap, you were dead. I mean you were dead. I was a young GS14 and this was the first time I had a personal interaction with Dick Garwin, and I was kind of like the chief technologist on one of the agencies film return systems. This, for its time, was a pretty exotic thing. And I was… one of the things I was in charge of was how were we going to measure the performance of the system because there were some incentives in the contract based on over-performance and blah blah. So I was working all that. And so the office director, one of my mentors, John Crowley — who’s now dead, but anyway — I got a call at my desk one day saying “Bob, Mr. Crowley would like to see you in his office and he’s with Dr. Garwin and they want you to come down and talk about what you’re doing in assessing performance. So I knew Garwin by reputation that’s all, okay. You know, and I thought, oh man I’m in trouble. Now here’s this 30-yr old young GS14. So I go down there and I explain what I’m doing. And he says to me… he says now “Bob” he says “you know” he said “why don’t you measure, take a slit and measure the slope of the edge of …” things like buildings, you know, have nice sharp edges. Okay. You could then measure… the transfer function of the optical system and you can get the performance from that. And I said, “Well,” I said, “we thought about that but the problem is the photographic system is non-linear, so it distorts that edge in a way that’s not not linear relative to the optical system in the film’s performance.” And he sat there for a minute and he says, “You know what? You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that.” [laughter]. And I thought, whew! I thought, oh man — I was either dead or alive, one or the other.

Ford:

Did he work … I mean I read one of the … he suggested I read an article that you wrote about … I can’t remember… I don’t know whether it was David but I think it was fairly recent about the state of the NRO and things …

Kohler:

Oh, the decline of the NRO. Yes, yes, yes.

Ford:

The decline of the NRO. But I found it hard … it kept referring to Program A, Program B, and Program C. What are those? You refer to Program B as s….

Kohler:

When the NRO was created in ’62 — you know I can give you a copy of the article, I have it — there were four what became known as programs created. Program A was the Air Force and it was officially known as Secretary of the Air Force Special Projects and for its history it was located in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Air Force station. Program B was the CIA component; Program C was the Navy; and there was a Program D which was a joint Air Force/CIA … it was actually a CIA office but it was almost always headed by an Air Force General. And that was the U-2 and the SR71. It got disestablished, I want to say, ’74 or ’75 when all that stuff was sent to the Air Force. And this concoction of Program A, B, and C came out of the early days when the Air Force had some, you know, ‘50s early ‘60s, the Air Force had some stuff going. They tried SAMOS, you might remember. And then the agency had the U-2 and CORONA, which was the first satellite reconnaissance system. The Navy had a ELINT system — electronic intelligence system — mostly aimed at ships at sea. I think known, I think it was GRAB, I think was the name of that. So when they got in the big fights between the CIA and Air Force over who ought to be in charge of all this, the big compromise was the form of thing called the NRO and make a joint venture essentially between the Air Force and CIA — those were the two big guys The Navy was always relatively small.

Ford:

Where is the NSA in all of this? … just a client or …

Kohler:

NSA is a user. NSA is a user for the SIGINT stuff; the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for the imagery stuff; and DIA for the … what’s called MASINT — measurement intelligence stuff.

Let me see if I can get you a ... well, before we’re done I’ll get you a copy. I think I have an extra copy of that article.

And then so Cheney was Secretary of Defense, so that gives you the timeframe. Marty Faga was Director of the NRO and a decision was made to consolidate A, B and C and basically do away with the individual programs run by the Air Force, CIA, and Navy, and to consolidate everything into this new facility called Westfields in Chantilly, VA.

Ford:

When Dick got this R.V. Jones Award, one of the ten founders of NRO, was that for a particular accomplishment or contribution to A, B, or C.

Kohler:

No. Well, not really. I mean …

Ford:

Was it for anything in particular?

Kohler:

No. It was the founders, you know, the founders, and if you look at the founders actually, almost all of them were people who worked with Program B. But it wasn’t for any particular thing. It was just that their influence back in the early days was SO substantial that, you know, they were recognized as founders. As I say, you get me much before, much before 1970-ish relative to Dick, and I’m not good at that, even though I’ve been in… even though I worked on CORONA at Itek as a young junior engineer. I’ve been in this business probably longer than anybody else at this point in time. Garwin was not in my sphere of influence at that point. I kind of heard the name on and off and I heard the PSAC but it wasn’t until I really ran across him in the 70s and his influence on the electro optical real-time imaging system. But Dick was clearly involved way before then as part of the … particularly part of the PSAC activities.

Ford:

Some of these reconnaissance systems nobody has ever heard of and won’t hear about it from you or from him. But of the ones that are known about … like I’ve read the … what was it … The Puzzle Palace … the Bamford book must be like 20-odd years ago and things like the Falcon and the Snowman and the who system that got blown by those … those I presume are the things that can be talked about.

Kohler:

Absolutely.

Ford:

And I guess I was wondering did Garwin have any role in any of those systems.

Kohler:

Well the … I’ve never read the Bamford book so I can’t talk about the Bamford book. The Falcon and the Snowman, that particular system was a Program B system and Dick had a lot to do with that one as well.

Ford:

And that was the system that was intercepting the telemetry of the Russian rocket tests and stuff like that.

Kohler:

That’s right. That was another one of those systems. That was like EO. That’s another one of those systems. It was invented by Program B and most of the big-time scientists in Washington said it couldn’t be done [laughter]. Dick was one of those guys saying, “Yeah, it can be done.” — Dick and Bill Perry actually. Bill was a big supporter of that program as well. And, you know, so went … I’m not … that was a project down the hall from me at the time, so I’m not sure how far it went but that went way beyond the DCI. I mean I think that went to the White House as well for approval. But that was another one of those … a lot of what we did in those days people said could not be done [laughter].

Ford:

If I remember from reading what’s been written about it, it was that just the whole ability to get from geostationary orbit to get down to the ….

Kohler:

Have you read Jeff Richelson’s book, “The Wizards of Langley.”

Ford:

No.

Kohler:

Terrific book, terrific book. It came out …

Ford:

So Richelson?

Kohler:

Here I’ll… turn your thing. I’m making a copy of that other article.

Ford:

I should talk with him. He may have a Garwin file.

Kohler:

He might well. He might well. I can give you a … let me get you his telephone number and email address. Jeff and I communicate on occasion and had dinner in Washington a couple of weeks ago.

Other projects that I’m involved with which the Secretary of Defense and the DCI set up to take a look at the NRO actually and how it’s managed and what we should do about it. So I had dinner with Jeff one night … a couple of weeks ago I said I’ll buy you dinner if you come to talk to me. We’ll do the reverse instead of you interviewing me, I’ll interview you [laughter]. So but … he sent me in the mail I mean just a whole bunch of stuff. He apparently looked back through his files and found articles that other people had written about the inner … [laughter] with some stuff from history, you know — telephone conversations between McCone and Brockway McMillan from ’64 [laughter]. He just sent me all this stuff. He says, “Here. You might just find this useful.”

Ford:

Sounds like somebody who is worth buying him dinner.

Kohler:

I would buy dinner for him, absolutely.

So I, you know, I think that’s all I can tell you about Dick Garwin.

Ford:

Well it’s been quite helpful. Let me just … the satellite system that was intercepting the telemetry, is there anything that you could tell me other than helping in the decision making saying that it could work. Do you recall that there was any specific Garwin technical input on it.

Kohler:

No. As I say that was a project down the hall from me. I was not directly involved with that. But I’ll tell you … I’ll give you one more name. I’ll give you one …

Ford:

We could just make a list of people [laughter] because he is going to be … you’re running up and down … I’ll give you your own pen.

Kohler:

Julian Caballero. Julian, see in, in Program B I was kind of the imagery guy and Julian was the SIGINT guy and Julian actually was the chief system engineer in that program and he knows Dick very well as well. So Julian is a guy to talk to. He’s not much involved with the business these days — he pretty much retired when he left the agency — but he certainly remembers the history and would be much better at what Dick’s participation in that kind of stuff was than I am. So I can get you … I’m not sure I have his telephone number but I have his email address. So who else? You ought to talk to Wheelon, right? I’ll give you that.

Ford:

Yes, I have that.

Kohler:

And Richelson. Who else had Dick sent you to talk to that …

Ford:

Mainly he’s given me long, long lists. Wheelon could even be on the list. Caballero, that’s a new name. Mainly I’m literally starting within the last couple of weeks and I mainly came out here because they had the JASON meetings in La Jolla. So I’ve been talking to JASON physicists.

Kohler:

Yeah, he’s a big JASONs guy.

Ford:

Because … I also … some of the physicists, or one of the physicists, was also talking about Garwin’s work on cryptography which I had never heard about. So …

Kohler:

Okay. That could be. I mean …

Ford:

I’ll have to check it out.

Kohler:

Anybody who, you know, decides he can write letters to the Pope and tell him what the Pope ought to do, he’s probably involved with cryptography [laughter].

Ford:

I remember … I mean one of the things about the Falcon and the Snowman business was the Russians weren’t bothering to encrypt the missile … whatever they call the testing …

Kohler:

Telemetry.

Ford:

Telemetry. And then all that got picked up and then afterwards they started to encrypt it, at some point, not right away. But I then … it must have been like in the mid-80s I met Admiral Gaylor and he was giving some talk at MIT or something like that and he seemed to be in the state of near hysteria that advances in cryptography were going to put the NSA out of business. And I just wonder whether they are still in business…

Kohler:

[Laughing] They’re still in business.

Ford:

… or whether they’ve been able to pull off any technical stunt on the encryption or breaking encryption side that has overcome the hysteria of 15 years ago.

Kohler:

Well, one of the deals that was made as part of the SALT agreements was that they wouldn’t encrypt.

Ford:

No. I’m not talking about … I wasn’t worried about … he was talking about communications encryption in general and that everything was going to dry up. I mean I remember at one point … and in fact when I was working at Lazard there was some project I forget which one of the baby Bells — what’s the one based in Denver? But at any rate that they were going … U.S. West … that they were going to build a fiber optic cable across the Soviet Union. It was principally for European telephone calls to go to Japan but the Russians could use it and the U.S. government was all in a great [??] that the Soviets could use it also and the … you know it could not be … satellites don’t have little penetration aids to get inside the cables.

Kohler:

And one of the neat things about the world’s telecommunications system, you never know where your phone call is being routed [laughter].

The other guy … I don’t have his phone number … but the other guy you might try and get a hold of is Bill Perry. I wrote his name down. Bill, again going back to the early days, I think knows Dick very well from there.

Let me see if I can get you some information on Caballero.

Ford:

Sure. What is your email address? Because I tried to email you something and it bounced back. I think I was using a Worldnet ATT Net.

Kohler:

No, you were probably using the old earthlink. It’s [redacted].

Ford:

You talked about the encounter with Hans Mark and that sounded like Dick was being reasonably polite. I have the sense that that is not always the case,

Kohler:

Well again … I never found … and in that particular case I didn’t think he was being particularly polite. I mean in front these … but he doesn’t lose his temper very often. At least I’ve never noticed him to do that. He was very abrupt with Hans. It was of the you’re smart enough, you should know better kind of comment [laughter]. It’s the kind of thing I would have thought maybe he would make it private but in front of a bunch of people. You can tell he was irritated. Hans should know better than this. The only times I ever saw him get excited was if … like somebody tried to BS him, okay. And he would really, you know. I saw him tear a couple of people apart who just kept trying to BS instead of quitting, or if somebody really took him on intellectually. We had one guy, it was a fairly young guy, who ran the CCD production — production is not the right word — but he was in charge of the CCD contract at Westinghouse. His name was Bill Montgomery. And Bill was probably no more than 35 or 36 at the time, fairly young guy, okay, and he was smart. I mean this guy was really smart. And I watched him take Dick on a couple of times and more than hold his own, more than hold his own. And Dick would get really heated. You know he thought he was … And I don’t even remember what the arguments were about — they were over how these things were manufactured or something. I don’t remember. But that was the one guy in all that time who I would say who just would not back down to Dick and who was pretty good [laughter], pretty good. And Dick would get excited … but in the end it was all good technical exchange, okay. And Dick never held anything against anybody. I think he actually enjoyed that somebody really challenging him. I think he actually enjoyed that, okay. But that would get him going. If you tried to BS him, boy, he’d just cut you up and it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty. I mean I saw … he would get nasty [laughter]. But just say “I don’t know,” you were fine. Absolutely fine.

Ford:

Is he still involved in NRO?

Kohler:

I don’t know. I don’t know. I am, I am, and the degree of his involvement I just don’t know. I don’t know. I know he does some consulting work for some of the companies that are involved with the NRO. I know he does work with Raytheon in El Segundo. But I just don’t know. It’s kind of a shame actually. My guess is he’s not. And the reason I say that is that the NRO doesn’t use technical consultants like we used to. And I think that is one of the shames of the NRO these days. You know we used to put together the highest powered group of technical people we could find that would agree to work with us — whether it was Dick, or Bill Perry, or Joe Shea, and Frank Lehan who was the best mechanical engineer I ever ran across. And these guys did just herculean things for us. And it’s partly not being involved in the day-to-day, I mean that is part of it. It’s also part being smart. It’s also … I don’t care how good you are, whether you are in the government industry, you can’t know everything that is going on in technology. You just can’t. And I think industry actually is worse off in that regard in many ways than is the government because it’s proprietary this and proprietary that. And so in the government at least you have a chance to see across that spectrum. So guys like Dick could bring us a much broader picture of the technology landscape than we could get ourselves, And that’s what we use those guys for. And so the combination of their experience … you know their connections with universities and labs and to a degree which guys like Dick write and I’m sure peer review journals and stuff like that. You just … it’s an access you just don’t get any other way and I think the NRO is suffering today for not having that kind of continuing just you know reviewing what’s going on, what your issues are, what your problems are that you can’t do yourself.

Ford:

One of the questions I had was that I know with regard to some civilian technology that there are big ideas that he has had that are still on the table. No one had taken any action on them. He has lots of suggestions for the Air Traffic Control system — satellite based ways of improving all of that. Did you know anything about these things?

Kohler:

Not in the commercial world, no. I paid almost no attention to the commercial world when I was, certainly, in government. But there was an element of that in Dick in what he did for us. And there were a couple of times where he had ideas of things we should be doing that … I mean …

Ford:

… involve[??] …

Kohler:

[Laughter] No, no. Dick, I mean [laughter], I just, you know. He was unconstrained by thoughts that had to do with cost or schedule … and that’s fine. I don’t want, you know, our technical board worrying about cost and schedule, and Dick would sit there… I wish I could remember a couple of really nuts. He’d sit there and say, “Well, why aren’t you guys doing this?” I’d say, “No, Dick, no. I’m sorry, I have a lot of respect for you but we’re not going to do that. I’m sure he had … You know, his brain is unconstrained by these practical things you have to worry about. [laughter]. You know, how do we actually DO it and pay for it. But I’m not familiar with stuff … But, you know, if he said he had great ideas for the FAA, that’s probably not hard. [Laughter] The worst agency in government is the FAA in my view.

Ford:

I’m a pilot and well aware of the limitations of its technology. … It was only a few years ago they made the transition from IBM 360s to some other great botch of a system. It’s just …

Kohler:

Yeah. Anybody who would spent $6 billion dollars on a computer system and have it not work is [laughter] doing a great job.

Ford:

That was something.

Kohler:

That’s the other interesting … The other interesting thing about our relationship with Dick, I don’t think we ever used him, in particular, associated with anything with IBM. We had all IBM equipment in our facilities, but I don’t think we ever … you know… I don’t know why. He was always the …

[Brief interruption by Kohler’s wife, Dorothy, entering and Kohler making introductions.]

Kohler:

We have another connection with IBM through Federal Systems and …

Ford:

IBM seems to have been enormously relaxed about loaning offices …

Kohler:

That’s right.

Ford:

For example, one of the things that he had a lot to do with was the technique of Fast Fourier Transforms. And he was explaining to me how it came about and so forth and he actually got something from IBM to work on the system … who had developed some of it, etc., etc. I said, “Did IBM ever make any money out of all this?” He said, “Nope. Not a penny.” He said their patent strategy was all that was outside of their core business. That was software. I said, other people in the industry … Gates … have come along and … you can make actually not a bad living at software. He said he had many arguments with IBM but the arguments consisted of his sending a letter to them saying, why don’t you patent X, Y, or Z. I want to find out more about that because just in terms of a business having a resource like him and how well they utilized him or how poorly they utilized them. Certainly you don’t want a conflict of interest where he’s there advising you … but being a secret IBM salesman. But he didn’t do that at all.

Kohler:

No. He was anti-that as a matter of fact, I think. I went up to his place one time and he was giving me a tour of his lab — he had this lab. At the time he was working on a computer screen that tracked eye motion — so this was for paraplegics. And so you give a command … so he had these little lasers, if I recall, around. By the eye it then gave commands to the … we were looking at the screen … it would give commands to the computer. I said, man this is really neat. Yeah, he says, but it’ll never go anyplace in IBM. He said, this is neat, but, he says, they’re not in a big enough market. He said they won’t do anything with this [laughter]. So I guess they didn’t.

Ford:

There were lots of things — like voice recognition software. You know, IBM let smaller companies jump all over that. And then the smaller companies used big contracts with NSA because they wanted to do key work …

Kohler:

Exactly.

Ford:

… and all this stuff and then they turned around once the Pentium III came along, I guess, where the PCs were powerful enough to use … I use it all the time. Why IBM didn’t jump at a lot of these things is somewhat of a mystery.

Kohler:

Oh well. I think I’ve told you all I could tell you about Dick.

Ford:

Okay. Well this is enormously helpful and I’m going to track down these people and I’ll probably be back in…