• U.S.

The Cold War: Questions to Be Answered

4 minute read

Everyone was looking for exchanged U.S. U-2 Spy Francis Gary Powers, 32.

Senators demanded the right to question him. newsmen were eager to interview him. But Powers was kept under close cover by the Central Intelligence Agency, while interrogators tried to find out exactly what happened in May 1960, when his photo-reconnaissance plane was downed near Sverdlovsk.

Powers had cooperated with his Soviet captors to the point of revealing the name of the unit commander who had given him his orders; he admitted making previous flights along the Russian border, and acknowledged at his Moscow trial that as an aerial agent he had performed “very ill service.” Had Powers been brainwashed? Why had he not fired the charges that would have destroyed his plane? How high was he flying when hit—and what had hit him? Was it, as Khrushchev claimed, a Russian rocket at 68,000 ft.? Or did he have a flameout?

Farm Vigil. To confront Powers with these questions, the press staged a manhunt of its own. The trail was picked up near Easton, Md., by an Associated Press stringer named Mary Swain, who had a hunch that Powers might be in a nearby estate called Ashford Farms that the Government had bought some years ago and used for mysterious purposes. Armed with binoculars, she set up a vigil in a lane adjoining the farm, noted a great coming and going of cars. One night, a blue station wagon carrying six men sped out of the gate and down the road toward Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Mary Swain gamely followed for a few miles, but lost sight of the car. Later, the Department of State said that Powers had been at Ashford Farms but had been spirited away.

President Kennedy was kept up to date on the questioning by CIA Chief John McCone, who showed up at the White House every day to give him an oral briefing. At his news conference, the President announced that Powers was cooperating fully and that he had seen his wife Barbara and his parents. When the questioning is done, said Kennedy, Powers would become “a free agent,” available to the press and to Congress. But the President warned that Powers will publicly reveal only information that “would be in the national interest to give.”

Homecoming. Until that time—which may be weeks off—the Kennedy Administration intends to keep Powers strictly to itself.* Back home in Pound, Va., Oliver Powers confided to a friend that his son had lost about 22 Ibs. during his 21 months in Soviet jails, but that he seemed to be in good health and excellent spirits.

Powers told his parents he had no idea what he will try to do when everyone stops asking questions. Nor did anyone last week seem to have any idea of what to do with him. For a while, at least, he will have no need to worry if the CIA decides he is eligible for some $50,000 in back pay ($2,500 a month). And around Pound they are already talking of arranging some sort of community celebration for him when he comes home.

* The Government is still keeping close tab on the Air Force’s Captain Freeman B. Olmstead and Captain John R. McKone, who were released by the Russians last year, seven months after they were shot down in an RB-47 while flying off the coast of Russia over the Barents Sea. Olmstead and McKone did not appear before any congressional committee. At their one full-scale press conference, they revealed no details about the nature of their mission. Both men are now attending college under Air Force auspices—McKone at the University of Pittsburgh and Olmstead at San Francisco State College—and both are still under specific orders not to talk about their experience.

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