Cold War Intelligence Collection

Cold War Intelligence Collection

After World War II, the Alaskan Air Command dispatched intelligence collection teams to the Seward Peninsula and Nome to live with the Alaska Natives. They sought a long-term cooperative relationship to augment traditional intelligence gathering in Western Alaska.

The lessons learned from the collection teams led to establishing an informal Observation Corps staffed by volunteers to watch for Soviet aircraft flying over Alaska. The Air Control and Warning radar system across the territory contained several “holes” that the Soviets could exploit. So, the plan was organized to pass the information on unknown aircraft and depended on volunteers from the federal, territory, local agencies, and private individuals including Native Alaskans. It had never proven effective due to a lack of human resources, training, and communications. Also, vast distances and remote locations were factors for the system’s limitations.

In 1953 The State established a Ground Observers Corps under the Territorial Director of Civil Defense. By that time, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (forerunner of FAA) and the Alaska Communications System, Alaska Native Service communications stations, the Weather Bureau, and the Alaska Department of Communications were established and participated in the program. The Ground Observers Corps never really got fully utilized as manning shortages, and the vastness of the territory in question kept it from achieving its full potential. However, by the end of 1953, there were 200 ground observer posts established across the state.

In the 1950s, the Air Force established a second line of radar stations which effectively put the ground observers out of business, taking over that duty for the first time since World War II.