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News | April 25, 2019

This Week in DIA History: DIA Identifies Leak of Classified KH-11 Capabilities

By DIA Public Affairs

Shortly after DIA’s founding, DIA and CIA consolidated GEOINT analysis efforts at the National Photographic Interpretation Center. DIA was responsible for providing analysis on defense-related imagery and scoured materials on Soviet industry, troop movements and missile activity. In 1978, analysts noted a sizeable increase in Soviet efforts to avoid satellite detection of their activities — even of weapon systems previously photographed. Although the Soviets knew the KH-11 satellite passed over the USSR, they had misclassified it as a non-photographic satellite. Suddenly, KH-11 collection on troop and equipment deployments, SS-20 mobile missiles and Backfire Bombers diminished. This provided clear indication that the Soviets obtained new, damaging information on the true capabilities of the KH-11. DIA officers at NPIC warned counterintelligence officers of the Soviet denial efforts and how they were likely based on someone passing information to the Soviets.

In 1978, CIA began investigating possible leaks of the KH-11 based on this information. Watch Officer William Kampiles had smuggled a copy of the classified KH-11 manual out of the NPIC before resigning from CIA in 1977. In February 1978, he traveled to Greece where he sold the manual for $3,000 and held meetings with Soviet officials in Athens. DIA analysts at NPIC played a pivotal role in identifying the leak and providing evidence at Kampiles’ trial.

During the 10-day trial, CIA’s deputy director of science and technology testified that the KH-11 manual Kampiles helped prepare had enormous value to the Soviets, as it explained in detail exactly how the system worked, its capabilities and limitations, and how interpreters could best use the electro-optical images it collected and delivered. Kampiles’ defense team claimed that no evidence existed of his betrayal beyond Kampiles’ “fantasy” that secret material had actually changed hands. NPIC verification proved otherwise and Kampiles was sentenced to 40-years in prison for smuggling the KH-11 manual.