PJ - Critical to National Security

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In 1977, the Air Force initiated a program called Tacit Blue to develop technology that could lead to the production of a stealth reconnaissance aircraft with a low probability of intercept radar and other sensors that could operate close to the forward line of battle and retain a high degree of survivability.

In June 1979, OSI's Office of Special Projects (PJ) assigned an agent to the Tacit Blue program to protect the Top Secret research and development of the aircraft. The resulting aircraft, nicknamed the "whale" and the "alien school bus," featured straight tapered wings with a "V" tail mounted on a curved, oversized fuselage. Its first flight was in early 1982. Tacit Blue flew more than 250 hours in its 135 flights before being placed in storage in 1985. 

In 1996, the program was declassified, and the aircraft is currently displayed in the Air Force Museum. You can read more about the program and the history of Tacit Blue at: https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/195769/northrop-tacit-blue/

Tacit Blue was an element of the Pave Mover program, which led to the Northrup Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). The E-8 aircraft carries a 7.3 meter long radar antenna, which displays either moving or fixed ground targets. The previous discussion illustrates the elements of National Security at stake with this technology demonstrator, and the incredible significance of OSI’s mission to protect sensitive technology.

A follow-on project, the B-2 Stealth Bomber program, began in the fall of 1979 and was designated Senior Ice and later Senior Cejay. More can be learned about this project at: https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/195832/northrop-b-2-spirit/

In November 1979, Northrop Grumman engineers met at their facility in Hawthorne, Calif., with then Secretary of Defense Harold Brown. Northrop Grumman was initially awarded eight million dollars to study the flying wing stealth concept. The investment paid off, and many more defense dollars have been expended in making stealth technology available in crucial military applications. 

Agents working on Tacit Blue were also assigned to the fledgling B-2 Spirit Bomber program, as an additional duty. Senior Ice (Senior Cejay) reached operational status in the early 1990s and grew to more than 55,000 program personnel, working in 44 states with over 450 classified subcontractors. Subcontractors for the B-2 included major defense contractors such as Boeing, Vaught, Northrop Grumman, Hughes and others. Agents assigned to these positions reported to OSI and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The agents operated undercover with duties as Northrop Grumman employees fulfilling positions as Security Manager, engineer, and other positions within the Northrop Stealth programs.

At the time, some agents noted that stealth programs and security at Northrop Grumman were rudimentary and lacked certain areas of security functionality that are certainly present today.  Within the Northrop Grumman facilities, agents provided covert counterintelligence and had vast responsibilities and oversight regarding personnel, facilities, finance, budgets, operations, manufacturing, testing and related issues regarding the prime contractor and all subcontractors. 

In late 1979, PJ realized to help protect unacknowledged black programs, a small cadre of personnel from the FBI would be required to work with and for the Air Force’s Special Access Program (SAP) efforts. They developed the Guardian Angel program to include small groups of FBI personnel assigned to Air Force programs. Approximately eight FBI agents in Los Angeles and select personnel at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., were briefed into many of the most critical Air Force SAPs. 

The Guardian Angel program proved its worth in 1984 with the investigation and conviction of Thomas Patrick Cavanaugh. A debt-ridden B-2 Spirit engineer at Northrop’s Pico Rivera plant, Cavanaugh contacted Soviet embassies in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., offering to sell them stealth technology information. On three occasions in December of 1984, Cavanaugh met with two undercover FBI agents he believed were KGB officers. Cavanaugh said he needed money to “get the creditors off my back,” and initially received $25,000 for technical manuals and blueprints related to the B-2. He agreed to continue providing information to (who he thought were) Soviet officials in exchange for an additional $30,000. Another report indicated Cavanaugh intended to provide information on an ongoing basis, in exchange for $25,000-$30,000 per month.

FBI agents arrested Cavanaugh in mid-December. Later that month, the mass media reported the case nationwide. Due to the classification and special access requirements, the agents who worked undercover were not finished with the Cavanaugh case as it was very close hold within PJ. One agent served as the point of contact for the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutor, the Federal presiding judge—even the Joints Chiefs of Staff—and served as the classification authority for all stealth programs.

Cavanaugh was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in prison, which was thought to be the most stringent punishment for espionage since the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. The last Cavanaugh hearing was in 2000, when the DOJ and FBI looked to OSI for trial evidence disposition as Cavanaugh came up for parole. He was released from custody March  2001.

Then, as now, the mission set of OSI’s Office of Special Projects is crucial to American National Security. The current PJ Director, Special Agent Terry Phillips, is a member of the Senior Executive Service and leads a team responsible for all Air Force and non-Air Force SAPs where the Air Force has been assigned responsibility. As in the cases discussed here, one of PJ’s most critical missions is preserving the most classified and sight sensitive technologies. To fulfill that mission, PJ agents are trained and equipped to secure, recover, and protect these technologies. PJ is on the forefront of providing what OSI Commander, Brig. Gen. Terry Bullard, refers to as “The OSI We Need.”