The RAND Corporation: The Thinktank that Controls the World_Featured_, Big Government, Conspiracies Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012
By Alex Abella, June 30, 2009
If you think the Internet came out of Silicon Valley, that NASA planned the first satellite to orbit Earth, or that IBM created the modern computer—think again. Each one of these breakthroughs was conceived at RAND, a shadowy think tank in Santa Monica, California.
The Intimidation Factor
Rand rose out of the ashes of World War II. After witnessing the success of the Manhattan Project—the $2 billion initiative that created the first atomic bomb—a five-star Air Force general named Henry “Hap” Arnold (pictured) concluded that America needed a team of great minds to keep the country’s technology ahead of the rest of the world. In 1946, he gathered together a small group of scientists and $10 million in funding and started RAND (which stands for Research and Development). He even convinced a family friend, aircraft magnate Donald Douglas, to house the project at his factory in Santa Monica.
After a few short months, RAND got the attention of academics, politicians, and military strategists alike by issuing a prophetic study called “Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship.” At the time, rocket science was still in its infancy, so RAND’s call for an orbiting space station was revolutionary. Not only did the think tank specify the kind of fuel the spaceship would need and how quickly it could be built, but it also outlined how the station could predict the weather, transform long-distance communication, and, most importantly, intimidate our rivals abroad. If America could put a satellite into space, what else was she capable of?
Although President Truman passed on the space station, the military fell in love with RAND. Through Hap’s connections, the Air Force quickly became the think tank’s main contractor, and RAND began consulting on everything from propeller turbines to missile defense. Before long, the organization was so flush with contracts that it had to hire hundreds of additional researchers to keep up. In recruitment ads, RAND bragged about its intellectual genealogy, tracing a direct line from its president, Frank Collbohm, to Isaac Newton. Whether or not that claim was true, the institute secured a reputation as the place to dream up new ways to wage wars and keep enemies at bay.
By the 1960s, America’s rivals were paying attention. The Soviet newspaper Pravda nicknamed RAND “the academy of science and death and destruction.” American outfits preferred to call them the “wizards of Armageddon.”
The Soviets had good reason to worry about RAND. In 1957, the Air Force hired the think tank to create spy satellites. Within two years, it developed CORONA—a covert system that aimed to send camera-carrying satellites into orbit on the backs of missiles. While the idea was genius, the design was flawed. It took 13 failed attempts before the system finally got off the ground in 1959. Once it did, however, the results were spectacular. The CORONA satellite returned with 161 lbs. of film about the Soviet Union, more footage than spy planes had recovered in the previous four years combined. For the following decade, CORONA became the backbone of American intelligence on the Soviet Union. Researchers watched troops march along the Russian border with China and spied on cities they’d never seen before. They could even count the fruit in Soviet orchards and analyze their crops.
By the early 1960s, RAND had established itself as a fixture of U.S. policy. Branching out from straight rocket science, the think tank had become the center of the nation’s nuclear strategy.
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Photo: RAND Corporation