15. Circular Airgram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Missions1

CA–3790. Subject: Balloon Reconnaissance Operation—Project Genetrix. For principal officer only. The United States Air Force has made plans for a balloon reconnaissance operation to be conducted during the period 1 December 1955 and 1 May 1956. The code name for this project is Genetrix and is classified Confidential. The plan provides for the launching of approximately 2700 plastic, gondola-carrying balloons …Of the 2700 balloons launched, 2500 will be photographic systems and 200 will be electronic intercept systems. Subsequent to launching, it is expected that the ballons will drift for [Page 36]several days at various altitudes between 40,000 ft. and 80,000 ft. eastward over Communist-controlled territory. The greatest concentration of balloons will probably emerge from the Communist-controlled eastern coast of Asia into a planned recovery area in the Western Pacific between 10 degrees and 70 degrees north latitude. Elements of the First Air Division, Strategic Air Command, will be responsible for recovery of balloons in the planned recovery area.

Based on the best available information at this time, some of the reconnaissance balloons may be expected to land outside of the planned recovery area in some cases, and possibly in the area of your responsibility. It is requested that you render all possible and appropriate assistance to Air Force representatives in your area in connection with this project.

The United States Air Force will forward to all major air commands and air attachés concerned all details regarding Project Genetrix. Air attachés will have primary action responsibility in the recovery of the reconnaissance gondolas. Attachés or Air Force representatives will be instructed to brief thoroughly Chiefs of Mission and Principal Officers on pertinent details of the project to include the project’s cover story which may be used when authorized to inform local government officials or members of the press.

The Department is now considering, with the Air Force, whether and in what form press releases should be made in Washington either when the project is initiated or when information concerning it is picked up here or abroad. Press releases or answers to questions in the field should be carefully coordinated with action in Washington. Accordingly, no action to publicize or to inform local officials should be taken by addressees or Air Force representatives prior to further communication from Department.

Communications to the Department on this subject should be by personal letter to W. Park Armstrong, Jr., Special Assistant, Intelligence, or by telegram, or despatch marked “For Roger”.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 700.5411/11–1455. Top Secret. Drafted by Furnas and cleared with Bennett, Barbour, and Major Conradi of the Air Force. Sent to 41 missions in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as to Ottawa.