The CIA’s Bizarre Art Collection Memorialises Its Greatest Hits

The CIA’s Bizarre Art Collection Memorialises Its Greatest Hits

Great victories in intelligence are, by definition, usually destined to remain secret. But inside its headquarters in Virginia, the CIA keeps its own little oil-and-canvas shrine: 16 pieces of art commemorating important moments in intelligence history.

Up until this month, only CIA employees and VIPs had access to the “secure” gallery, according to the AP. But a permanent exhibit at Birmingham’s Southern Museum of Flight has collected high-quality prints of the pieces at Langley. The show is called Shadow Gallery, The Art of Intelligence, and it’s just as strange as you might expect art about modern war to be.

For example, in a 2008 oil painting called Cast of a Few, Courage of a Nation, artist James Dietz depicts a CIA-owned, Soviet-built Mi-17 helicopter supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan with supplies. The painting is a piece of extremely detailed super-realism, with everything coated in an unearthly, electric blue glow. Another painting looks more like concept art from Rambo: It shows a famous 1968 incident in which a U.S. soldier was able to shoot down a North Vietnamese Air Force plane using only an AK-47 wielded from the open door of a helicopter flying directly above the plane.

The whole collection induces a little bit of cognitive dissonance. Billions of dollars went into developing the technology to keep these events invisible, silent, and secret — but inside Langley, they’re memorialised in incredible, almost Baroque detail. Check out a few highlights below, or check out the show at the Southern Museum of Flight. [AP]

Seven Days in the Arctic, Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2007.

“For seven days in May 1962, under Project COLDFEET, the US Intelligence Community pursued an opportunity to collect intelligence from an abandoned Soviet drift station on a floating ice island deep in the Arctic. The Soviets had hastily evacuated the station when shifting ice made its aircraft runway unusable, abandoning the remote base and its equipment and research materials. Upon discovering that the station had been abandoned, the Intelligence Community formed a team of officers… to parachute specialists on to the site and retrieve them using a unique airborne pickup device, Robert Fulton’s Skyhook.”

An Air Combat First by Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2004.

“On 12 January 1968, four North Vietnamese Air Force AN-2 Colt biplanes lifted off from an airfield in northeastern North Vietnam and headed west toward Laos… The mountain, used for many years as a staging base for CIA-directed Hmong guerilla fighters and American special operations and rescue helicopters, was only 125 nautical miles from Hanoi. Air America, a CIA-proprietary, provided aerial support for the facility, the technicians, and the security forces.

The Colts reached Site 85 early in the afternoon, and two began bombing and strafing passes as the others circled nearby. Coincidentally, Air America captain Ted Moore, flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter carrying ammunition to the site, saw the attack… and gave chase to a Colt as it turned back to the Vietnamese border. Moore positioned his helicopter above the biplane, as crewman Glenn Woods fired an AK-47 rifle down on it.”

Untouchable by Dru Blair, Mixed Media on Illustration Board, 2007.

“No question in the early 1950s had greater implications for US security than determining the kinds and numbers of strategic weapons the Soviet Union possessed and how Moscow intended to use them. The U-2 was built to help answer that question, but the aircraft was barely in production when it became plain that a radical improvement was needed, and efforts were begun under CIA supervision in 1957 to create a new aircraft. The result was the Lockheed “Skunk Works”- designed A-12, OXCART. Unveiled with the presentation of an A-12 OXCART on static display at CIA’s Headquarters during its 60th anniversary in September 2007, Untouchable depicts the first operational flight of the A-12 on 31 May 1967.”

The Day the Wall Came Down, by Veryl Goodnight, Bronze, 2004.

A scale model of a sculpture designed by Veryl Goodnight shows a pack of stallions galloping over the fallen Berlin Wall. “At our request, Goodnight added, as graffiti on the ruins of the wall, symbols with particular meaning for CIA’s workforce,” the CIA description explains. “First, she added the inscription ‘And Ye Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Make You Free,’ which graces the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building. Now, employees and visitors entering either portal will see the inscription drawn from the Bible (John 8:32) that serves as a philosophical foundation of our work. Also on the wall’s fragments is President Ronald Reagan’s famous admonition: ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ Finally, Goodnight added a single white star.”

Cast of a Few, Courage of a Nation James Dietz, Oil on Canvas, 2008.

“The painting depicts a CIA-owned, Soviet-built Mi-17 helicopter conducting a night resupply mission of food, equipment, operational funds, and ammunition to a team in Afghanistan. The scene, repeated hundreds of times in Afghanistan, conveys a sense of the perils and physical difficulty faced by small groups of paramilitary officers working in the hostile environment. The work resonated strongly for the veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom who were present at the unveiling. They all said Dietz’s painting has masterfully captured their own personal moments in the experience.”