In Pictures: The hot art in the CIA’s cool art collection

The CIA has a collection of paintings that depict historic agency actions

  • Works of fine art aren’t likely what you’d expect to find at the CIA but the agency has 16 "intelligence-themed artworks" hanging in a prominent hallway at its headquarters. The paintings in the CIA’s Intelligence Art Gallery represent institutional pride and historic record, the agency says. Here we take a look at some of them which feature military action, significant aircraft and other spy-worthy works of art.

  • The CIA Intelligence Art Gallery’s most recent acquisition – entitled "ARGO – The Rescue of the Canadian Six," the painting’s unveiling this month coincided with the 33rd anniversary of the ARGO operation. In this operation, CIA and Canadian officials smuggled six American diplomats out of Iran after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The painting depicts two CIA officers preparing alias documents used by the Americans, known as the "Canadian Six," in their escape from Iran.

  • The CIA says this painting commemorates air operations of Civil Air Transport, and its CIA contract pilots in support of French forces at Dien Bien Phu, Indochina, in 1954, during the final days of the conflict between the French and Viet Minh. In Fairchild C-119s with US Air Force markings hurriedly painted over with French Air Force roundels, 37 CAT pilots volunteered to fly supplies from the French airbase at Haiphong to the battlefield near the border with Laos. Between March 13 and May 6, 1954, the pilots and crews made 682 airdrops to the beleaguered French forces, flying through murderous antiaircraft fire from guns that ringed the valley at Dien Bien Phu.

  • The CIA says Virginia Hall joined the British Special Operations Executive to fight fascism. Her fluency in French landed her a clandestine assignment in Lyons, where she went to work developing the area’s resistance operations. Over the next 15 months, every British agent arriving in France passed through her flat for instructions, counterfeit money and contacts. In addition, she orchestrated supply drops and helped endangered agents escape to England. Betrayed in November 1942, she had to use her own escape route out of France, just steps ahead of her now infamous pursuer, Klaus Barbie, “the butcher of Lyons.” Hall received the Distinguished Service Cross — the only one given to a civilian woman during that war, the CIA says. Hall later worked for the CIA,

  • During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for every advantage, including study of the Arctic for its strategic value. According to the CIA Web site, 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 idea was to parachute specialists on to the site and retrieve them using a unique airborne pickup device, Robert Fulton’s Skyhook. The Skyhook was an adaptation of devices Great Britain and the United States had used in the 1940s and early 1950s to allow fixed-wing aircraft to pick up people or objects from the ground without landing.

  • Here we have the Lockheed A-12, OXCART. Only 15 were built and only three would fly operational missions, ironically none over the USSR which at the time was their primary proposed target, the CIA says. The aircraft was replaced by the highly successful US Air Force version of the plane, the SR-71. The painting, entitled “Untouchable” depicts the first operational flight of the A-12 in May 1967.

  • The painting depicts a battle between an Air America captain Ted Moore, flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter against North Vietnamese Air Force AN-2 Colt biplanes who were out to destroy a US radar base that was guiding bombers in attacks against targets in North Vietnam. According to the CIA a crewman fired an AK-47 rifle down at the biplanes to shoot at least one of them down.

  • Veryl Goodnight watched with the rest of the world as the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989. According to the CIA, that night, she says, in a dream, her plan for a sculpture of five horses racing across a prairie was transformed into a sculpture depicting the spirited animals leaping to freedom over the Berlin Wall’s ruins. Today, two monumental (1¼ life-size) installations of her sculpture exist. One is at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. The other, donated to the German people, is in Berlin. In 2004 a one-quarter life-size version was presented to the CIA.

  • "Cast of a Few, Courage of a Nation" was unveiled April 2008 to commemorate early CIA operations and the later combined efforts of US intelligence and military forces, Afghan allies, and coalition partners in Afghanistan after the attacks. 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 painting depicts Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — the predecessor of today’s CIA — in Burma during World War II. "Iwaddy Ambush" illustrates one of the group's many guerrilla operations staged to disrupt Japanese supply and reinforcement routes in Burma. Staked out on one side of the Irrawaddy River, OSS-trained Kachin rangers ambush Japanese rafts bringing troops and supplies to the Japanese-held town of Myitkyina in July 1944, the CIA says.

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