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News | May 21, 2021

NRO remembers former Deputy Director Dr. F. Robert Naka

By Staff

Dr. Fumio Robert “Bob” Naka served as Deputy Director of the NRO from July 1969 – August 1972, the first to be hired from outside of the CIA.

Dr. Naka was born in San Francisco, California to Japanese immigrant parents. He graduated high school at the age of 16 and began studying engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles. He was removed from UCLA in early 1942 and imprisoned at the Manzanar Relocation Center for Japanese-American citizens, a military-style internment camp, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Naka secured a release nine months later to attend college at the University of Missouri in Columbia through the efforts of the National Student Relocation Council and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers). He earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri in 1945. He completed his Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering two years later at the University of Minnesota, and attained a doctorate in Electron Optics from Harvard University in 1951.

Dr. Naka began his 50-year career in national reconnaissance and space programs with the Project Lincoln Presentation Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he led a small group of engineers that invented the first electronic circuit to detect analog radar signals for the Distant Early Warning line radars. Dr. Naka also played an instrumental role in ground-breaking reconnaissance projects like the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the Space-Based Infrared System. He was known as a pioneer in the development of stealth technology.

While at NRO, Dr. Naka conducted an independent study that outlined a cost effective and low-risk strategy for an orderly transition from the Corona photoreconnaissance satellite program to a successor imagery system. He also helped set organizational direction and priorities that resulted in significant improvements to space-based SIGINT collection.

Dr. Naka passed away in December 2013 at the age of 90.

To read Dr. Naka’s thoughts on his NRO career, “Reflections of F. Robert Naka—Building Reconnaissance Systems and Running the National Reconnaissance Office,” is available p. 69-79 at this link.