Elected in 1980
“For contributions to technology development of importance to the national security of the United States.”
BY HANS MARK
I HAD THE PLEASURE AND privilege of working for a few years with Leslie Dirks, one of the most talented and accomplished scientists and engineers on the payroll of the U.S. government. I first met him in 1977 and worked closely with him for the next three years.
Les was born in 1936 in Minnesota, so we were almost contemporaries—I was older by seven years. We had in common that we were both graduates of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was a strong bond. He went on to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and to teach physics for a year at Phillips Academy. In 1961, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he was quickly recognized as an extraordinary scientist-engineer and a talented leader. By the time I met him in the spring of 1977, Les was deputy director of science and technology. In that capacity, he headed one of the major units of the National Reconnaissance Office, which I headed at the time. We became very close friends in short order, and my wife and I frequently went out with the Dirks family. I often felt like Les’ older brother.
Les Dirks had a fine mind; I know only two or three people who were his equal. His highly original technical innovations to our intelligence-gathering satellites contributed substantially to our national security. He was also a superb technical manager