Talk:Cuban Missile Crisis

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 Definition Probably the closest the U.S. and Soviet Union came to nuclear war, a confrontation, in October 1962, when Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba, and eventually removed through a naval show of force and diplomatic maneuvering [d] [e]
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 Workgroup categories History and Military [Categories OK]
 Subgroup categories:  imagery intelligence, weapons of mass destruction and American politics since 1945
 Talk Archive none  English language variant American English

Intelligence and the Crisis

While I agree that there was no long-term warning of the Soviet intentions, and indeed CIA missed some human reports of what, in retrospect, were sightings of missiles in Cuba, it is an oversimplification to describe it as an intelligence failure. The intelligence situation needs to be considered both in terms of the actions of the entire intelligence community, as well as the capabilities and limitations of the fifties.

I edited in a brief note that the first serious warnings came from SIGINT, which led to U-2 missions around the periphery of Cuba. Incidentally, U-2 aircraft always operate alone. From their altitude, they could get significant information without crossing into Cuban airspace. Indeed, for many imagery intelligence applications, an oblique (angled) view such as would be gotten from the edge of Cuba is more informative than a high-level overhead, because the oblique gives shadow information.

Among the clues in the first U-2 images were not pictures of the ballistic missiles themselves, but the characteristic patterns of a field installation of the Soviet S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile, known by NATO as the SA-2 GUIDELINE. In the early sixties, if S-75s were in an area, it was a fairly safe assumption that something very important was inside the 25-mile or so radius they protected.

The SAM sites, as well as some ELINT of defensive radars, told the IMINT people where to look in detail. As mentioned in the Dino Brugioni page and references from it, the high-altitude photos, coupled with other intelligence, were sufficient justification for McNamara, usually the wisest of fools, to order detailed reconnaissance photography, including low-level overflights. There's an interesting sidebar here; I was annoyed that Roger Hilsman later described how much we had learned about the characteristic way that the Soviets crated certain weapons, a signature of which they were apparently unaware.

As more information came in, other, seemingly random events, became significant. Maritime patrol aircraft had noted an unusual number of Soviet ships with exceptionally large hatches, riding high in the water. In and of itself, that was no glaring alarm, but it was completely consistent with how large missiles would be transported.

In the middle of all the intensity, there was one comic moment. The Navy, their patrol aircraft stretched thin, accepted assistance from long-range Air Force aircraft. The USAF observers quickly began to report large numbers of obviously Soviet ships. On getting detailed descriptions, the sailors gently explained that those large red stars were Texaco, not Marxist. Some brief instruction helped the airmen understand how to recognize a tanker.

I've talked to Brugioni, and he still communicates the intensity of the 24/7 work in NPIC as they first tried to figure out what was being protected, and, once the ballistic missiles were found, to get the detail that might be needed for an air strike or invasion -- or, to get convincing photographs for Stevenson to bring to the UN.

I hope this is an indication that we can work cooperatively.

Sincerely, Howard

Howard C. Berkowitz 00:26, 25 May 2008 (CDT)

yes but the point is that nobody (except McCone) figured it out. Richard Jensen 00:45, 25 May 2008 (CDT)
I don't understand, unless you are referring to anticipating the deployment -- which McCone had not done ahead of time -- rather than the crisis response. Given the tools available, NSA, the Air Force and Navy recon unit, and NPIC did a superb job of figuring out the situation.
No one fully understood the Soviet reaction to discovering what Penkovsky was doing; we would have needed another Penkovsky, or someone at even higher level, to know the response in the Politburo and the General Staff. Howard C. Berkowitz 01:04, 25 May 2008 (CDT)
It's an intelligence failure because the White House was told there probably would be no missiles and that was flat wrong. (McCone was on his honeymoon when he dissented--an odd place to be in a major crisis.) Richard Jensen 16:23, 25 May 2008 (CDT)

Notes and references

We now have two sets of footnotes. Let's settle on the original note system, (it can be two column) which I find much easier to handle. For example the fact that Dino Brugion later wrote a book goes in a footnotes, not the main narrative. I will add more notes. Richard Jensen 16:23, 25 May 2008 (CDT)