The New Australian (Australia)
Octubre 13, 2002



The third part of the series that relates what really happened during the
1962 Cuban missile crisis.

                                   By Servando González
                                   TNA News with Commentary
                                   The New Australian
                                   La Nueva Cuba

                                   Though both Castro and the Russians have categorically denied that the attack
                                   took place, Raymond L. Garthoff, Special Assistant for Soviet bloc Political/Military
                                   Affairs in the State Department during the Kennedy administration, claims that, in
                                   fact, from October 28, the Cuban army did surround the Soviet missile bases for
                                   three days. It is evident that, whatever really happened, Castro was itching for a
                                   nuclear shoot-out between the Soviet Union and the United States.

                                   Messages exchanged between Castro and Khrushchev on October 28, 1962,
                                   indicate that something very fishy happened that day. In his message the Soviet
                                   premier accused the Cuban leader of shooting down the American plane. Then,
                                   Khrushchev warned Castro that such steps "will be used by aggressors to their
                                   advantage, to further their aims." In his answer to Khrushchev Castro explained that
                                   he had mobilized his antiaircraft batteries "to support the position of the Soviet
                                   forces." Then, Castro added this cryptic remark: "The Soviet Forces Command can
                                   give you further detail on what happened with the plane that was shot down."

                                   The Single Truth

                                   The missiles we see in the movie are Hollywoodian contraptions made out of
                                   plywood covered by thin aluminum sheet. Well, perhaps not everything in the movie
                                   is wrong. There is the possibility that, like the missiles in Costner's film, the Soviet
                                   strategic missiles in Cuba had been dummies.

                                   The official story, advanced by the Kennedy administration, accepted at face value
                                   by most scholars of the Crisis and later popularized by the American mainstream
                                   media, is that, though rumors about the presence of strategic missiles in Cuba
                                   were widespread among Cuban exiles in Florida since mid-1962, the American
                                   intelligence community was never fooled by them. To American intelligence
                                   analysts, "only direct evidence, such as aerial photographs, could be convincing."
                                   It was not until 14 October, however, that a U-2, authorized at last to fly over the
                                   Western part of Cuba, brought the first high-altitude photographs of what seemed to
                                   be Soviet strategic missile sites, in different stages of completion, deployed on
                                   Cuban soil.

                                   Once the photographs were evaluated by experts at the National Photographic
                                   Interpretation Center (NPIC), they were brought to President Kennedy who, after a
                                   little prompting by a photo-interpreter who attended the meeting (even with help and
                                   good will it is not easy to see the missiles in the photographs), accepted as a fact
                                   the NPIC's conclusion that Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev had taken a fateful,
                                   aggressive step against the U.S. This meeting is considered by most scholars the
                                   beginning of the Cuban missile crisis.

                                   Save for a few skeptics at the United Nations (a little more than a year before, Adlai
                                   Stevenson had shown the very same delegates "hard" photographic evidence of
                                   Cuban planes, allegedly piloted by Castro's defectors, which had attacked
                                   positions on the island previous to the Bay of Pigs landing), most people, including
                                   the members of the American press, unquestionably accepted the U-2 photographs
                                   as evidence of Khrushchev's treachery. The photographic "evidence," however, was
                                   received abroad with mixed feelings.

                                   Sherman Kent recorded in detail the story about how the U-2 photographs were
                                   brought to some American allies, and what their reactions were. British Prime
                                   Minister Harold Macmillan, for example, just spent a few seconds examining the
                                   photographs, and accepted the proof on belief. The Prime Minister's Private
                                   Secretary, however, "expressed serious concern about the reception any strong
                                   Government statement in support of the U.S. decision would have in the absence of
                                   incontrovertible proof of the missile buildup."

                                   German Chancellor Adenauer accepted the photographic evidence, and apparently
                                   was impressed with it. General de Gaulle accepted President Kennedy's word
                                   initially on faith, though later he inspected the photographs in great detail, and was
                                   impressed with the quality of them. However, when the photographs were shown to
                                   French journalists, one of them, André Fontaine, an important senior writer of Le
                                   Monde, strongly expressed his doubts. Only circumstantial evidence he received
                                   later, not the photographs themselves, made him change his opinion. Canada's
                                   Prime Minister Diefenbaker questioned the credibility of the evidence of Soviet
                                   strategic missiles in Cuba.

                                   According to Kent, notwithstanding some of the viewers' past experience in looking
                                   at similar photographs, "All viewers, however, took on faith or on the say-so of the
                                   purveyors that the pictures were what they claimed to be: scenes from Cuba taken
                                   a few days past." Nevertheless, beginning with Robert Kennedy's classic analysis
                                   of the crisis, the acceptance of the U-2's photographs as hard evidence of the
                                   presence of Soviet strategic missiles deployed on Cuban soil has rarely been

                                   In the case of the U-2 photographs, the NPIC photo-interpreters correctly decoded
                                   the objects appearing in them as images of strategic missiles. But accepting the
                                   images of missiles as the ultimate proof of the presence of strategic missiles in
                                   Cuba was a big jump of their imagination, as well as a semantic mistake. A more
                                   truthful interpretation of the things whose images appeared in the U-2's
                                   photographs would have been to call them "objects whose photographic image
                                   highly resemble Soviet strategic missiles." But, like the man who mistook his wife
                                   for a hat, the photo-interpreters at the NPIC confused the photographs of missiles
                                   with the actual missiles. Afterwards, like mesmerized children, the media and the
                                   scholarly community blindly followed the Pied Piper of photographic evidence. But,
                                   as in Magritte's famous painting The Treachery of Images, a picture of a pipe is not
                                   a pipe, and a picture of a missile in not a missile.

                                   With the advent of the new surveillance technologies pioneered with the U-2 plane
                                   and now extensively used by satellites, there has been a growing trend in the US
                                   intelligence community to rely more and more on imaging intelligence (imint) and
                                   less and less on agents in the field (humint). But, as any intelligence specialist can
                                   testify, photography alone, though a very useful surveillance component, should
                                   never be considered hard evidence. Photographs, at best, are just indicators
                                   pointing to a possibility which has to be physically confirmed by other means,
                                   preferably by trained, qualified agents working in the field.

                                   Moreover, even disregarding the fact that photographs can be faked and doctored,
                                   nothing is so misleading as a photograph. According to the information available up
                                   to this moment, the photographic evidence of Soviet strategic missiles on Cuban
                                   soil was never confirmed by American agents working in the field. The missiles
                                   were never touched, smelled, weighed. Their metal, electronic components, and
                                   fuel were never tested; the radiation from their nuclear warheads was never
                                   recorded; their heat signature was never verified.

                                   One of the golden rules of intelligence work is to treat with caution all information
                                   not independently corroborated or supported by reliable documentary or physical
                                   evidence. Yet, recently declassified Soviet documents, and questionable oral
                                   reports from Soviet officials who allegedly participated directly in the event, have
                                   lately been accepted as sufficient evidence of the presence of strategic missiles
                                   and their nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962. But one can hardly accept as hard
                                   evidence non-corroborated, non-evaluated information coming from a former
                                   adversary who has yet to prove he has turned into a friend.

                                   Despite all recent claims on the contrary, CIA reports at the time consistently
                                   denied the presence of nuclear warheads in Cuba. Also, American planes, flying
                                   low over the missile sites and the Soviets ships, never detected any of the radiation
                                   that would be expected from nuclear warheads. The technology to detect radiation
                                   existed at the time. In the 1960s the NEDS 900 series of radiation detectors had
                                   been developed and deployed in the Dardanelles as a way to monitor the presence
                                   of nuclear weapons aboard Soviet warships transiting the strait from the Black Sea.

                                   Gen. William Y. Smith, who was a Major and an assistant to Gen. Maxwell Taylor
                                   in the White House at the time of the crisis, reported a very interesting detail.
                                   While reviewing message traffic from US intelligence sources on Soviet military
                                   activity, Gen. Smith found out a report that a US Navy ship had picked up
                                   suspicious levels of radioactivity emitted by a Soviet freighter, the Poltava. He
                                   suggested to Gen. Taylor that he ask Admiral Anderson if the emanations meant
                                   the ship was carrying nuclear warheads. At the next Joint Chief's meeting, Taylor
                                   posed the question to Anderson, who replied, somewhat embarrassed, that he had
                                   not seen the message. Later that morning, Anderson's office informed Smith that
                                   the report had little significance, that Smith had misread it.

                                   It makes sense to believe, therefore, that the Americans had the means to detect
                                   radiation from nuclear warheads leaving Cuba, without having to board the Soviet
                                   ships. But, again, no mention is made of this important fact in any of the
                                   declassified documents on the Cuban missile crisis. Also, Admiral Anderson's
                                   behavior, as described by Gen. Smith, is strange, to say the least, because that
                                   report was extremely important.

                                   Therefore, either the Americans detected no radiation from the Soviet ships, and
                                   they kept the fact secret, or they simply forgot that they had the means to check
                                   indirectly the presence of nuclear warheads. But there is a third possibility: that
                                   they never tried to detect the radiation from nuclear warheads in Cuba because
                                   they were pretty sure there were no nuclear devices in the island. As a matter of
                                   fact, this third possibility is the only one that fully explains President Kennedy's
                                   strange behavior of not enforcing on the defeated Soviets the physical inspection of
                                   their outbound ships who allegedly were bringing the missiles and their nuclear
                                   warheads back to the Soviet Union.

                                   The Soviets were masters of deception and disinformation, and maskivovka was an
                                   important part of the Soviet military tactic and strategic doctrine. Some western
                                   intelligence analysts suspected that, as late as 1960, not only most of the missiles
                                   parading in Red Square were dummies, but even some units of the newly created
                                   Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces were not getting real missiles. The Russians have
                                   a long tradition in the deception business. One must bear in mind that it was count
                                   Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkim who created the first Hollywood-style film sets.

                                   *Servando Gonzalez is a Cuban-born American writer. He was an officer in the
                                   Cuban army during the missile crisis. His upcoming book The Secret Fidel Castro:
                                   Deconstructing the Symbol will appear this Spring.

                                   Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved.