THIRTEEN LIES: KENNEDY AND THE 1962 CUBAN CRISIS.
The third part of the series that relates what really happened during
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.