The Star (Toronto)
Oct. 12, 2002

Documents shed light on Cuban missile crisis

Kennedy feared deaths of millions, he told Soviet ambassador

  HAVANA (AP) - Protagonists in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis discovered that events at the height of that Cold War drama may have brought them closer to
  nuclear war than they originally believed.

  Newly declassified U.S., Cuban and Soviet documents discussed during a three-day conference that began Friday underscore the danger of a nuclear attack -
  either accidental or deliberate - that existed during those tense October days.

  "A real war will begin, in which millions of Americans and Russians will die," Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, quoted then-U.S.
  Attorney General Robert Kennedy as telling him in a top secret memo, now declassified, on Oct. 27, 1962.

  "The situation may get out of control, with irreversible consequences," Robert Kennedy warned after a U.S. spy plane was shot down over Cuba and President
  Kennedy was pressured to order pilots to return fire if fired upon.

  Also on Oct. 27, 1962, the most dangerous day of the crisis, notes from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff detail a series of alarming events in addition to the shooting
  down of the U-2 spy plane.

  There was a Joint Chiefs' recommendation for an air strike and invasion of Cuba, and reports that Cuban anti-aircraft units were given authority to open fire
  against "enemy aircraft" starting on Nov. 18.

  Some of the notes were taken from transcripts of Joint Chiefs meetings in October-November 1962 dealing with the Cuban missile crisis. The documents were
  declassified under the Freedom of Information Act.

  Many documents studied during the conference were collected by the National Security Archive, a non-profit research group at George Washington University in
  Washington. Archive researchers were also participating in the conference.

  Cuban President Fidel Castro was participating in the conference's closed door sessions, as were former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and other
  key advisers in the Kennedy administration.

  As events began spinning out of control in late October 1962, Castro began expecting a U.S. air strike on Soviet facilities on the island and was prepared to
  shoot down U.S. combat aircraft if they invaded Cuba, according to a top secret military directive to Gen. Issa A. Pliyev, head of Soviet forces in Havana.

  The Soviets were prepared as well.

  "In case of a strike on our facilities by American aircraft it has been decided to use all available air defence forces," the directive said.

  A portion of the documents, made available to The Associated Press in Washington, demonstrate that the crisis did not end on Oct. 29, 1962, with the Soviet
  Union's agreement to remove the offensive weapons, as is widely believed.

  Weeks after the Soviet Union agreed to pull the missiles from Cuba, Khrushchev worried that an "irrational" Castro would renew tensions with the United States
  - perhaps even provoke war.

  Cuba "wants practically to drag us behind it with a leash, and wants to pull us into a war with America by its actions," Khrushchev said in a Nov. 16, 1962, letter
  to diplomatic aides in Cuba.

  During conference sessions on Friday, participants also looked at American covert actions following the disastrous CIA-backed invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs
  in April 1961 and how they intensified Cuban fears of a U.S. military attack.

  The conference took on special relevance as President George W. Bush now ponders a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

  The missile crisis began in mid-October 1962 when President Kennedy learned that Cuba had Soviet nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. The
  crisis was defused two weeks later when the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles.

  Former Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen are attending the conference, as well as former CIA analyst Dino Brugioni, who
  interpreted American spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

  Conference participants on Sunday will travel to sites related to the crisis, including a missile silo in the western province of Pinar del Rio.