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Posts Tagged ‘Nikita Khrushchev’

Capturing History as it Really Happened in October 1962 

Sheldon M. Stern

HNN April 20, 2015

President Kennedy meets in the Oval Office with General Curtis LeMay – Wikipedia

Historians are obviously familiar with research based on old or new primary sources as well as with work that synthesizes both primary and secondary sources. Historical investigation based on audio recordings, however, is clearly distinct from these more traditional categories of historical investigation because, as Max Holland and I wrote in 2005—

the historian shoulders an even larger burden in this new genre. He or she is obviously selecting, deciphering, and making judgments about a primary source, much like the editor of a documentary collection. But, in the process of transcribing a tape recording, the historian is also creating a facsimile—while still endeavoring to produce a reliable, “original” source. In essence, the historian/editor unavoidably becomes the author of a “new” source because even a transcript alleged to be “verbatim” is irreducibly subjective at some level. As a result, the historian’s responsibility in this genre is a very unusual one, and requires the most careful scholarship imaginable. No other task of discovery and/or interpretation in the historical canon is quite comparable.

As the audio recordings from the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon presidencies have gradually been made public, historians have been drawn to this extraordinary challenge. As Columbia University’s Alan Brinkley concluded, “No collection of manuscripts, no after-the-fact oral history, no contemporary account by a journalist will ever have the immediacy or the revelatory power of these conversations.”

My own work, which includes the three books cited above on the JFK Cuban missile crisis tapes, has underscored the unique value of these recordings, for example, by demonstrating—conclusively and incontrovertibly—that Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days should no longer be taken seriously as a historically reliable account of the October 1962 White House ExComm meetings.

Last month the History News Network ran my short piece about a fascinating and surprising exchange between President Kennedy and Republican House Minority Leader Charles Halleck at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. In fact, there are many such dramatic and revelatory exchanges on the ExComm tapes and editor Rick Shenkman has agreed to my suggestion to periodically offer HNN readers additional historical snapshots of some of the most striking moments on these unique recordings.

The Context

On Sunday, October 14, 1962, U-2 photos revealed solid evidence of Soviet ballistic missile sites in Cuba. National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundybrought the photos to the White House early on October 16. President Kennedy, his face and voice taut with anger at Soviet duplicity, reeled off the names of key members of the National Security Council and told Bundy to organize a meeting later that morning. He then summoned his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to the White House. “Oh shit! Shit!, Shit! Those sons a’ bitches Russians,” RFK exclaimed after seeing the U-2 pictures. The Kennedys had tried over forty back channel contacts with an official at the Soviet embassy in an effort to deter Khrushchev. Their efforts, as a result of calculated Soviet deception, had come to nothing.

The Soviets and Cubans, of course, were aware of the Kennedy administration’s own deceptions, namely the secret war in Cuba, which included sabotaging the Cuban economy and plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba were defensive—to protect Castro’s revolution against another American attack. Khrushchev also anticipated that Kennedy would accept the deployment in Cuba as a reasonable counterweight to American missiles in Turkey and Italy. But, the Soviet leader grossly underestimated the intensity of American fears of a communist military outpost in the Western Hemisphere.

October 16, 1962

As the president’s advisers entered the Cabinet Room, the human implications of the situation was made poignantly plain when they found JFK talking with his nearly five-year-old daughter, Caroline. She quickly scurried from the room and the meeting began. The fifteen men gathering that morning were stunned that the Soviets had taken such a gamble just ninety miles from the Florida coast and infuriated that the administration had been deceived by top Kremlin officials. President Kennedy assumed that if the U.S. took military action against Cuba, the U.S.S.R. would move against West Berlin. The U.S. would be forced to respond; the Soviets would react in turn—and so on—escalating towards the unthinkable. A reckless or careless move could set in motion an irreversible and catastrophic chain of events.

Nonetheless, the tone of the discussions was nearly always calm and businesslike—making it difficult for the listener to grasp that the stakes were potentially nothing less than human survival. The meetings were also remarkably egalitarian, and participants spoke freely with no regard for rank. Indeed, there were repeated disagreements with the president—sometimes bordering on rudeness and disrespect. There were also moments of laughter, clearly an emotional necessity in coping with what became nearly two weeks of unrelenting, around-the-clock anxiety and uncertainty.

The overriding question was clear at the outset: what exactly were the Soviets doing in Cuba? JFK and most of his advisers had little or no experience in photo analysis, and the strange objects in the U-2 pictures could easily be mistaken for trucks or farm equipment. Arthur Lundahl, director of the National Photographic Interpretation Center, and missile expert Sydney Graybeal were on hand to explain the evidence. The president pored over the photos using a large magnifying glass and participants later recalled that he appeared nervous and exasperated.

Deputy CIA director General Marshall Carter began by identifying fourteen canvas-covered missile trailers, sixty-seven feet in length and nine feet in width, photographed on October 14 at an MRBM site in San Cristobal. Lundahl pointed to small rectangular shapes and whispered to the president, “These are the launchers here.” President Kennedy then asked how far advanced the construction had been when the photos were taken. Lundahl admitted that his analysts had never seen this kind of installation before. “Not even in the Soviet Union?” Kennedy pressed. “No sir,” Lundahl replied.

The CIA had kept careful tabs on Soviet missile bases, but Lundahl reminded the president that surveillance had been suspended after a U-2 was shot down in 1960. “How do you know this is a medium-range ballistic missile?” Kennedy asked. “The length, sir,” Lundahl responded patiently. “The length of the missile?” Kennedy replied, examining the photo, “Which part?” Graybeal handed the president photos of missiles from the U.S.S.R.’s annual May Day parade. JFK then asked grimly if the missiles in Cuba were ready to be fired; not yet, Graybeal declared. The bases, however, were being assembled more rapidly than similar sites previously observed in the U.S.S.R., and no one could be sure when the missiles would be ready to launch their deadly payloads at military sites or cities in the U.S.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pressed Graybeal further—were Soviet nuclear warheads also in Cuba? “Sir, we’ve looked very hard,” Graybeal replied. “We can find nothing that would spell ‘nuclear warhead.’ ” He added, however, that the warheads could be mounted on the missiles in just a few hours. General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also stressed that the sites could rapidly become operational. McNamara insisted that the Soviets would never risk a military confrontation over missiles that did not have nuclear warheads: “There must be some storage site there. It should be one of our important objectives to find that storage site … but it seems extremely unlikely that they are now ready to fire, or maybe ready to fire within a matter of hours, or even a day or two.” The missile bases apparently did not have to be attacked—at least not immediately. One decision quickly commanded a consensus: the president should authorize further U-2 flights to locate any other missile bases and the elusive warheads and storage sites.

General Taylor, however, deepened the uncertainties facing the president by acknowledging that it was impossible to be certain exactly when the missiles sites would become operational and, in any event, air strikes would not destroy “a hundred percent” of the missiles. Secretary of State Dean Rusk agreed, and cautioned that if the Russians “shoot those missiles,” before, during, or after air strikes, “we’re in a general nuclear war.” McNamara agreed that air strikes had to be carried out before the missiles became operational: “if they become operational before the air strike, I do not believe we can state we can knock them out before they can be launched, and ifthey’re launched, there is almost certain to be chaos in part of the East Coast or the area in a radius of six hundred to one thousand miles from Cuba.” Less than an hour into their first meeting, the president and his advisers were confronting the possibility that millions of Americans might be only hours away from a nuclear attack.

One key question remained—what was the Soviet motive for a nuclear presence in Cuba? “There must be some major reason for the Russians to set this up,” JFK speculated. “Must be that they’re not satisfied with their ICBMs.” Taylor agreed that Soviet short-range missiles in Cuba supplemented “their rather defective ICBM system.” But, no one in the room raised the possibility that Khrushchev might be trying to protect Cuba from the Kennedy administration’s covert war against Castro’s government.

– Dr. Stern is the author of numerous articles and “Averting ‘the Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (2003), “The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005), and “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths vs. Reality (2012), all in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series. He was Historian at the Kennedy Library from 1977 to 2000. 

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Dubious Secrets of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Defense Department Deletes Khrushchev’s Public Statements about Jupiter Missiles in Turkey

50-Year-Old Document on the Crisis Released in Glaringly Different Versions

The Contradictions of Defense Department Declassification Policy

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 457

Posted – February 21, 2014

For more information contact:
William Burr – 
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Washington, D.C., February 21, 2014 – Inane and contradictory declassification actions on military records of the Cuban Missile Crisis indicate serious flaws in the Defense Department’s declassification procedures for historical records, according to documents posted today by the National Security Archive. One of the biggest secrets of the crisis was that a deal involving the trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for U.S. Jupiter missiles then deployed in Turkey, as well as Italy, was central to the diplomatic settlement.[1] While this was disclosed years ago, the Defense Department refuses to acknowledge that the United States had missiles at Turkish or Italian bases.

When the Defense Department released document 2 in September 2013 it withheld the references to Turkey from the section concerning Nikita Khrushchev’s public message to President Kennedy on 27 October 1962 suggesting a trade of U.S. missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles in Cuba. In its 2009 appeal letter to the Defense Department the Archive pointed out that Khrushchev message’s was in the public record, but the Pentagon maintained the deletions.

A Pentagon report recently released through a FOIA appeal and published today by the National Security Archive includes several astonishing excisions, including one from Nikita Khrushchev’s “publicly announced message” on 27 October 1962, where he proposed removing Soviet missiles from Cuba if the United States “will remove its analogous means from [excised].” [See document 2, PDF page 30] What Khrushchev said was “Turkey,” but on national security grounds the Pentagon would not declassify that word in a statement that was made to the world.

Right side: excerpts from document 1A, JCS Chairman Taylor memorandum to Secretary of Defense on “Alternative Actions,” 28 October 1962, as released from Air Force files at NARA, April 2013.
Left side: excerpts from document 1B, JCS Chairman Taylor memorandum to Secretary of Defense on “Alternative Actions,” 28 October 1962, as released from Secretary of Defense Records at NARA through mandatory declassification review appeal.

Another unusual recent declassification decision involves a late October 1962 Joint Chiefs of Staff report on possible military and political operations against Cuba in the event that the negotiations with Moscow broke down. The Defense Department released that report last year in two different versions at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), one fully and correctly declassified and the other with significant excisions concerning proposals for covert operations and “provocative actions” against Cuba and Soviet forces in Cuba. Very similar proposals have been declassified before and the fact that a version in Air Force records was declassified in full raises questions about the standards used by the Pentagon to excise the other version.

The “Turkey” deletion and the excised JCS report also raise questions about the extent to which Pentagon guidance influences declassification review practices at the National Archives’ National Declassification Center. According to a recent NDC report, nearly forty percent of the millions of pages of documents reviewed, most of which are over forty years old, have been withheld on national security grounds. That astoundingly high percentage of exempted pages may include items that the Pentagon regards as “national security information” but which are no more sensitive than the Cuba “secrets” of 1962.

Dubious Secrets of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Earlier this year, a mandatory declassification review request to the National Archives for Air Force records on the Cuban missile crisis produced a Joint Chiefs of Staff report, dated 28 October 1962, to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on “Alternative Actions if Build-up in Cuba Continues Despite Russian Acceptance of the Quarantine.” Prepared just as the crisis was ending, but before the Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement had been announced, the Chiefs wanted the White House to be ready for action in the event that negotiations failed and “Soviet offensive weapons are not eliminated.”

Chairman Maxwell Taylor suggested to Secretary of Defense McNamara a series of “direct and indirect” and “provocative” actions against Cuba (with their pros and cons). The Chiefs had been itching for an air attack and an invasion and may have believed a diplomatic failure would give the Pentagon a chance to take action. Therefore, they proposed indirect measures, such as pressures from the Organization of American States, and direct actions, ranging from an air blockade to covert operations to an all-out invasion. The proposed covert operations included the assassination of “leading Russians and Cuban communists.” Moreover, the Chiefs suggested a series of “provocative” actions to induce Fidel Castro “to make a mistake” and give the United States an excuse to launch an attack. Among the provocations were harassments such as destroyer patrols around Cuba and inciting riots on the “Cuban side of the Guantanamo fence” by using base workers as “agents” and providing military aid to them.

View of one of the five “flights” (3 missiles each) of Jupiter intermediate range-ballistic missiles deployed at Cigli Air Base, Turkey during 1962 and early 1963. (Photo taken by Wendell Vining, courtesy of Robert L. Young)
Close-up of one of the Jupiters deployed at Cigli Air Base. The “skirt” or “flower petal shelter” that enclosed the bottom of the missile enabled the crew to work on the missile during bad weather. The “skirt” would unfold prior to launch. Inside the circular insignia is a mushroom cloud, not visible in this picture. (Photo from Still Pictures Division, National Archives, College Park, copy courtesy of Philip Nash, Pennsylvania State University)
Another close-up of the Jupiters deployed at Cigli, 1963. (Photo taken by Wendell Vining, courtesy of Robert L. Young)

Such proposals may not be too surprising to readers familiar with the history of the period. An infamous JCS proposal from earlier in 1962, “Operation Northwoods,” suggested a variety of wild pretexts, disregarded by civilian policymakers, for a U.S. invasion of Cuba. Declassified by the Kennedy Assassination Review Board, Northwoods included proposals for phony “Cuban” terrorist attacks in U.S. cities and a “Remember the Maine” attack on a U.S. ship. Moreover, actual covert operations against Cuba, including Operation Mongoose and assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders during the early 1960s, were exposed years ago so comparable proposals from the JCS are less than revelatory. In this context, it made sense for declassification reviewers to release the 28 October report [See document 1A] in its entirety earlier this year, in a release of Air Force records on the crisis.

The story is more complicated, however, because a different copy of the same JCS report has gone through parallel declassification reviews. The second copy is in a special collection of Secretary/Deputy Secretary of Defense “sensitive records” on Cuba during 1961-1964. It was first released earlier in 2013 in a massively excised form, before the unredacted version in Air Force records had become available. Challenging the excisions, the National Security Archive filed an appeal with the National Archives. As a result of the appeal, reviewers at NARA gave some ground but nevertheless kept significant sections “secret” [See document 1B]. Many of the proposed “provocative” actions were excised along with the covert operations proposals, such as assassinations.

The full release of the report is good news; something is working right in the declassification system. Significant deletions in the other copy, however, should be a red flag that something is very wrong. But why the separate reviews produced such greatly divergent results is unclear. Plainly, different Defense Department reviewers assigned to NARA’s National Declassification Center reached totally opposite conclusions. One reviewer regarded the information as old hat and properly declassified the report. The other overreacted seeing the report as full of supposedly sensitive secrets and concluded inappropriately that complete declassification would harm U.S. defense and foreign policy interests. NARA staffers may well have objected but under existing rules Defense Department reviewers do not have to listen. Yet it is a waste of resources and a sign of a seriously defective declassification system when reviewers redact 50-year-old documents when nothing about them is sensitive.

This is an exceptional case only because it is possible to make direct comparisons. The excisions about the Jupiter missiles in Turkey provide further evidence of a serious problem. In 2009, the Archive filed an appeal on Department of Defense excisions in several documents held in a special collection on the missile crisis among records of the Secretary of Defense. One of the documents was a compilation prepared by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric’s military assistant, Col. Francis Roberts, on key developments during the missile crisis: political developments, military actions taken, and “national decision-making,” with a summary of reconnaissance flights. A number of “secrets” were excised from this document, for example, the “publicly announced” Khrushchev statement on Turkey [See document 2, PDF page 30].

Other references to Turkey were excised, but so was a statement made by Secretary of State Dean Rusk [Document 2, page 17 of PDF] that is nevertheless published in full in the State Department’sForeign Relations of the United States compilation on the missile crisis. Despite the Archive’s appeal letter which pointed out the contradictions, the Defense Department’s decision, made in September 2013, reaffirmed many of the excisions made in 2009. According to the Defense Department’s decision letter, declassifying the information “would cause serious harm to relations between the United States and a foreign government, or to ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States government.” It would be interesting to know whether the Pentagon consulted the State Department when it made that ex cathedra judgment.

The Defense Department followed the same procedure with other documents released in the same appeal decision. For example, a reference to Turkey (and probably Italy) was plainly excised from hand-written notes on a White House meeting taken during the Missile Crisis by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric [See document 3].

These are undeniable examples of over-classification which suggests that the Defense Department’s security reviewers follow guidelines that are obsolete and overly stringent. Recently the Defense Department’s Inspector General conducted a review of over-classification but rather than tackling substantive issues such as classification guidelines the report focused on small-bore issues such as the use and misuse of classification markings. In light of the pattern of Defense Department practices discussed in this and previous Dubious Secrets postings over-classification remains a problem. Unless it is fixed, neither the Pentagon’s civilian leadership nor historians and researchers can be sure that the Department’s historical records receive appropriate handling.

This problem also raises questions about the procedures used for reviewing Defense Department documents at the National Archives’ National Declassification Center. According to the NDC’s first report for 2013, of the backlog of nearly 400 million pages that it reviewed, pursuant to President Obama’s instruction to declassify these records by December 31, 2013, the release rate is 61 percent. A very high 39 percent has been withheld for purported security reasons. Some of the pages probably include Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data withheld under the Atomic Energy Act and intelligence sources and methods authorized by the 1949 CIA Act. Those are legal, if not always legitimate, secrets; for example, many FRD withdrawals probably relate to historical nuclear weapons deployments long overtaken by events. And the CIA’s parameters for what constitute classified sources and methods are always shifting. Moreover, some of the 39 percent may eventually be declassified once interagency coordination has occurred and provisions for declassification of fifty-year old documents have been applied. Nevertheless, one wonders whether the 39 percent includes records which only the Pentagon sees as “national security information” and which are no more sensitive than the Cuba “secrets” of 1962.

As for Defense Department documents held in NARA collections, it is time to consider new procedures to ensure that declassification decisions meet the rule of reason. A step forward would be to create a special NDC committee that makes joint decisions on appeals. For example, when the Defense Department claims that declassifying the Jupiter missiles/Turkey nexus would harm U.S. foreign relations, State Department officials could offer a reality check. Unless the Defense Department develops more credible declassification standards, officials at NARA should push for a better process for reviewing appeals involving archival records.


THE DOCUMENTS

Documents 1A-B: Different Versions of JCS Report on “Alternative Actions”

A: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Maxwell Taylor to the Secretary of Defense, “Alternative Actions if Build-up in Cuba Continues Despite Russian Acceptance of the Quarantine,” 29 October 1962, JCSM-831-62, Top Secret, with JCS Cover Sheet and Top Secret Access Record

Source: National Archives (College Park), Record Group 341, Department of the Air Force, Headquarters, Department of the Air Force, Top Secret Central Files, 1955-1965, box 700, RL (62) 38-9 Policy Cuba

B: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Maxwell Taylor to the Secretary of Defense, “Alternative Actions if Build-up in Cuba Continues Despite Russian Acceptance of the Quarantine,” 28 October 1962, JCSM-831-62, Top Secret, excised copy (as released under appeal)

Source: National Archives (College Park), Record Group 330, Office of Secretary of Defense, “Sensitive Records on Cuba, The Cuban Missile Crisis,” box 1, Black Book 4th Drawer

Document 2Memo for Mr. Gilpatric from Col. Francis J. Roberts, “Cuban Crisis – Record of Events,” 6 November 1962,” Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Defense Department FOIA appeal release

Document 3: Roswell Gilpatric Notes on White House meeting, 22 October 1962, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: Defense Department FOIA appeal release


Notes

[1] The Jupiter missiles in Turkey were most infuriating to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev because of their relative proximity to Soviet territory. For a major study of the Jupiter deployments and their role in the crisis, see Philip Nash, The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957-1963 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1997). For more on the Jupiters during the crisis, see Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro On the Brink of Nuclear War (New York, 2008), especially 199-201, 231-238, and 307-309

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The Last Nuclear Weapons Left Cuba in December 1962

Soviet Military Documents Provide Detailed Account of Cuban Missile Crisis Deployment and Withdrawal

New Evidence on Tactical Nuclear Weapons – 59 Days in Cuba

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 449
Posted December 11, 2013

Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton
With Anna Melyakova

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB449/1b%20beloborodov%20indigirka.jpg

Col. Beloborodov on board the Indigirka bound for Cuba, 1962 (photo courtesy of Beloborodov family and Michael Dobbs)

Washington, DC, December 11, 2013 – The last Soviet nuclear warheads in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis did not leave the island until December 1, 1962, according to Soviet military documents published today for the first time in English by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

At 9 o’clock in the morning on December 1, 1962, the large Soviet cargo ship Arkhangelsk quietly left the Cuban port of Mariel and headed east across the Atlantic to its home port of Severomorsk near Murmansk. This inconspicuous departure in fact signified the end of the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War. What was called “the Beloborodov cargo” in the Soviet top secret cables — the nuclear warheads that the Soviet armed forces had deployed in Cuba in October 1962 — was shipped back to the Soviet Union on Arkhangelsk.

According to the documents, Soviet nuclear warheads stayed on the Cuban territory for 59 days — from the arrival of the ship Indigirka on October 4 to the departure of Arkhangelsk on December 1. U.S. intelligence at the time had no idea about the nature of the Arkhangelsk cargo. Arkhangelsk carried 80 warheads for the land-based cruise missile FKR-1, 12 warheads for the dual-use Luna (Frog) launcher, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers — in total, 98 tactical nuclear warheads. Four other nuclear warheads, for torpedoes on the Foxtrot submarines, had already returned to the Soviet Union, as well as 24 warheads for the R-14 missiles, which arrived in Cuba on October 25 on the ship Aleksandrovsk, but were never unloaded. The available evidence suggests that the 36 warheads for the R-12 missiles that came to Cuba on the Indigirka also left on Aleksandrovsk, being loaded at Mariel between October 30 and November 3.

The question of tactical nuclear weapons — their number, their intended use, command and control procedures, and even the dates of their arrival and departure — has created many puzzles for students of the Cuban Missile Crisis for years since the planner of Operation Anadyr, General Anatoly Ivanovich Gribkov, revealed their presence in Cuba in 1962 at a critical oral history conference of American, Soviet and Cuban policymakers and scholars in Havana in January 1992, co-organized by the National Security Archive. In the last twenty years, numerous scholars have published on the issue, each introducing additional evidence and moving the debate forward step by step.[1]

Today’s posting brings together the most important pieces of evidence documenting the presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba during the Missile Crisis — the most authoritative story so far based on documents. Although many of the documents included here were previously published in English by the Archive and by the Cold War International History Project, this posting includes three newly translated documents, never available before in English, which provide detailed accounts of the Soviet deployment of missile forces and nuclear warheads and the exact chronology of the deployment.

One of the new documents, a contemporaneous after-action report written in December 1962 by Major General Igor Statsenko, provides details of the deployment and withdrawal of the Missile Division (the R-12 and R-14 regiments and supporting personnel) under Statsenko’s command (Document 1). A second new document is the report written by Lieutenant General Nikolai Beloborodov (commander of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis) in the 1990s, most likely on the basis of his own contemporaneous documents, which describes the delivery, deployment and withdrawal of all nuclear warheads, which were under his command (Document 2).

Former CIA photointerpreter Dino Brugioni takes pictures of FKR and Luna missiles in Cuba, 2002 (photo by Svetlana Savranskaya)

Former CIA photointerpreter Dino Brugioni takes pictures of FKR and Luna missiles in Cuba, 2002 (photo by Svetlana Savranskaya)

Both reports read as understated but pointed condemnation of the Soviet General Staff’s planning of the Cuban operation. Statsenko’s report describes shortcomings in initial reconnaissance and camouflage and ignorance of local conditions on the part of the Operation Anadyr planners. Beloborodov’s report points to difficulties with storing nuclear warheads in the tropical conditions, unanticipated transportation problems, and the camouflage issues. His report also reveals the fact that even as the Soviet Presidium was deciding to pull back the strategic missiles (ships carrying parts of Statsenko’s division turned around on October 25 rather than challenge the U.S. quarantine of Cuba), the Soviet support troops in Cuba were given orders to unload the tactical warheads from Aleksandrovsk, and did that during the nights of October 26, 27 and 28-because at that moment, the Soviets were planning to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. On the basis of these two reports and all other Soviet documents available today, the following chronology outlines the Soviet decisions relating to the tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba.

Brief chronology of Soviet tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba:

  • May 24, 1962 -original plan for Operation Anadyr included deployment of 80 FKR cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
  • June 10-Operation Anadyr approved by the Soviet Presidium.
  • September 7-the “Pitsunda decision.” Khrushchev augmented the original plan by adding 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers and 12 short-range nuclear missiles for the dual-use system Luna/Frog.
  • October 4-Indigirka arrived in Mariel with 36 warheads for R-12, 36 warheads for FKR, 12 warheads for Lunas, and 6 nuclear bombs for Il-28s.
  • October 22-Presidium discussed the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an American invasion of Cuba.
  • October 23-Aleksandrovsk arrived in La Isabella with 24 warheads for R-14 and 44 warheads for FKRs.
  • October 26-28-Aleksandrovsk “partially” unloaded-warheads for FKRs were unloaded and sent to units.
  • October 30-Aleksandrovsk ordered back to Severomorsk still carrying the 24 warheads for R-14s, after probably loading the 36 R-12 warheads at Mariel harbor and departing November 3.[2]
  • November 2-Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Cuba as Khrushchev’s special envoy.
  • November 8-Mikoyan suggested transferring “all remaining weapons” to the Cubans after special training.
  • Nov 12-Khrushchev decided to remove the IL-28 bombers.
  • November 22-Mikoyan informed the Cuban leadership that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Cuba.[3]
  • December 1-all tactical nuclear warheads left Cuba on Arkhangelsk.
  • December 20-Arkhangelsk arrived in Severomorsk.

The original Soviet plan for Operation Anadyr, presented to the Presidium on May 24, 1962 and finally approved on June 10, in addition to the deployment of the R-12 and R-14 missiles, provided for the inclusion in the Soviet Group of Forces in Cuba of 80 land-based front cruise missiles (FKR) with the range of 111 miles (Document 3). In September, Khrushchev decided to strengthen the Group of Soviet forces in Cuba and augment the nuclear portion of the deployment with additional 12 tactical dual-use Luna (Frog) launchers with 12 nuclear warheads for them, and 6 nuclear bombs for specially fitted IL-28 bombers, although he rejected a Defense Ministry proposal also to add 18 nuclear-armed R-11 short-range SCUD missiles (Document 5).

The strategic missiles, R-12 and R-14, could only be used by direct orders from Moscow. To the best of our knowledge, Soviet commanders in Cuba did not have the physical capability to use them without the codes sent from the Center. However, there is considerable debate as to whether commanders of tactical weapons units had authority to launch their own nuclear warheads (Document 7). They certainly had the capability.

Initially, at the Havana conference in 1992, General Gribkov stated that such authorization was given by the central command in the event of a U.S. airborne landing in Cuba. He presented a draft order providing for such pre-authorization, but that order was not signed by Defense Minister Malinovsky. According to Gribkov and other Soviet participants of the crisis, such authorization was given by Malinovsky orally to commanders before their departure for Cuba. The cable sent later, on October 27, categorically forbidding Soviet military to use tactical nuclear weapons without an order from Moscow, shows that the Soviet Presidium was very concerned about an unauthorized use of tactical weapons (Document 11). This provides indirect support to the argument that it was the understanding of the field commanders that tactical nuclear weapons would be used to repel a U.S. attack on Cuba. Even if the official pre-authorization order was not signed by the Defense Minister, we can conclude that in all likelihood, tactical nuclear weapons would most definitely be used in a first salvo if U.S. forces had landed in Cuba. The Presidium discussion of October 22 shows that the Soviet top leadership envisioned this scenario as well.

After the most dangerous phase of the crisis was resolved on October 28, and Khrushchev promised to withdraw “the weapons you call offensive” from Cuba, the world rejoiced. However, the Soviet leadership knew better-almost 43,000 troops and all the nuclear warheads were still in Cuba. Now they had to negotiate their own Soviet-Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev sent his right-hand man, Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan, to Cuba to oversee the removal of the missiles, salvage the Soviet-Cuban friendship, and negotiate the future Soviet-Cuban military agreement.

U.S. low-level reconnaissance photo of Luna/Frog short-range missiles in Cuba, November 1962 (photo from Dino Brugioni Collection, National Security Archive)"

U.S. low-level reconnaissance photo of Luna/Frog short-range missiles in Cuba, November 1962 (photo from Dino Brugioni Collection, National Security Archive)”

When Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Cuba, in the course of his extensive conversations over three days, he informed the Cubans that all the weapons other than those specifically mentioned in the Khrushchev-Kennedy statements would be left in Cuba: “you know that not only in these letters but today also, we hold to the position that you will keep all the weapons with the exception of the ‘offensive’ weapons and associated service personnel, which were promised to be withdrawn in Khrushchev’s letter.”[4] The documents suggest, as of early November 1962, that the Soviet intention was to withdraw the offensive weapons (the strategic missiles), but keep a massive military base in Cuba and make no more concessions to the United States. All tactical nuclear weapons, IL-28s and the combat troops except missile support personnel would remain on the island. This position, however, evolved significantly in the dynamic days of the November crisis.

In his talks with the Cubans, Mikoyan gradually realized that this would not be an easy relationship. He was taken aback by the Cuban romanticism and their professed willingness to “die beautifully.” But at the same time, his priority was to keep Cuba as a Soviet ally. He thought perhaps the best solution could be to strengthen the Cuban defenses but not to keep a large Soviet base. On November 8, he proposed to the Presidium to gradually transfer all the remaining weapons to the Cuban armed forces after a period of training by Soviet military specialists (Document 13). Because none of the these tactical weapons were mentioned in the Kennedy-Khrushchev correspondence and because the Americans were essentially oblivious to their delivery to the island, at the time it seemed to him that it would have been the most natural and logical way to resolve the Soviet-Cuban crisis. He requested permission from the Central Committee to tell Castro regarding the future military agreement that rather than maintaining a Soviet military base, “the Cuban personnel with the assistance of our specialists will gradually start to operate all Soviet weapons remaining in Cuba. […] As these personnel become prepared, gradually the Soviet people will be replaced with the Cubans. Upon completion of a certain time period necessary [to master] the military technology, all Soviet personnel will be replaced by the Cuban personnel, and those Soviet experts in special areas, without whom it would be difficult for the Cuban army [to function] will stay with you and work here as advisers in such number and for such a period of time as necessary.” On November 9, Presidium member Gromyko in a cable approved Mikoyan’s new line for negotiations with the Cubans.

Just as soon as Mikoyan presented the idea to his Cuban hosts, Khrushchev decided to agree to the U.S. demand to withdraw IL-28 bombers, which created a new crisis with the Cubans, who now had good grounds to expect further Soviet concessions and unleashed their fury on Mikoyan. Trying to mend relations once again, the Soviet envoy repeated to his Cuban hosts that although IL-28s would be withdrawn, all other weapons would stay, that “Cuba’s fire power is very strong.[…] not a single other socialist country, if we leave out the Soviet Union, possesses such modern powerful combat weapons as you have.” In his conversation with Castro on November 13, speaking about the military agreement, Mikoyan stated: “I want to reiterate that very powerful defensive weapons remain in Cuba. We will be able to transfer them to you when the Cuban military officials become familiar with them. This military equipment is incomparably more powerful than any equipment that Cuba currently has. These are the most advanced weapons comrade Pavlov [Gen. Issa Pliyev, commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba] currently has. The CC CPSU’s resolution is to transfer them to you over the course of time.” Mikoyan added that “even with ground inspections, it is practically impossible to find the warheads.” (Document 14).

Over the next several days, the Cubans, from the Soviet point of view, started behaving even more erratically, making the situation more dangerous and unpredictable. Castro ordered the Cuban air defenses to shoot at low-flying U.S. aircraft and sent a message to the Cuban representative at the United Nations, Carlos Lechuga, that “we possess tactical nuclear weapons, which we should keep.” What became clear to Mikoyan during numerous conversations with the Cuban leadership is that the Soviets could not really control their Cuban ally, and that if they were going to maintain Cuba as an ally, they would need to accept the fact that the Cubans would not always follow the Soviet script and that in fact they would develop quite an independent foreign policy. In these circumstances, transferring nuclear weapons to such an ally would be too risky. The Soviets had to pull them back.

Mikoyan understood that it would be his task to reconcile his hosts to the loss of all the nuclear weapons which they were promised. He suggested this course of action to the Presidium in a cable written right after midnight on November 22. In that cable, he also proposed that as an explanation, he could tell the Cubans that the Soviet Union had an “unpublished law” that prohibited the transfer of nuclear weapons to other countries (Document 16). In the morning on November 22, Mikoyan received a cable with the Presidium’s approval of his proposal (Document 17). Mikoyan met with the top Cuban leadership to explain this decision during the long late night conversation on November 22. Castro tried to persuade Mikoyan to leave the tactical weapons in Cuba. The Cuban leader pointed out that the Americans were not aware of the presence of these weapons on the island, and that the Soviets did not have to keep a military base in Cuba but could train the Cuban military, as the initial agreement had stipulated. He said these weapons could be hidden in caves. He begged the Soviet representative to leave him the weapons that meant so much to the Cubans. But Mikoyan was not swayed by his arguments. The tactical warheads had to go home (Document 18).

On November 25, the Soviet support troops started pulling the warheads from the storage facilities to the port of Mariel and loading them on the Arkhangelsk. The loading was completed and the ship departed Cuba on December 1, 1962.

Previously declassified U.S. documents published by the National Security Archive show that U.S. intelligence did not detect any of the nuclear warheads in Cuba during the crisis — either for the strategic missiles or for the tactical delivery systems — and close examination of U.S. overhead photography by author Michael Dobbs established that U.S. intelligence never located the actual storage bunkers for the warheads. U.S. planners assumed the missile warheads were present in Cuba, but discounted the possibility — even after seeing the dual-capable Luna/Frog in reconnaissance photographs as early as October 25 — that tactical warheads were on the island or might ever be used. U.S. analysts completely mistook the FKR cruise missiles for the conventionally-armed Sopka coastal defense missiles, and never understood the likelihood that the U.S. base at Guantanamo would be smoking radiating ruin from an FKR nuclear warhead if the U.S. invaded. Thus the shock to former officials such as Robert McNamara when they heard from Soviet veterans during the historic 1992 Cuban Missile Crisis conference in Havana that tactical nuclear weapons had been part of the operation from the beginning.[5]

The National Security Archive has worked since 1986 to open Cuban Missile Crisis files in the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and Cuba, including the successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced release of the famous Kennedy-Khrushchev letters. The Archive’s publications on the Missile Crisis include two massive indexed collections of thousands of pages of declassified U.S. documents, two editions of a one-volume documents reader, the multi-volume briefing book for the landmark 2002 Havana conference organized by the Archive on the Missile Crisis, the 50th anniversary collection from dozens of overseas archives co-published with the Cold War International History Project, and most recently the inside account from the Soviet side by Sergo Mikoyan and Svetlana Savranskaya, which published the transcripts of the contentious Soviet-Cuban talks over withdrawal of Soviet weapons after most of the world thought the missile crisis was over.


THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1: Report of Major-General Igor Demyanovich Statsenko, Commander of the 51st Missile Division, about the Actions of the Division from 07.12.62 through 12.01.1962. Circa December 1962.

This contemporaneous after-action report, published here for the first time in English, provides invaluable detailed information on the deployment of the 51st missile division as part of the Soviet Group of Forces in Cuba. While the report describes the difficulties of the deployment, it also points to shortcomings of the General Staff planning for the deployment. The report shows how even in adverse circumstances, with part of the shipment of missiles and missile support troops interrupted by the U.S. quarantine, the 51st division deployed and assumed battle readiness ahead of schedule, and as the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its peak “on October 27th, 1962, the division was able to deliver a strike from all 24 launchers.”

Document 2: The War was Averted (Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, 1962). Memoir of Lieutenant General Nikolai Beloborodov, head of the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Cuba. Circa early 1990s.

This memoir-report was written by Nikolai Beloborodov in the 1990s, most likely on the basis of his own contemporaneous after-action report. It provides details of transportation, deployment and removal of nuclear warheads from Cuba. His report also reveals the fact that even as the Soviet Presidium was deciding to pull back the strategic missiles (ships with missiles started turning around on October 25 so as not to challenge the U.S. quarantine line), the Soviet support troops were given orders to unload the tactical warheads from Aleksandrovsk, and did so during the nights of October 26, 27 and 28 — because at that moment, the Soviets were planning to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. It is not clear from this report whether the warheads for R-12 missiles were loaded back on Aleksandrovsk before it sailed back to Moscow on November 3 but other evidence suggests that was the case.

Document 3: Memorandum from Malinovsky and Zakharov on deployment of Soviet Forces to Cuba, 24 May 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.[6]

This is the original General Staff plan of Operation Anadyr presented to the Soviet Presidium on May 24 and finally approved by the Soviet leadership on June 10, 1962. As part of a large-scale deployment of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba, this plan provided for 16 ground-based front cruise missile launchers and five “special” nuclear warheads for each launcher — 80 in total — with a range up to 180 kilometers (111 miles).

Document 4: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky to N.S. Khrushchev. On the Possibility of Reinforcing Cuba by Air. 6 September 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.

Defense Minister Malinovsky presented these proposals on expediting the shipments of weapons to Cuba and augmenting the deployment with additional tactical nuclear weapons. His proposal included adding 12 Luna/Frog launchers with nuclear warheads, 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 planes, and 18 nuclear-armed R-11M missiles [Scud A with a range of 150 kilometers].

Document 5: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to Commander of Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba, 8 September 1962. Translated by Raymond L. Garthoff for CWHIP.

After Khrushchev’s decision on September 7, Malinovsky and Zakharov sent a revised deployment plan to the Commander of the Soviet Group of Forces. The addition of Lunas and bombs for Il-28s was approved by the top leadership, but Khrushchev canceled the deployment of R-11s.

Document 6: Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to the Chief of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.

Orders to the 12th Main Directorate-the unit of the Defense Ministry responsible for nuclear warheads-confirm the addition of 12 Luna warheads and 6 bombs for Il-28s to be shipped to Cuba.

Document 7: [Draft] Memorandum from R. Malinovsky and M. Zakharov to Commander of Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba on Pre-delegation of launch authority, 8 September 1962.

This memorandum, which was prepared but never signed by Defense Minister Malinovsky authorized local commanders in Cuba to make a decision to use tactical nuclear weapons in the event of a U.S. attack on Cuba if they could not establish contact with Moscow (a very similar pre-delegation policy was followed by the U.S. at the time). General Anatoly Gribkov, one of the principal planners of Operation Anadyr stated in 1992 that the memo reflected the oral instructions that commanders received in Moscow before their deployment to Cuba. The existence of this draft suggests that it was Malinovsky’s preferred option but Khrushchev probably had not approved it-therefore the memo was never signed. However, it is clear that Soviet commanders in Cuba had the capability to launch tactical nuclear weapons, and many of them subsequently stated that they had received pre-delegation instructions orally.

Document 8: Malinovsky Report on Special Ammunition for Operation Anadyr, 5 October 1962.

The Defense Minister’s report to Khrushchev about the progress of shipping of Soviet armaments to Cuba specifically states that Aleksandrovsk was fully loaded and ready to sail.

Document 9: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 22 October 1962.

On the day that President Kennedy publicly announced the U.S. discovery of the missiles in Cuba and the U.S. quarantine, the Soviet Defense Minister orders the Commander of the Soviet Group of Forces to raise the level of combat readiness and prepare to repel a possible U.S. invasion with combined Soviet and Cuban forces but specifically excluding the missile forces (Statsenko) and all nuclear warheads (“Beloborodov Cargo”).

Document 10: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 25 October 1962.

Malinovsky orders Pliyev not to unload the warheads for R-14s from the Aleksandrovsk and get the ship ready to sail back to the USSR. The telegram does not include any instructions regarding either the FKR warheads (they were unloaded and transferred to storage) or R-12 warheads (most likely they were returned to the Soviet Union on Aleksandrovsk).

Document 11: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 27 October 1962.

Moscow issues strict orders prohibiting local commanders from using tactical nuclear weapons. This concern on the part of the central leadership gives indirect support to Gribkov’s argument that local commanders were instructed in the spirit of the September 8 memo-that in case of an American attack, they had the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons. Now Khrushchev wanted to make it very clear that under no condition were tactical nuclear weapons to be used.

Document 12: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, circa 5 November 1962.

The telegram instructs Pliyev that tactical nuclear warheads would most likely be left in Cuba under his control.

Document 13: Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU and Gromyko’s response, 8-9 November 1962.

Anastas Mikoyan, who was negotiating the resolution of the Soviet-Cuban Missile crisis with the Cuban leadership, came to the conclusion that it would be inexpedient to keep a full-scale Soviet military base in Cuba. He proposed to the Soviet Presidium to gradually transfer all the remaining weapons to the Cuban armed forces after a period of training by Soviet military specialists–“the Cuban personnel with the assistance of our specialists will gradually start to operate all Soviet weapons remaining in Cuba.” He requested Presidium approval for him to present this idea to the Cubans. The proposal was approved in the telegram signed by Gromyko on the next day.

Document 14: Record of Conversation between A. I. Mikoyan and F. Castro, 13 November 1962.

In this conversation, the first one after Khrushchev decided to remove Il-28s from Cuba, Mikoyan was trying to assure Fidel Castro that the Soviet Union was not abandoning its Latin American ally and would make no further concessions to the United States. He informed Castro that the CC CPSU passed a resolution to leave all the remaining weapons in Cuba and to transfer them to the Cuban Army over time. The Cuban firepower would not diminish and it will retain powerful defensive weapons: “These are the most advanced weapons comrade Pavlov [Gen. Pliyev, commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba] currently has. The CC CPSU’s resolution is to transfer them to you over the course of time.” Mikoyan added that “even with ground inspections, it is practically impossible to find the warheads.”

Document 15: Telegram from Malinovsky to Pliyev, 20 November 1962.

This telegram orders Pliyev to load all tactical warheads on steamship Atkarsk and send them back to the Soviet Union. This might have been a draft cable, anticipating an imminent policy change, or there might be a mistake in the date, which was transcribed from an original that is not available. We know from Beloborodov that on November 22 all tactical nuclear weapons were still in Cuba, that they only started to be pulled to the Mariel pier on November 25 and that loading lasted till November 30. Also, they were loaded and shipped back to the Soviet Union on Arkhangelsk, not Atkarsk. This telegram was probably the basis of General Gribkov’s oft-cited assertion that all Soviet tactical weapons left Cuba on November 20, 1962.

Document 16: Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU, 22 November 1962.

This telegram was sent by Mikoyan either right after midnight on November 22, or late in the evening on November 21 but put into his logbook as of November 22. Mikoyan was scheduled to have a meeting with the entire top Cuban leadership to discuss the future of the Soviet-Cuban military agreement. By this time, Mikoyan came to the conclusion that leaving tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of the Cubans was dangerous, so he requested from the Central Committee to approve his suggestion-to tell the Cubans that the Soviet Union had an “unpublished law” prohibiting transfer of nuclear weapons to third parties. Most likely, Mikoyan made up this “law” for the occasion, but it seems to have stuck as a precedent for future Soviet policy. The Presidium gave its approval next morning.

Document 17: CC CPSU additional instructions to Mikoyan, 22 November 1962.

This cable signed by Gromyko approves Mikoyan’s suggestion from the previous night and categorically states that he was to tell Castro and the top Cuban leadership that all tactical nuclear weapons would be removed from Cuba.

Document 18: Record of Conversation between A.I. Mikoyan and F. Castro, 22 November 1962.

This crucial conversation, which lasted over four hours in the evening of November 22 settled all the main remaining issues of the Cuban Missile Crisis-most importantly the fate of the remaining tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. Mikoyan admitted that they were still in Cuba and that the Americans indeed had no idea that they were deployed, but that the Soviet Union decided to pull them back due to the “unpublished law” prohibiting the transfer. This memcon provides an extraordinary glimpse into the microcosm of the Soviet-Cuban relations and helps one understand the depth of Castro’s humiliation at the Soviet hands during the Cuban missile crisis. For him, the resolution of the crisis meant that he was abandoned by his Soviet ally and left to the mercy of the American imperialists-because the Cuban security now depended not on the powerful Soviet weapons but on the U.S. non-invasion assurances, which the Cubans were not inclined to trust.


NOTES

[1] See especially Raymond L. Garthoff, “New Evidence on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Khrushchev, Nuclear Weapons, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” CWIHP Bulletin 11, pp. 251-262; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali , “The Pitsunda Decision,” CWIHP Bulletin 10, pp. 223-227; and Svetlana Savranskaya, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Cuba: New Evidence,” CWIHP Bulletin 14/15, pp. 385-398. The question of tactical nuclear weapons also gets detailed treatment in Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev: Rozhdenie Superderzhavy (Moscow: Vremya, 2010).

[2] There is a Malinovsky cable dated October 30 ordering the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba to load the R-12 warheads on the Aleksandrovsk and send to Severomorsk; and the CIA retrospective in January 1963 of overhead photography of the Aleksandrovsk‘s movements placed the ship at Mariel on November 3, at sea on November 10, and back at Severomorsk on November 23 with “missile nose cone vans” on deck. (See Dwayne Anderson, “On the Trail of the Alexandrovsk,” Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 10, Winter 1966, declassified 1995, available at www.foia.cia.gov). Beloborodov’s account has Aleksandrovsk leaving Havana on October 30, but it is likely that he is referring to the order from Malinovsky.  Less likely is the possibility that the R-12 warheads may have remained for the Arkhangelsk to carry.

[3] In the Defense Ministry cables that were transcribed by Russian veterans for publication in 1998, one dated November 20 orders the commander of the Group of Soviet Forces to load all tactical warheads on “steamship Atkarsk“; but Beloborodov’s account specifically cites the Arkangelsk, not the Atkarsk, and the cables between Mikoyan and Moscow place the decision to withdraw the tacticals only on November 21 and 22. The Defense Ministry transcription may be misdated, or if the date is correct, perhaps the Ministry was already anticipating the political decision.

[4] Telegram from Mikoyan to CC CPSU, November 6, 1962 in Sergo Mikoyan, edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Missiles of November (Washington and Stanford: Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 344.

[5] See Raymond L. Garthoff, “The Havana Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Tactical Weapons Disclosure Stuns Gathering,” CWIHP Bulletin 1, Spring 1992, pp. 2-4.

[6] In this document, the number of the missile division is given as the 43rd missile division, but in the military documents from the fall of 1962, the number of the division is consistently the 51st missile division.  Most likely, the number was changed when the division was reorganized in the summer, according to the General Staff directive of June 13.  Statsenko describes the radical reorganization of the division, which resulted in the situation where he only knew one regiment commander out of five, and 500 officers and 1000 sergeants and soldiers were replaced.

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H-Diplo-LOGO
The Assassination of Kennedy Fifty Years Later: The Cuban Question Mark 1
An Essay by Charles Cogan, Affiliate, Harvard Kennedy School

November 22, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was intimately linked, if only in a subliminal fashion, to American actions against Cuba at the beginning of the 1960’s, which in turn formed part of an aggressive and interventionist policy that marked the early phase of
the Cold War.

The assassination itself was carried out by a sole killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, out of his admiration for Fidel Castro and his animosity toward the American Government and its President.

The question that remains open after fifty years gone by is whether Castro, who was perfectly aware of the Kennedy brothers’ plots against him – thanks to a Cuban double agent who had proposed to the CIA that he assassinate Castro – had ordered his intelligence services to collaborate with Oswald in his action. Until now, nothing solid has emerged to support this thesis.

In December 2006, The Atlantic, the prestigious magazine founded in Boston in 1857, published a list of the 100 most influential Americans in the history of the country. The list included, besides presidents, also writers and others, including…baseball players. But the list did not contain the name of John F. Kennedy. This was certainly not due to inadvertence. It was a slap, the motive behind which was unclear…unless it was a relic of the religious wars – Kennedy having been the first Catholic president of the United States.

I was astounded when I heard about the article in The Atlantic. Because, in spite of the meager legislative accomplishments of John Kennedy’s Administration and the brevity of his tenure – the ‘thousand days’ – cut short by the horrible attack at Dallas on November 22, 1963, it was he, and virtually he alone, who extricated the United States from one of the worst dangers in history –the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

At the end of the afternoon of October 27, 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara paused on the steps of the Pentagon to look at the sunset, thinking at that moment that he might never see a sunset again2 – because on that day the Missile Cisis had reached its paroxysm: earlier in the day a U-2 observation aircraft had been shot down and its pilot killed. The attack had been carried out by Russian troops on orders of Fidel Castro.

I cite this anecdote of Robert McNamara to show that the margin between a political solution to the crisis and a nuclear holocaust was extremely thin throughout the thirteen days of the crisis – during which time the President warded off the insistent appeals by most of his senior military officers for an immediate attack on Cuba. In particular, Curtis LeMay, the head of the Air Force and the most hawkish of these officers, was disrespectful toward the ‘young’ President in person and railed against him during the latter’s occasional absences from the Situation Room.

The famous thirteen days comprised the period between the discovery of the missiles by the American U-2 airplane on October 15, 1962 and the move toward a political solution when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced on October 27 that he was removing the missiles from the island since Kennedy had agreed not to invade Cuba. During these thirteen days, the Soviet missiles had not become operational, giving President Kennedy a window of sufficient time to ponder a prudential solution to the crisis while avoiding the risk of a nuclear war with the USSR.

Another, and not negligible accomplishment of the Kennedy brothers at the dénouement of the crisis was their success in convincing the Soviets not to mention publicly that the solution that was found was more of a give and take than a humiliating retreat by the USSR: it was the withdrawal of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey against the departure of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. Attorney General Robert Kennedy succeeded in convincing the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Anatoli Dobrynin, that, because of the U.S. legislative elections that were coming up in the following month, the Turkish side of the agreement had to remain secret – otherwise President Kennedy would look weak before American voters. The Soviets stuck to their word, respecting the agreement made by the two interlocutors. But because of this fact, and from the point of view of public relations, the Soviet Union came off as the loser in the missile crisis.

The danger had been so great during the missile crisis that President Kennedy made an effort to ensure that such a situation should never arise again. A hot line was established between the White House and the Kremlin. In addition, the first agreement on nuclear disarmament – the Limited Test Ban Treaty – was signed in the summer of 1963.

A year after the missile crisis, on Friday, 22 November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated at Dallas. The back story to this act still remains mysterious, from the fact that the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself shot dead before then end of the weekend. Fifty years later, the shadow over this incident persists. One can certainly situate the motivation of the assassin, Oswald. He was a great admirer of Fidel Castro. He had participated earlier that autumn in a rally in New Orleans in support of the Cuban regime. Subsequently, he sought to get a visa for Cuba at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. It was granted but only after the fateful weekend of 22-24 November.

What remains unknown is the question of contacts Oswald might have had with agents of the powerful Cuban intelligence service, the Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI), in Mexico City or elsewhere. And in the final analysis, the question remains open as to whether Fidel Castro himself might have been implicated in the assassination of the young American President. With fifty years having gone by, nothing concrete has emerged as to the involvement of the Cuban government or Cuban intelligence in the assassination; which leads to the conclusion — provisionally – that Oswald acted on his own, out of his admiration for Castro. Perhaps after the death of Castro more will be learned about the role of the Cubans.

Nevertheless Castro, because of his reckless temperament, and because of the information he possessed concerning the plots of the Kennedy brothers against his person, would make a perfectly credible sponsor of an operation to assassinate the President.

At the moment of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro seemed to want to bring on a nuclear holocaust which, though it would destroy the island of Cuba, would in his mind open the way to a communization of the world. The French newspaper Le Monde published on 23 November 1990 a series of letters exchanged between Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, in which the Cuban leader asked Khrushchev to initiate a nuclear war in the event that American forces attacked Cuba. (Subsequently the letters were published elsewhere, notably in The Armageddon Letters.3)

In sum, Fidel Castro was prepared to sacrifice his country for the benefit of a future world of communism. In a message to Khrushchev on 26 October 1962, Castro wrote, inter alia, the following:

If…the imperialists invade Cuba with the goal of occupying it, the danger that this aggressive policy poses for humanity is so great that following that event the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it.4

The message was clear, although implicit: if the Americans invaded Cuba, the Soviet Union should launch a nuclear attack against the United States.
In a message of 27 October, Khrushchev informed Castro that a solution was in sight, as President Kennedy had promised not to invade Cuba. Khrushchev advised Castro not to be carried away by his emotions and not to respond to provocations, such as the attack he ordered against an American U-2 airplane on 27 October, which claimed the life of the pilot. “Yesterday you shot down one of these [planes] while earlier you didn’t shoot them down when they overflew your territory. The aggressors will take advantage of such a step for their own purposes.”5 (At this point, Khrushchev may have thought that Castro had gotten completely out of hand and that he had better, as a result, find some sort of solution with President Kennedy. It was on the same date as the shootdown, 27 October, that Khrushchev accepted the public compromise proposed by his American counterpart – that is, the withdrawal of the missiles in return for a commitment by the United States not to invade Cuba).
Castro replied the next day, 28 October. The following is an extract:

Earlier isolated violations were committed without a determined military purpose or without a real danger stemming from those flights. This time, that wasn’t the case. There was the danger of a surprise attack on certain military installations. We decided not to sit back and wait for a surprise attack…6
In a following message of 30 October Khrushchev made it clear he was perfectly aware of the implications of Castro’s reckless proposal:
In your [message]…you proposed that we be the first to launch a nuclear attack on the territory of the enemy. Obviously you are aware of what could follow. Rather than a single strike, it would have been the beginning of a thermonuclear war.7

Castro replied on 31 October to Khrushchev’s letter of the 30th. Here is an extract:

We knew, and one must not think otherwise, that we would be annihilated, as you indicated in your letter, if there was a nuclear war. But that didn’t lead us to ask you to withdraw the missiles. That did not lead us to yield.8

James Blight and janet9 Lang in The New York Times on October 26, 2012 recounted Khrushchev’s unvarnished reaction to Castro’s letter of October 26:
According to his son and biographer, Sergei Khrushchev, the Soviet premier received that letter in the midst of a tense leadership meeting and shouted, ‘This is insane! Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him’! Khrushchev hadn’t understood that Mr.

Castro believed that Cuba was doomed, that war was inevitable, and that the Soviets should transform Cuba from a mere victim into a martyr.
Shortly after this exchange of letters, Khrushchev sent the seasoned diplomat, Anastas Mikoyan, to Havana to continue the discussions with the Cuban leaders. The following is an extract of an exchange between Mikoyan and Che Guevara on November 5, 1962:

Guevara: Even in the context of all our respect for the Soviet Union, we believe that the decisions made by the Soviet Union were a mistake. ..Mikoyan: But we thought that you would be satisfied by our act. We did everything so that Cuba would not be destroyed. We see your readiness to die beautifully but we believe that it isn’t worth dying beautifully.10

Fidel Castro, at a later time, had a different story to tell. In a report of an interview with Castro at Havana, published in The Atlantic on October 16, 2012, Jeffrey Goldberg recalled that he had had the following exchange with Castro a couple of years earlier:

Does what you recommended [that the Soviets launch a nuclear attack against the U.S.] still seem logical now? Castro answered, ‘After what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know, it wasn’t worth it all’.

As to the knowledge Castro had of American intentions against Cuba and against Castro himself, the Cuban leader was amply informed. After he had seized power, Castro became aware of the hostility of the United States towards his regime.

Even before he became President, John Kennedy had been alerted by his advisers of the danger that the new revolutionary regime in Cuba represented, and the possibility that Fidel Castro might invite the Soviets to establish forces on the island. A Soviet base 150 kilometers from American territory could not be permitted in the midst of the Cold War.

There followed the disaster of the Bay of Pigs, an operation inherited from the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, and during which Kennedy refused coverage of the landing beach by the U.S. Air Force, thereby clinching the failure of the operation.

The humiliation of the Bay of Pigs fiasco only doubled the determination of the Kennedy brothers to remove Castro. In October 1961, a covert operation, codenamed Mongoose, was launched against the Cuban regime, with at its head Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney- General. A so-called Augmented Special Group was created in the White House and set about planning lethal attacks on Castro himself and conducting sabotage operations on the island. Virtually all of these activities either failed or did not see the light of day.

But the essential point here is that Castro was well aware of the lethal intentions of the Kennedy brothers, and this could have incited him to retaliate against the American President, using his own Cuban intelligence service, the DGI. In fact, the DGI did use a “dangle” to learn about American intentions towards Castro and the Cuban Government.11

In 1961, a DGI agent, Rolando Cubela, let it be known through an intermediary that he was against Castro and was seeking a contact with the Americans.12 Later, in July 1962, Cubela met with a CIA officer during the World Youth Festival at Helsinki. The contact was dropped shortly afterwards, when Cubela refused to take a polygraph test.

In 1963, when the tempo of plots against Castro intensified, and as a result of a decision at CIA, a Spanish-speaking American operations officer, Nestor Sanchez, met with Cubela at Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Thirty years later the fact that from the outset Cubela had been a double agent was confirmed by a Cuban agent of the CIA.13 Thus it was that very early on Castro became aware that the Kennedy brothers were trying to have him killed.

The venue suggested for meetings between Sanchez and Cubela was Paris. Presumably this was at Cuban instigation, as Cuba had an embassy there and thus had agents available for counter-surveillance. By an irony of fate, a meeting was scheduled for 22 November 1963. By that point the CIA was preparing to have delivered to Cubela in Cuba a rifle with telescopic sights – ironically the same type of weapon that Oswald used against Kennedy. The assassination of the American President the same day cut off further attempts to assassinate Castro, although the CIA contact with Cubela was maintained until December 1964.

In sum, because of Castro’s temperament – his apocalyptic wish for the nuclear obliteration of Cuba followed by the communization of the world, plus the fact of the information from Cubela of the Kennedy brothers’ plans to assassinate him, Castro may well have decided to strike at Kennedy before he himself was attacked. It is worth noting in this regard that on September 7, 1963 at Havana, Castro gave an interview to an American journalist, Daniel Harker, in which he warned the Americans not to try to assassinate Cuban leaders, as otherwise “they themselves will not be safe.”14

The Castro regime, whether or not it was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, had every pretext to do so. In this regard, it is well to keep in mind the role of the CIA in the early

days of the Cold War and its interventions overseas, which today can appear excessive. Moreover, the ease with which the CIA overthrew the regime of Jacobo Guzman in Guatemala and that of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran created an atmosphere of invincibility around the CIA and gave rise to the idea that covert action was an effective tool of its own, between war and diplomacy. This led to the botched operation of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. But this failure only redoubled the efforts of the Kennedy brothers to do away with Castro.

During the entire period of the Cold War the CIA seems to have underestimated the capabilities of Cuban Intelligence. In this regard, it is interesting to recall that, during the 1980’s, several dozen Cubans, supposedly agents of the CIA, had been in reality double agents run by the Cuban DGI.15 They had even been trained by the DGI in how to overcome the polygraph. One could speculate that, because of the high degree of professionalism of the DGI, that organization has been able to conceal all these years an involvement with Oswald. The mystery remains.

1 A slightly different version of this essay appeared in French on October 9, 2013 in Questions internationales (No. 64, November-December 2013, 110-114), a publication of “La Docmentation française.”

2 Sheldon Stern, The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2005), p. 186.

3 James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang, The Armageddon Letters, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2012.

4 BlightandLang,117.

5 Blight and Lang, 122.

6 Blight and Lang, 151-52.

7 Blight and Lang, 156.

8. Blight and Lang,162.

9 This lack of capitalization of Janet Lang’s first name accords with her preference.

Dr. Charles G. Cogan is an Affiliate vice Associate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. A graduate of Harvard, then a journalist, and then a military officer, he spent thirty-seven years in the Central Intelligence Agency, twenty-three of them on assignments overseas. From August 1979-August 1984 he was chief of the Near East South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations. From September 1984-September 1989 he was CIA Chief in Paris. After leaving the CIA, he earned a doctorate in public administration at Harvard, in June 1992. He lectures and writes in English and French.

Copyright © 2013 H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for non-profit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author(s), web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses, contact the H-Diplo editorial staff at h – d i p l o @ h – n e t . ms u . e d u .

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Political Posters in Castillo de San Cristobal - 06

The Untold Origins of the Cuban Missile Crisis

by Jack Coulhoun

History News Network, October 7, 2013

Excerpted from Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba, and the Mafia, 1933-1966.

Jack Colhoun, “Aggressive U.S. Moves Against Cuba Loomed Large in Khrushchev’s Decision to Deploy Missiles to Cuba”

In Moscow, Chairman Nikita Khrushchev received fragmentary intelligence reports on Operation Mongoose. Khrushchev’s son Sergei writes, “Information came through secret channels about President Kennedy’s adoption of a wide-ranging plan, ‘Mongoose,’ to destabilize the situation in Cuba.” The younger Khrushchev adds, “Every day the Cubans expected a new invasion, this time not just by emigres but by the U.S. Army.”

The KGB was also picking up intelligence about large-scale U.S. military exercises rehearsing an invasion of Cuba. KGB Chief Vladimir Semichastny wrote in a February 21, 1962 report, “Military specialists of the USA had revised an operational plan against Cuba, which according to the information, is supported by President Kennedy.” The new KGB chief stated U.S. Army and Navy personnel would “be supported by military air assets based in Florida and Texas.”

In Washington, the Navy Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic (CINCLANT) issued planning directives for U.S. operational plans (OPLANs) for an invasion of Cuba in a February 14, 1962 telegram. OPLANs 314-61 and 316-61, joint Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps operations, were detailed plans for an amphibious landing of ground forces supplemented by air strikes. OPLAN 316-62 included a ground combat force of 150,000 troops. The Pentagon estimated that it would take ten days of heavy combat and 18,500 U.S. casualties to drive the Cuban revolution from power with an occupation of the island to follow.

In spring 1962, the United States conducted military exercises to test the readiness of its Cuba OPLANs with a series of military maneuvers in the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to the Caribbean Sea.

In April 1962, Chairman Nikita Khrushchev was in Bulgaria on a state visit. But his thoughts were thousands of miles away in the Caribbean. He worried that the United States was preparing to invade Cuba, and was preoccupied with defending the Cuban revolution.

The idea of deploying Soviet missiles to Cuba came to Khrushchev as he strolled along the Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria with Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky. Malinovsky pointed to Turkey across the Black Sea, noting the U.S. Jupiter missile base there. Intermediate-range Jupiter missiles could reach targets in the Ukraine and southern Russia within a matter of minutes. Khrushchev asked why the Soviet Union did not have the right to deploy missiles to Cuba as the United States did in Turkey. He was convinced that the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba would deter a U.S. invasion of Cuba. Back in Moscow, Khrushchev pressed Malinovsky again: “What about putting one of our hedgehogs down the Americans’ trousers?”

This time, however, Khrushchev made a strategic argument. He pointed out that the installation of missiles in Cuba would also augment the Soviet Union’s strategic nuclear force.

He elaborated, “According to our intelligence we are lagging almost fifteen years behind the Americans in warheads. We cannot reduce that lead even in ten years. But our rockets on America’s doorstep would drastically alter the situation and go a long way towards compensating us for the lag in time.” Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba would be capable of striking targets deep inside the United States, including New York and Washington.

The Kremlin was acutely aware of the margin of U.S. superiority over the Soviet Union in strategic nuclear weapons. According to Anatoly Dobrynin, the USSR’s ambassador in Washington, the USSR had 300 nuclear warheads compared to a U.S. arsenal of 5,000 warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and B-52 bombers with an intercontinental range in October 1962. Khrushchev discussed his plan to deploy Soviet missiles to Cuba with only a handful of Soviet leaders.

Khrushchev consulted Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko about his missile deployment plan. “The situation forming around Cuba at the moment is dangerous,” Khrushchev said. “It is essential that we deploy a certain quantity of our nuclear missiles there for its defense, as an independent state.” Gromyko responded, “I have to say quite frankly that taking our own nuclear missiles to Cuba will cause a political explosion in the United States.” Khrushchev dismissed Gromyko’s warning. Instead, he sought the counsel of Anastas Mikoyan, a veteran member of the Presidium and his closest associate.

Khrushchev later wrote, “Comrade Mikoyan expressed his reservations.” Khrushchev continued, “His opinion was that we would be taking a dangerous step … This step bordered on adventurism. This risk lay in the fact that in wanting to save Cuba, we could be drawn into a very terrible and unprecedented nuclear missile war. That had to be avoided by every possible means, and to consciously provoke such a war would really be dangerous.”

Khrushchev would not be deterred. On May 24, 1962, the Presidium met to consider Khrushchev’s missile deployment idea. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Presidium gave “full and unanimous approval of enterprise ‘Anadyr’ (subject to receiving F. Castro’s agreement).” KGB officer Alexandr Alexiev was summoned back to Moscow from his post in Cuba. When Khrushchev informed him that he would return to Cuba as the new Soviet ambassador, Alexiev was puzzled, because he was not a diplomat. Khrushchev explained, “What is important is that you are friendly with Fidel, with the leadership.” He noted, “And they believe in you, which is the most important thing.”

Khrushchev added, “Comrade Alexiev, to help Cuba, to save the Cuban revolution, we have reached a decision to place rockets in Cuba.” He asked, “What do you think? How will Fidel react? Will he accept or not?” Alexiev said he thought Castro would reject the missiles because they would compromise the independence of the Cuban revolution. Khrushchev responded, “There’s no other way for us to defend him.” He continued, “The Americans only understand force. We can give them back the same medicine they gave us in Turkey. Kennedy is pragmatic, he is an intellectual, he’ll comprehend and won’t go to war…”

The success of Khrushchev’s [ill-fated] exercise in Soviet missile power was predicated on presenting President Kennedy with a fait accompli. The Soviet “hedgehogs” would be installed in Cuba while Washington was preoccupied with the November 1962 congressional elections. Khrushchev would tell Kennedy about the Soviet missile deployment after the elections, when the missiles would be fully operational. Khrushchev [was confident] that Kennedy would not launch U.S. military strikes against the missile sites, because he could not be sure of taking out all of the missiles. He reasoned that Kennedy would grudgingly accept the missiles in Cuba as an alternative to nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

In June, Alexiev returned to Cuba with a delegation from the Soviet Union, including Marshal Sergei Biryuzov, head of the Strategic Rocket Forces, and Politburo member Sharaf Rashidov. When the delegation met with Fidel Castro, the Soviets discussed the international situation and the possibility of a U.S. invasion of Cuba. Marshal Biryuzov asked Castro what he thought would deter U.S. military intervention. Castro replied, “If the United States knows that an invasion of Cuba would imply war with the Soviet Union, then, in my view, that would be the best way to prevent an invasion of Cuba.” Castro wanted a formal Cuba-USSR defense pact.

The Soviet delegation insisted that only Soviet missile power could prevent U.S. intervention. The Soviets said the missiles would also enhance the power of the USSR and the Socialist bloc of nations. Castro responded, “If making such a decision is indispensable for the socialist camp, I think we will agree to the deployment of Soviet missiles on our island.” But he wanted to consult with his closest colleagues before making a decision about the missiles.

The next day Alexiev met again with Castro, who was joined by Che Guevara, President Osvaldo Dorticos, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, and Blas Roca. Guevara stated, “Anything that can stop the Americans is worthwhile.” The Cubans approved the broad outline of the missile deployment plan. The details would be negotiated later in Moscow. The idea that Soviet missiles in Cuba would make the Socialist bloc stronger appealed to the Cuban revolutionaries. It also tempered their concern that the missiles would compromise the independence of the revolution.

Jack Coulhoun is an independent historian of the Cold War. He received his PhD from York University in Toronto in 1976. His work has been published by the Washington Post, Toronto Star, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, The Progressive, National Catholic Reporter, In These Times, and Covert Action Quarterly. He was Washington bureau chief of the Guardian newsweekly from 1985 to 1992. –

See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153504#sthash.TjdAjtiq.dpuf

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