Cuban Missile Crisis: Fifty Years After
By Servando Gonzalez
The Cuban missile crisis is still a very elusive historical event.
For fifty years it has captured the imagination of the media,
scholars, and the public alike, producing a veritable mountain
of articles, scholarly essays, and books. Still, after so much
effort by so many privileged minds, some aspects of the Cuban
missile crisis continue to defy any logical explanation and are
as puzzling today as they were at the time of the event. In this
article, I will limit myself to studying the alleged evidence
of the presence of strategic missiles and their associated nuclear
warheads in Cuba in 1962.
Is “Photographic Evidence” Evidence at All?
The official story offered by the Kennedy administration, and
accepted at face value by most scholars of the Crisis and later
popularized by the American mainstream media, is that though rumors
about the presence of strategic missiles in Cuba were widespread
among Cuban exiles in Florida since mid-1962, the American intelligence
community was never fooled by them. To American intelligence analysts,
“only direct evidence, such as aerial photographs, could
be convincing.” It was not until Sunday, 14 October, 1962,
that a U-2, authorized at last to fly over the Western part of
Cuba, brought the first high-altitude photographs of what seemed
to be Soviet strategic missile sites, in different stages of completion,
deployed on Cuban soil.
Once the photographs were analyzed 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, accepted as a fact the NPIC’s
conclusion that Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev had taken
a fateful, aggressive step against the U.S. by placing nuclear-capable
strategic missiles in Cuba. This meeting is considered by most
scholars to be the beginning of the Cuban missile crisis.
Save for a few non-believers at the United Nations —a little
more than a year before, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson
had shown the very same delegates “hard” photographic
evidence of Cuban planes, allegedly piloted by Castro’s
defectors, which had attacked positions on the island previous
to the Bay of Pigs landing— most people, including the members
of the American press, unquestionably accepted the U-2 photographs
as evidence of Khrushchev’s treachery.
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 contested. CIA director John McCone
reaffirmed the same line of total belief in a Top Secret post-mortem
memorandum of 28 February 1963 to the President. According to
McCone, aerial photography was “our best means to establish
But both Robert Kennedy and John McCone were
dead wrong. As Magritte’s picture The Treachery of Images
masterly exemplifies, a picture of a missile is not a missile.
A photograph of a UFO is not a UFO. Clint Eastwood is not Dirty
Harry. Charlton Heston is not Moses. A picture, by itself alone,
can hardly be accepted as “hard” evidence of anything.
Linguist Alfred Korzybski masterly expressed it when he wrote,
“The map is not the territory.” The fact is so obvious
that no time should be wasted discussing it. It seems, however,
that the very fact that it is so obvious —somebody said
that the best way to hide something is by placing it in plain
view— has precluded scholars from studying it in detail.
Therefore, let’s analyze the obvious.
A photograph is nothing more than a thin film of gelatin spread
on top of a paper support. The gelatin has very small grains of
a light-sensitive substance embedded in it. Once exposed to light,
the grains suffer a chemical alteration. During the developing
process with the right chemicals, some of the grains, in the form
of very small dots, turn black, others remain white, and others
take different gradations of grey. When observed by a trained
individual, the dots, due to the integrating, holistic ability
of the human mind, turn into a meaningful image. This, both the
material support and the mental image it creates, is what we call
We are so used to dealing with photographs that most of the time
we refer to them as if they were the real thing. A typical example
is when a coworker pulls out of his wallet a photo of his family
and says “this is my daughter, this is my wife, this is
my dog, this is my house.” Of course, what you see in a
photograph is not the real thing, just an image of the thing.
As nobody can smoke Magritte’s pipe, no army can fire photographs
of missiles against the enemy. Images appearing on photographs
are not things, but signs of things. The inability to distinguish
between a sign and the thing it signifies is one of the characteristics
of primitive, magic thinking.
Until relatively recent times the word semiotics appeared only
in the field of medicine, in connection with the study of the
symptoms of a particular disease. It was not until the beginning
of the 20th century, however, that the Swiss linguist Ferdinand
de Saussure, and later the American philosopher Charles Sanders
Pierce, created the scientific foundations of the discipline we
now know as semiotics.
Saussure saw signs as twofold entities, showing a signifier and
a signified (or sign-vehicle and meaning). To him , “the
sign is implicitly regarded as a communication device taking place
between two human beings intentionally aiming to communicate or
to express something.” Pierce, however, saw signs as threefold
entities. In articulating the foundation of the science of semiotics,
he stated, “By semiosis I mean an action, an influence,
which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as
a sign, its object and its interpretant.” To Pierce, the
interpretant was the mental image created in the mind of an interpreter.
According to Pierce, a sign is “something which stands to
somebody for something in some respect or capacity.” As
Italian semiotician Umberto Eco clearly puts it, “a sign
can stand for something else to somebody only because this ‘standing-for’
relation is mediated by an interpretant.” The “something”
can be anything: a material thing, a concept, an idea, a feeling;
existing or non-existing, real or unreal.
Things are things. In some particular circumstances, however,
a person can see (or hear, or smell, or touch) something and have
similar impressions as if he were experiencing something different.
Pierce called this process semiosis. To him, the process of semiosis
in nothing but “a psychological event in the mind of a possible
interpreter.” From the point of view of semiotics, the work
of the technicians at the NPIC is basically a semiotic process.
Surveillance photographs, by themselves alone, have no meaning.
They become signs —that is, pointers to other real-life
things— in the minds of skilled photo interpreters, who
carefully compare apparently meaningless forms and shadows against
their previous experiences, looking for meaningful relationships.
As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, the science of semiotics
is concerned with the different procedures used to transform nature
into culture. This is roughly equivalent to the process of transforming
raw data into intelligence.
Missiles and Signs of Missiles
Most studies about the Cuban missile crisis repeat the extended
opinion that the U-2 photographs were the hard, irrefutable evidence
provided by the photo interpreters at the NPIC as the ultimate,
incontrovertible proof that the Soviets had secretly deployed
strategic missile bases in Cuba. But, in order to become meaningful
information, photographs need to be decoded (interpreted) by an
Being a subjective process, however, semiosis is full of pitfalls.
There is always the risk of aberrant decoding, by which a sign
is interpreted as something totally different from what the creator
of the sign originally intended to communicate. The process is
known as aberrant decoding. In the case of the U-2 photographs,
the NPIC photo interpreters incorrectly decoded the objects appearing
in them as strategic missiles, instead of 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 describe them as
“objects whose photographic image highly resemble the auxiliary
equipment used in Soviet strategic missile bases.” But the
photo interpreters at the NPIC confused the images of the objects
they saw in the photographs with the actual missiles. Afterwards,
like mesmerized children, the media and the scholarly community
have blindly followed the Pied Piper of photographic evidence.
But, as in Magritte’s painting, a picture of a missile in
not a missile.
With the advent of the new surveillance technologies pioneered
with the U-2 plane and now extensively used by imaging satellites,
there has been a growing trend in the U.S. intelligence community
to rely more and more on imaging intelligence 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 passed as hard evidence. Photographs,
at best, are just indicators pointing to a possibility which has
to be physically confirmed by other means, preferably by trained,
qualified agents working in the field.
Moreover, even disregarding the fact that photographs can be faked
and doctored, nothing is so misleading as a photograph. According
to the information available to this day, the photographic evidence
of Soviet strategic missiles on Cuban soil was never confirmed
by American agents working in the field. The highly quoted report
of a qualified agent who saw something “bigger, much bigger”
that anything the Americans had in Germany, omitted the important
fact that what he actually saw was a canvas-covered object resembling
a strategic missile. Actually, the missiles were never touched,
smelled, or 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.
According to philosopher Robert Nozick, the main criteria for
considering a fact objective is that it is invariant under certain
transformations, and he gives three characteristics that mark
a fact as objective:
First, “an objective fact is accessible from different angles.
Access to it can be repeated by the same sense (sight, touch,
etc.), at different times; it can be repeated by different senses
of the same observers. Different laboratories can replicate the
phenomenon.” Second, “there is or can be intersubjective
agreement about it.” Third, objective facts hold “independently
of people’s beliefs, desires, hopes, and observations or
One of the golden rules of intelligence work is to treat with
caution all information not independently corroborated or supported
by reliable documentary or physical evidence. Yet, recently declassified
Soviet documents, and questionable oral reports from Soviet officials
who allegedly participated directly in the event, have lately
been accepted as sufficient evidence of the presence of strategic
missiles and their nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962. But one can
hardly accept as hard evidence non-corroborated, non-evaluated
information coming from a former adversary who has yet to prove
he has turned into a friend. Even if some day this becomes accepted
practice in the historian’s profession, I can guarantee
my readers that it will never be adopted in the intelligence field.
Photographs are just information, and information is not true
intelligence until it has been thoroughly validated. As a rule,
most counterintelligence analysts believe that only information
that has been secretly taken from an opponent and turned over
is bona fide intelligence. But, if the opponent had intended it
to be turned over, it is automatically considered disinformation.
One of the principles of espionage work is that what is really
important is not what you know, but that your opponent doesn’t
know that you know. As Sherman Kent pointed out, once the U-2
brought (what seemed to be) photographs of strategic missiles
in Cuba, the main thing was to keep it secret. “Until the
President was ready to act, the Russians must not know that we
knew their secret.”
The fact that the Soviets had been so clumsy, failing to properly
camouflage their missiles, surprised the American intelligence
community. As it happens most of the time, however, American scholars
found plausible explanations a posteriori for the Soviets’
behavior. These explanations ranged from flawed bureaucratic standard
operating procedures to political-military disagreements, and
pure and simple carelessness. Nevertheless, still today the fact
constitutes one of the most unexplainable Soviet “mistakes”
during the crisis.
Probably one of the most known explanations was the one offered
by Graham T. Allison. According to him, the failure to camouflage
the missiles had a simple answer: bureaucratic procedures in the
Soviet Army. Before the crisis, missile sites had never been camouflaged
in the Soviet Union, so, the construction crews at the sites in
Cuba did what they were used to doing, building missile sites
according to the installation manuals, because somebody forgot
to retrain them before they were sent to work in Cuba.
But, knowing the operational procedures of the Soviet Army, Allison’s
explanation seems a bit too simplistic to be credible. First of
all, the personnel assigned to do the job of building the missile
sites were not common soldiers, but specially trained personnel.
Secondly, even without disregarding the bureaucratic procedures
common to all armies, it is a naive assumption to suppose that
the Soviets could have made this type of gross mistake, particularly
if they were trying to deploy the missiles in Cuba using deception
and stealth, as the U.S. official version of the event claimed.
Of course, this is only a variation of the “the-Russians-are-stupid”
argument. This may also explain why the Soviet soldiers involved
in Operation Anadyr (code name for the operation) were supplied
with skis and cold weather gear and clothing before traveling
to Cuba. But now we know that this was not because of an error,
but part of maskirovka designed to disguise the operation.
According to U.S. intelligence sources, missile sites had never
been camouflaged in the Soviet Union. However, after Gary Power’s
U-2 was shot down, the flow of information about Soviet missiles
almost stopped completely. Aside from the fact that, being in
the so-called “denied areas,” where no in situ verification
by agents in the field was possible, we don’t know if the
U-2 photos never detected camouflaged sites because the camouflage
was so effective it avoided the missiles being detected. Also,
there is the possibility that most of the missile sites photographed
by the U-2s on Soviet territory had actually been decoys.
Also, one can safely assume that, after the U-2 incident and the
discovery of the high quality of its surveillance cameras, the
Soviet Missile Forces would have changed their procedures and
would have camouflaged their missile sites. Furthermore, Soviet
military literature strongly emphasizes the importance of surprise
(udivlenie) and deception (loz’n) in modern
warfare. Among it, the literature on camouflage (maskirovka),
is particularly abundant. The Russian tradition of using camouflage
to mislead goes back to the times of Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin.
Consequently, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if
the Soviet personnel in charge of installing the missiles failed
to camouflage them, it was not because they were stupid, but because
they were specifically ordered to do so.
The lack of adequate camouflage to hide the missiles from American
observation is such a gross mistake that author Anatol Rappoport
assumed that it was part of a Soviet plan by which the missile
sites were meant to be discovered by American spy planes. During
the height of the crisis, the Wall Street Journal reported
that “the authorities here almost all accepted one key assumption:
that Mr. Khrushchev must have assumed that his Cuban sites would
soon be discovered.” The report also added that, according
to one authority who had studied the photographic evidence, “The
Russians seem almost to have gone out of their way to call attention
Similarly, the Cubans were aware of the quality of American air
surveillance technology. In 1961, Life magazine published
a report about the anti-Castro guerrillas fighting in the Escambray
mountains. Some of the photographs illustrating the article had
been taken by the U-2s. On several occasions Castro asked the
Soviets to give him SAMs, and let his people operate them, but
the Russians were reluctant. Although most of the Cubans assigned
to the SAM bases were engineering students from the University
of Havana, the Soviets only allowed them to operate the radars.
To the evidence offered above of the Soviets’ willingness
to let the missiles be discovered, I can add some of my own. As
a Cuban Army officer during the crisis I was assigned to headquarters
and sent on inspection visits to several military units to assess
their combat morale and battle readiness. One of these visits
was to the Isle of Pines, where I visited a unit, deployed in
an area close to the Siguanea peninsula, not far from a Soviet
missile base located on the top of a nearby hill, not far from
the coast. The Cuban soldiers had aptly nicknamed the base “el
circo soviético,” (the Soviet Circus), because of
the canvas tarpaulins surrounding it. But the most interesting
detail is that, though the tarpaulins precluded observers from
seeing the base from the ground, the base itself remained uncovered
on top and in plain view of American spy planes. So, it seems
that, though the Soviets apparently were eager to allow long-distance
detection, they didn’t want any short-range observation
of the missiles by the Cubans.
In another inspection I visited a Cuban Air Force base at San
Antonio de los Baños, south of Havana. The visit occurred
after president Kennedy had alerted the American public about
the presence of missile bases in Cuba. Low-level American reconnaissance
flights had begun, and Castro had ordered the antiaircraft batteries
under his command to fire at American planes.
Once at the base, we drove our jeep to the runway, where I saw
in the distance several Mig fighter planes, which looked to me
like MiG 15 or 17 models, lying like sitting ducks on the apron.
On close inspection, however, we discovered that the planes were
clumsy dummies made out of wood, cardboard and painted canvas.
An officer at the base told us that the real planes were well
protected and camouflaged.
As we were talking to other officers at the end of the runway,
the antiaircraft batteries received a phone call telling them
that American planes had entered Cuban airspace, and one of them
was flying in our direction. A few minutes later, what seemed
to me like a RF-101 Voodoo reconnaissance aircraft overflew us
at treetop level, too fast for the inexperienced boys manning
the four-barreled antiaircraft guns to open fire.
Though the dummies on the runway were perhaps good enough to fool
the high-flying U-2s, they were too clumsily made to fool low-flying
reconnaissance planes. The fact, however, that the Soviets had
used decoy planes (and probably other types of decoys) in Cuba
during the Crisis has never been mentioned in any of the U.S.
declassified documents pertaining to the Crisis. Also, it is difficult
to believe, to say the least, that Soviet maskirovka
had worked so well on other aspects of the Cuban operation, but
failed on the most important part of it: covering the strategic
missile bases from prying American eyes. Therefore, there is a
strong possibility that the missiles deployed in Cuba, like the
ones Khrushchev was displaying in Moscow’s parades, were
a ruse de guerre; nothing but empty dummies.
It is known that, after Gary Powers’ U-2 was shot down in
May, 1960, the Soviets hurriedly began building dummy SAM silos.
Dummy tanks, guns, and other types of war matériel were
regularly deployed to confuse the sky spies. According to some
sources, as late as 1960, even some units of the newly created
Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces were not getting real missiles,
Camouflage in warfare can be used either passively, to conceal
from the enemy the true thing, or actively, to mislead the enemy
into accepting a false one. From the point of view of semiotics,
camouflage is intentional false encoding with the purpose of deceiving
the decoder. Furthermore, in semiotic terms, camouflage can be
defined as the art of confusing the enemy to make him believe
that a sign of a thing is the thing itself, that is, to induce
the enemy into magical thinking.
Strategic Missiles as Symbols
The successful launching in 1957 of the first man-made earth satellite,
the Sputnik soon became a symbol of Soviet technological
success. After that, the U.S.S.R. passed through a brief period
of national pride and faith in a better future. Khrushchev’s
poorly chosen phrase “We will bury you,” was most
likely not intended as a threat to the West, but as an assertion
of his confidence that, sometime in the near future, socialism,
under the guidance of the Soviet Union, would replace decadent
Though the Soviet Union had expressed support for the new revolutionary
phenomenon developing 90 miles from American shores, it had been
mostly rhetorical. Then, on July 9 1960, Khrushchev told the U.
S. to keep its hands off Cuba, backing his words with the famous
threat of the Soviet nuclear missiles: “Figuratively speaking,
in case of need, Soviet artillerymen can support the Cuban people
with their rocket fire if the aggressive forces in the Pentagon
dare to launch an intervention against Cuba.”
The precise nature of the Soviet military commitment to Cuba on
Khruschev’s speech on July 9 was later to be questioned,
and the Soviets themselves immediately moved to de-emphasize Khrushchev’s
promise of “figurative” (symbolic) rocket support
Just three days after Khrushchev made the symbolic offer of rocket
support to Cuba, he backpedaled and said that, “We don’t
need bases in Cuba. We have bases in the Soviet Union, and we
can hit anything from here.” A week later, on July 16, Tass
published an authoritative statement entitled “The Monroe
Doctrine Ended Long Ago and Can No Longer Help the Imperialist
Colonizer.” But, a careful reading between the lines evidenced
that in the event of an armed intervention against Cuba the only
thing the Soviet Union was going to offer was its strong support.
No mention was made of the symbolic missiles, which had suddenly
disappeared from the picture as if they never existed.
After Khrushchev’s symbolic faux pas about the
missiles, Castro made several efforts to force him further into
a strong commitment, but Khruschev ignored the Cuban leader’s
initiatives. Rumor ran that when the two leaders met in New York
in September, 1960, Khrushchev told Castro to stop making references
to Soviet missile support.
Khrushchev pounding his shoe on his desk at the General Assembly
was perhaps a symbolic, but ambiguous statement of support for
Fidel. But the Cuban leader wanted more than symbols. That month
Castro sent Carlos Franqui, editor of Revolución,
to Moscow on the pretext of interviewing Khrushchev, to find out
how the Soviet leader could pass from figurative, symbolic language
to direct statements. Franqui spent several hours in the Kremlin
going over the subject with Khrushchev, but the most he obtained
from the shrewd Soviet leader was a Solomonic statement, which
was interpreted in contradictory fashion by the press services
of the United States and the rest of the world. Apparently Khrushchev
had second thoughts about the responsibilities he had assumed
with regard to Cuba. There are indications that he finally got
tired of Castro’s schemes and diplomatically told the Cuban
leader to quit rattling the Soviet missiles against the United
It seems that, finally, Castro got it, because during a long speech
on November 8, he told the Cubans to forget the idea that they
were protected by Soviet nuclear missiles. Hoy, the newspaper
of the old pro-Soviet Cuban communist party, came to the rescue
and denied that Khrushchev had told Castro to stop mentioning
the Soviet missiles. But The New York Times confirmed on November
19, that the Soviet leader had told Castro to moderate his violent
attacks upon the United States, and in particular to stop rattling
the Soviet nuclear missiles.
Premier Khrushchev used to complain about the American nuclear
missiles deployed by some NATO countries around the Soviet borders.
But the missiles the U.S. had deployed in Europe were no less
symbolic than the ones Khrushchev had promised Castro. As Michael
Mandelbaum rightly observed, “Tactical nuclear weapons became
symbols of the American resolve to carry out its commitments to
its NATO partners.” Another scholar has pointed out that,
though the use of nuclear weapons has military value, “its
symbolic political value can easily outweigh its military significance.”
In a private conversation with his British friend David Ormsby-Gore,
Kennedy told him that the missiles in Turkey were “more
or less useless.” They had been left there, however, because
of their symbolic value. The phasing out of the American missiles
in Turkey had been under consideration long before the crisis.
In any case, the Kennedy administration had decided the previous
year to remove them because they were obsolete, clumsy liquid-fuel
rockets. The American plan was to replace them with missile-bearing
Polaris submarines stationed in the Mediterranean. Among the precautions
which Kennedy took during the crisis to avoid a costly mistake
by subordinates ignoring orders, was the bizarre fact that he
reportedly ordered the removal of the fuses and warheads from
the Jupiter missiles in Turkey, probably with the intention of
making them fully symbolic.
In his life as a Russian leader, Khrushchev showed that he was
deeply addicted to the calculated risk, especially if it implied
no real risk at all. Though not a trained semiotician, Khrushchev
knew perfectly well the cardinal difference between a symbolic
missile and a real one, and that the manipulation of symbols was
a lot less riskier than the manipulation of things —particularly
when the things in question are tipped with nuclear warheads.
We may safely surmise that, fully aware of the strong force of
symbols, Khrushchev had realized that a dummy missile had the
same symbolic value than a real one. As a matter of fact, symbolic
missiles have the same deterrent power (and provocation power,
for that matter) as the real ones, but without all of their risks.
The Treachery of Intelligence Images
According to Italian semiotician Umberto Eco,
Semiotics is concerned with everything that
can be taken as a sign. A sign is everything which can be taken
as significantly substituting for something else. This something
else does not necessarily have to exist or to actually be somewhere
at the moment in which a sign stands in for it. Thus semiotics
is in principle the discipline studying everything which can
be used in order to lie.
Semiotic activities par excellence, intelligence,
espionage, and particularly counterintelligence, deal mostly with
all types of deception, and deception has always been an important
component of the intelligence profession since its early days.
I will use a relatively recent example to illustrate the point.
During World War II, the British intelligence services carried
out an enormous disinformation exercise code-named Fortitude,
as a part of a major deception operation code-named Bodyguard.
The main goal of operation Fortitude was to fool the Germans about
the place selected by the Allied armies for their coming invasion.
Fortitude was extremely successful in creating a notional American
invasion force, the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), under the command
of Lt. Gen George Patton, which, according to German intelligence
reports, was ready to land at Pas de Calais. More than
19 German divisions, including several armored ones, waited patiently
for an attack that never materialized, while the invading forces
secured their positions at Normandy, the true place of the invasion.
The main mistake of the German Abwer and other intelligence
services was that they apparently believed that aerial photographs
were hard evidence.
German reconnaissance planes brought back to Berlin load after
load of photographs showing two large Allied armies, one in Scotland,
getting ready to invade Norway, and another getting ready for
the assault on Pas de Calais. The aerial photographs depicted
large concentrations of men, tanks, trucks, cannons, and all types
of matériel associated with an invasion force. What the
Germans didn’t know was that some of the tanks and trucks
were inflatable rubber replicas, and the rest of the matériel
was made out of plywood, cardboard and canvas. Some of the “cannons”
hiding under camouflage nets consisted of an oil drum turned on
its side with a telegraph pole resting on its top. Having in mind
the quality of the photographic technology available at the time,
the British intelligence was careful not to allow low flying planes
to photograph the “armies,” while high altitude German
reconnaissance flights were allowed to do their jobs unmolested.
In the case of the German intelligence, however, there are some
alleviating circumstances which somehow explain their failure:
the photographic illusion was supported by corroborating reports
from their agents in the field. But the Germans ignored that the
British intelligence services had managed to capture most of the
German agents, “turning” some of them to feed controlled
disinformation to the German intelligence. At the end of the war,
most German intelligence officers still believed that the invasion
by the two large Allied armies never materialized only because
of a late change of plans.
An interesting detail about the behavior of the American side
during the Cuban missile crisis is that only three members of
the U.S. government initially expressed doubts about the true
existence of Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba: McGeorge Bundy,
General Maxwell Taylor and Deputy Secretary of State George Ball.
But, significantly, none of them were directly linked to the American
intelligence services. On the other hand, no mention is made in
the available literature of the Cuban missile crisis about any
concern expressed by members of the American intelligence community
about the possibility of Soviet deception, nor about what tradecraft
tests had been used to evaluate the authenticity of the information
they relied upon to reach the conclusion that the Soviets were
deploying strategic missiles in Cuba.
According to the CIA’s internal tradecraft notes, a way
to counter enemy deception is “to show increased respect
for the deceiver’s ability to manipulate perceptions and
judgments by compromising collection systems and planting disinformation.”
It seems, however, that during the Cuban missile crisis the NPIC
analysts demonstrated a total lack of respect for the Soviets’
The fact that the American intelligence community apparently accepted
the U-2 photos as hard evidence of the presence of missiles in
Cuba could be interpreted as an indication not only of a gross
violation of elementary intelligence practices but also of a high
degree of incompetence. The problem I have with reaching the logical
conclusion expressed above is that, first, I have a high opinion
of the professionalism of American intelligence officers, and,
secondly, that one of the axioms in the profession is that, in
the field of intelligence and espionage, things are never what
they seem to be.
Moreover, it seems that not all members of the American intelligence
community accepted the U-2 photographs as hard evidence. Ten years
after the crisis, in an article which appeared in Studies in Intelligence,
a classified publication whose circulation was restricted to CIA
officers and made available to the public only some yearsago,
Sherman Kent affirms that, though he didn’t know about any
Ex Comm members who had doubts about the credibility of the U-2
photographs, he knew about a few very important officers at the
Agency who did.
Therefore, I have come to believe that, in the particular case
of the unproved, but blindly accepted belief that the Soviets
deployed strategic missiles and their nuclear warheads in Cuba
in 1962, there is more than meets the eye. I base my doubts not
only on a hunch, but on two facts. The first is that the U.S.
didn’t force an in situ inspection of the Soviet ships leaving
Cuba —probably the only way to verify beyond any reasonable
doubt that the missiles had actually been in Cuba and were now
on their way back to the Soviet Union. The second one is that,
though a high number of American documents relating to the missile
crisis —a great part of them dealing with anecdotal information
about the opinions of the participants— have been declassified
and made available to scholars, almost all signals intelligence
(SIGINT), including communications, electronic and nuclear radiation
intelligence (NUCINT), is still kept classified and held under
a tight lid.
Gen. William Y. Smith, who was a Major and an assistant to Gen.
Maxwell Taylor in the White House at the time, has reported a
very interesting detail. While reviewing message traffic from
U.S. intelligence sources on Soviet military activity, Gen. Smith
discovered a report about a U.S. Navy ship which apparently 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 at the time the U.S.
had the means to detect radiation from nuclear warheads leaving
Cuba, without having to board the Soviet ships. But, again, no
mention has been 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, contrary to Admiral Anderson’s claims, that report
was extremely significant.
The case I have develped above is based on the unavoidable fact
that even if the U-2 photos showed what looked like Soviet MRBMs
in Cuba in 1962, potographic evidence alone cannnot guarantee
that real missiles were there. But now comes the most extraordinary
thing about the alleged presence of strategic nuclear missiles
in Cuban soil in 1962. High resolution copies of both the U-2
photos and the low-altitude photos taken later, are available
on the internet for everybody to see. Nowhere in these photos,
however, you can find anything resembling a Soviet intermediate-range
ballistic missile. The photos show no missiles at all!
What you can see, though, are some elongated objects coveredd
by tarps, which we have been told are MRBMs, and some small concrete
bunkers, which we have been told contained the nuclear warheads
for the missiles. Of course, only Cold War true believers can
take those claims as facts.
The photo interpreters at the NPIC allegedly had positively identified
the missiles when they spotted what looked like tail fins sticking
out under the tarpaulins. They were identical to the fins of the
MRBMs they had photographed in Moscow in the may day parade that
year. But, again, making a dummy of a box containing a missile
is even easier than making a dummy of a missile.
A Logical Conclusion
There is a serious misconception which has become the gospel of
many American journalists: The CIA, like the gang that couldn’t
shoot straight, is inept and incompetent. But you cannot take
at face value everything you read or hear about how inept and
stupid the CIA is. The problem is that everything one ever hears
about the CIA are its failures, but the very nature of intelligence
work precludes them from announcing their successes. (This, added
to the fact that one must take with caution any intelligence services’
claims about their successes or failures.) Thus, I don’t
think that in the handling of the Cuban missile crisis the CIA
was incompetent, just deceitful —which, in the case of an
intelligence service is not a criticism, but a compliment. If
this sounds too close to a conspiracy theory, I have to confess
that I don’t have a problem with that. At any rate, intelligence,
espionage, and counterintelligence, ultimately are just key elements
of a conspiracy to fool, confuse and eventually defeat the enemy.
My assertion that the presence of Soviet strategic missiles and
their nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962 is yet to be proved, is
not a speculative, unsubstantiated hypothesis, but an uncontrovertible
fact. Moreover, there is evidence showing that the photointerpreters
at the NPIC used flawed methodological analyses in an effort to
prove the existence of strategic nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962.
Intelligence services could exist only by dealing in hard knowledge.
Until now, however, the alleged evidence provided to substantiate
the claims that the Soviets deployed strategic nuclear missiles
in Cuba in 1962 is so flimsy that it makes it irrelevant. As scientists
like to say: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
In this case, the extraordinary proof has yet to appear. Up to
this day, these claims seem to be more the product of theoretical,
or perhaps ideological, considerations than direct observation.
In the case of seminal, but controversial events like the USS
Maine explosion in Havana’s bay, the sinking of the
Lusitania, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the
Cuban missile crisis, just to mention a few, history has been
manipulated through the suppression of data that challenges the
prevailing interpretations. Moreover, it seems that the operant
behavior for most scholars has been that if the facts do not agree
with their theories, then such facts must be simply ignored.
What is simply amazing is that most of the American academic community,
which firmly dismisses as nonsense UFOs, ESP, and astrology, accepted
as models of scholarly research early studies of the Cuban missile
crisis based almost entirely on highly questionable information
provided by an administration that felt pride in its “management”
of the news. The second generation of scholars is making a similar
mistake, now based on questionable information coming from the
Cuban and Russian governments, which are known for going way beyond
mere news management in their total control of information. Scholars
of the Cuban missile crisis should have treated the information
coming from such unreliable sources with at least the same skepticism
they reserve for claims of UFO abductions.
In the late 1960s, Neal D. Houghton said that recent American
foreign policy had been so poorly conceived and so dangerous that
it was unworthy of the dominant intellectual support it had received.
Too much of what has been passing for political science scholarship,
he added, has been little more than footnoted rationalizations
and huckstering of that policy. Most of the recent American scholarly
studies about the Cuban missile crisis are evident proof that
Houghton’s observation is still valid. In a field that prides
itself for detached analysis and intellectualism, dogma and extra-academic
interests run rampant.
Despite all the U.S. photographic “hard” evidence
(which constitutes no evidence at all); the assertions made by
alleged participants in the Crisis (whose credibility is highly
questionable); and the Soviet documentary "evidence"
later uncovered (which has not been corroborated by independently
checked, unfriendly sources), the presence of Soviet strategic
missiles and their nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962 is, to this
moment, just a figment of some people’s imagination; a cargo
cult which, like a malignant meme, has become part of the American
belief system. But deeply rooted beliefs die hard.
The Cuban missile crisis was just a small PSYOP — part of
a larger PSYOP called the Cold War — whose purpose was to
scare the American people into accepting the militarization of
the American life. Fifty years ago, my assertion that there were
never nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962, and that the objects covered
by tarps most likely were dummies, my have seem preposterous.
However, today, eleven years after the 9/11 events, another PSYOP
whose ultimate purpose is to scare tha American people into accepting
the implementation of a police state in America, this theory must
be given serious consideration.
Servando Gonzalez, a Cuban-born American writer, semiologist and
intelligence analyst, was an officer in the Cuban army during
the missile crisis. He has written books, essays and articles
on Latin American history, intelligence, espionage, and semiotics.
Servando is the author of Historia herética de la revolución
fidelista, The Secret Fidel Castro, The Nuclear Deception: Nikita
Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis and La madre
de todas las conspiraciones, all available at Amazon.com.
He also hosted the documentaries Treason in America: The Council
on Foreign Relations and Partners in Treason: The CFR-CIA-Castro
Connection, produced by Xzault Media Group of San Leandro,
California, both available at the author's site at http://www.servandogonzalez.org.
His book, Psychological Warfare and the New World Order: The
Secret War Against the American People appeared in late 2010
and is available at Amazon.com.
Or download a
.pdf copy of the book you can read on your computer or i-Pad.
His book, OBAMANIA: The New Puppet and His Masters,
is available at Amazon.com.
Servando's new book (in Spanish) La CIA,
Fidel Castro, el Bogotazo y el Nuevo Orden Mundial, just
appeared, and is available at Amazon.com
and other bookstores online. He is already working on his next
book, The Council on Foreign Relations and the Betrayal of
the American People: A Chronology of Treason, which he plans
to have ready by early next year.