Thirteen Lies, (and Perhaps
a Single Truth)
by Servando González
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved.
Some time ago I found on
the web a joker's site with suggestions about deductions you
can legally claim to lower your taxes. One of them was, go watch
a Kevin Costner movie and deduct it as a charitable contribution.
Last week I followed the guy's advice and saw Thirteen Days.
Believe me, it was not worth the effort. Next time I'll rather
pay my taxes in full.
Though we are used to Hollywood's freedoms in telling history,
I always watch a movie for entertainment. If I want to know about
history I read it in a good book. Initially, film makers never
made any claim that what they were creating was nothing other
than fiction, and I never had a problem with that. Lately, however,
there is a growing trend to pass some of Hollywood's fiction
as history, and this is something I don't like one bit.
As a card-carrying compassionate Liberal, Kevin Costner feels
a strong attraction for starring in politically correct movies.
When applied to history, however, political correctness is equivalent
to the distortion of the past to justify the politics of the
present; that is, lying. Thirteen Days, Costner's latest
film about the Cuban missile crisis, is a politically correct
Thirteen days is as full of lies as Robert Kennedy's homonymous
book in which the film is mostly based. The rest of the lies
come from some recent studies about the crisis made by "serious"
historians. Among the most flagrant lies depicted in the film
1. In some scenes, soldiers jump from trucks to ready intermediate
Unless the Soviets had implemented affirmative action at the
time and had enlisted some Africans as privates, one must assume
that the soldiers manning the missiles in the film are Cuban.
It is true that some Cuban troops had been authorized to work
on the installation of the SAM bases. But, with the exception
of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, and Ché Guevara (none
of which are black), the Cubans were strictly forbidden to access
the strategic missile bases, or even come close to their perimeter
guarded by seasoned Soviet special troops.
2. Kennedy and his close associates were surprised and
shocked with the unexpected discovery of strategic Soviet missiles
in Cuban soil.
It seems that their surprised was faked, because as early
as August, 1962, the word was out in Washington that the Soviets
were building missile launchers for weapons already in Cuba.
Between August 31 and October 12, 1962, Senator Kenneth Keating
made ten Senate speeches and fourteen public statements about
the developments in Cuba. He was merely saying publicly what
the American intelligence community, apparently his source of
information, was muttering as loudly as they could.
Cuban refugees, leaving the island in drones, had been reporting
sightings of Soviet army trucks carrying extremely long cigar-shaped
objects covered by tarpaulins. Some of the refugees strongly
suspected that the cigar-shaped objects they had seen riding
on Soviet trucks on Cuban highways were not Siberian Cohibas
for Castro. But, instead of paying attention to the growing concern,
White House press secretary Pierre Salinger criticized the television
networks for giving Keating the air time to express his concerns
3. We were more close to the brink than ever before.
During the crisis President Kennedy ordered to defuse the
nuclear warheads of the American missiles in Turkey, allegedly
to avoid an accident. It was also reported that, even during
the most dangerous moments of the crisis, Kennedy didn't alert
the civil defense or show any curiosity about learning how to
use the secret codes to unleash a nuclear attack. Strange behavior
indeed for the commander-in-chief of a country at the brink of
a nuclear attack.
But one of the most striking things of the Cuban missile crisis
is that the Soviets never placed their troops, nor the civilian
defense, under alert. This astonishing fact is mentioned in most
of the early accounts of the crisis. Recently declassified top
secret CIA documents confirmed the fact. At 10:00 in the morning
of Tuesday the 23rd of October, CIA Director John McCone reported
a strange thing to the ExComm: no signs of a general alert of
Soviet forces in Cuba or around the globe had been reported
A top secret CIA memo of October 25 clearly states that "We
still see no signs of any crash procedure in measures to increase
the readiness of Soviet armed forces." A top secret memo
of October 26 gives the first indications of a state of alert,
but in some european satellite countries, not in the Soviet Union.
As late as Friday, October 26, American intelligence reported
from Cuba, from Moscow, and from the United Nations, that the
Russians were not ready for war. It is only on October 27 that
a top secret CIA memo clearly acknowledges that "No significant
redeployment of Soviet ground, air or naval forces have been
noted. However, there are continuing indications of increased
readiness among some units."
Surprisingly, even at that late date, the Soviets had made
no attempt to mobilize their civil defense nor to prepare the
population for the eventual use of fallout shelters. This was
quite significant, because the Soviets had devoted considerable
effort to instructing their civilian population in civil defense
and had invested considerably in fallout shelters.
4. Now it can be told: we were even more closer to the
brink than most people may think.
During a three-day meeting that took place in Havana with
the presence of Cuban, Soviet, and American scholars and officials,
among them Robert S. McNamara, new declassified documents of
the crisis from the different parties involved were made available
to the scholars. It was during this meeting that a Soviet official,
Army General Anatoly Gribkov, who allegedly was responsible for
planning the operation in 1962, dropped a bombshell when he confirmed
the presence of both strategic and tactical nuclear warheads
on Cuban soil. Gribkov provided no evidence to support his claims.
However, notwithstanding Gribkov's unsubstantiated claims,
one has to be very naive to believe that the Soviet Union could
commit nuclear suicide in defense of a small island lost in the
Caribbean whose leader was an unstable, self proclaimed "Marxist."
That would have been a totally foolish decision. But Nikita Sergueyevich
Khrushchev --a.k.a. the "Butcher of Budapest," and
the "Hangman of the Ukraine"-- was anything but a fool.
5. The Soviets had deployed 32 nuclear warheads in Cuba
The American intelligence never confirmed the presence of
nuclear warheads on Cuban soil. They never found evidence of
nuclear warheads in Cuba and Kennedy gave specific orders about
not verifying the extraction of nuclear warheads by boarding
and inspecting the Soviet ships leaving Cuba after the crisis.
Lately, perhaps enticed by juicy grants from American foundations,
some of the ex-Soviets have engaged in a fierce competition to
tell some Americans what they love to hear. In 1989 Gen. Volkogonov
revealed that 20 nuclear warheads were in Cuba. In 1992, Gen,
Gribkov raised the number of nuclear warheads in Cuba to 48.
In 1996 Lt. Col. Anatoly Dukuchaev raised the ante to 162 nuclear
warheads in Cuban soil in 1962. Like rabbits, the nuclear warheads
in Cuba keep multiplying. If this fierce competition keeps heating
up fueled by American money, one of these funny Russians may
end up by claiming that there were more nuclear warheads in Cuba
than the number the Soviets actually had at the time.
The main force behind this concerted effort in proving that
nuclear warheads were in Cuba is Robert McNamara, whose main
goal has been to find justifications for his absurd policies
as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy administration. Recently
McNamara found support for his theories from none other than
his former executive action target, Fidel Castro, and from a
group of Russians, among them, Sergei Mikoyan, an old KGB hand.
But McNamara, Castro, and the ex-KGB operatives are very questionable
sources of intelligence.
6. The Soviet officers in the field in Cuba had an open
hand to use nuclear weapons without further authorization from
According to Gribkov, General Pliyev, the Soviet military
commander in Cuba, had been given authorization to fire nuclear
devices against an American invasion force if he considered it
necessary, without further authorization from the Kremlin.
However, it is very difficult to believe, as some American
researchers and retired senior Soviet officers now claim, that
Russian field officers in Cuba had been authorized to use tactical
nuclear warheads without further authorization from Moscow. Such
an action would have been tantamount to mass suicide, since a
single nuclear warhead fired by Russian troops in Cuba would
had been equivalent to a declaration of nuclear war between the
United States and the Soviet Union. One has to be very naive,
or have had as many vodka bottles as Gribkov, to believe that
the Kremlin, whose zeal over the control of nuclear devices bordered
paranoia, would have committed that act of sheer madness.
7. The plan was Khrushchev's idea to protect Castro from
an American invasion.
In his memoirs Khrushchev claims that the main reason for
sending strategic missiles to Cuba was because Castro feared
an American invasion. But it is very difficult to believe that
Khrushchev planned to install missiles in Cuba to protect Castro
just a few days after Khrushchev had tried to overthrow the Cuban
leader by force. Actually, in April of 1962, after Castro discovered
and neutralized the plot, he expelled from Cuba Soviet Ambassador
Kudryatvsev (who also moonlighted as a senior GRU officer) and
a group of his embassy thugs.
Moreover, simple logic dictates that no great power is going
to give missiles to any newcomer who just asks for them. The
USSR installed missiles where it wanted, and nowhere else. When
Mao asked for missiles the Soviets turned him down flat. Neither
before 1962, nor after, did the Soviets deploy nuclear warheads
beyond their borders. It was not until many years later, only
after they had developed reliable devices to control its arming,
that the Soviets allowed a limited number of nuclear warheads
to cross their borders, and always under strict control of KGB's
special troops. If the Soviets didn't trust their own army, why,
then, would they risk placing nuclear missiles so close to the
unstable, trigger-happy Castro? If anything, what Khrushchev
would have loved was having the Americans doing the dirty job
he failed to accomplish, by invading Cuba and helping him getting
rid of the unreliable Fidel Castro.
The Soviet commitment in Cuba had proved to be a calamitous
failure. As seen from the Kremlin, Castro was unpredictable,
volatile, undisciplined, and often nonsensical. His wholesale
executions, mass arrests, and terrorist adventures against his
Latin American neighbors, together with the sight of hundreds
of thousands of Cubans attempting to flee his rule, raised the
very Stalinist specter Khrushchev was trying to dispel. Moreover,
Castro was making a shambles of the Cuban economy and neglected
to pay attention to "suggestions" coming from Moscow
In such circumstances the sensible course for Khrushchev was
to cut his losses and get out of the game, particularly considering
that the Soviet lines of supply to Cuba were long and extremely
vulnerable. But to leave Cuba voluntarily would have been tantamount
to an admission of failure and would had involved substantial
loss of face. If, however, Castro could be eliminated as a result
of American "aggression," then Khrushchev and the USSR
could retreat from Cuba, their honor relatively untarnished.
After an American invasion of the island the failure of Communism
in Cuba could be blamed not on deficiencies in Soviet-style communist
management of Cuban affairs, but on "Yankee Imperialism."
8. The Soviet had deployed the missiles with cunning and
In shipping the missiles to Cuba, the USSR was accused of
stealth and deception. This accusation of deceit runs throughout
all official US statements. The evidence indicates, however,
that Soviet stealth and deception were faked. The available record
suggests that, in fact, the Russians went to great pains to let
the Americans discover the missiles. There is evidence that the
Soviets sped up their pace of work and camouflaged the missiles
only after they were sure the Americans had discovered them.
The plan to set up the missiles was carried out in such a
way that they would inevitably be discovered by the Americans.
If one assumes that the anti-aircraft SAM's were intended to
protect the installations of the strategic missiles, then they
should have been installed and ready to shoot the US planes before
the strategic missiles arrived. Actually the SAM's and other
associated anti-aircraft nets only became operational when the
construction of the strategic missile sites was well along, and
the Soviets employed almost no camouflage at all to hide either
set of weapons. In any case, since the SAM's could not shoot
down planes flying below 10,000 feet, these anti-aircraft missiles
would not have been useful in the event of an American invasion.
Both the MRBM's and the IRBM's were above ground and located
in soft terrain, very vulnerable to any type of enemy attack.
Although a single installation of MRBM could be built in a matter
of days, the Russians were progressing very slowly in their installation.
They seemed to be in no great hurry, and worked only during daylight
The Cubans were concerned about the role of the American intelligence
surveillance, but the Russians dismissed their concern and gave
the matter no importance. The Cuban intelligence services were
also aware that the CIA was interrogating Cuban refugees at the
Opa Locka military base in Florida. The large number of refugees
arriving in Miami was providing the CIA with a great deal of
information. Castro proposed to stop the emigration flood by
eliminating all available means of escape from the island, but
the Soviets proposed to leave things unchanged. In that way,
reasoned the Russians, the CIA would obtain a lot of contradictory
information and soon stop relying on the credibility of the refugees.
Many of the departing refugees had seen missiles, but, in most
cases, these were just antiaircraft SAMs. To the Cubans' dismay,
the Soviets even suggested that, instead of trying to hide evidence
of the missiles, it was better to let it be obvious. For the
first time the Cuban personnel working at the antiaircraft missile
sites were granted leaves.
The Cubans knew the quality of the American air surveillance
technology. 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 missile
bases were engineering students from Havana University, the Soviets
only allowed them to operate the radars.
By the beginning of August the Russians complained to the
Cuban government about the lack of discipline and seditious demonstrations
of the university students at the missile bases. Apparently the
Cubans were frustrated by the Russians' inaction in the face
of overflying American U-2 planes. Fidel himself had to make
an inspection visit to the bases in order to calm down the Cubans
there. Apparently Fidel convinced everybody, with one important
exception: Ché Guevara. Major Guevara said that he would
only change his opinion if somebody convinced him that the American
spy planes flying over Cuba were not jeopardizing the operation.
But he finally opted to accept Fidel's orders.
Contrary to the opinion of most American analysts, almost
all SAM antiaircraft sites in western Cuba had reached operational
status by the beginning of August, 1962. From that early date
the Soviets could have fired on the American spy planes if they
had wanted to.
On the morning of October 14, 1962, a U-2 entered Cuban air
space and flew over the province of Pinar del Río. The
Cubans watched the plane on the radar screens, appalled as the
Russians did nothing. Later Castro complained bitterly about
the Russian inaction. Why were the Soviets permitting the American
planes to discover the missiles? It was at the Excomm meeting
the morning of the 23rd of October that CIA Director John McCone
reported that the Russians were beginning to camouflage the missile
sites. Nobody could explain why they had waited so long to do
9. Finally, the CIA smelled a rat, Kennedy approved the
U-2 flights, and Major Anderson photographed the missiles.
According to most American analysts, what initiated the crisis
were the U-2 photographs of Sovietmissile sites in Cuba on October
14, 1962. US leaders might have received information three weeks
earlier if a U-2 had flown over the western part of Cuba in the
last week of September. But, quite unexplainably, the U-2s were
prevented from flying over that part of Cuba, precisely where
intelligence reports indicated that the missiles were most likely
On August, 1962, a U-2 returned with photographs of Russian
SA-2 antiaircraft missiles being unloaded at Cuban docks. More
U-2s came back with fresh pictures of more SA-2s. But President
Kennedy insisted there was no evidence that the Russians were
moving in offensive missiles that could threaten the United States.
Though all evidence pointed to the province of Pinar del Río
in the western part of Cuba as the most likely location for missile
sites, a very strange thing happened: after September 5 no U-2
flights were directed over that part of the island. It was not
until October 14, that a U-2 plane, reportedly by chance,
took the now famous photographs of the sites under construction.
Yet, the word that there were Russian missile sites in Cuba was
so widespread that even Time magazine ran an article on
September 21 showing a map of Cuba clustered with Soviet ground-to-air
missiles, mainly in the western part of the island, west and
south of Havana.
In retrospect it is clear that both the Americans and the
Russians were playing a subtle cat-and-mouse game, the Russians
trying, by every means, to get the Americans to discover the
missiles, and the Americans trying not to discover them.
10. An American invasion of Cuba would have brought nuclear
war with the Soviet Union.
The day after the Bay of Pigs invasion began, Khrushchev sent
President Kennedy a message appealing to him to stop the aggression.
The tone of the message, however, was not in accordance to the
man who some months earlier had boasted with apocalyptic visions.
"As for the USSR, there must be no mistake about our position.
We will extend to the Cuban people and its government all the
necessary aid for the repulse of the armed attack on Cuba. .
. We are sincerely interested in the relaxation of international
tensions, but if others go in for its aggravation, then we will
answer then in full measure." The fact is that when the
invasion began Castro wired Russia for help or at least for open
solidarity, but Khrushchev ignored him until the Cuban militia
had definitely beaten the invaders.
Khrushchev's "missile rattling" about Cuba was not
the first case of such bluffings. He had before threatened with
rockets over Suez, over the landings in Lebanon and Jordan, and
over Berlin. Khrushchev also threatened Britain and France with
long-range missiles at the time of the Suez crisis, but not before
he was certain that the crisis was effectively over. When the
Matsu-Quemoy crisis of the fall of 1958 erupted, Soviet support
came in the form of two threatening letters from Khrushchev to
Eisenhower. But Khrushchev's guarantees and promises of help
to Communist China were extended only after it had become clear
that the United States was not going to intervene in the affair
and the threat of war was gone. Therefore, it is safe to assume
that, at most, an American invasion of Cuba would have brought
a strong condemnation from the USSR delegate at the UN, and a
barrage of threats in the Soviet press for internal consumption
only, and nothing more.
11. After the crisis was over, Khrushchev and Kennedy signed
a secret pact guaranteeing the non-invasion of Cuba.
In 1970 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, disturbed over
the submarine base the Soviets were building in Cienfuegos, a
port on the Southern coast of Cuba, hunted through the State
Department's files looking for the written agreement he was sure
President Kennedy had signed with Khrushchev. He found, to his
utter amazement, that there was none.
Moreover, if the agreement ever existed, it has the dubious
honor of having being applied retroactively, because the American
harassment of the anti-Castro Cubans in the US began just after
the Bay of Pigs invasion, a year and a half before the Cuban
missile crisis. If American presidents from Kennedy on have proved
unwilling to get rid of Fidel Castro, it is not because a non-existent
pact forbids them to do so, but because of some other secret
reasons unknown to us.
12. General LeMay was a mad warmonger out of control.
General Curtiss LeMay, Air Force Chief, argued forcefully
with the President that a military attack was essential. When
the President questioned him about what the Soviet response might
be, General LeMay assured him that there would be no reaction
at all. Later the Kennedys and their buddies, as usual, made
derogatory comments of General LeMay's statements behind his
But LeMay was not a mad warmonger as he is depicted in the
film, nor was he alone. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson
made his arguments that an air attack and invasion represented
the only American alternative to the US He added that the President
of the United States had the responsibility for the security
of the American people and of the whole world, that it was his
duty to take the only action which could protect that security,
and that this meant destroying the missiles in Cuba.
Shortly before his tv address to inform the nation of his
decision to impose a blockade on the Soviet ships bound for Cuba,
President Kennedy met with the members of the Cabinet and informed
them of the crisis for the first time. Then, he met with leaders
of Congress. According to Robert Kennedy, this was the President's
most difficult meeting. Many congressional leaders were sharp
in their criticism. They complained that the President should
take a more forceful action --a military attack or an invasion
of Cuba--, and that the blockade was far too weak a response.
When Senators Richard Russell and William Fulbright were informed
of the situation in Cuba and the presidential decision to blockade
the island, they argued that a blockade could not be effective
in the short time remaining before the missile sites became operational.
In fact, if one assumed that the nuclear warheads were already
in Cuba, as it was logical to suppose at the time, a blockade
of the island seemed to be a foolhardy decision.
Dean Acheson, one of the most notable critics of President
Kennedy's decisions during the crisis, wrote later that, though
the American strategy during the crisis was wrong, it succeeded
in obtaining the withdrawal of the missiles simply by "dumb
luck". Acheson's recommendation for decisive military action,
namely an air strike over Cuba, was flatly rejected by Kennedy.
And Acheson was not the only one with little praise for Kennedy's
decision-making abilities. General Douglas McArthur, though crediting
Kennedy with political cunning, called the President "just
dumb when it comes to decision making."
13. On October 28, 1962, a missile battery under Soviet
command shot down Maj. Rudolf Anderson's U-2.
Not so fast Louie! According to Seymour Hersh, there is strong
evidence that, on October 26, 1962, a Cuban army unit attacked
and overran a Soviet-manned SAM base at Los Angeles, near Banes,
in the Oriente province, killing many Soviets and seizing control
of the site. This was the very base that later fired the SAMs
which destroyed Anderson's U-2. Hersh based his article on information
partly drawn from an interview with former Department of Defense
analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who was himself citing classified material
from a post-crisis study of the event. The speculation is based
on an intercepted transmission from the Soviet base at Los Angeles
indicating heavy fighting and casualties. Adrián Montoro,
former director of Radio Havana Cuba, and Juan Antonio Rodríguez
Menier, a senior Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1987
and is now living in the US, seem to confirm Ellsberg's thesis.
Though both Castro and the Russians have categorically denied
that the attack took place, Raymond L. Garthoff, Special Assistant
for Soviet bloc Political/Military Affairs in the State Department
during the Kennedy administration, claims that, in fact, from
October 28, the Cuban army did surround the Soviet missile
bases for three days. It is evident that, whatever really happened,
Castro was itching for a nuclear shoot-out between the Soviet
Union and the United States.
Messages exchanged between Castro and Khrushchev on October
28, 1962, indicate that something very fishy happened that day.
In his message the Soviet premier accused the Cuban leader of
shooting down the American plane. Then, Khrushchev warned Castro
that such steps "will be used by aggressors to their advantage,
to further their aims." In his answer to Khrushchev Castro
explained that he had mobilized his antiaircraft batteries "to
support the position of the Soviet forces." Then, Castro
added this cryptic remark: "The Soviet Forces Command can
give you further detail on what happened with the plane that
was shot down."
The Single Truth
The missiles we see in the movie are Hollywoodian contraptions
made out of plywood covered by thin aluminum sheet. Well, perhaps
not everything in the movie is wrong. There is the possibility
that, like the missiles in Costner's film, the Soviet strategic
missiles in Cuba had been dummies.
The official story, advanced by the Kennedy administration,
accepted at face value by most scholars of the Crisis and later
popularized by the American mainstream media, is that, though
rumors about the presence of strategic missiles in Cuba were
widespread among Cuban exiles in Florida since mid-1962, the
American intelligence community was never fooled by them. To
American intelligence analysts, "only direct evidence, such
as aerial photographs, could be convincing." It was not
until 14 October, however, that a U-2, authorized at last to
fly over the Western part of Cuba, brought the first high-altitude
photographs of what seemed to be Soviet strategic missile sites,
in different stages of completion, deployed on Cuban soil.
Once the photographs were evaluated by experts at the National
Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), they were brought
to President Kennedy who, after a little prompting by a photo-interpreter
who attended the meeting (even with help and good will it is
not easy to see the missiles in the photographs), accepted as
a fact the NPIC's conclusion that Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev
had taken a fateful, aggressive step against the U.S. This meeting
is considered by most scholars the beginning of the Cuban missile
Save for a few skeptics at the United Nations (a little more
than a year before, Adlai Stevenson had shown the very same delegates
"hard" photographic evidence of Cuban planes, allegedly
piloted by Castro's defectors, which had attacked positions on
the island previous to the Bay of Pigs landing), most people,
including the members of the American press, unquestionably accepted
the U-2 photographs as evidence of Khrushchev's treachery. The
photographic "evidence," however, was received abroad
with mixed feelings.
Sherman Kent recorded in detail the story about how the U-2
photographs were brought to some American allies, and what their
reactionswere. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, for example,
just spent a few seconds examining the photographs, and accepted
the proof on belief. The Prime Minister's Private Secretary,
however, "expressed serious concern about the reception
any strong Government statement in support of the U.S. decision
would have in the absence of incontrovertible proof of the
German Chancellor Adenauer accepted the photographic evidence,
and apparently was impressed with it. General de Gaulle accepted
President Kennedy's word initially on faith, though later he
inspected the photographs in great detail, and was impressed
with the quality of them. However, when the photographs were
shown to French journalists, one of them, André Fontaine,
an important senior writer of Le Monde, strongly expressed
his doubts. Only circumstantial evidence he received later, not
the photographs themselves, made him change his opinion. Canada's
Prime Minister Diefenbaker questioned the credibility of the
evidence of Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba.
According to Kent, notwithstanding some of the viewers' past
experience in looking at similar photographs, "All viewers,
however, took on faith or on the say-so of the purveyors that
the pictures were what they claimed to be: scenes from Cuba taken
a few days past." Nevertheless, beginning with Robert Kennedy's
classic analysis of the crisis, the acceptance of the U-2's photographs
as hard evidence of the presence of Soviet strategic missiles
deployed on Cuban soil has rarely been contested.
In the case of the U-2 photographs, the NPIC photointerpreters
correctly decoded the objects appearing in them as images
of strategic missiles. But accepting the images of missiles as
the ultimate proof of the presence of strategic missiles in Cuba
was a big jump of their imagination, as well as a semantic mistake.
A more truthful interpretation of the things whose images appeared
in the U-2's photographs would have been to call them "objects
whose photographic image highly resemble Soviet strategic missiles."
But, like the man who mistook his wife for a hat, the photointerpreters
at the NPIC confused the photographs of missiles with the actual
missiles. Afterwards, like mesmerized children, the media and
the scholarly community blindly followed the Pied Piper of photographic
evidence. But, as in Magritte's famous painting The Treachery
of Images, a picture of a pipe is not a pipe, and a picture
of a missile in not a missile.
With the advent of the new surveillance technologies pioneered
with the U-2 plane and now extensively used by satellites, there
has been a growing trend in the US intelligence community to
rely more and more on imaging intelligence (imint) and less and
less on agents in the field (humint). But, as any intelligence
specialist can testify, photography alone, though a very useful
surveillance component, should never be considered hard
evidence. Photographs, at best, are just indicators pointing
to a possibility which has to be physically confirmed by other
means, preferably by trained, qualified agents working in the
Moreover, even disregarding the fact that photographs can
be faked and doctored, nothing is so misleading as a photograph.
According to the information available up to this moment, the
photographic evidence of Soviet strategic missiles on Cuban soil
was never confirmed by American agents working in the field.
The missiles were never touched, smelled, weighed. Their metal,
electronic components, and fuel were never tested; the radiation
from their nuclear warheads was never recorded; their heat signature
was never verified.
One of the golden rules of intelligence work is to treat with
caution all information not independently corroborated or supported
by reliable documentary or physical evidence. Yet, recently declassified
Soviet documents, and questionable oral reports from Soviet officials
who allegedly participated directly in the event, have lately
been accepted as sufficient evidence of the presence of strategic
missiles and their nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962. But one
can hardly accept as hard evidence non-corroborated, non-evaluated
information coming from a former adversary who has yet to prove
he has turned into a friend.
Despite all recent claims on the contrary, CIA reports at
the time consistently denied the presence of nuclear warheads
in Cuba. Also, American planes, flying low over the missile sites
and the Soviets ships, never detected any of the radiation that
would be expected from nuclear warheads. The technology to detect
radiation existed at the time. In the 1960s the NEDS 900 series
of radiation detectors had been developed and deployed in the
Dardanelles as a way to monitor the presence of nuclear weapons
aboard Soviet warships transiting the strait from the Black Sea.
Gen. William Y. Smith, who was a Major and an assistant to
Gen. Maxwell Taylor in the White House at the time of the crisis,
reported a very interesting detail. While reviewing message traffic
from US intelligence sources on Soviet military activity, Gen.
Smith found out a report that a US Navy ship had picked up suspicious
levels of radioactivity emitted by a Soviet freighter, the Poltava.
He suggested to Gen. Taylor that he ask Admiral Anderson if the
emanations meant the ship was carrying nuclear warheads. At the
next Joint Chief's meeting, Taylor posed the question to Anderson,
who replied, somewhat embarrased, that he had not seen the message.
Later that morning, Anderson's office informed Smith that the
report had little significance, that Smith had misread it.
It makes sense to believe, therefore, that the Americans had
the means to detect radiation from nuclear warheads leaving Cuba,
without having to board the Soviet ships. But, again, no mention
is made of this important fact in any of the declassified documents
on the Cuban missile crisis. Also, Admiral Anderson's behavior,
as described by Gen. Smith, is strange, to say the least, because
that report was extremely important.
Therefore, either the Americans detected no radiation from
the Soviet ships, and they kept the fact secret, or they simply
forgot that they had the means to check indirectly the presence
of nuclear warheads. But there is a third possibility: that they
never tried to detect the radiation from nuclear warheads in
Cuba because they were pretty sure there were no nuclear devices
in the island. As a matter of fact, this third possibility is
the only one that fully explains President Kennedy's strange
behavior of not enforcing on the defeated Soviets the physical
inspection of their outbound ships who allegedly were bringing
the missiles and their nuclear warheads back to the Soviet Union.
The Soviets were masters of deception and disinformation,
and maskivovka was an important part of the Soviet military
tactic and strategic doctrine. Some western intelligence analysts
suspected that, as late as 1960, not only most of the missiles
parading in Red Square were dummies, but even some units of the
newly created Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces were not getting
real missiles. The Russians have a long tradition in the deception
business. One must bear in mind that it was count Grigori Aleksandrovich
Potemkim who created the first Hollywood-style film sets.