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The Cuban Missile Crisis

1962

 

 After World War II, tension between the United States and the Soviet Union steadily began to grow. Fidel Castro took power in Cuba by overthrowing the previous dictator, Fulgencio Balista. Castro was then hailed as a liberator by the Cuban and American people. The US became very concerned however, when Castro proceeded to align his country publicly with the Soviet Union. After the 1960 election, which made Kennedy the new president, Premier Khrushchev sought to test Kennedy to find out if the US really had less missiles than the Soviet Union. The Soviets and Cuba became trade partners, filling the gap created when US markets left Cuba. Khrushchev applied pressure to Berlin and then built a wall surrounding West Berlin. Following this, Kennedy admitted that the US had a greater number of missiles that the Soviets. The next step in this build up of tension was when Khrushchev cited US missiles in Turkey. They were only 150 miles from the USSR. At a Central Treaty Organization meeting in Ankara, Turkey, the possibility was raised to remove the US Jupiter missiles. At this time, Castro was also aware of the many attempts that the US had made to get rid of him. This included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, a mock invasion of a Caribbean Island made by the US armed forces, and a number of covert operations that were run by the CIA throughout Cuba, to damage the Castro government. The US suspended the Cuban sugar quota, which cut off 80% of Cuban exports to the US, The Soviet Union then agreed to buy the sugar previously destined for the U.S. market. On October 6, 1960, Cuba nationalized, or claimed as its own, U.S. private investments on the island worth approximately one billion dollars.

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Cuba now began to secretly build up their offensive weapons, military, and aircraft, despite Soviet denials. This did not go undetected by the US. With their satellites and intelligence, they were able to detect suspicious cargo that was more than just palm oil and farm equipment. The NSA was also able to catch Cubans discussing the arrival of tanks, which was hardly an innocent delivery. It became clear in mid-1961 that the Cuban air forces were undergoing a major upgrade when the CIA detected the arrival of Soviet combat and transport aircraft. The NSA concluded that they were putting together an air defense system copied from the Soviets. This assumption was denied by the Soviets, who claimed that this was strictly a defensive upgrade. In August of 1962 however, the CIA saw the first indications of an ominous new development, the construction of SA-2 surface-to-air missiles. Such weapons were capable of shooting American military aircraft out of the skies. By October 10th, the NSA reported that the Cuban air defense system seemed to be complete. One of the CIA's U-2 planes was shot down and another obtained photographs that revealed, on October 15, that the Soviet Union was preparing sites to install SS-4s, medium range ballistic missiles. Kennedy then convened a secret series of emergency meetings of his senior military, diplomatic, and political advisors. This group was known as the Executive Committee, or ExCom, composed of Kennedy's top advisors, to find ways of coping with these newfound developments.

The NSA responded to the crisis by appointing Lieutenant General Gordan Blake as director. Operations organizations was headed by Mrs. Juanita Moody, who was a cryptanalyst during WWII. The first around-the-clock command center was established by General Blake of the NSA, who also interpreted findings to the White House. While ExCom waited for results, the USS Oxford hid close to the Cuban coastline intercepting radio communications from the island. Kennedy announced the U-2 findings to the anxious public. He called for the withdrawal or elimination of the medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Kennedy also proclaimed a naval "quarantine" of Cuban ports to prevent the introduction of additional Soviet armaments in order to solve the crisis. American Navy vessels waited in the Atlantic to see whether the incoming Soviet vessels would turn around, or continue on to Cuba and begin a wider war between the two superpowers.

Kennedy's answer came the next day as messages came from Soviet ships that they were being sent back to the Soviet Union. A confrontation was avoided in order to delay any beginnings of war. The Soviets agreed to remove the ballistic missiles from Cuba and the NSA reported that the Communist Bloc also considered the crisis over. Photography and human sources had pinpointed Cuba as a grave threat to the US. The arms buildup and defensive improvements focused the president and military leaders on the threat from Cuba long before the crisis erupted. The intelligence system gave the president the exact information that he needed to avoid a crisis from developing into yet another world war.

Sources:

https://www.wyzant.com/resources/lessons/history/hpol/jfk/cuban/

http://www.state.gov/t/isn/4785.htm


Edited by: Elliot Wachter
Researched by: Karl Ericson
Written by: Kat Magnuson
May 8, 1999

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