Thirteen Lies (and Perhaps a Single Truth)

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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 movie.

The
Lies

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 are:

1.
In some scenes, soldiers jump from trucks to ready intermediate
range missiles.

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 in 1962.

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 Moscow.

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 stealth.

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
hours.

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 so.

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 to be.

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 back.

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 crisis.

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 reactions were.
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 missile buildup.”

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 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 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.

February
21, 2001

Servando
Gonzalez is a Cuban-born American writer. He was an officer in the
Cuban army during the missile crisis. His upcoming book The
Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol will appear this
Spring.

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