What can intelligence tell us about the Cuban missile crisis, and

Intelligence and National Security
ISSN: 0268-4527 (Print) 1743-9019 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fint20
What can intelligence tell us about the Cuban
missile crisis, and what can the Cuban missile
crisis tell us about intelligence?
James G. Blight & David A. Welch
To cite this article: James G. Blight & David A. Welch (1998) What can intelligence tell us about
the Cuban missile crisis, and what can the Cuban missile crisis tell us about intelligence?,
Intelligence and National Security, 13:3, 1-17, DOI: 10.1080/02684529808432492
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02684529808432492
Published online: 02 Jan 2008.
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Date: 10 August 2016, At: 03:29
What can Intelligence tell us about the
Cuban Missile Crisis, and what can the
Cuban Missile Crisis tell us about
The Cuban missile crisis is one of the most intensively studied events of all
time. If our understanding of it stood in strict proportion to the shelf space
devoted to it, then surely by this point there should be little or nothing left
to know. But our experience, as two people who have spent more than a
decade studying it, is quite the reverse: the more closely we look at it, the
less confident we can be of our understanding. This is not to say that we
have made no progress. Every year it is possible to say more about what
actually happened in October 1962, and why. But for every question
scholars answer, two or three arise or must be reopened. The story
constantly evolves in complex and surprising ways.1 The mind reels with
metaphors. Imagine Sisyphus opening Russian nesting dolls designed by
M. C. Escher.
The greatest obstacle facing students of the missile crisis has been
imbalance. For more than 25 years, virtually all of the sources available to
scholars were American. Only with Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost' was
it even possible to have an interesting conversation with knowledgeable
Soviets about the crisis, and only very recently have Cubans begun to
speak.2 Soviet archives have been open for a few years now, sporadically
and incompletely, but Cuban archives, such as they are - this we do not even
know - remain closed. Most scholars of the crisis are in any case themselves
Americans, professionally and culturally predisposed to look at it primarily
through the lens of American politics and diplomacy. It is therefore hardly
surprising that most of the questions we have asked and attempted to answer
concern the American side of the crisis.
There are other dimensions of imbalance as well. Scholars of the crisis
have tended to ask a great deal about the decisions and actions of national
leaders (John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro, in that
order), somewhat less about the preferences and activities of senior officials
(cabinet officers, military commanders and so on), and very little about the
activities of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and bureaucrats on whose
decisions and actions, it now appears, the fate of the world may very well
have hinged in 1962.3 We have paid very close attention to the high politics
of the missile crisis, but relatively little to its seemingly mundane
operational dimensions. Again, this imbalance reflects both the availability
of sources and our natural interests. The works that first captured our
attention were memoirs, court histories, or journalistic overviews.4 The first
significant body of documents declassified in the 1980s focused on White
House decision making.5 Relatively few have sought out information on the
important minutiae of the crisis, and when they surface, they have had
difficulty competing with high politics for our attention.6
For similar reasons, there is a great imbalance between the importance
of intelligence in the missile crisis and the attention scholars have paid to it.
Intelligence lurks in the background throughout. Virtually every interesting
decision or action that has captured our attention has turned upon, or related
in some interesting way to, intelligence and intelligence assessment.7 In that
sense, the story of the Cuban missile crisis is a story about intelligence - its
collection, analysis, use, non-use, or abuse. But for obvious reasons, goodquality information about intelligence has emerged slowly. Governments
dislike revealing secrets. A comprehensive story of intelligence assessment
in the Cuban missile crisis has never properly been told. It has not been the
focus of a single major scholarly effort. There is a small body of literature
on intelligence in the missile crisis, some of which is both fascinating and
important. We briefly review it below. But it is overwhelmingly narrow and
technical.8 It does not attempt to take in the big view: to compare, explain,
and evaluate the organization, activities, assessments, and policy roles of
the professional intelligence communities in the three countries most
crucially concerned in the crisis (the United States, the Soviet Union, and
We believe the time has come to try to rectify this last imbalance. We
now have enough of a critical mass of evidence and testimony to permit a
first telling of the 'big view' intelligence story. Such is the primary goal of
this volume.
Imbalances remain. For example, while it is possible to document the
American intelligence story extensively, the Soviet story can be
documented only to a much lesser extent, and the Cuban story - while it can
be told - cannot yet be documented at all.9 Within the available body of
American and Soviet documents, there are notable gaps. Neither the US nor
the Russian government has declassified details of signals intelligence
(Sigint) in 1962, nor information on human intelligence (Humint) that
would compromise certain by-now-surely-defunct sources and methods.
Nevertheless, working within the limitations of the available materials, we
believe that it is possible to tell an enlightening and surprising story about
intelligence in the missile crisis that must, in certain respects, make us once
again rethink the event.
Our purpose in putting together this collection of essays is not merely to
enrich our understanding of the Cuban missile crisis by bringing
intelligence 'in from the cold', however: it is also to see what the missile
crisis can tell us about intelligence. While an irreducible element of mystery
enshrouds the event, and while imbalances in sources remain, the Cuban
missile crisis remains the most thoroughly documented historical encounter
of all time. It presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect in an
empirically rich way upon the collection, analysis, and use of intelligence
from a comparative and longitudinal perspective. It is possible to identify a
large number of crucial moments, issues, processes, tendencies, and patterns
in the processing and exploitation of intelligence in the Cuban missile crisis,
and to reflect upon them in unusual detail. It is always dangerous to
generalize from a single case, of course. But the Cuban missile crisis is not
your average single case. The intelligence story of the Cuban missile crisis
is the story of literally hundreds of important individual judgments, and of
almost constant interaction between intelligence professionals and national
leaders in all three countries, over a period of time extending both well
before and well after the famous 'Thirteen Days' of lore. We believe some
very interesting insights emerge from a longitudinal and comparative
examination of the activities and judgments of American, Soviet, and
Cuban intelligence. We take these up in our concluding essay.
For 25 years, scholars working with open sources could see but a glimmer
of the workings of intelligence in the missile crisis. Memoirs and histories
referred vaguely to crucial actions, reports or judgments of (almost
exclusively American) intelligence at various stages of the confrontation,
but the details remained classified. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however,
documents on American intelligence began to appear in quantity, partly as
a result of routine declassification, and partly as a result of requests filed
under the Freedom of Information Act.10 In 1992, the Central Intelligence
Agency's Center for the Study of Intelligence hosted the first scholarly
symposium on intelligence in the missile crisis." This was an important
milestone. It was the first opportunity for scholars and practitioners to
discuss the performance of American intelligence against the backdrop of a
significant documentary record. Soviet documents on the missile crisis
began to appear in the late 1980s. Owing to political turmoil first in the
USSR, and then in post-Soviet Russia, Western scholars have had only
patchy and sporadic access. They have mined some archives relatively well
(most notably Foreign Ministry archives), and merely scratched the surface
of others (e.g., those of the Ministry of Defense).12 Only very recently have
scholars had access to KGB documents.13
Scholars are rarely deterred by limits on information, however, and for
many years there has been active discussion of certain issues concerning the
performance of the American intelligence community. Two issues stand out:
the failure to predict the Soviet deployment; and the late, but ultimately
timely, discovery of the deployment.
The issue most widely debated is the failure of American intelligence to
predict that the Soviet Union would attempt to deploy strategic nuclear
missiles to Cuba in 1962. Had American intelligence predicted the Soviet
move, the Kennedy administration certainly would have attempted to
forestall it more energetically, through clearer and stronger deterrent threats,
through active back-channel diplomacy, or both. Hence many are inclined
to see this as a failure of the first magnitude.14 In a sense American
intelligence certainly did fail policy makers by failing to estimate that the
Soviet Union would attempt to deploy nuclear missiles to Cuba. But while
the crisis might have been avoided had American intelligence anticipated
the deployment, it would be a mistake to conclude that a crisis would have
been avoided. Much would have depended upon how the Kennedy
administration played its hand, and when. Khrushchev's motives for the
deployment now appear to have been primarily defensive, reflecting deep
anxiety about Soviet strategic nuclear inferiority and the vulnerability of
Cuba to an American invasion.15 Khrushchev appears to have been deeply
committed to his gambit, and insensitive to warnings.16 Counterfactual
history is a tricky business, but our hunch is that Kennedy could have
forestalled the Soviet deployment only by making clear his unwillingness to
tolerate it very early in the game (not later than in the early summer of
1962),17 and only in conjunction with adequate and credible assurances
designed to assuage Khrushchev's fears and insecurities. Since Kennedy
was evidently unaware of Khrushchev's fears, and since Khrushchev was
evidently deeply suspicious of Kennedy, it is difficult to imagine what
carrots Kennedy might have brandished alongside his impressive arsenal of
sticks. In any case, Kennedy did not need a formal estimate from the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) that the Soviet Union would attempt a strategic
deployment to Cuba in order to take timely steps to prevent it. He could
have attempted to send clearer and stronger warnings on the mere suspicion
of the possibility. Thus it would be a mistake to place much importance
upon this particular failure.
What makes this failure titillating is that Director of Central Intelligence
(DCI) John A. McCone - unlike his analysts - did anticipate a Soviet
nuclear deployment. Beginning in August 1962, McCone consistently
voiced his belief within the intelligence community and at the White House
that the Soviet Union was in the process of deploying strategic nuclear
missiles to Cuba.18 McCone brought to his position no professional
intelligence experience. His credentials as an anti-communist were
impeccable, but he could claim no authority on the Soviet Union, or on
Soviet foreign and military policy. The fact that a rank amateur got it right
while the professionals got it wrong was a storyline too intriguing to resist,
and one that could be pursued without much in the way of sensitive
information. Hence scholars have paid it a good deal of attention.
McCone's hunch, while correct, in fact rested upon a faulty inference.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) noted in August 1962 that the Soviet
Union was deploying its most advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM)
system, the SA-2, around the perimeter of the island, rather than simply
around airfields and other vital military installations, and also that Soviet
troops were taking elaborate measures to conceal the nature of their
activities in Cuban ports. McCone concluded from these two facts that the
Soviets wished to hide something of extreme importance from the United
States, and decided that this must mean that they were deploying strategic
nuclear missiles. But McCone's conclusion did not follow logically from his
premises. First, there were many reasons why the Soviets would go to great
lengths to disguise their activities in Cuban ports - for example, so as not to
alarm the United States, or even the Cuban people, about the Soviet military
buildup. Second, protecting strategic nuclear missile sites from prying eyes
was not the only conceivable function of a SAM system: another was to
defend the island from air attack.19 Third, it was natural for the Soviets to
deploy SAMs around the perimeter of Cuba, since Cuba's geography did
not offer any meaningful opportunities for defense in depth, and the United
States, should it choose to mount an attack, might do so virtually anywhere
along its vast coastline. Fourth, the Soviets had also deployed SA-2 missiles
to Egypt, Syria, and Indonesia, and in none of those cases had they also
deployed strategic nuclear weapons. Indeed, the US intelligence community
expected that the Soviet Union would deploy SA-2 missiles to Cuba,
precisely because it had done so elsewhere.20 Fifth, if the purpose of the
SAM deployment had been to prevent American U-2s from observing the
construction of strategic missile sites, the Soviets should have attempted to
shoot down the U-2s that wandered over Cuba with impunity in September
and October 1962. But they did not.
McCone's instincts were good, but his reasons were bad, and while
McCone's willingness to disagree with his analysts without interfering in
their estimates may provide a good example of how a DCI should
intermediate analysis and policy making,21 his discrepant judgment holds no
interesting general lesson for intelligence assessment and hardly seems
worth the attention it has received.
A second issue which has attracted considerable attention is the question
of whether American intelligence should have detected and identified
Soviet strategic nuclear missiles in Cuba earlier than it did (on 15 October
1962, on the basis of aerial photography taken the previous day). While
American intelligence discovered the deployment in time to give President
Kennedy and his advisors an opportunity to ponder their response and to
seize the diplomatic initiative, nevertheless they did so quite late in the
game. A common theme in this discussion is that political meddling or
bureaucratic infighting hampered intelligence gathering: the CIA would
have discovered the Soviet deployment earlier had Secretary of State Dean
Rusk and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy not tinkered with U2 flight plans, or if the CIA and the Strategic Air Command (SAC) had not
fought for control of the missions.22 The latter is a non-issue, because there
is no evidence of a bureaucratic struggle: SAC and CIA cooperated well in
the transfer of responsibility once Secretary of Defense Robert S.
McNamara decided that it would be wiser to have military rather than
civilian pilots flying over Cuba, in case the Soviets shot one down.23 Thus
the only real question here is whether Rusk and Bundy prevented earlier
detection. This, too, is for the most part a red herring - less interesting to
students of intelligence than to followers of sordid Camelot sub-plots.24
The Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance (COMOR) did seek
permission to fly missions with extended routes directly over Cuba, and
Rusk and Bundy did successfully lobby instead for oblique photography of
Cuba from international air space, or peripheral missions that dipped into
Cuban air space only for brief periods of time. This photography proved to
be of relatively poor quality. But their concerns were well founded: Rusk
and Bundy feared that if the Soviets downed a U-2 over Cuba, the United
States would face international pressure to respect Cuban sovereignty and
discontinue high-altitude surveillance altogether. They knew well that
SA-2 missiles were capable of downing U-2s, because one had done so just
the previous month.25 There was nothing improper in, and nothing irrational
about, their insistence on caution.
In principle, there can be a trade-off between caution in intelligence
collection and the speed of discovery - although, just as plausibly,
aggressive collection efforts may impede discovery, as would have been the
case in 1962 had Soviet air defenses in Cuba shot down American U-2s,
preventing photoreconnaissance of the island. But in this particular case, it
is far from clear that had Rusk and Bundy not insisted upon a modification
of flight plans, the United States would have discovered the missiles earlier.
Bad weather delayed for four days the flight that discovered the missiles,
and the first site identified as a medium-range ballistic missile base was in
a low state of readiness. Had a U-2 photographed the area even just a week
earlier, crucial items necessary for a positive identification might not yet
have been present.
American intelligence did positively identify Soviet missiles prior to
their becoming operational, which permitted the Kennedy administration to
seize the initiative in attempting to secure their removal. For this reason,
many consider this a major intelligence success.26 Failing to discover the
missiles at all would have been a major intelligence failure, of course: the
real question is whether the CIA should have discovered the deployment
earlier. A full airing of this question requires looking at a much broader
range of issues than the scheduling and flight plans of photoreconnaissance
missions, as our contributors indicate in the pages that follow, and as we
discuss at greater length at the end of the volume.
The historiography of (American) intelligence assessment in the Cuban
missile crisis, then, raises important questions about how intelligence can
serve policy, but it answers them rather unsatisfactorily. It pays too much
attention to personalities, bureaucratic rivalries, and enthralling storylines.
The question that dominates the limited historiography of intelligence
assessment in the Cuban missile crisis - what should policy makers be able to
expect from their intelligence analysts? — in any case examines only half of
the intelligence-policy relationship. Intelligence and policy always interact
dynamically. Of equal importance are the questions, What should intelligence
analysts be able to expect from policy makers? How should policy makers use
intelligence? Intelligence cannot serve policy if policy makers do not
understand it and treat it both with respect and with circumspection. National
leaders are rarely passive recipients of information and analysis. In order to
get what they want and need from their intelligence communities, they must
also be willing to direct inquiry, to ask questions, to listen carefully to the
answers, to ask for clarification on technical matters, to challenge, to prod,
and to reward both good news and bad. They must also have a sense of the
possibilities and limits of intelligence.27 These possibilities and limits are a
function of the technical and organizational capacity on the one hand, and of
the human capacity on the other, to observe, organize, and process
information. On these issues, the historiography of intelligence in the Cuban
missile crisis has largely been silent.28
To get a handle on these larger questions, we first sought to establish a
common empirical baseline in the form of three essays - one each on
American, Soviet, and Cuban intelligence. We asked the authors of each of
these essays to sketch the organization of the relevant intelligence
community; to describe its interaction with national leaders; to discuss the
sources and methods of their intelligence gathering; and to identify and
examine important assessments, inferences, and judgments. We asked them
to cover three periods: the period leading up to the acute phase of the crisis
(i.e., prior to 22 October 1962); the acute phase itself (22-28 October); and
the aftermath. Beyond this, we invited them to raise and discuss any issues
that they considered to be of particular interest.
We intended the three empirical essays, supplemented to some extent by
additional primary and secondary materials, to provide the grist for two
additional analytical essays — one on the politics and organization, and one
on the psychology, of intelligence assessment. The purpose of these essays
would be to bring relevant bodies of organizational and psychological
research to bear on the empirical essays, in order to help us explain the
particular judgments, inferences, and interactions of analysts and policy
makers. We, in turn, would use the opportunity of our concluding essay to
make some general remarks about the implications of these five essays for
the history of the Cuban missile crisis, and for the study of intelligence.
We were fortunate early in the process to enlist Raymond Garthoff to
prepare the essay on American intelligence. It is difficult to imagine anyone
better qualified to do so. Garthoff is one of the world's foremost scholars of
Soviet military and foreign policy, and of US-Soviet relations.29 He also has
extensive professional intelligence experience. Prior to the Cuban missile
crisis, Garthoff was an intelligence analyst at the CIA. During the crisis, he
served on the staff of Deputy Undersecretary of State U. Alexis Johnson (a
member of President Kennedy's special advisory body during the crisis, the
Executive Committee of the National Security Council or 'ExComm').
Currently a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington
DC, Garthoff is the author of several important books and articles on the
Cuban missile crisis.30
There is no Russian scholar precisely analogous to Garthoff- namely,
someone who combines academic and professional intelligence experience
of the crisis itself - but we were extremely fortunate to enlist Aleksandr
Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, historians at the Russian Academy of
Sciences and Yale University respectively, to prepare the essay on Soviet
intelligence. These two scholars were the first to gain access to KGB and
GRU documents on the crisis, and their recently published book, 'One Hell
of a Gamble', is the first and only monograph to make extensive use of
We had considerably more difficulty enlisting a suitable author for the
essay on Cuban intelligence. We had arranged for a senior official at the
Ministry of the Interior with extensive experience in counterintelligence to
prepare the essay, in collaboration with a noted American Cubanologist,
whose role it would have been to translate, and to provide background and
context from the relevant English-language literature. In 1995, however, our
contributor fell out of favor with his government, and temporarily
disappeared from view.31 While we were attempting to reestablish contact,
Cuba shot down an unarmed American aircraft piloted by the exile group
Brothers to the Rescue over the Strait of Florida. As US-Cuban relations
further deteriorated, Havana apparently decreed that no Cuban scholar or
official should collaborate with us further.
As luck would have it, however, a colleague of ours at the University of
Miami put us in touch with Domingo Amuchastegui, who had recently
come to the United States from Cuba, and who had extensive professional
experience in Cuban intelligence, in the Cuban foreign ministry, and in the
Cuban academy.32 Amuchastegui, who is now pursuing a doctorate in
international relations at the University of Miami's Graduate School of
International Studies, arrived in the United States without any documents on
Cuban intelligence, but with a personal history directly relevant to our
project, and with excellent contacts within the Cuban intelligence
community. Amuchastegui notes forthrightly that the lack of documentation
on Cuban intelligence represents a constraint upon his ability to corroborate
his recollections and the testimony of those who helped him prepare his
essay behind the scenes; but we are confident that readers will consider his
essay an important contribution.
We were equally fortunate to enlist the aid of two younger scholars
working at the cutting edge of their respective disciplines to prepare the two
analytical essays. James Wirtz, an Associate Professor in the Department of
National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey,
California, is an authority on the organization and politics of intelligence.
Wirtz is best known for his in-depth examinations of intelligence-policy
dynamics in the Vietnam War." Beth Fischer, Adjunct Assistant Professor
of Political Science at the University of Toronto is an expert on the political
psychology of international relations. Her close study of Ronald Reagan's
dramatic shift in Soviet policy forcefully demonstrates the power of
cognitive and motivational explanations of policy change vis-a-vis more
common structural, domestic political, and bureaucratic explanations.34
The early drafts of all five essays proved to be even more interesting
than we had anticipated (and our expectations were high). The empirical
essays, which came in first, all made startling claims and advanced
provocative, sometimes highly counterintuitive theses. On some points
these essays corroborated each other, and on others they appeared flatly to
contradict each other. They provided abundant material for the authors of
our two analytical pieces, who managed to place it in broader theoretical
perspectives. In many respects, these essays were equally startling and
provocative. We circulated drafts among the authors, immediately
precipitating extensive, sometimes animated correspondence between them,
as they sought to clarify or to challenge each other's specific claims and
interpretations. This was an editor's dream. With each iteration, the essays
became more tightly integrated, and the points of similarity and of
difference came into ever-sharper focus.
It was apparent to us that, collectively, these essays formed the basis of
a deeper and more extended conversation. We began that wider
conversation at the 1997 annual meeting of the International Studies
Association in Toronto, where we presented several of the essays (then still
in draft).35 We continued it at a symposium at the Wilson Center for Scholars
in Washington DC, attended by professional intelligence officers, area
specialists, and scholars noted for their work on related issues and
approaches.36 In a weekend of freewheeling discussion with each other and
with the other participants, the authors test-flew more refined versions of
their arguments. What you see below are the final versions, in each case
honed and polished to address the more important themes and concerns that
arose at the Washington meeting.
These are final versions, of course, only in a publisher's sense. We
expect the conversation to continue, and we expect the arguments and
analyses to evolve, especially as more and more documentation becomes
available against which to check them.
We will resist the temptation here to speak about what we believe to be
some of the more interesting and important implications of these essays. We
will have plenty to say about that at the end of the volume. However, we
would like to foreshadow the three empirical and two analytical essays just
a little, to help readers get their bearings and anticipate some of the
important claims, disagreements, and remaining mysteries.
In his essay, Raymond Garthoff examines the structure, processes,
activities, and estimates of the American intelligence community in great
detail, and in the course of so doing conducts a thorough review of the
existing literature and documentation. Garthoff catalogues what he
considers to be the strengths and weaknesses of the American intelligence
effort, arguing that, on balance, American intelligence served national
leaders well. Crucial estimates that the Soviet Union would not attempt to
deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba, while incorrect, were nonetheless largely
defensible, in Garthoff s view, even though American analysts were
insufficiently sensitive to Khrushchev's defensive motivations for
attempting to deploy nuclear weapons secretly to Cuba. The discovery of
the strategic nuclear missiles in Cuba prior to their becoming operational
was, in Garthoff's opinion, an important intelligence success, because it
enabled American policy makers to take timely preventive measures.
American analysts did not correctly gauge the size or nature of the Soviet
deployment at the time, underestimating the number of Soviet military
personnel dispatched to the island by a factor of four, and failing to
appreciate that the Soviets were in the process of deploying not merely
strategic nuclear missiles and their supporting equipment, but a full battlecapable combined arms group of forces capable of mounting a conventional
(and tactical nuclear) defense of the island. However, Garthoff argues, this
failure was inconsequential to the management of the crisis. In fact, among
Garthoff's more provocative claims is that it facilitated the resolution of the
crisis: the American Congress and public, Garthoff suggests, would not
have been satisfied with the public terms on the basis of which the crisis was
resolved had they been aware of the true size and nature of the Soviet
deployment. Ignorance may not always be bliss - but in this case, Garthoff
argues, it was beneficial politically.
In their essay on Soviet intelligence in the Cuban missile crisis,
Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali paint a picture of the KGB, and of
its relationship to the Kremlin, that sends chills up and down the spine.
According to Fursenko and Naftali, the KGB was largely cut out of the
decision making process leading to the Soviet deployment, and unable to
obtain any good-quality information that would have been relevant to
Soviet leaders as they attempted to anticipate and then manage the
American challenge. Soviet intelligence suffered from a preoccupation with
secret sources, failed to assimilate open source material, conducted little or
nothing in the way of real analysis, and did not present the Kremlin with
formal estimates. It was inefficient, amateurish, and ineffective.
Incompetence and organizational norms can explain the poor performance
of Soviet intelligence in the Cuban missile crisis to some extent; but much
of the blame must rest with Khrushchev himself. Khrushchev disdained,
distrusted, or failed to appreciate the value of intelligence. He proceeded
with the deployment without any formal analysis of the likelihood that the
Americans would discover it, and without any formal estimate of Kennedy's
probable response if they did. Khrushchev preferred to conduct his own
analysis, apparently under the misapprehension that the 'raw' information
that found its way haphazardly onto his desk provided an adequate basis for
Domingo Amuchastegui's essay on Cuban intelligence in the missile
crisis is, to the best of our knowledge, the only scholarly treatment of its
kind. It is, therefore, almost entirely news. Its novelty means that few
readers will have expectations against which to decide whether or not it is
surprising. Certainly we did not. And yet in many ways we found it to be
the most engaging of the three. Amuchastegui describes a nascent
professional intelligence community, cobbled together from various
revolutionary groups, forced to find its feet and define itself under the most
difficult conditions imaginable - in the context of an ongoing civil war, and
an acutely threatening international environment. Threatened equally
(though in different ways) by American hostility and Soviet friendship,
Cuban intelligence performed creditably, given the constraints on resources
and experience under which it operated, and given its dependency upon
foreign technical expertise. The relationship between Cuban intelligence
and the Cuban leadership appears to have been particularly complex. Most
such relationships are complex; but Cuban intelligence, in the period
leading up to and during the missile crisis, appears to have had unusual
difficulty speaking Truth to Power - not because of any unwillingness to
speak, but because of Power's unwillingness to listen. Of all three leaders in
the crisis, Castro appears to have been the most willing to meddle in
intelligence, and to circumvent and manipulate the intelligence process in
accordance with his transient political needs.
Readers will no doubt notice several apparent tensions and
inconsistencies between the empirical essays. For example, Amuchastegui
claims that, following the Bay of Pigs, Soviet intelligence systematically
insisted that an American invasion of Cuba was imminent. This contradicts
the account of Fursenko and Naftali, who maintain that during the same
period the KGB issued no dire warnings to Moscow. Indeed, Amuchastegui
notes that Cuban intelligence could itself find no evidence of a waxing
American threat, and for this reason became suspicious of the motives
behind Soviet reports. It is possible, as Amuchastegui suspects, that the
Kremlin used the KGB to deceive Castro for ulterior purposes (e.g., to
encourage Castro to accept a Soviet nuclear deployment); but this is a
discrepancy whose resolution must await further documentation. Similarly,
Fursenko and Naftali insist that Khrushchev neither informed the KGB of
the missile deployment, nor tasked it to assess the likely American response.
Amuchastegui, in contrast, credits the KGB with orchestrating an elaborate
scheme of deception intended to mask the deployment - something the
KGB could hardly have undertaken had it been in the dark.
Interesting and important interpretive differences also arise in the three
empirical essays. For example, while Garthoff is inclined to consider the
American discovery of missiles on 15 October an important intelligence
success, Amuchastegui interprets the CIA's apparent failure to discover the
missiles earlier as evidence of incompetence or conspiracy. This
disagreement - which the authors have been unable to resolve in an
extended correspondence - highlights the difficulty of establishing
objective and exhaustive criteria for 'success' and 'failure'. What, precisely,
should we reasonably expect intelligence communities to know, and when
should they be expected to know it? This is clearly an important question
for anyone who is interested in reflecting upon ways of improving the
performance of intelligence.
These are just a few of the many fascinating issues that arise within and
between the three empirical essays. The two analytical essays add several
more. James Wirtz argues that strategic position, degree of
bureaucratization, and leadership style interact to induce characteristic
policy dangers and intelligence errors. Wirtz applies an appropriate
typology to the accounts given in the three empirical essays, and
demonstrates how it can help us find deeper patterns in the seemingly very
different experiences of the American, Soviet, and Cuban intelligence
communities. Beth Fischer demonstrates how several misperceptions,
misjudgments, and errors of inference - by intelligence analysts and policy
makers in all three countries - fit well with certain postulates of cognitive
and motivational psychology. Fischer argues that while many of the most
significant errors made by national leaders may have their roots in
emotional or psychological needs, the errors made by intelligence analysts
more likely reflect simple information processing errors to which all people
are prone simply by virtue of being human. Taken together, Wirtz and
Fischer suggest that organizational and procedural changes may to some
degree enhance the performance of intelligence and its ability to serve
policy makers, but that these are ultimately limited by the human capacity
to manage value trade-offs and to process information.
There is much more to be said about these five fascinating pieces and
their implications for our two subjects - the Cuban missile crisis and
intelligence - but we believe that this will suffice both to whet the appetite
and to orient the reader. Or perhaps we should say: to disorient the reader.
We have studied the missile crisis long enough and deeply enough to
develop a profound sense of wonderment that the world managed to escape
disaster in 1962, because of the depth and extent of the mistakes and
misunderstandings on all sides, and because of the bloomin', buzzin'
confusion both within and between all three countries. The following five
essays only increase that sense of wonderment, because they further attest
to the idiosyncrasy, the incommensurability, the relativity, and perhaps
above all the 'noisiness' of the US, Soviet, and Cuban experiences of the
crisis. These essays require that we rethink our understanding of the event
in important ways: but they equally strongly buttress our conviction that, in
this respect at least, scholarship imitates life. Our own sense of the enduring
mystery of the Cuban missile crisis mirrors its profound mysteriousness to
those who precipitated it, coped with it, and somehow extricated themselves
from it. There are paradoxes in here - Escher-esque nesting dolls, for want
of a better metaphor — upon which we reflect further at the end of the
1. See, e.g., Len Scott and Steve Smith, 'Lessons of October: Historians, Political Scientists,
Policy-makers and the Cuban Missile Crisis', International Affairs 70 (Oct. 1994)
pp.659-84. For the purposes of this volume, we presume that the reader is familiar with the
broad outline of events. For a useful detailed chronology (with sources), see Laurence Chang
and Peter Kombluh (eds) The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive
Documents Reader (NY: New Press 1992).
2. For pre-glasnost' Soviet sources, see Ronald R. Pope (ed.) Soviet Views on the Cuban Missile
Crisis: Myth and Reality in Foreign Policy Analysis (Lanham, MD: UP of America 1982).
For post-glasnost' discussion, see Raymond L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile
Crisis, rev. ed. (Washington DC: Brookings 1989); James G. Blight and David A. Welch, On
the Brink: Americans and Soviets Reexamine the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed. (NY:
Noonday 1990); Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight, and David A. Welch (eds) Back to the
Brink: Proceedings of the Moscow Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, January 27-28,
1989 (Lanham, MD: UP of America 1992); David A. Welch, James G. Blight, and Bruce J.
Allyn, 'Essence of Revision: Moscow, Havana, and the Cuban Missile Crisis', in Robert J.
Art and Kenneth N. Waltz (eds) The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics,
4th ed. (ibid. 1993) pp.234-61; and Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, We All Lost
the Cold War (Princeton UP 1994). For the Cuban angle, see Philip Brenner, 'Cuba and the
Missile Crisis', Journal of Latin American Studies 22/1 (Feb. 1990) pp.115-42; and James
G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis,
and the Soviet Collapse (NY: Pantheon 1993).
3. James G. Blight and David A. Welch, 'Risking "The Destruction of Nations": Lessons of the
Cuban Missile Crisis for New and Aspiring Nuclear States', Security Studies 4/4 (Summer
1994) pp.811-50; Scott Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear
Weapons (Princeton UP 1993).
4. Most prominent among these are Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, A Thousand Days: John F.
Kennedy in the White House (NY: Houghton Mifflin 1965); Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy
(NY: Harper & Row 1965); Elie Abel, The Missile Crisis (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1966);
Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of
John F. Kennedy (NY: Doubleday 1967); and Robert F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir
of the Cuban Missile Crisis (NY: Norton 1969).
5. The National Security Archive in Washington DC most actively pushed the declassification
process, and maintains the largest collection of declassified US documents on the crisis. It
and the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
for Scholars, Washington DC, are the premier repositories of primary information.
6. Good examples of detailed studies with important findings that missile crisis scholarship has
yet to assimilate include Joseph F. Bouchard, Command in Crisis: Four Case Studies (NY:
Columbia UP 1991); Sagan, Limits of Safety (note 3); and Gen. Anatoli I. Gribkov and
William Y. Smith, Operation Anadyr: U.S. and Soviet Generals Recount the Cuban Missile
Crisis (Chicago: Edition Q 1994).
7. David A. Welch, 'Intelligence Assessment in the Cuban Missile Crisis', Queen's Quarterly
100/2 (Summer 1993) pp.421-37.
8. The best and most detailed treatment is Dino A. Brugioni, Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside
Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert F. McCort (ed.) (NY: Random House 1991).
9. The Cuban government has released a few documents selectively in order to rebut, clarify,
or amplify interpretations of newly released Soviet documents. None of this information
directly bears on Cuban intelligence.
10. See note 5. For useful compilations, see Mary S. McAuliffe (ed.) CIA Documents on the
Cuban Missile Crisis (Washington DC: Central Intelligence Agency History Staff 1992);
Chang and Kornbluh; The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 (note 1); US Dept of State, Foreign
Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol. X, Cuba, January 1961-September 1962
(Washington DC: GPO 1997); idem, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Vol.
XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath (ibid. 1997).
11. Eric Schmitt, 'C.I.A. Holds Talks on '62 Cuban Crisis', New York Times, 20 Oct. 1992,
p.A4(N); Karl E. Meyer, 'Inside the C.I.A.: A Bit of Sunlight on the Missile Crisis', ibid., 24
Oct. 1992, p.14(N).
12. For overviews of Soviet archival research, see James G. Hershberg, 'Soviet Archives: The
Opening Door', Cold War International History Project Bulletin no.1 (Spring 1992) pp.1,
12-15, 23-7; Mark Kramer, 'Archival Research in Moscow: Progress and Pitfalls', ibid. no.
3 (Fall 1993) pp.1, 18-39; James G. Hershberg, 'New Evidence on the Cuban Missile Crisis:
More Documents from the Russian Archives', ibid. nos. 8-9 (Winter 1996/97) pp.270-343.
13. The first major work to make extensive use of Soviet intelligence documents is Aleksandr
Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, 'One Hell of a Gamble': Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy,
1958-1964 (NY: Norton 1997); see also Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, 'Using
KGB Documents: The Scali-Feklisov Channel in the Cuban Missile Crisis', Cold War
International History Project Bulletin no. 5 (Spring 1995) pp.58, 60-2. The first symposium
to discuss this material was held in conjunction with the preparation of this volume in
Washington DC, 5-7 Sept. 1997, and was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center, the
Cold War International History Project, and the Kennan Institute (see p.10).
14. Raymond Garthoff surveys the relevant literature in his essay, below. Cf. also Klaus Knorr,
'Failures in National Intelligence Estimates: The Case of the Cuban Missiles', World Politics
16/3 (April 1964) pp.455-67; and Roberta Wohlstetter, 'Cuba and Pearl Harbor: Hindsight
and Foresight', Foreign Affairs 43/4 (July 1965) pp.691-707.
15. There are reasons to believe that overly aggressive deterrent signaling might simply have
intensified Khrushchev's risk-taking. See, e.g., Blight, Allyn, and Welch, Cuba on the Brink
(note 2); Lebow and Stein, We All Lost the Cold War (note 2).
16. See the discussion in the essay by Beth Fischer, later in this volume.
17. Raymond Garthoff argues similarly in his essay later in this volume (pp. 21-22).
18. See, e.g., Peter S. Usowski, 'John McCone and the Cuban Missile Crisis: A Persistent
Approach to the Intelligence-Policy Relationship', Int. Jnl of Intelligence and
Counterintelligence 2/4 (Winter 1988) pp.547-76. Others who were convinced that the
Soviet Union would deploy or was deploying strategic nuclear weapons to Cuba included
former Vice President Richard Nixon and Sen. Kenneth Keating (R-NY). Keating's charges
that the Kennedy administration was allowing the Soviet Union to establish a major nuclear
capability in Cuba were a constant irritant to the White House. It remains unclear whether
Keating had any hard information on the Soviet deployment, and, if so, where he obtained it.
See Mark J. White, The Cuban Missile Crisis (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan 1996).
19. As Fischer discusses in her essay later in this volume, the difficulty American officials had
imagining that the Soviets could have defensive motives for their military deployments in
Cuba may help explain oversights of this kind.
20. Brugioni, Eyeball to Eyeball (note 8), p.99.
21. Usowski, 'John McCone and the Cuban Missile Crisis' (note 18).
22. Brugioni, Eyeball to Eyeball (note 8), p. 164; Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision:
Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston, MA: Little, Brown 1971) pp.122-3.
23. The Stennis Report concluded that there was 'no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any
conflict between the CIA and SAC existed or that there was any delay in photographic
coverage of the island because of the fact that the U-2 program was being operated by the
CIA prior to 14 October. Likewise there is no evidence whatsoever of any deadlock between
the two agencies or any conflict or dispute with respect to the question of by whom the flights
should be flown.' Allison, Essence of Decision (note 22), p.307 n.90. See also Brugioni,
Eyeball to Eyeball (note 8), pp. 154-5, 181.
24. Chroniclers of Camelot closest to the president - most notably, Robert F. Kennedy, Theodore
Sorensen, and Arthur Schlesinger - have repeatedly characterized Rusk and Bundy as overly
timid, indecisive, ineffective, and obstacles to crisis management. Rusk appears to have been
the target of deliberate character assassination. 'At first [Rusk] was for a strike; later he was
silent or absent. He had, Robert Kennedy wrote laconically in Thirteen Days, "duties during
this period of time and frequently could not attend our meetings." Privately, Kennedy was
less circumspect. Rusk, he thought in 1965, "had a virtually complete breakdown mentally
and physically".' Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, Robert Kennedy and His Times (NY: Ballantine
1978) pp.546-7. The evidence does not bear this out. Rusk played an active and constructive
role throughout the crisis. See., e.g, David A. Welch and James G. Blight, 'The Eleventh
Hour of the Cuban Missile Crisis: An Introduction to the ExComm Transcripts',
International Security 12/3 (Winter 1987/88) pp.5-29, esp. pp.22-3; and Ernest R. May and
Philip Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 1997) passim.
25. On 8 Sept. 1962, the People's Republic of China shot down a 'Nationalist' U-2 over the
mainland. On 1 May 1960, another SA-2 brought down a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary
Powers over Sverdlovsk, deep inside Soviet territory.
26. See, e.g., Garthoff, in this volume.
27. John Macartney, 'Intelligence: A Consumer's Guide', Int. Jnl. of Intelligence and
Counterintelligence 2/4 (Winter 1988) pp.457-86.
28. Notable exceptions include Klaus Knorr, 'Failures in National Intelligence Estimates: The
Case of the Cuban Missiles', World Politics 16/3 (April 1964) pp.455-67; and Roberta
Wohlstetter, 'Cuba and Pearl Harbor: Hindsight and Foresight', Foreign Affairs 43/4 (July
1965) pp.691-707. While the historiography of American intelligence has been preoccupied
with interesting characters and storylines, it is nevertheless much better than the meager
historiography of Soviet intelligence. Prior to the publication of Fursenko and Naftali's 'One
Hell of a Gamble', the only substantial work on Soviet intelligence and the missile crisis was
Jerrold L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World: How a Soviet
Colonel Changed the Course of the Cold War (NY: Scribner's 1992) - a narrow and
sensationalistic treatment fraught with errors. The historiography of Cuban intelligence
assessment in the missile crisis is non-existent.
29. See, e.g., Raymond L. Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from
Nixon to Reagan, rev. ed. (Washington DC: Brookings 1994); and idem, The Great
Transition: American—Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (ibid. 1994).
30. Raymond L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1st ed. (Washington DC:
Brookings 1987); idem, 'Cuban Missile Crisis: The Soviet Story', Foreign Policy no. 72
(Fall 1988) pp.61-80; idem, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, rev. ed. (Washington
DC: Brookings 1989); idem, 'The Havana Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis', Cold
War International History Project Bulletin no. 1 (Spring 1992) pp.1, 3; idem, 'Some
Observations on Using the Soviet Archives', Diplomatic History 21/2 (Spring 1997)
pp.243-57. See also Detente and Confrontation (note 29), which deals extensively with the
various 'mini-crises' that have complicated US-Soviet-Cuban relations since the Cuban
missile crisis.
31. While he later resurfaced, he did so too late - and in an inappropriate institutional capacity
— to contribute to our study. He has since fallen from grace once again.
32. Amuchastegui provides a more extensive biographical sketch in n. 3 of his essay, below.
33. James J. Wirtz, The Tel Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca NY: Cornell UP 1991);
idem, 'Intelligence to Please? The Order of Battle Controversy During The Vietnam War',
Political Science Quarterly 106/2 (Summer 1991) pp.239-63.
34. Beth A. Fischer, The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War
(Columbia, MO: U. of Missouri Press 1997).
35. The panel was co-sponsored by the intelligence studies section of the ISA and the Canadian
Association of Security Intelligence Studies (CASIS).
36. See note 13, above. Other participants included Wayne S. Smith, political officer in the US
embassy, Havana (until 3 Jan. 1961, when the US broke relations with Cuba), and later
Director of Cuban affairs and special assistant to Adolf Berle, President Kennedy's special
envoy for Latin American affairs; Brian Latell, currently director of the Center for the Study
of Intelligence and a career CIA Latin Americanist specializing in Cuban affairs; Samuel
Halpern, executive assistant to William K. Harvey, director of Operation 'Mongoose'; Gen.
William Y. Smith (USAF, ret.), special assistant to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, 1961-64; Oleg T. Daroussenkov, special assistant to Cuban
Minister of Industries, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, 1961-1962, as well as former staff member
and interpreter in the Soviet embassy in Havana and, later, director of Cuban affairs in the
International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union; Thomas Blanton, National Security Archive, Washington DC; Philip Brenner, School
of International Service, The American University, Washington DC; Malcolm Byrne,
National Security Archive; James G. Hershberg, Department of History, George Washington
University, Washington DC; Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive; janet M. Lang,
Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University; Kathy N. Le, Watson Institute
for International Studies; Richard Ned Lebow, Department of Political Science and the
Mershon Center, the Ohio State University; John Prados, National Security Archive; Wesley
Wark, Department of History, University of Toronto; David Wolff, Cold War International
History Project, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC; and Vladislav Zubok, National
Security Archive.