CIA and Cuban Missile Crisis

It is surprising that such a small Island off the East coast was the point of contention between the U.S. And other nations ever since the U.S. gained independence. There were many crises involving Cuba. According to David L. Larson, the issue was largely connected with the e hegemony of the U.S. In the Western Hemisphere. It later resulted in the “Monroe Doctrine.” The United States had crises with Spain over Cuba in the nineteenth century — then popular as the “Cuban Question.” Thus Larson observes that the Crisis” of 1962 is but yet another crisis that involved the United States and Cuba. The issue was rife from the time of George Washington down to the times of John Kennedy in 1962. It all began with the dissolution of the Spanish empire – the “Monroe Doctrine.” And second the “Manifest Destiny.” A third the “Ostend Manifesto” of 1854. Lastly Teddy Roosevelt’s 1911: “I took Panama.” statement thus Larson shows that the contention over Cuba was long and protracted and the relation with Cuba was prominent in the U.S. state policy. (Larson, 3)

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Nuclear Possibilities

The 1962 crisis however was not just another “contention” but a crisis that could have annihilated the Earth, because it was a crisis perpetrated by the two great super powers of the time, The U.S., The U.S.S.R., and Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba. The issue of the assembly and deployment in Cuba of nuclear missiles of USSR was the one wherein the Cuban dictator welcomed with delight. It was not remotely pleasant for the U.S. administration to know that their court yard will hold deadly weapons and could be used by the unrelenting opponents at Moscow to bring down the administration of the U.S. To its knees if it so chose. That was not to be allowed. The CIA, America’s chief intelligence agency played a key role in the e detection of the missile deployment and the place of deployment has recently declassified their notes. The CIA declares that “the Cuban Missile Crisis began on Oct. 16, 1962. On that day, President John F. Kennedy was informed that a U-2 mission flown over western Cuba two days before had taken photographs of Soviet nuclear missile sites.” (A Look Back … Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis)

As far as the agency is concerned, it claims that the event marks a great milestone in the technical and tactical growth of the CIA and allied agencies. The Soviets started supply of conventional arms to Cuba in 1960. The CIA got informed that there was a move to deploy nuclear missile in Cuba. The informants were mostly Cuban emigre community in Miami. Their information was not acted upon as it was believed by the authorities that the community was propagating this scare to get the U.S. act on Cuba. In 1962, Nikita Khrushchev the Soviet Supreme cleared the idea of making Cuba a nuclear base, and in the same year the shipments of arms intensified. (A Look Back … Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis)

Without the activity being leaked out, the Soviets also managed to ship and assemble the first Soviet ‘Medium Range Ballistic Missiles — MRBMs’ around Sept. 15, 1962. In this period the authorities of the National Security Council’s Special Group allowed for U-2 flights based on HUMINT reports of the Soviet activities in western Cuba. (A Look Back … Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis) Though the crisis was related to the alleged deployment, the results depended on the Kremlin and the President of the U.S., and a false step or a panic reaction by either of the powers could have resulted in a terrible nuclear war. Therefore the Cuba crisis of 1962 was more lethal and grave not only to the U.S. But to the whole world as well.

2. The Cuban Crisis: Khrushchev and Kennedy

The political situation at the time when Fidel Castro was enthusiastic over the arms supply could be termed as explosive. There was a pressing need to defend the island from the attack by the U.S. This was made necessary over the failed ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in 1961. The insecurity that Castro felt and fear of a second such attack prompted the Cuban leader to negotiate a Soviet presence that would deter the U.S. from contemplating another attack in the likes of the Bay of Pigs invasion. A second attack was inevitable. Consequently, Castro and Khrushchev worked out the strategy of having missiles in Cuba which was then carried forward on a war footing. In 1962 the Soviet Union thus embarked on secretly creating the missile installations in Cuba.

The frenzied activity did not go unnoticed by the U.S. authorities. According to the CIA, the then Deputy Director for Intelligence, Ray Cline, informed of this activity to McGeorge Bundy, the ‘National Security Adviser’ to the President. The President of the United States Kennedy was informed of the developments. According to the CIA, the information of the Soviet action was passed on to the agency by a double agent, serving Soviet military intelligence officer, Oleg Penkovsky. Based on this information the e ExComm recommended a ‘quarantine’ of the navy on military shipments of USSR to Cuba. This implementation was monitored by the IC and the strategy succeeded by February 1963, when it was known to the IC that the Soviets have removed strategic weapons and its army from Cuba dismantling the missile installations. (A Look Back … Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis) As the affair ended, the only disgruntled sides were the Cubans and Fidel Castro.

The Event and Aftermath: Postmortem

The decades that passed and the U.S.S.R. collapse has created many different results and comparisons. There are may what — if scenarios that came through time ever since the Cuban crisis took place. At the time most information was classified. Some researchers have found conflicting views over the affair. For example it was later analyzed by Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein as to the motives and what took place in the mind of the Soviet leaders. They contend that Khrushchev had a definite motive sending missiles to Cuba that precipitated the “Caribbean crisis.” (Lebow; Stein, 51) They affirm that the missile deployment was conceived by the former Soviet leader to satisfy two foreign-policy needs. One was that Khrushchev wanted to establish a superiority and upper hand over the Americans which would strengthen his position at home. This could have been because by the period Khrushchev was in difficulty over the failure of some important internal programs. An accommodation outside would thus strengthen Khrushchev’s position. (Lebow; Stein, 51)

Richard Ned argues that Khrushchev had to respond to domestic problems and to divert the attention, if a missile base was established near the U.S.; it would bring in a volatility that would create an emergency state which could then help the Soviets cover their domestic problems. What they were blind to was the American interests and signals. On the other hand John F. Kennedy exploited his offensive and invasion of Cuba. Kennedy’s blockade and threat of direct military action made him more popular at home and gave the impetus to the U.S. intelligence and systems. The Cuban incident was thus a triumph for the U.S. (Lebow; Stein, 67) Khrushchev gained ground when the Americans agreed to remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey in return for the removal of missiles from Cuba. That begs the question if the whole maneuver was to get the Jupiter missiles off turkey. That angle will be known only when we could analyze the importance that the Soviets had for turkey and how far the Jupiter missiles were a threat. The next examination of the Cuban crisis in retrospect occurs as we consider the summer of 1973, the when the “water gate’ scandal got to be televised. (Stern, 5)

And it was then that the audio recordings of presidential meetings and telephone in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis were also aired. The crisis was also made into a film in 1974: “Missiles of October,” which made Kennedy the young American President up against the nuclear blackmail by the Soviet Union. In 1962, however the events were otherwise. Ambassador Dobrynin delivered a letter from Khrushchev to Robert Kennedy on October 29 according to Robert Sheldon M. Stern which was far from black mail. It identified the conditions and accords that were reached by the two sides and the Soviet Union agreed to remove all the weapons that the U.S. “describe as offensive;” and agreed to an on-site verification by U.N. inspectors. A reciprocal agreement from the U.S. with a pledge not to ever invade Cuba and American commitment to remove the Jupiters from Turkey was the result. The question then was if the whole exercise was done to please Fidel Castro? Or was it to gain something in Turkey with the removal of the Jupiter missiles? Or as was contended earlier? (Stern, 27)

Jutta Weldes says that in the Cuban missile crisis the internal system becomes cohesive if an external threat could be shown and this is what precisely the soviets wanted. A host of threatening meanings came to be associated with the missiles in America. The American side perceived that avoiding the missiles is considered to be the only probable alternative. (Weldes, 41) The fall out of the incident according to Raymond L. Garthoff was that the Soviet Union was miffed and would never attempt another arms race, especially in Cuba. Likewise it kept the United States from invading Cuba. The settlement was thus effective for both the blocks. Only in 1970 did the public become aware of the tacit understanding between both sides. There was no public statement from the U.S. never to invade Cuba. The risks of a direct confrontation during the cold war was enormous and the consequences unthinkable. The Cuban missile crisis was one event that brought out the threat and drove home the necessity of keeping off show downs to both sides. The event according to Richard Ned Lebow laid bare the Soviet wish that the U.S. will not discover the missiles until they became operational and the U.S. will not risk war to remove it. The Intelligence agencies of the U.S. got a boost in the episode and disillusioned the Soviets off their wishful thinking. At the helm of the crisis both Kennedy and Khrushchev made considerable effort in preventing the local fallout of the concessions. (Garthoff, 6)

Missiles, Cigars, Castro and the Soviets

There is the theory on the role of Fidel Castro in the affair. According to Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, the envoy to the U.S., Mikoyan was placed in a hot seat. Fro one thing Fidel Castro had been reluctant to allow the Soviets to install the missiles for the defense of Cuba. When the attempt bombed the Soviet envoy had the unpleasant task of explaining the accord with the Americans to the Cuban leader in a “highly volatile state,” not only the removal of the missiles, but the need to allow UN inspectors to visit the dismantled rocket sites in Cuba. That was infringing on the sovereignty of Cuba. Raul Castro had told the Kremlin that Cuba could not accept a settlement involving on-site inspections. The gainer and loser was Cuba in the end. It gained peaceful existence without the threat of a U.S. invasion, and it also was humbled and made to learn that the soviets could if needed enter agreements that involved them without their consent or territorial considerations. Though Cuba continued to have relations with the Soviets, there was a question mark at the end of every negotiation that pointed to the Missile fiasco. (Fursenko; Naftali, 166)


Cuba was a bone of contention ever since U.S. attained independence, formerly with Spain and later with the communist government in Cuba and lastly with the U.S.S.R. The earlier problems with Cuban territory of whether it is with Spain or other powers were a matter of diplomacy and politics, a means of keeping things under control and keeping the international balance of power. When Castro came to power, the portal for a cold war was opened at the very doorstep of the U.S. First the Dictator was sought to be ousted with the invasion called the Bay of Pigs affair which ended in a fiasco. The attack on Cuba by the U.S. forces prompted Castro to seek external help in protecting his country. We could argue that the Cuban leader’s insecurity over invasions, coupled with the shared ideology drove him to the arms of the Soviets. That was natural and in keeping with the then prevalent atmosphere. On the other hand Cuba was perceived by the Soviets as a means to gain a foothold near the U.S., and secondly also to ward of internal pressures by creating a crisis. In the event of a war, the Russians could at any time abandon Cuba if worst came to worst. In a way it was a brilliant strategy. If the nuclear missiles were in place and then the U.S. woke up to the fact, it could do very little to dislodge it.

A war with Cuba also signified a nuclear catastrophe. The rogue commander does not stick by protocol. He may have bypassed the Soviet instructions and used the missiles. Secondly the Soviets could always negotiate with the Americans over other contentions. In this case since the Americans found the deployment before it could become effective the U.S.S.R. had to negotiate the removal of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Why that made a difference is not yet clear. Cuba got respite from the U.S. threat. The one scenario, had both sides been adamant to the issue and kept their sides, and the Cuban commander having a way would have been terrible. If Kennedy did not allow the concessions and if the Soviet leader did not come to a tacit understanding many possibilities were there to involve the Soviet and U.S. direct confrontation. That would have been disastrous. Or even if that was avoided the missiles would have been still in Cuba and a persistent gnawing worry for the Americans.


CIA. A Look Back … Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2008.


Fursenko, Aleksandr; Naftali, Timothy. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro,

and Kennedy, 1958-1964 W.W. Norton: New York. 1997.

Garthoff, Raymond L. Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Brookings

Institution. Washington, DC. 1989.

Larson, David L. The Cuban Crisis of 1962: Selected Documents and Chronology.

Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 1963.

Lebow, Richard Ned; Stein, Janice Gross. We All Lost the Cold War. Princeton

University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1994.

Stern, Sheldon M. The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile

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Weldes, Jutta. Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban

Missile Crisis. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis. 1999.