Photographic Proof: Soviets Had Been Lying

The tale told by the October 14th U-2 photographs: the Soviets had been smuggling strategic missiles into Cuba and lying about it the whole time.

Seventy-sixth Chapter in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Addendum to the 75th Chapter

In the process of photographing Soviet strategic missiles in Cuba on October 14th, Major Heyser flew right over an area defended by a number of operational SA-2 antiaircraft missiles. They never so much as activated their tracking radars. When Heyser was debriefed, he said that the mission was “A piece of cake—a milk run.”

October 15th: “Decoding” the Oct. 14th Film

When they first examined the Oct. 14 film, analysts saw military vehicles and tents but nothing to suggest any new missile-related activity.

The break-through came when analysts identified what Dino Brugioni describes as “six long canvas-covered objects.” After painstakingly ruling out possibilities—those more than 60-feet-long objects were too big to be SA-2 missiles and both too big and the wrong shape for cruise missiles—the analysts turned to several specific questions about the objects:

  • Q: Where precisely were they located? A: In the Santa Rosario Mountains near Los Palacios, south and west of Havana.
  • Q: What were their measurements? A: Between 65 and 70 feet long.
  • Q: What kinds of support equipment were nearby? A: 11 trucks and 15 tents nearby; 28 trucks scattered generally in the area; and ten trucks driving in convoy toward the area.
  • A: When was the most recent photograph taken that showed nothing at that site (the “negation date”)? A: Nothing had ever been photographed there. (See first photograph at head of this chapter.)

Reaching Conclusions

First conclusion: the canvas-covered objects were transporters for a missile system yet to be identified.

Second: using file photographs, the analysts concluded that the Soviet medium range SS-4’s dimensions matched the dimensions of the canvas-covered objects in the film.

The News Starts Traveling up the Chain

At that point, though it was the end of the Monday workday, the analysts called NPIC’s director, Arthur Lundahl, before he could leave for home. When he had finished examining the evidence, Lundahl cross-examined each of the analysts to be sure they agreed unanimously about what the films were revealing.

Lundahl then said, “Gentlemen, I am convinced.” He also told his colleagues that they weren’t going home either. “If there was ever a time I want to be right in my life, this is it.”

Lundahl then called his boss Ray Cline at CIA headquarters.

On the evening of Monday, October 15th, 50 years ago Monday, the news no one in the Kennedy administration wanted to hear started to move up the policy-making chain toward the White House.

Oct. 15th: “A Night of Parties”

In Dino Brugioni’s account of this day, high-level policy-makers were scattered about town at meetings or dinner parties. Gradually, Ray Cline was able to reach them and warn them cryptically, by phone or by message, that what they did not want to hear was true.

When Cline reached White House advisor McGeorge Bundy at home about 9 PM, he told Bundy, “Those things we’ve been worrying about in Cuba are there.”

Assistant Secretary of State Edwin M. Martin had just finished a carefully vetted speech to the Washington Newspaper Correspondents Association. Marin’s central message: the Soviets would never put nuclear missiles in Cuba. In the middle of the Q & A session following his remarks, Martin was summoned to take an important phone call. When he returned, as he recalled, “I had to go back and answer on the basis of my speech, not my telephone call.”

After Walter Elder, Director of Central Intelligence McCone’s executive assistant, was notified, he called McCone in Seattle and told him, “That which you alone said would happen, did.”

JFK is the Last to Hear

Bundy decided not to tell the President until the morning of Tuesday October 16th for four reasons:

  1. Briefing materials would not be ready until the morning of the 16th.
  2. A hastily-called meeting the evening of the 15th which summoned policy-makers from those parties and other events risked alerting many outsiders that something unusual was afoot.
  3. It made little sense to give the President the news the evening of the 15th and then tell him he could do nothing about it until the next morning.
  4. Bundy knew JFK was tired from his campaign trip to upstate New York, a stopover in New York on the way back the evening of the 14th, and his arrival in Washington in the early morning of Monday the 15th.

The Photos Said It All: Soviets Had Been Lying

As of evening on the 15th, there could no longer be any doubt that the Soviets had been lying in their teeth since late August.

Now—what would President Kennedy and his administration do about this potentially disastrous turn of events?

The Photo Reconnaissance Missions of October 15

The news from the October 14th mission was bad enough. On the 17th The White House would receive further bad news produced by two October 15th reconnaissance missions flown over central Cuba:

  • five additional 1,100 nautical mile-range MRBM sites had been identified;
  • the total number of SAM sites was now 23; and, worst of all,
  • equipment associated with the 2,200 nautical mile-range IRBMs had also been identified.


On Monday we’ll begin to follow the decision-making process which the President and his advisors evolved to solve this massive new geopolitical problem that had “just” landed on America’s doorstep.


Email your questions to phufstader@sbcglobal.net or post a comment.

Sources and Notes

The photographs at the head of this chapter come from the Dino A. Brugioni Collection, National Security Archive, Washington, D.C. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/photos.htm 

Dino Brugioni is the go-to authority on photographic intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis generally and on the exploitation of the Oct. 14th film in particular. See his minutely detailed description of this process in his Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of The Cuban Missile Crisis (Robert F. McCort, ed.). New York: Random House, 1991, 193 ff. The “piece of cake-milk run” quote comes from p. 186 of Eyeball.

Ray Cline was the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence.

The two U-2 pictures at the head of this chapter show what the San Cristobal area looked like when photographed by the August 29 mission and what it looked like when photographed on October 15th. According to the National Security Archive, the second picture is the first one showing MRBM activity identified by NPIC analysts on October 15th.

Assistant Secretary of State Martin’s experience is recounted in James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002, 145-6.

Elder’s words are quoted by Michael R. Beschloss on p. 430 of his The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991. Bechsloss cites as his source David Martin’s Wilderness of Mirrors. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1980, pp. 142-3. Martin does not provide any footnotes in Wilderness. As we have seen in this series, since August 10th McCone had repeatedly warned that the presence of SA-2 antiaircraft missiles in Cuba meant that strategic missiles would follow. No one believed him until the 15th.

Bundy’s explanation of why he had not notified the President of the discovery until the morning of the 16th is printed in document 16 in Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath (http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frusXI/01_25.html).

No one in Washington would know this until the evening of the 16th, but two U-2 missions flown on October 15th confirmed the conclusions about the San Cristobal MRBM sites and photographed two sites for intermediate-range missiles (IRBMs) being built near Guanajay in Central Cuba. The IRBM activity was an even more serious discovery. The MRBM SS-4’s range was 1,100 nautical miles. The IRBM SS-5 had a range of 2,200 N.M. That meant once IRBMs were operational in Cuba, they could hit any target in the United States except Seattle, where DCI McCone was attending his stepson’s funeral.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Belle (Orchid Lady) October 12, 2012 at 08:11 PM
This is so similar to our current situation with Iran and Venezuela's Chavez. Not to forget that we are still smiling and hand shaking with Russia while they continue to arm Syria as is Iran.
Peter Hufstader October 12, 2012 at 09:08 PM
It has been ever thus. I think the US-Russian smiles are a bit strained these days, however! Thanks for writing. PH


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