Cuban Missile Crisis

TOP SECRET BRIEFING A SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: In this image we see a U-2 spy place photograph of Soviet offensive nuclear missile sites in Cuba. The picture, taken from about 70,000 feet above the island of Cuba, leaves no doubt that the Soviets are placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. Transporters, erectors, and possible missiles under cover are clearly labeled. The site in the top right-hand corner of the photograph is identified as an MRBM site. An MRBM is a medium range ballistic missile with a range of 2,200 miles.



There was a general agreement among Kennedy's top advisors that the missiles in Cuba represented a grave threat. In the early days of the crisis, one of Kennedy's advisors, General Shoup, said, "You are in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President." To which Kennedy replied, "You are in it with me." Only Secretary Robert McNamara argued that the missiles in Cuba only amounted to redressing the imbalance represented by U.S. missiles in Turkey. And he soon changed his mind.

The president and his advisors recognized that the missiles in Cuba radically altered the balance of power in the nuclear arms race. In October 1962 the United States held clear nuclear superiority to the Soviets. The United States had 140 ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) aimed at the Soviet Union. The Soviets had only 40 ICBMs pointed at the United States. The placement of missiles in Cuba addressed the imbalance by making short-range nuclear missiles -- intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 1,000 miles and MRBMs with a range of 2,200 miles -- a serious threat. The Soviets could pack the island with missilies that could strike at the United States with only a few minutes' warning. Kennedy and his advisors were also concerned that the president would appear weak to the Soviets and thus encourage continued acts of aggression. If the missiles were allowed to remain in Cuba, the Soviets might very well try to push the United States out of Berlin or throw its weight around in other Latin American countries.

Kennedy's advisors considered a number of responses to the Soviet threat. Everything from negotiation, surgical air-strikes, and an invasion were considered. As the crisis developed, U-2 spy planes flew continuous missions over Cuba to provide hour-by-hour intelligence to the president and his team of closest advisors. This team of advisors came to be known as ExCom. As intelligence poured in, this small group of men needed to make a quick decision about which response to pursue.

Continuous U-2 flights over the island revealed the real scope of Soviet ambitions. Four major missile installations were sighted. They were protected by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), Soviet "technicians," and Cuban troops numbering in the thousands.