Declassified CIA briefings Shed New Light On Cuban Missile Crisis

By R. Brownell

The Miami Herald recently reported on newly unclassified CIA documents regarding the briefings President John F. Kennedy received leading up to the tense Cuban Missile Crisis. The unreleased documents have shed new information on one of the most difficult and stressful times in US history. Some of the information the Herald discussed included insights on the strange bedside fellows, the USSR and Castro’s Cuba:

…as Cuba and the Soviet Union were already rolling down the road toward a nuclear confrontation with the United States, the CIA kept reading all the road signs backwards. On July 19, the agency assured Kennedy that the Soviets had just inflicted a lethal snub on Fidel’s brother Raúl, the head of the Cuban military.

“Raúl Castro is back in Havana after two weeks in Moscow, where we believe he was seeking more and better military equipment,” the agency reported. “The red carpet was out for him when he arrived in Moscow, but he left unheralded, a pretty good sign that the visit was unproductive.” Actually, Raúl was just working out the final logistical details of the delivery of the missiles, which would begin the next month.

There’s a very serious lesson tucked away inside all these intelligence pratfalls, said NYU historian Naftali: “It’s hard to get good spies.”

“We have this idea that the CIA is omniscient, all-knowing, all-seeing and ever-present,” he said. “It’s because we all lived through all these investigations in the 1970s and all the revelations of secret assassination weapons and bugged martini glasses and plot and subplots. The reality is, there have always been serious limits.

“It’s hard to get information about what people are thinking and doing. What the CIA is really good at is counting things from airplanes and satellites. It’s a lot harder to get inside people’s heads.”

Some of the other newly released information includes the original details for how the CIA planned the Bay of Pigs operation, along with further details on the USSR’s tense relationship with Fidel Castro.

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