Sixty-second Chapter in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
The Current Situation in Cuba
By the end of September 1962, the U.S. intelligence community and the Kennedy administration could not escape these hard facts:
- There had been no U-2 over-flights of Cuba’s long axis for more than three weeks. Hence, there was no photographic evidence to validate CIA agents’ reports of missiles in Pinar del Rio Province, and there would be none until U-2s were once more permitted to over-fly the area.
- The quick in-out U-2 missions flown on September 26th and 29th photographed many more SAM sites along Cuba’s coast line. Some appeared close to operational.
Inter-agency Intelligence Sharing
The CIA sent the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) copies of its Cuban agents’ reports, including the September 27th report of 20 long trailers west of Havana carrying what the CIA agent thought were missiles. See Chapter 61 in this series: http://napa.patch.com/blog_posts/cia-agents-reports-from-cuba-late-september-1962-77eae62d
DIA Analysis and Decision
At the end of September, these agent reports “could no longer be discounted,” as the CIA’s Dino Brugioni puts it.
The intelligence community re-studied existing photographs and reports, compared them with newly received information, and noticed, in the words of the DIA’s John Hughes, that the pattern of SA-2 antiaircraft missile sites in Pinar del Rio
“formed the outline of a trapezoid.…This deployment pattern was similar to those identified near ballistic-missile launch sites in the Soviet homeland. The stationing of these SA-2s, together with human-source reporting of missiles in western Cuba, strongly suggested that there were offensive Soviet ballistic missiles to be found within the San Cristobal trapezoid.”
On or about the 28th of September, according to a DIA chronology of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the DIA informed the Joint Staff—the personnel working at the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff—of this hypothesis. The vice director of the Joint Staff included the hypothesis and supporting evidence on the agenda for an October 1 meeting of Defense Secretary McNamara and the joint Chiefs.
A Different Take on the “San Cristobal Trapezoid”
Sources often disagree as to precisely what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the case of the “San Cristobal Trapezoid,” Max Holland has a different version of the action kicked off by the CIA “source” report of missiles on trailers.
Citing a retired CIA officer with first-hand knowledge of these events, Holland writes that the CIA had become gun-shy about its U-2 program since the May 1960 shoot-down over Russia. By September 1962, the CIA feared that the Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance (COMOR), the interagency group that recommended U-2 missions to the White House, would summarily reject all its agents’ reports of missiles in Cuba as just more baseless rumors.
So, instead of submitting these Information Reports directly to COMOR, Holland writes, the CIA invited the DIA’s Col. John Wright to a meeting where he was shown a map depicting the now-famous “trapezoid-shaped area” in Pinar del Rio province, where two sources claimed missiles were being installed. The trapezoid was bounded by cities named San Cristobal, San Diego de los Baños, Consolaçion del Norte, and Las Pozas.
The CIA representatives than asked Wright if he, rather than they, would take this information back to DIA and start the process of requesting a U-2 reconnaissance mission as if it was DIA’s idea.
According to Holland’s source, this ploy “got [the CIA] out of the line of fire and let DIA take the lead” in the bitter infighting between policy-makers that followed over whether to restart U-2 missions over Cuba’s interior—where they were badly needed.
Whom to Believe? DIA or CIA?
Until we can find documentary evidence of exactly what happened, we must record each version and suspend judgment.
Another Warning from Cuba
On Sunday, September 23, 1962, the New York Times reported briefly on p. 85 that Blas Roca, one of Castro’s aides, had warned that if Americans invaded Cuba, “missiles will start functioning,” even if the aggression was “indirect.”
Official Washington almost certainly brushed aside this latest direct warning of missiles in Cuba as just more chest-beating from Castro’s Cuba.
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Sources and Notes
The existence of of DIA’s chronology of the Cuban Missile Crisis comes from document 436 in Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X, Cuba (http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frusX/421_443.html).
In 1962 John Hughes, a civilian, was special assistant to Lt. Gen. Carroll, head of DIA. His words are quoted from John Hughes with A. Dennis Clift. “Cuban Missile Crisis: The San Cristobal Trapezoid.” Washington, DC: CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, May, 2008, p. 5. (I have only an MS Word copy of the original website document.)
Max Holland’s account of these events appears in his “The ‘Photo Gap’ that Delayed Discovery of Missiles.” Central Intelligence Agency, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 94, No. 4, first posted on the CIA’s website “Center for the Study of Intelligence” in April 2007.
In February 1963 Lieutenant General Joseph Carroll, head of DIA, testified before a House subcommittee that the September 27th confirmed earlier reports and was considered reliable enough to justify the actions described above. Carroll’s testimony can be read in House of Representatives. Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations on Department of Defense Appropriations for 1964. Washington, D.C.: 1963. His reference to the CIA Information Report of September 27th appears on p. 64 of this transcript.
Dino Brugioni essentially agrees with Holland, or vice versa since Brugioni published before Holland. See pp. 164-5 in Brugioni’s Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of The Cuban Missile Crisis (Robert F. McCort, ed.). New York: Random House, 1991.
The Times article quoting Blas Roca, “one of Cuba’s top Communist leaders,” was an AP release datelined Key West, Sept. 22: “Cuban Red Says Invasion Will Set Missiles Flying.”