Havana, Cuba, 11 October 2002, 5 p.m. - During the second
session of the historic 40th anniversary conference on the Cuban
missile crisis, participants including Cuban president Fidel Castro
and former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara discussed newly
declassified documents showing that events were spinning out of
control at the height of the crisis, with the danger of an accidental
or deliberate nuclear exchange even greater than policymakers
believed at the time. US intelligence
never located the nuclear warheads for the Soviet missiles in
Cuba during the crisis, and only 33 of what photography later
showed was a total of 42 medium-range ballistic missiles.
On the most dangerous day of the crisis, Saturday, 27 October
from the Joint Chiefs detail a crescendo of alarming news,
ranging from a U-2 spy plane straying into Soviet airspace (1341
hrs.), a U-2 missing and then determined shot down over Cuba (1403),
the Joint Chiefs' recommendation (1600) to the President for the
air strike and invasion plan starting no later than Monday, low-level
reconnaissance pilots reporting anti-aircraft fire from the ground
in Cuba (1800), the President commenting to his top advisers that
"time is running out" (1830), and a briefing on the
latest photography showing "the missiles are on the launchers"
in Cuba (1940). Within five minutes of this briefing, the
President's brother was meeting with Soviet ambassador Dobrynin
to tell him "time is of the essence and we shouldn't miss
the chance," reiterating the President's pledge not to invade
Cuba and assuring Dobrynin the US missiles would come out of Turkey
in 4-5 months as long as nothing was said publicly about it.
In the middle of this sequence of escalating tensions, according
to new documents released today, the US Navy was dropping a series
of "signaling depth charges" (equivalent to hand grenades)
on a Soviet submarine at the quarantine line. Navy
deck logs show the depth charges at 1659 and 1729 military
time. At the conference table in Havana were the US Navy watch
officer, Captain John Peterson, who ordered the depth charges
as part of standard operating procedure for signaling submarines,
and the Soviet signals intelligence officer, Vadim
Orlov, on the receiving end inside submarine B-59, where
the depth charges felt like "sledgehammers on a metal barrel."
Unbeknownst to the Navy, the submarine carried a nuclear-tipped
torpedo with orders that allowed its use if the submarine was
"hulled" (hole in the hull from depth charges or surface
Further evidence of the escalating danger came from a series
of military documents declassified by the Cuban government. In
an October 24th
meeting with his commanders, Fidel Castro remarked that
they needed to resume fumigation flights because the danger from
lack of fumigation (ie. malaria) was at that point even greater
than the danger of invasion. By October 27, however, commander
in chief Castro
had ordered his anti-aircraft gunners to fire on US reconnaissance
planes and fully expected an all-out US air strike and
invasion within 24 to 72 hours.
The conference is meeting at the Palacio de Convenciones
in Havana, Cuba. Most participants are housed at the Hotel Palco
next door. Phone: 011-53-7-337235. Fax: 011-53-7-337236. The conference
room itself is closed to the press but the organizers are holding
daily press briefings each afternoon summarizing the discussion
and releasing key documents addressed that day.
The National Security Archive co-organized with Cuban institutions
the highly successful 40th anniversary Bay of Pigs conference
last year in Havana; this year, the Archive is also working in
partnership with Brown University's Watson Institute. Peter Kornbluh
directs the Archive's Cuba project.
Documents highlighted in this afternoon's session include:
Chronology Compiled for The President's
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), "Chronology
of Specific Events Relating to the Military Buildup in Cuba,"
SECRET, “Notes taken from Transcripts of Meetings of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, October-November 1962: Dealing with the Cuban
TOP SECRET, “Memorandum for the Secretary of State from the Attorney
General,” on Robert Kennedy’s October 27 Meeting with Dobrynin,
October 30, 1962.
USSR, Cable, TOP SECRET,
Dobrynin Report of Meeting with Robert Kennedy on Worsening Threat,
October 27, 1962.
U.S. Navy, TOP SECRET/SECRET/FOR OFFICIAL
USE ONLY, Charts/deck logs of anti-submarine warfare operations
related to USSR submarine B-59, October 1962.
USSR, Memoir, “Recollections
of Vadim Orlov (USSR Submarine B-59): We will Sink Them All, But
We will Not Disgrace Our Navy,” (2002).
contenidos en los informes ofrecidos por los jefes militares reunidos
el día 24 de octubre de 1962 en el Estado Mayor General
con el Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.
USSR, draft directive,
Directive to the Commander of Soviet Forces in Cuba on transfer
of Il-28s and Luna Missiles, and Authority on Use of Tactical
Nuclear Weapons, September 8, 1962.
USSR, directive, TOP
SECRET, Malinovsky’s Order to Pliyev, October 22, 1962.
Directive, TOP SECRET, Prohibition on Use of Nuclear Weapons without
Orders from Moscow, October 27, 1962, 16:30.
TOP SECRET, CC CPSU Presidium Instructions to Pliyev in Response
to His Telegram, October 27, 1962.