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Artifacts Commemorate CIA's Role in Cuban Missile Crisis

October marks the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a landmark Cold War confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union and Cuba.  The CIA’s Museum holds several artifacts that provide a glimpse into this milestone in Agency history.

The Context of the Crisis

On October 14, 1962, a U2 reconnaissance plane photographed Soviet nuclear-capable, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) bases in Cuba—fewer than 100 miles from the US shore. When President John F. Kennedy learned about this, he quarantined all Soviet ships carrying military equipment to Cuba and demanded the removal of MRBM bases from the island. The Soviets refused, claiming that the missiles posed no threat to the US.

The confrontation grew increasingly tense for the next 13 days as the superpowers inched toward nuclear conflict. During this time, the CIA provided President Kennedy with intelligence that allowed him to assess the threat and negotiate with the Soviets. On October 28, 1962, the Soviets complied with Kennedy’s demands.

The cover of the briefing book, bearing Caroline Kennedy's crayon marks.
The cover of the briefing book, bearing Caroline Kennedy's crayon marks.
CIA’s Timely Presidential Intelligence Briefings

CIA provided President Kennedy with intelligence and analysis throughout the crisis, including timely interpretation of aerial reconnaissance photographs that informed him about the missile sites. The images contained remarkably clear visuals from low-flying Navy “Blue Moon” Missions over Cuba on October 23, 25, and 29, as well as select U-2 images.

The cover of one briefing book is pictured here. This artifact is nicknamed “Caroline’s Coloring Book” because the President’s four-year-old daughter used a crayon to color over red markings on the back of the binder while imagery analysts briefed her father on the highly classified pictures inside.

President Kennedy's letter of commendation to DCI McCone.
President Kennedy's letter of commendation to DCI McCone.
Value of Intelligence to Kennedy

President Kennedy expressed his appreciation for the Intelligence Community’s work in this letter of commendation to Director of Central Intelligence John McCone.  The letter is addressed to him in his role as the Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Board.

Kennedy’s words were a fitting tribute to McCone and to the men and women of the Intelligence Community who supplied the President with intelligence as he faced the Soviet threat. Kennedy wrote, “ The magnitude of their contribution can be measured, in part, by the fact that the peace was sustained during a most critical time.” This letter was declassified in 1980.

To learn more about this chapter of the CIA’s history, read CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 [PDF 22 MB].

Historical Document
Posted: Oct 25, 2012 08:32 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 01:03 PM