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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): The Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited: An International Collection of Documents, From the Bay of Pigs to the Brink of Nuclear War

About this Collection

The Cuban missile crisis has been called a time when the world stared down "the gun barrel of nuclear war. " More than forty-five years after the events that brought the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union into near-catastrophic conflict, the crisis remains the most important episode in the complex and contentious history of the Cold War. In an age when weapons of mass destruction continue to generate fear and warfare, the history of the missile crisis, when such weapons were armed and aimed, remains among the most compelling international events for study by scholars and students.

This collection is a unique contribution to that history. Published here for the first time is a multinational set of records—declassified documentation from the United States, the Soviet Union, Cuba and other key countries—covering events leading up to and through the missile crisis in 1962. Consisting of 1,463 documents providing details that have reshaped our understanding of history, the collection covers the CIA-led invasion at the Bay of Pigs, covert operations leading up to the Soviet installation of intermediate range weapons in Cuba, the crisis itself as it played out in Washington, Moscow and Havana, the negotiations to end the crisis—between the U.S. and the Soviets, and between the Soviets and Fidel Castro—and international relations between these key actors in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal of its nuclear weapons. Beyond formerly top-secret records from the three main participants, the collection includes illuminating documents culled from the secret archives of other countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, Hungary and other nations that played a role in this unparalleled history.

Research Value of this Collection

This compilation of documents contains some extraordinary new documentation on the Cuban missile crisis that will enhance historical research for years to come. Recently released Russian records will shed light on the decision making of the Soviet Politburo, on previously unknown military deployments of tactical nuclear weapons, and on the type and tenor of communications with Fidel Castro. Cuban documentation will provide historians with a better understanding of Castro's independence during and after the crisis, as well as on the capabilities of Cuban intelligence to track and counter the covert efforts of the Kennedy administration to roll back the Cuban revolution. The U.S. documents in this collection provide new insight into what went wrong at the Bay of Pigs, the decision making process of Kennedy's Executive Committee, strategic planning of the U.S. military, and previously unidentified confrontations with Soviet forces.

Beyond hundreds of individual records included in the set, the collection is noteworthy for a number of special documents on the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis, including after action reports, commission investigations, intelligence chronologies, and key transcripts. Among the documents that stand out are:

  • The Inspector General's Survey of the Cuban Situation, a comprehensive after action investigation on the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick, with an attached rebuttal by the architect of the operation, Richard Bissell.
  • The Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, “Evolution of CIA’s Anti-Castro Policies, 1959-January 1961,” written by CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer, which offers the most comprehensive detail of White House decision making and the CIA planning process that led to the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • The Final Report of General Maxwell Taylor’s Board of Inquiry on Cuban Operations Conducted by the CIA, known as the Taylor Commission Report.
  • The “Record of Paramilitary Action Against the Castro Government of Cuba, 17 March 1960-May 1961,” a secret Clandestine Services History written by Marine Col. Jack Hawkins who coordinated the paramilitary components of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
  • The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board’s “Chronology of Specific Events Relating to the Military Buildup in Cuba,” a top secret compilation of intelligence gathering and dissemination prior to and during the missile crisis.
  • The “Notes Taken from Transcripts of Meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, October-November 1962, Dealing with the Missile Crisis,” which offers a comprehensive record of JCS deliberations during the actual days of the crisis.
  • Records from the Dmitrii Volkogonov Collection at the Library of Congress recording Soviet submarine operations during the missile crisis.
  • The Malin notes on the Politburo meetings that took place in Moscow during the crisis.
  • The military “convenios” (agreements) between Cuba and the USSR.
  • Minutes of Meetings between Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan and Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other Cuban officials during the first week of November 1962, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.
  • These documents and many others will prove useful to researchers seeking to explore new aspects and details of this history. The collection contains revelatory information on almost all aspects of the history of U.S.-Cuban relations in the early 1960s, U.S.-USSR relations, Soviet-Cuban relations, CIA covert operations, and the actual progression of events during the missile crisis itself. Several revelations, however, are worth noting

Among the documents are Soviet communications and U.S. naval “deck log books” that record a conflict at sea that has not been fully documented before. During the crisis, U.S. destroyers dropped depth charges on Soviet submarines that had been detected escorting Soviet ships toward Cuba. It was not previously known publicly, and not known to U.S. authorities at the time, that those submarines carried nuclear tipped torpedoes and that commanders on board had authority to fire them if their ship was crippled. Both the new documents, and testimony by U.S. and Soviet officers who were involved in this naval operation, reveal how dangerous this relatively unexamined component of the missile crisis became.

The Soviet and Cuban documentation obtained for this collection also reveals the existence of far more tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba than had been previously understood. Records on Soviet deployment plans for Cuba contained evidence that as many as 100 “FKR’s”—tactical cruise missiles with nuclear warheads—had been dispatched along with the Soviet military battalions. None of these weapons was detected by U.S. intelligence prior to, or during, the crisis. If the United States had invaded Cuba and combat had broken out between U.S. and Soviet ground forces, these weapons conceivably would have been deployed.

Documentation on Cuban-Soviet communications following the crisis also suggests that Moscow’s original intent was to leave these weapons systems behind, and eventually turn them over to Cuban forces. The harsh disagreements between Castro and Soviet officials in the aftermath of Khrushchev’s deal with Kennedy to withdraw the IRBM’s from Cuban soil resulted in a reconsideration of this plan and a decision to withdraw these cruise missiles as well.

Notes on the Communist Party Politburo meetings, taken by Vladimir Malin, offer a comprehensive perspective on the dialogue, debate and decisions by the Soviet leadership, as do the cables of instructions sent to Soviet commanders in Cuba. Transcripts of meetings between Khrushchev’s emissary to Havana, Anastas Mikoyan, coupled with Cuban records of the same meetings provide a far greater understanding of the distinctions between Cuba’s policies and perspectives on the missile crisis and those of the Soviet leadership. The documents reflect Cuba’s role as an independent actor—a variable in these events not well understood by historians.

From the Bay of Pigs to the actual missile crisis, the documents also contain far more detail on U.S. government policy and strategic planning in its overt and covert operations toward Cuba. At the same time, new documentation uncovered by George Washington University historian James Hershberg reveals, for the first time, the effort by the Kennedy White House to actually communicate with Castro secretly during the missile crisis, using Brazil as an intermediary. This overture is another indication of the effort by President Kennedy to explore every avenue to resolving the crisis short of a nuclear exchange.

Taken together, the 1,463 documents in this collection offer a virtual week-by-week account of major events leading up to the missile crisis. In the wake of the discovery of the secret missile deployment on October 15, 1962, however, researchers will find a virtual minute-by-minute account of events that took place during the crisis—in the United States, in the Soviet Union, and on the island of Cuba.