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the more nervous Azzole became. It read:


1. A NUCLEAR ATTACK HAS BEEN LAUNCHED AGAINST
THE EAST COAST OF THE UNITED STATES ...


After a few agonizing seconds, Azzole realized that the message was a
practice drill.
At the White House, President Kennedy was deeply troubled over the
possibility of nuclear retaliation against the United States if there was a
strike against Cuba. A Pentagon official told him that the area covered by
the 1,100-mile-range Soviet missiles involved 92 million people. Fallout
shelters were available, though not equipped, for about 40 million. When
Kennedy asked what emergency steps could be taken, the official was
less than encouraging. Shelter signs could be put up and food could be
repositioned. But McCone concluded that whatever was done would
involve a great deal of publicity and public alarm.
Throughout the day, NSA listening posts on both sides of the Atlantic
focused on about a dozen Soviet ships en route to Cuba and suspected of
transporting missiles or associated equipment. Inside a listening post
hidden in a snake-infested swamp in the town of Northwest, Virginia; a
chilly cove in Winter Harbor, Maine; an airfield near Miami, Florida; a
rolling field in Edzell, Scotland; and other locations, intercept operators
triangulated every signal sent from the ships. Among those was the


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Urgench, which at 3:10 P.M. was about five hundred miles from
Gibraltar, sailing west toward Cuba.
But when the Urgench was next plotted, at midnight, it had reversed
course and was sailing back toward the Straits of Gibraltar. Immediately,
the NSA Command Center flashed word of the possible retreat to the CIA
Watch Office. Harry Eisenbeiss, the watch officer, checked with the Office
of Naval Intelligence, which had also received NSA's report, but ONI
could not confirm the change of course and thought it might be a Soviet
ploy.
In the meantime, the network of listening posts had spotted other
ships also making 180-degree turns. The Bol'shevik Sukhanov, which
was carrying seven large crates on its deck, suspected to contain aircraft,
"has altered course and is probably en route back to port," said another
intercept report. Still another followed: "HFDF [high-frequency direction
finding] fix on the Soviet cargo ship Kislovodsk, en route to Cuba,
indicates that the ship has altered course to the North."
At 10:38 A.M. on Wednesday, October 24, with the Urgench
continuing its retreat, another message was flashed to NSA
headquarters. A copy was quickly forwarded to CIA, which in turn
passed the message to the White House. An aide walked into the
Executive Committee meeting and passed the note to McCone, who
smiled broadly and made the announcement: "Mr. President, we have a
preliminary report which seems to indicate that some of the Russian
ships have stopped dead in the water." Kennedy was surprised. "Stopped
dead in the water? Which ships? Are they checking the accuracy of the
report? Is it true?" The NSA report convinced McCone. "The report is
accurate, Mr. President. Six ships previously on their way to Cuba at the
edge of the quarantine line have stopped or have turned back toward the
Soviet Union."
President Kennedy ordered that "no ships ... be stopped or
intercepted" for at least another hour, while additional information was
obtained. "If the ships have orders to turn around, we want to give them
every opportunity to do so. ... Give the Russian vessels an opportunity to
turn back. We must move quickly because the time [before the United
States must act] is expiring."
Although some ships were still heading toward the barricades, the
good news from NSA spread fast. National Security Adviser McGeorge
Bundy telephoned Under Secretary of State George Ball. "Have you got
the word on what is happening at sea?" Bundy asked. Ball had not. "The
six most interesting ships have turned back. Two others are turning. We
are starting over here in a thinking session as to what might be done,
which will be going on all afternoon. If you want to come, it would be
helpful to have you. . . . Will you alert anyone else you wish to alert?" "I'll



99
be over," said Ball.
The next day, Thursday, October 25, Kennedy aide Arthur
Schlesinger, Jr., met with Under Secretary of State Averell Harriman to
discuss the latest developments. "Khrushchev," said Harriman, "is
sending us desperate signals to get us to help take him off the hook. He
is sending messages exactly as he did to Eisenhower directly after the
U-2 affair. Eisenhower ignored these messages to his cost. We must not
repeat Eisenhower's mistake." Among the key signals, Harriman told
Schlesinger, was "the instructions to the Soviet ships to change their
course."
Harriman continued: "In view of these signals from Khrushchev, the
worst mistake we can possibly make is to get tougher and to escalate.
Khrushchev is pleading with us to help him find a way out. . . . We
cannot afford to lose any time. Incidents”stopping of ships, etc.”will
begin the process of escalation, engage Soviet prestige and reduce the
chances of a peaceful resolution. If we act shrewdly and speedily, we can
bail Khrushchev out and discredit the tough guys around him”the ones
who sold him the Cuban adventure on the theory that Americans were
too liberal to fight."
When the offensive missiles had been discovered, the formal approval
process for U-2 missions was ended. Now the Strategic Air Command
had blanket approval to fly as many missions as needed to cover Cuba
completely. Although it was time consuming, the formal notification
process had had the advantage of allowing NSA listening posts to support
the flights. Intercept operators would scan the frequency spectrum in
search of any hostile activity before and during the mission. If they
picked up a warning indicator, they could send a message to NSA
headquarters, which would notify SAC. But now that U-2 missions were
being launched without notice, NSA had no way of knowing when a plane
was over Cuba.
But by Friday, October 26, the results of low-level photography
indicated that the Russians and Cubans were rapidly attempting to
complete the four medium-range-missile site. "Although no additional
missiles or erectors had been seen," said a Joint Chiefs report, "neither
was there evidence of any intention to move or dismantle the sites.
Camouflage and canvas covering of critical equipment was continuing."
At the same time, however, NSA reported that three Soviet ships
suspected of being missile carriers were now steaming east, back toward
Russia, as were all except one of the Soviet dry cargo ships. Only one
Russian dry cargo ship was still moving toward the quarantine line; it
was expected to reach there in three days.
At thirty-eight minutes past midnight on Saturday, October 27, an
NSA listening post intercepted signals from three radar installations.


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After checking and double-checking, the intercept operators
determined that the radar was "Spoon Rest," and therefore that three
more SAM sites had become active. "DF line bearings indicate emitters
located at Mariel," said the intercept report, which was Flashed to
headquarters, "Havana east, and poss. Matanzas sites. Emitters remain
active." Once again, Castro raised the stakes for the American
reconnaissance pilots.
"On the twenty-seventh," said Parish, "it was kind of a tight
situation”it was a scary situation, as a matter of fact. It was a scary
time, especially for those of us who had a little bit of access to
information which wasn't generally available. . . . We worked that week
and pulled our watches, nobody was off."
Later that morning, Major Rudolf Anderson took off in a U-2 from
McCoy Air Force Base at Orlando, Florida. The routine flight was
expected to last about three and a half hours. Over Cuba, Anderson
pushed his plane northward toward the town of Banes.
At an afternoon Executive Committee meeting, Secretary of Defense
McNamara made a routine report on the day's daylight reconnaissance
mission. "One mission aborted for mechanical reasons, according to
preliminary reports," he said. "One plane is overdue and several are said
to have encountered ground fire." He then recommended a number of
night missions. But President Kennedy held off on a decision until more
details could be obtained on the day's reconnaissance. He then ordered
that missions be flown the next day without fighter escort. "If our planes
are fired on," he said, "we must be prepared for a general response or an
attack on the SAM site which fired on our planes. We will decide
tomorrow how we return fire after we know if they continue their attacks
on our planes."
An aide quickly walked in and handed a note to Joint Chiefs
Chairman Maxwell Taylor. Major Anderson's U-2 had been shot down
near Banes. "The wreckage of the U-2 was on the ground," Taylor was
told; "the pilot had been killed." Taylor recommended an air attack on the
SAM site responsible. McNamara said that we must be ready to attack
Cuba by launching 500 sorties on the first day. Invasion, he said, had
"become almost inevitable."
At NSA, data were immediately called in from air, sea, and ground
eavesdropping platforms in an attempt to discover the details of the
shootdown. Director Blake ordered new rules, as follows: As a first
priority, every listening post was to monitor in real time all reactions to
U.S. reconnaissance flights. "Any time the Cubans scrambled a flight,"
said Hal Parish, "we were supposed to tell. . . why they scrambled and
who they were after”very often they were after U.S. aircraft along the
coast. . . . When we were still flying the U-2s and we got what appeared



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to be Cuban threats to the U-2s with MiG aircraft, we had it arranged. . .
. we would call General [John] Morrison [at NSA] first to get his okay,
then we would call SAC . . . and they would contact the aircraft."
Once a warning was received, the reconnaissance flight would
immediately break off from the mission and fly to Andrews Air Force
Base near Washington, D.C. There, NSA analysts would meet the plane
and debrief the crew. "You'd debrief in the airplane off the end of the
runway," said Parish. "Pick up all the tapes and bring them out to the
building and put our linguists to work all night long working on those
tapes in order to provide an assessment of whatever happened that day
[and have it out] by six o'clock."
In order to further protect the pilots, electronic countermeasures
needed to be developed that could jam or deceive the Soviet SA-2 missile.
But to develop these countermeasures, NSA would first have to intercept
the missile's telltale fusing signals, which activated the warhead. That,
however, required forcing the Cubans to fire off one more of their
missiles. To accomplish this, DC-130 aircraft began launching high-
altitude Ryan 147 drones over the island. The Ryans were equipped with
electronics that made them appear larger than they actually were, about
the size of a U-2.
Each drone also carried onboard equipment to collect the critical
fusing signals and retransmit them, in the few seconds before it was
blasted from the sky, to a specially equipped type of RB-47 Strato-Spy
codenamed Common Cause. One of the RB-47s was constantly in the air
off the Cuban coast. "The plan was to lure the Cuban missile sites into
firing at the drone," said Bruce Bailey, an Air Force signals intelligence
officer, "thus providing the desired electronic intelligence to the RB-47."
But the Cubans refused to fire any more missiles. "The Cubans had been
assured that such a site or base would be struck immediately," said
Bailey. "Obviously they believed that and refused to fire. The mission
soon became more appropriately known as 'Lost Cause.' "
At 7:15 on the evening of October 30, as the crisis grew hotter, Robert
Kennedy asked Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to meet with him in
his office at the Justice Department in half an hour. "In the last two
hours we had found that our planes flying over Cuba had been fired
upon," Kennedy told the ambassador, as he noted in a top secret memo
to Dean Rusk. "One of our U-2's had been shot down and the pilot killed.
. . . This was an extremely serious turn of events. We would have to
make certain decisions within the next twelve or possibly twenty-four
hours. There was very little time left. If the Cubans were shooting at our
planes, then we were going to shoot back." Dobrynin argued that the U.S.
was violating Cuban airspace, but Kennedy shot back that if we had not
been violating Cuban airspace then we would still have believed what he
and Khrushchev had said”that there were no long-range missiles in


102
Cuba. "This matter was far more serious than the air space over Cuba
and involved people all over the world," Kennedy added.
"I said that he had better understand the situation and he had better
communicate that understanding to Mr. Khrushchev," Kennedy later
noted in the long secret memorandum. "Mr. Khrushchev and he had
misled us. The Soviet Union had secretly established missile bases in
Cuba while at the same time proclaiming, privately and publicly, that
this would never be done. I said those missile bases had to go and they
had to go right away. We had to have a commitment by at least tomorrow
[October 31] that those bases would be removed. This was not an
ultimatum, I said, but just a statement of fact. He should understand
that if they did not remove those bases then we would remove them. His
country might take retaliatory action but he should understand that
before this was over, while there might be dead Americans there would
also be dead Russians."
Dobrynin asked Kennedy whether he was proposing a deal. "I said a
letter had just been transmitted to the Soviet Embassy which stated in
substance that the missile bases should be dismantled," Kennedy wrote,
"and all offensive weapons should be removed from Cuba. In return, if
Cuba and Castro and the Communists ended their subversive activities
in other Central and Latin American countries, we would agree to keep
peace in the Caribbean and not permit an invasion from American soil.”
But Khrushchev had earlier proposed a swap: take the American
missiles away from his doorstep in Turkey, and he would take the Soviet
missiles from Cuba. Dobrynin once again brought up that proposal. "If
some time elapsed," Kennedy said, mentioning four or five months, "I was
sure that these matters could be resolved satisfactorily."
But Kennedy emphasized that there could be no deal of any kind.
"Any steps toward easing tensions in other parts of the world largely
depended on the Soviet Union and Mr. Khrushchev taking action in Cuba
and taking it immediately." According to his memorandum, "I repeated to
him that this matter could not wait and that he had better contact Mr.
Khrushchev and have a commitment from him by the next day to
withdraw the missile bases under United Nations supervision for
otherwise, I said, there would be drastic consequences."
Shortly after Kennedy left, Dobrynin sent an enciphered cable to
Khrushchev. " 'Because of the plane that was shot down, there is now
strong pressure on the president to give an order to respond with fire if
fired upon,' " he wrote, quoting Kennedy. " 'A real war will begin, in which
millions of Americans and Russians will die.' ... Kennedy mentioned as if
in passing that there are many unreasonable heads among the generals,
and not only among the generals, who are 'itching for a fight.'... The
situation might get out of control, with irreversible consequences."



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Then the ambassador relayed Kennedy's proposal. "The most
important thing for us, Kennedy stressed, is to get as soon as possible
the agreement of the Soviet government to halt further work on the
construction of the missile bases in Cuba and take measures under
international control that would make it impossible to use these
weapons. In exchange the government of the USA is ready, in addition to
repealing all measures on the 'quarantine,' to give the assurances that
there will not be any invasion of Cuba. . . . 'And what about Turkey,' I

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