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asked R. Kennedy. 'If that is the only obstacle . . . then the president
doesn't see any unsurmountable difficulties in resolving this issue. . . .
However, the president can't say anything public in this regard about
Turkey,' R. Kennedy said again. R. Kennedy then warned that his
comments about Turkey are extremely confidential; besides him and his
brother, only 2”3 People know about it in Washington. . . . R. Kennedy
gave me a number of a direct telephone line to the White House." Once
again Dobrynin quoted Robert Kennedy. " 'Time is of the essence and we
shouldn't miss the chance.' "
Robert Kennedy returned to the White House, where the members of
the Executive Committee held a late-night session. McNamara
recommended, and the president approved, the call-up of twenty-four air
reserve squadrons, involving 14,200 personnel and 300 troop carriers.
President Kennedy then said that if the reconnaissance planes were fired
on the next day, "then we should take out the SAM sites in Cuba by air
action."
At a late-night meeting at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff
recommended that "unless irrefutable evidence of the dismantling of the
offensive weapons in Cuba were obtained," an air strike should be
launched no later than October 29.
Shortly before midnight, Hal Parish entered NSA for his midnight”
to”eight A.M. shift. "When I reported in," he said, "there was a note
there to have by six o'clock the following morning in the hands of the
White House the wrap-up of the U-2 shootdown. Wasn't hard to do”we
had about two minutes, three minutes of tracking on it ... just some
tracking coming in from just north of Guantanamo . . . seemed to be a
SAM that brought him down. . . . There was nothing that I ever saw in
communication indicating who (whether a Soviet or a Cuban) pushed the
button. . . . About two years later, from some intercept that was picked
up on one of the aircraft carriers, we got the entire tracking sequence of
the shootdown. We got the whole mission tracking from the time he hit
Cuba all the way down until he made his turn over Guantanamo and
then the tracking sort of ceased...."
On Sunday morning, October 28, a new message from Khrushchev
was broadcast on Radio Moscow. "The Soviet government," said the
announcement, "has issued a new order on the dismantling of the


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weapons which you describe as 'offensive,' and their crating and return
to the Soviet Union." The crisis was over.


As the Russians began withdrawing, NSA continued its intensive
watch. "I remember during the period from the time I went down in
October," Hal Parish recalled, "there was not a day I did not come to work
until Christmas. Then I just took part of Christmas Day off." For the
eavesdroppers, things changed dramatically. Suddenly the need for the
Russians to hide their presence on Cuba disappeared, so in addition to
Spanish, many Russian-language communications were being
intercepted. "All the communications that we had that were Cuban
turned Soviet and we had what had to be called the Soviet forces in
Cuba," said Parish. "Suddenly, these Spanish-speaking pilots
disappeared and were replaced by Russian pilots. The [Soviet] . . .
communications in the HF [high-frequency] area at that time appeared
again virtually overnight."
Intercept operators listened as the ballistic missile sites were
dismantled and the SAM sites were turned over to the Cubans. "After the
offensive weapons were removed, some of the supportive weapons were
also removed," Parish said. Each time a SAM site was turned over to the
Cubans, various signals changed. "So we were able through Elint to tell
when the Soviets were pulling out of a given SAM site. We got an entire
training schedule in Havana where they were talking about how they
were going to train the Cubans."
As the Soviets pulled out, NSA detected tense relations between them
and Cuban forces. According to Parish, one telephone conversation
involved a very large shipment of tainted meat that the Soviets had sent
the Cubans. Castro himself was intercepted saying "very, very bad things
about the Russians," Parish said. "And in fact we were required to read
that over the telephone to”I'm not sure who it was, State Department,
CIA, DIA”but we had to have a translator read this sort of verbatim over
the line and he [Castro] had some very, very, harsh and bad things to say
about the Russians. I do recall the gentleman turning red as he was
reading this because they wanted a verbatim translation of it." In fact,
the original transcript sent to the White House contained deletions in
place of Castro's expletives. Almost immediately Robert Kennedy called
NSA and demanded that they send the uncensored version”blue
language and all.
"During the crisis," said Parish, "I have no doubt they [the missile
sites] were under Soviet control, and in fact we pretty well know they
were totally Soviet manned." According to another NSA official, "There
were times when the Cubans and the Soviets were”I don't mean fighting
literally, but contesting each other as to who was in charge of the missile



105
site, and you'd hear Spanish cursing in the background and Soviet
unhappiness."
At the time of the crisis, neither the NSA nor the CIA knew whether
the Soviets had any nuclear warheads in Cuba. "We had photographs of
missile launchers," said Robert McNamara, "but we thought the
warheads were yet to come." It was only in the 1990s that the truth was
discovered. "It took thirty years to learn there were 161 nuclear warheads
there, including 90 tactical warheads to be used against an invasion,"
McNamara said. Then, holding two fingers a fraction of an inch apart, he
added, "And we came that close to an invasion. . . . We came so close”
both Kennedy and Khrushchev felt events were slipping outside their
control. . . . The world came within a hair breadth of nuclear war."


As Soviet ships navigated through the Caribbean on their long voyage
home, their decks crowded with hastily crated missiles and launchers,
Khrushchev may have been chuckling. While the United States focused
on the offensive ballistic missiles brought to Cuba, none of which were
likely ever to have been used, Khrushchev had been monitoring the
progress of a far more secret and far more useful construction project on
the island. It was to be a major Soviet intelligence coup. In a sparsely
populated area known as Lourdes, just southeast of Havana, Soviet
technicians continued work on one of the largest eavesdropping bases
ever built.
NSA surrounded the Soviet Union with listening posts and ferret
flights during the 1950s and early 1960s. Every time a new monitoring
station was built, Khrushchev felt the electronic noose grow tighter. In
Germany, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, intercept
operators noted every time an aircraft took off or a ship left port.
Telemetry was collected from Soviet missiles, and telephone
conversations were snatched from the air.
Khrushchev knew he could not reciprocate. There were no Soviet
allies along America's borders to accommodate Russian eavesdroppers.
Thus the USSR was forced to send antenna-covered trawlers crawling
along America's coasts. It was a cumbersome and expensive proposition.
For every trawler bobbing in the waves, five thousand miles from home, a
fleet of support vessels was needed because the trawlers could not pull
into port. Fuel had to be supplied, equipment had to be repaired, food
had to be delivered, and the endless tapes had to be brought back to
Moscow to be analyzed and translated. Castro solved all Khrushchev's
problems and provided Moscow with an electronic window on the United
States into the twenty-first century.
Over a vast area of twenty-eight square miles, Soviet engineers and
signals intelligence specialists erected acres of antennas to eavesdrop on


106
American communications. Diamond-shaped rhombic antennas, pointing
like daggers at the U.S. coast only ninety miles away, tapped into high-
frequency signals carrying telephone calls as far away as Washington.
Large dishes were set up to collect signals from American satellites. High
wires were strung to pick up the very-low-frequency submarine
broadcasts. Giant rectangular antennas, like drive-in movie screens,
were erected to intercept microwave signals. Windowless cement
buildings were built to house the intercept operators, the code-breakers,
and the walls of printers that would rattle out miles of intercepted data
communications. Khrushchev might have lost a fist, but he had gained
an ear.


With the crisis over and the threat of nuclear war now abated,
attention once again turned toward covert operations within Cuba.
Earlier, shortly after learning of the offensive missiles on October 15, an
angry Robert Kennedy had called a meeting of the Operation Mongoose
cabal. He opened the meeting by expressing "the general dissatisfaction
of the President" with the progress of Mongoose. He pointed out that the
operation had been under way for a year, that the results were
discouraging, that there had been no acts of sabotage, and that even the
one that had been attempted had failed twice.
Richard Helms, the CIA's deputy planning director, later commented:
"I stated that we were prepared to get on with the new action program
and that we would execute it aggressively." NSA, however, discovered
that among the sabotage targets of Operation Mongoose were several key
Cuban communications facilities”the same facilities that NSA was
eavesdropping on, deriving a great deal of signals intelligence. Officials
quickly, and loudly, protested. "We suggested to them that it was really
not the smartest thing to do," said Hal Parish.
In fact, in the days following the crisis, NSA did everything it could to
secretly keep the Cuban telecommunications system fully working. The
more communications equipment broke or burned out, the less NSA
could intercept, and thus the less the U.S. intelligence community knew
about Cuba. Adding to the problems was the economic embargo of Cuba,
which kept out critical electrical supplies such as vacuum tubes for
military radios. NSA devised a covert channel by which to supply these
components to the Cuban government.
"The tubes would burn out, requests would come in, and backdoor
methods had to be utilized in order to get the necessary tubes in to keep
this RCA-designed system on the air so we could continue to collect it,"
said Parish. "I think a lot of them were channeled through Canada at the
time, because the Canadians had relations with the Cubans. When the
tubes would wear out”these were not small tubes, these were large



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tubes and components”they would make contact with somebody and
the word would reach us and they would come to see the agency, the
right part of it, and we would insist that those things be provided."


As the danger of nuclear war with Russia receded like a red tide,
Cuba once again came into full view and the Kennedy administration
returned to combat mode. NSA continued to listen with one ear cocked
toward Russia and the other toward Cuba. Just before Christmas 1962
McCone wrote to McGeorge Bundy, "NSA will continue an intensive
program in the Sigint field, which has during recent weeks added
materially to all other intelligence."
On Havana's doorstep, the civilian-manned USNS Muller relieved the
Oxford, and ferret flights kept up their patrols a dozen miles off the
Cuban coast. Because the Muller was civilian, its crew got less liberty
time than a military crew would, so the ship was able to spend a greater
percentage of its time at sea”about twenty-five days a month”than
Navy ships such as the Oxford. It was home ported in Port Everglades,
the commercial port for Fort Lauderdale.
"Duty station for the Muller was seven miles off Havana," said Bill
Baer, the operations officer on the ship at the time. "We and Castro
recognized the six-mile limit, so seven miles was a small safety valve. We
traveled back and forth on a six-mile track parallel to the coast. The
major reason for this particular spot was a multichannel UHF national
communications system that RCA had installed. It ran from Havana, east
and west, along the spine of the island and connected Havana with each
city in the country." Traveling slowly back and forth, the Muller had a
direct tap into much of Cuba's communications.
But the spy ship was no secret from Castro and he would occasionally
vent his anger. "We only had a selection of small arms including M-l
rifles, carbines, shotguns, and so forth," recalled Baer. "We took this
responsibility very seriously because we knew the Cubans knew who we
were and they used to do things to harass us."
In an unusual move, Baer was made operations officer on the ship
even though he was an Army officer. He had been stationed at NSA when
he heard of the opening and volunteered. Another Army intercept
operator on board was Mike Sannes. "Since they used microwave, we had
to be [in] line-of-sight," Sannes explained. "Castro used to call us the 'big
ear.' One time we knew he was going to crash a small plane into us and
then board us in an 'act of mercy.' We had a spotter in the mast”
remember this is a civilian ship and had no [large] guns”he saw the
plane approaching and we were monitoring on the hand-held radio.
Suddenly everything went quiet. A few minutes later he came running in
saying, 'I'm not staying up there. He's going to hit us!' They scrambled


108
some jets from Key West who were on alert, and they chased him off."
Sannes said Cuban harassment was common. "Often they sent
gunboats out to harass us, sometimes every few hours so we couldn't
sleep. Occasionally they shot across our bow. We had a real gung-ho
skipper. We had scuttles fore and aft. We would have sunk the boat if we
were in danger of being boarded. . . . Once the engine quit and we started
drifting into shore. It was very early on a foggy morning. We drifted close
enough into Havana harbor that we were looking up at the hotels on the
beach. We got the engine working and headed back out to sea. They
never noticed us."
To assist the CIA's covert operations in Cuba, NSA intercept operators
were assigned to monitor the communications of anti-Castro forces. On
January 16 one of these technicians picked up a conversation from an
individual in downtown Havana who said, "It would be a good idea to
assassinate Fidel on El Cocuyo Road." The intercept operator noted on
his report, "This group must be penetrated."
Amusingly, one of the most important pieces of information to come
along came not from an NSA intercept of a diplomatic cable to Moscow
but from a ten-hour interview Castro gave to Lisa Howard, a reporter for
ABC News. In the interview, Castro clearly indicated for the first time
that he was hoping for a rapprochement with the United States. The CIA
acquired a transcript of the interview secretly, through an NSA intercept
before the broadcast.
Upon receiving the information, the CIA's John McCone became
extremely worried that word would leak out about their possession of it.
On May 2, 1963, CIA Deputy Director Marshall Carter wrote to Bundy:


Mr. McCone cabled me this morning stating that he cannot
overemphasize the importance of secrecy in this matter and
requested that I take all appropriate steps along this line to reflect
his personal views on its sensitivity. Mr. McCone feels that gossip
and inevitable leaks with consequent publicity would be most
damaging. He suggests that no active steps be taken on the
rapprochement matter at this time and urges most limited
Washington discussions, and that in these circumstances
emphasis should be placed in any discussions on the fact that the
rapprochement track is being explored as a remote possibility and
one of several alternatives involving various levels of dynamic and
positive action. In view of the foregoing, it is requested that the
Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive

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