In October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union in Cuba. CIA Officers on the ground had been the ones to advise the spy plane exactly where to look for the missiles.
The operation started on March 11, 1962, when a small fishing boat approached the Cuban shoreline carrying men that were some of the most experienced mariners in the CIA’s force.
The idea for this small boat infiltration came from an officer in the CIA’s Miami station. Aboard the small boat was a CIA Officer who was trained to manage a network of other spies and his radio operator. It was Hewitt’s job to guide their actions from Miami.
The team’s mission was to establish a network that could be used to gather intelligence and, if necessary, to form a counterrevolution against Castro.
When the Soviet Union secretly sent medium and intermediate ballistic missiles to Cuba in the summer of 1962, it set off a chain of events that almost led to nuclear war.
Photos of the missile sites taken by U-2 spy aircraft in October of 1962 are always cited as the key intelligence breakthrough that gave the United States a major advantage during the nuclear standoff.
Newly released information helps explain why the Kennedy administration was willing to risk flying a U-2 over Cuba in the first place, since it was a risky call considering the plane could have be shot down.
CIA Officers in Cuba had reported there was an area in western Cuba that was heavily guarded by Soviets, with the assistance of Peruvian and Colombian nationals.
In particular, the report highlighted heavy security that prevented access to a country estate, where secret work regarding missiles was in progress.
The officer’s report provided the specific grid locations for four small towns that marked the boundaries of the area where the Soviet activity was taking place.
On October 14, a U-2 reconnaissance plane traveled over western Cuba, taking hundreds of photos of the area pinpointed by the reports from the officers on the ground.
By October 16, those photos had been analyzed and revealed exactly what the officers had reported, which was the presence of heavy Soviet movement, including ballistic missiles.
After the confirmation from the photographs, President Kennedy had proof that he could show the world that the Soviets were deploying missiles to Cuba.
Most importantly, Kennedy knew the missiles were not yet operational, preventing the Soviet Union from using the missile threat in any negotiations.
On October 22, President Kennedy addressed the nation, informing the American people about the missile sites and explaining that the U.S. Navy would blockade Cuba to prevent any further buildup.
The fact is, had it not been for brave CIA officers on the ground, the U-2 spy plane would not have had the correct grid coordinates to locate the Soviet missile build up.
Additionally, the reality that the CIA had multiple officers operating in such a dangerous location shows how well these folks were trained in tradecraft.
The men who ventured back into Cuba knew that if they were caught they would lose their lives. For this reason, they did everything in their power to blend in with the locals and to never draw attention to themselves.
In a similar way, if you travel overseas, remember that it’s best to maintain a low profile, as criminals will often look for those who are flashy or stand out.
In addition, the CIA obviously places a major importance on advance planning because in a crisis situation you don’t have time to plan. The folks who carried out the intelligence gathering during the Cuban Missile Crisis had everything planned, including contingency plans for when things failed or when one of their assets was compromised.
I encourage you to try to plan ahead as much as possible in your everyday life when it comes to traveling or doing other things where your safety could be in jeopardy.
Whether it’s a long car trip to grandma’s or creating a home defense plan, the more you plan ahead, the more likely you will survive whatever comes your way.