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Blind over Cuba

The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis

David M. Barrett and Max Holland

Publication Year: 2012

In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, questions persisted about how the potential cataclysm had been allowed to develop. A subsequent congressional investigation focused on what came to be known as the “photo gap”: five weeks during which intelligence-gathering flights over Cuba had been attenuated. ?In Blind over Cuba, David M. Barrett and Max Holland challenge the popular perception of the Kennedy administration’s handling of the Soviet Union’s surreptitious deployment of missiles in the Western Hemisphere. Rather than epitomizing it as a masterpiece of crisis management by policy makers and the administration, Barrett and Holland make the case that the affair was, in fact, a close call stemming directly from decisions made in a climate of deep distrust between key administration officials and the intelligence community. ?Because of White House and State Department fears of “another U-2 incident” (the infamous 1960 Soviet downing of an American U-2 spy plane), the CIA was not permitted to send surveillance aircraft on prolonged flights over Cuban airspace for many weeks, from late August through early October. Events proved that this was precisely the time when the Soviets were secretly deploying missiles in Cuba. When Director of Central Intelligence John McCone forcefully pointed out that this decision had led to a dangerous void in intelligence collection, the president authorized one U-2 flight directly over western Cuba—thereby averting disaster, as the surveillance detected the Soviet missiles shortly before they became operational.? The Kennedy administration recognized that their failure to gather intelligence was politically explosive, and their subsequent efforts to influence the perception of events form the focus for this study. Using recently declassified documents, secondary materials, and interviews with several key participants, Barrett and Holland weave a story of intra-agency conflict, suspicion, and discord that undermined intelligence-gathering, adversely affected internal postmortems conducted after the crisis peaked, and resulted in keeping Congress and the public in the dark about what really happened.? Fifty years after the crisis that brought the superpowers to the brink, Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis offers a new chapter in our understanding of that pivotal event, the tensions inside the US government during the cold war, and the obstacles Congress faces when conducting an investigation of the executive branch.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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Title Page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Another book on the Cuban Missile Crisis? Yes and no. Other than outright wars, probably no US foreign policy crisis of the twentieth century has been the subject of more books than this crisis. So, as researchers and writers, our interest has not...

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1. The Making of a “Photo Gap”: August 29 to October 14, 1962

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pp. 1-21

On October 28, 1962, President Kennedy triumphed in the most fearsome and direct clash with Moscow since the 1948 Berlin airlift. Without seeming to have made any meaningful concessions, he both avoided nuclear war and forced Soviet premier...

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2. Obscuring the Photo Gap

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pp. 22-39

From Washington’s perspective, the missile crisis began with the detection of the Soviet weaponry on October 15. But its underlying origins dated back to at least the 1960 presidential campaign, and, perhaps more accurately, the 1959 Cuban revolution...

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3. The Struggle over the Postmortems

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pp. 40-53

While the administration was still busy influencing public perceptions of the crisis, the battle over its history began in earnest. For the most part, it would be in the form of the efforts to influence the secret postmortems conducted by various entities...

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4. Stonewalling the House

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pp. 54-67

When the Eighty-Eighth Congress convened on January 3, 1963, its Republican members were livid about the 1962 election. Precedent had all but guaranteed that the Democrats, as the party in power during a midterm election, would lose around five...

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5. The Senate Steps In

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pp. 68-81

Although the House was generally more aggressive about trying to poke holes in the administration’s account of the Soviet build-up, it was a Senate inquiry that would cause the White House the greatest anxiety.1 This postmortem was conducted by one of that...

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6. Tensions within the Kennedy Administration: Fashioning a Unified Story

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pp. 82-98

With the most sustained and important probe less than halfway through, the administration was jittery.1 Consequently, it focused on the need to speak in unison about aspects of the Cuban problem, especially the photo gap. In the wake of...

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7. End of the Trail: The “Interim” Report

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pp. 99-111

By April 4, two weeks after McCone’s final testimony and after receiving additional answers promised for the record by all the witnesses, James Kendall finished a first draft of the SPIS report.1 Stennis wanted a step-by- step chronological account...

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8. The Costs of Managed History

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pp. 112-116

John McCone’s reputation on Capitol Hill in 1963 was still far better than that of Allen Dulles after the Bay of Pigs. During one of the SPIS Cuba hearings in March, with McCone present, Margaret Chase Smith told her colleagues matter-of-factly, “I think Mr. McCone has been more...

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Appendix: A Historiography of the Photo Gap, 1963–2011

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pp. 117-142

Speculation about an “intelligence” or “photo” gap began to mount as soon as the acute phase of the crisis peaked in October. Chapter 1 addressed media coverage of this issue for the remaining months of 1962. This historiography traces the presentation...


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p. 143


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pp. 145-186


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pp. 187-202


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pp. 203-210

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603447720
E-ISBN-10: 1603447725
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603447683
Print-ISBN-10: 1603447687

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 4 b&w photos. 3 line art. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812786322
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blind over Cuba

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Subject Headings

  • Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962.
  • Intelligence service -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Executive-legislative relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1961-1963.
  • National security -- Political aspects -- United States.
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