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The last low level reconnaissance mission was performed on November 15. Light, scattered ineffective anti-aircraft fire was received, but no damage was sustained by the planes.
Low level missions were also performed on November 11, 12 and 13, although no resistance was encountered. The record of action of the NSC Executive Committee reflects that the low level missions were author-ized on a day-to-day basis by the President. At Meeting No. 23 on November 8,(1) the President authorized ten low level flights. At Meeting No. 24 on November 12,(2) no discussion of low level reconnaissance is reflected, although at Meeting No. 25 on the afternoon of the same day, November 12,(3) the President authorized low level flights for November 13. In other words, low level reconnaissance was performed on November 11 and November 12 without specific authorization by the President which normally took the form of an action of the NSC Executive Committee. It is possible and probable that the missions were authorized as a result of personal discussions between Secretary McNamara and Mr. Bundy with the President.
Subsequent records of actions of the NSC Executive Committee reflect discussion of high and low level reconnaissance with authorization being granted for high level flights only. On November 21, Mr. McNamara presented a plan for regular high level reconnaissance, but left low level flights to be authorized specifically by the President. At Meeting No. 31 on November 29,(4) Mr. McNamara recommended that low level flights be made only when necessary to confirm certain indications gained from high level reconnaissance. This general policy is the subject for discussion by the working group at 5:30 p.m., December 4.(5)
The above pattern of events suggests an evolution of low level reconnaissance in the Cuban operation. To suspend these flights is to eliminate one principal source of very precise intelligence. At the same time the provocative and psychological aspects against the Cubans of aircraft at near sonic speeds and tree top height are eliminated. The risk of loss to conventional anti-aircraft fire is eliminated, although the risk of loss to high flying aircraft from missiles remains. In this sense, an incident resulting from the loss of aircraft is perhaps proportionate to the number of flights being made. The basic issue remains the relationship between necessity for surveillance--and on the other hand--our willingness to accept losses in gaining this information. In this connection, having announced its intention to continue surveillance, the United States must be fully prepared and organized to invoke predetermined countermeasures, and in the aftermath to justify its actions. Neither the action to be taken if another plane is shot down, nor policies relating to explanation of the action, has yet been clearly delineated.
Source: Johnson Library, Vice Presidential Security File, Memos to Vice President from Burris, July 62-April 1963. Top Secret.