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Meeting with the President--Cuba Aerial Reconnaissance
Vice President, Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, General Taylor, Director McCone, Assistant Secretary Nitze, Assistant Secretary Tyler, Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Mr. Jeffrey Kitchen, Mr. John McNaughton
Mr. Bundy said that we had evidence of greater participation of Cuban nationals in the air defense system of Cuba which raised the possibility of an attack on one of our reconnaissance planes. Although the President was not being asked to reach a decision today, the group did wish to discuss two questions:
a. In the event there is a radar lockon of one of our planes, does the plane complete its mission or abort?
b. Is our need for information about the cargo of a Soviet ship approaching Cuban waters sufficient to fly low-level reconnaissance, both day and night, including flights during the time the ship is being unloaded in port?
The President asked why a plane should abort in the event of a radar lockon.
Mr. Bundy replied that if the plane continued on its flight, it is possible it would be shot down. Secretary McNamara said he did not think we should permit ourselves to get into a situation where we would have lost a plane and not yet have decided how we would respond to such hostile action. He suggested that there were three possible courses of action:
a. We could fly a reconnaissance mission, have a plane shot down, and then decide how we would react.
b. We could fly missions equipped with our most sophisticated electronic countermeasures equipment. The cost of using the ECM equipment would be the possibility of compromising highly advanced and highly classified instruments.
c. We could use alternative equipment such as drones.
In response to the President's question, Secretary McNamara said we did not have yet positive proof of a radar lockon on any of our planes although we had evidence indicating radar tracking.
The President said that he thought the Defense Department should decide whether or not to use our sophisticated ECM equipment. He said he intended to believe that if it appeared that the Cubans were taking actions with a view to shooting down one of our planes, the plane should abort the first time this happened and we could then prepare ourselves for prompt reprisals in the event the circumstances were repeated.
Mr. Bundy said that during this week there would be no change in the present rules regarding aborts by reconnaissance planes.
Director McCone said he favored using the U-2 in good weather, but if the weather were bad, he thought we should fly low-level missions.
Secretary McNamara said that he did not agree with low-level aerial reconnaissance in bad weather because the loss of a U.S. plane or the controversy arising out of low-level flights would be all out of proportion to the value of the information obtained from pictures taken at a low-level. He said that the cargo of the Soviet ship(1) probably did not consist of missiles and that certain knowledge about it was not worth the complications arising out of low-level flights.
Director McCone said that CIA was trying to find out what was in the cargo and would continue to do so during the time the cargo was being unloaded, but he was not certain that they would be able to obtain the information we wanted. He expressed a view that the cargo might contain armaments dangerous to us.
Mr. Bundy said there were political problems immediately ahead of us, such as Donovan's proposed visit to Havana in connection with the remaining prisoners in Cuba and Kuznetsov's visit this week. He said the group would return to the President at a later time when more information was available.
Secretary McNamara said the Defense Department would be prepared to carry out low-level missions on very short notice if the President so decided.
Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings with the President, 1/1/63-2/17/63. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith on January 15. The meeting took place in the President's office and lasted until 11 a.m. (Ibid., President's Appointment Book)
(1) McCone prepared his own memorandum of record of this meeting on January 12. In it he indicated that the ship being referred to was the Simferopol and that the Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance had recommended it be subjected to round-the-clock photography at 4-hour intervals. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI/McCone Files, Job 80-B01285A, DCI Meetings with the President, 1 January-31 March 1963) McCone also wrote a memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, January 15, explaining his views on surveillance of the Simferopol. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Intelligence Material, Vol. III) For both these memoranda, see the Supplement. According to a January 17 memorandum from Chase to McGeorge Bundy on the advice of Rusk and McNamara, the President authorized only high-level surveillance of the Simferopol. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Intelligence Material, Vol. III) Back