Facebook Twitter



The flatbed trailers were so long, the Cuban informant said, that mailboxes and lampposts had to be removed so the vehicles could negotiate corners in the road.

Another informant in September 1962 described seeing a convoy of 16 trucks and eight trailers, seven of which were carrying "what looked like huge tubes extending over the entire length of the flatbed and completely covered with canvas." The eighth was carrying what looked like radar equipment, he said.These were among dozens of reports the CIA received from informants in Cuba in the weeks leading up to the defining moment of the Cold War: the Cuban missile crisis. The agency dismissed all but a handful.

This intelligence failure, which brought the world the closest it ever has been to nuclear war, was the topic of a historical seminar Monday at CIA headquarters to mark the 30th anniversary of the crisis.

Panelists and participants shared memories of those tense days, and more than 100 secret documents were declassified for the occasion, some of them with heavy black erasures.

Many of the documents were memoranda by then-CIA Director John McCone, and documents coded Ironbark - meaning they were based on information from one of the most valuable Soviet spies of the Cold War, Col. Oleg Penkovsky.

The documents contained no significant revelations, said the CIA's chief historian, Kenneth McDonald. But they "throw light on how and why the CIA missed" the Soviet deployment in Cuba of offensive missiles capable of hitting Washington - until they were nearly operational, he said.

As it was, the deployment became known only when a U-2 spy plane photographed launch pads and missiles in western Cuba on Oct. 14, 1962 - more than a month after the Soviet weapons began arriving on the island.

Until then all but eight human sightings of massive, missilelike cargoes were dismissed by intelligence analysts in Washington as unreliable.

Warren Frank, then with the agency's foreign intelligence branch, said much of the informants' reporting was collected in Miami at what became the largest CIA station in the world.

The 300-member station, located in what is now Miami's zoo, collected reports from some 25 agents on the island, interviewed Cuban refugees and talked to emigres in regular touch with their families.

One report declassified Monday was made Sept. 17, 1962 by a 47-year-old Cuban described as a businessman with four years of schooling and of average intelligence. He described the convoy of 16 trucks and eight trailers.

But analysts were doubtful, saying they could not understand why the Soviets would want to deploy medium-range missiles in Cuba.

A landmark analysis on Sept. 19, 1962, also declassified Monday, said the Soviets were only deploying anti-aircraft missiles in Cuba to deter a possible U.S. invasion in the wake of the botched Bay of Pigs landing the year before.

"Not one of us thought the Soviets would move MRBMs (medium-range ballistic missiles) to Cuba. This was a real estimation failure," said Roger Hillsman, then director of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research.