Thursday, October 16, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-two years ago today, October 16, 1962, was the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

Michael Dobbs tells us that just before Noon...

"the CIA's chief photo interpreter hovered over the president's shoulder. Arthur Lundahl held a pointer in his hand, ready to reveal a secret that would bring the world to the edge of nuclear war."

Before showing the pictures to JFK, Art Landahl* labeled them with captions which read...


CIA Photo 
 October 14, 1962
JFK Library Image

JFK was informed that the photographs, taken from U-2 overflights, revealed Soviet medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) sites were under construction on the island of Cuba just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Mr. Lundahl was accompanied by his "missile man," technical expert Sidney Graybeal**.

The President asked...   "Are these missiles ready to be fired?"

His advisers replied...  
 "We don't know."

It was a vital point.  If the missiles were armed with nuclear warheads, they could have been fired in a matter of hours.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara suggested that the missiles were not ready to be fired, but General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, countered that even if the missiles were not armed, the Soviets would still be able to fire them "very quickly."

JFK first heard about the Soviet missiles in Cuba three hours earlier when McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser, came to his bedroom in the White House to break the news.

In order to help keep the story hidden from the press, JFK decided to follow his regular schedule for the day, but, in the meantime, he pondered the possibilities of ordering a launch strike to take out the missiles to be followed by an invasion of Cuba by the military forces of the United States.

According to JFK's agenda for Oct. 16, 1962, he met with Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson,  Secretary of State Dean Rusk, General Maxwell TaylorRoswell Gilpatrick and Edwin Martin from 11:50 a.m. until 12:57 p.m. in an OFF THE RECORD discussion on Cuba.

Arthur S. Lundahl
Photo Courtesy of Sandy Spagnolo

*Arthur S. Lundahl (1915-1992) was born in Chicago and received his B.S. and M.S. in Geology from the University of Chicago in 1939 and 1942.He founded the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center in 1961 and was the chief organizer of imagery intelligence for the Agency.

ASL, who lived on Chestnut Street in East Bethesda, MD, was given a personal commendation by JFK after the missile crisis.  He died at the age of 77.^

**Sidney N. Graybeal (1925-1998) described as an American hero in peace and war, served as a B-29 pilot in WWII and had 40 years of experience in arms control, intelligence and national security by the time of his retirement.

President Carter presented Mr. Graybeal the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Service and in 1994 he was appointed to the Defense Policy Board.  He died at the age of 73 in Santa Fe, NM.

CSPAN image


"One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War," by Michael Dobbs, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2008.

"Spies in East Bethesda," by Marcie Sandalow,