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The Cuban Missile Crisis at 60, Irradiating Richard Nixon, and Much More from the National Security Archive: FRINFORMSUM 10/6/2022

October 6, 2022
CIA map, “Reconnaissance Objectives in Cuba”

The Cuban Missile Crisis @ 60

The Cuban Missile Crisis actually lasted 59 days, not the fabled “13 days” so familiar from books and Hollywood, according to a new collection recently announced by the National Security Archive. Soviet nuclear warheads arrived in Cuba on October 4, 1962, and did not leave until December 1. Those warheads were never detected by U.S. intelligence while they were in Cuba.

Marking these 59 days of the Crisis, and the 60th anniversary of the famous superpower confrontation, the Archive is posting images and documents from Soviet, American, and Cuban sources. The primary sources are drawn from the Archive’s unmatched collections on the Cuban Missile Crisis based on 30+ years of research and landmark conferences in Moscow and Havana that included Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, Anatoly Gribkov, and other leading veterans of 1962.

On Tuesday, to mark the first day of the crisis, the Archive posted the recollections of the Soviet commander of nuclear forces in Cuba, whose account provides extraordinary details about the transportation, deployment and removal of the warheads and includes his warning that “Only madmen could unleash a war” by using tactical nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, on the second day of the 59-day Cuban Missile Crisis, the Archive published a CIA reconnaissance map of Cuba showing Soviet deployments and a target area with “unidentified missiles.”

Check out our new posting and follow us on Twitter @NSArchive for daily updates. 

The Archive also published a new briefing book on the Underwater Cuban Missile Crisis, which can be read on our website. 

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The Moscow Signals Declassified: ​​​​​​​Irradiating Richard Nixon

The Soviets exposed then Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife Pat to ionizing radiation during his famous visit to Moscow in July 1959, according to declassified Secret Service records posted by the National Security Archive. Using detection devices known as Radiac Dosimeters, Nixon’s Secret Service detail measured significant levels of radiation in and around Nixon’s sleeping quarters at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador, during the first days of his trip. A few hours after the agents initiated what one called “a bluff” by loudly and coarsely denouncing the Soviets’ dirty tricks, the radiation levels “settled down.” According to the key Secret Service report on the incident, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Llewellyn Thompson, and a senior member of Nixon’s entourage, Vice-Admiral Hyman Rickover, decided “not to make this information known to the Vice President.”

The Secret Service records were obtained by Archive Senior Analyst William Burr from a request to the Nixon Presidential Library in California. According to Burr, “this unusual and virtually unknown Cold War episode deserves more attention so the mysteries surrounding it can be resolved.”

The story of the Spaso House radiation incident remained secret for 17 years until the scandal over the Moscow Signal broke in the media in February 1976. A member of Nixon’s Secret Service team, James Golden, believed the 1959 episode was immediately relevant to the State Department’s investigation into the health effects of the microwave beams directed at the Embassy building. On April 28, 1976, he shared the secret history about the discovery of radiation at Spaso House with a State Department Soviet Desk official and medical officers. According to Golden, he was later told that he had been exposed to “massive dosages” of ionizing radiation emanating from an atomic battery that Soviet intelligence “used to power radio transmitters used for bugging purposes.”

This posting is part III of the Archive’s three-part series: “The Moscow Signals Declassified.” Part I, “Microwave Mysteries: Projects PANDORA and BIZARRE,” was posted on September 13; Part II, “Microwave Diplomacy, 1967-1977,” was posted on September 15. The Archive will post a larger special collection of supplementary documentation on the full history of the Moscow Signal in the near future.

Echeverría’s Legacy of “Co-opt and Control”

To mark this year’s anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, the National Security Archive posted an essential collection of ten key U.S. documents on Luis Echeverría Álvarez (1922-2022), the former Mexican president later charged with genocide for his role in the Tlatelolco and Corpus Christi student massacres. 

U.S. documents depict Echeverría—a career politician in the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)—as a man intent on crushing his enemies through manipulation and, if necessary, the unapologetic use of force. A CIA report from January 1971, published for the first time by the Archive, concluded that he “shares heavily in the blame” for the violence at Tlatelolco. An Embassy memo produced days after the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre described the Echeverría government’s “continuing effort to co-opt and control [the] student movement.” Other documents featured in this collection describe an acute “period of tensions” in U.S.-Mexican relations during his administration and the “psychological crisis” that gripped Mexico after his presidency, while records of his meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon illuminate his immense ambitions in global leadership.

The documents are the result of years of FOIA requests and related archival research. Some are drawn from previous National Security Archive postings while several others are published here for the first time.

In Brief

The Public Document a Federal Judge and the CIA Don’t Want You to See: Federal judge James Boasberg this week supported a CIA claim that a public document about a famous nuclear war scare should be censored “to protect ‘intelligence activities’ or ‘intelligence sources or methods,’” despite the fact that his ruling and the CIA’s argument actually highlight the information and undermine any such protection. Read the rest on our website

Ongoing Trump Records Updates and Resources: 

  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently issued a press release concerning the 15 boxes of presidential records retrieved from Mar-a-Lago this January. The press statement announced the release of records responsive to the numerous FOIA requests NARA has received for the records; the release consists of 65 pages of records, and announces the withholding of more than 1,500 pages. 

The released records can be read here

  • The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany report that former President Trump asked one of his lawyers, Alex Cannon, to affirm to NARA officials that he had returned all his presidential records to the agency. Cannon, who believed there might be more records at Mar-a-Lago, refused. 
  • NARA recently reported to the House Oversight Committee that it believes that records from the Trump administration are still missing, and that it will be consulting further with the Department of Justice for their return. Acting archivist Debra Steidel Wall also told the committee that NARA has been unable to retrieve federal records from “non-official electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts.” The Federal Records Act requires that such records be forwarded to official accounts within 20 days. 

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