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  • October 22, 1962.

  • US President John F Kennedy deploys a fleet of warships to Cuba.

  • To intercept Soviet cargo ships, which are already on the way, transporting nuclear missiles to the island.

  • Kennedy strategically called the impending showdown:

  • "A strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment.”

  • What it really was, was a blockadewhich is an act of aggression.

  • One wrong move on either side would trigger an all out nuclear war.

  • And it all started here, a week earlier.

  • With an aerial photograph that doesn't seem to show much, unless you're looking for something specific.

  • Pretty much immediately following the allied victory in World War II, the United States and Soviet Union became bitter enemies,

  • kicking off a decades-long struggle for global influence known as theCold War”.

  • Espionage and intelligence were at the center of this conflict, most crucially surrounding the mutual buildup of nuclear arsenals capable of unprecedented levels of destruction.

  • But the US initially had a hard time keeping track of their nemesis.

  • The Soviet Union was notoriously secretive, and hid itself, and its actions from the world.

  • "An iron curtain has descended across the continent."

  • Nobody knows what Soviet Russia intends to do in the immediate future."

  • Then-US President Dwight D Eisenhower saw a solution that built on experimental intelligence gathering from World War II:

  • Aerial photo analysis.

  • In the late 1950s, the new high-altitude U-2 spy plane took photo reconnaissance to the next level.

  • It was equipped with a powerful camera and could fly at a staggering height of 70,000 feet or roughly 13 miles above Earth's surface.

  • These cameras are described as capable of spotting a golf ball on a putting-green from 40,000 feet.”

  • In 1961, Eisenhower authorized the creation of a new surveillance arm of the CIA:

  • the National Photographic Interpretation Center, or NPIC.

  • This small team of photo interpreters was trained in photogrammetry the science of determining measurements from photographs.

  • Using this method, an expert photo interpreter could identify specific equipment hidden in the tiny details of photographs

  • and recognize signs of nuclear missile site construction.

  • So what's all this got to do with Cuba?

  • After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, where the US attempted to overthrow Cuba's communist government, ties between the Soviet Union and Cuba strengthened.

  • The US worried that the Soviets might use Cuba as a nuclear missile base.

  • If so, they would suddenly have the Western Hemisphere within range of nuclear weapons.

  • The CIA began flying U-2 missions over Cuba and bringing the imagery to the NPIC,

  • whose photo interpreters pored over every detail, searching for evidence of Soviet presence on the island.

  • It was like looking for a needle in a mile-long haystackthat's how much film a single U-2 mission yields, covering huge amounts of land.

  • But on October 15th, 1962, Dino Brugioni, a senior photo interpreter, found something.

  • This photo proved, beyond doubt, that the Soviets were building nuclear missile sites in Cuba.

  • Brugioni identified military tents and trucks, arranged in known-Soviet patterns.

  • Launcher equipment.

  • And, most critically, missile transport trailers measuring 65 feet in length.

  • Which, when compared to a photo taken in Moscow, made it a perfect match for the Soviet SS-4,

  • which had a range of 1,100 nautical miles, meaning American cities as far as Washington, DC would be in reach.

  • When the NPIC briefed Kennedy on what they'd found, the president ordered a scaling up of U-2 missions to photograph and analyze all of Cuba.

  • Photo analysts updated Kennedy daily and in secret on their progress, which gave them time to decide how to confront the Soviet Union.

  • Given the evidence, Kennedy was strongly advised to launch air strikes against the missile sites and invade Cuba.

  • But he took a more measured approach with his "strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment.”

  • Which kicked off 6 intense days between the US and the Soviet Union,

  • with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev calling Kennedy's movean act of aggression that pushes mankind to the abyss of world nuclear missile war.”

  • "Round the clock processing of their film shows that work on the missile sites is being accelerated."

  • The damning photos were revealed to allies at the United Nations, as the US military rapidly mobilized and was placed on high alert, and Cuba prepared for another invasion.

  • But when Soviet freighters reached the quarantine line….

  • "A Soviet-chartered vessel Amaruchla is stopped, boarded, and inspected, then cleared to proceed to Cuba."

  • "Apparently the Soviet vessels loaded with offensive weapons have turned back."

  • A few days later, Kennedy received a message from Kruschev.

  • The Soviet Union had agreed to withdraw from Cuba in exchange for the US removing missiles it had placed in Turkey and Italy.

  • So, the nuclear missile sites were dismantled and the Soviets left.

  • Transporting their nuclear missiles with them back across the Iron Curtain.

  • In a personal thank you letter to the NPIC, Kennedy emphasized the importance of the analysis

  • and interpretation of the Cuban photography in advising the US's response in what is now called the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • "In summary: the Soviet Union did embark upon a bold venture to establish clandestinely in the Western Hemisphere a major offensive weapons base."

  • "That they were deterred in this effort is in large part attributable to the type of reconnaissance photography that we have just reviewed."

October 22, 1962.

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This photo almost started a nuclear war

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    zoe posted on 2021/02/06
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