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The threat from soviet strategic weapons and the need to accurately assess Moscow’s intentions and capabilities were never more important than in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dramatic episode in the decades-long confrontation between the United States and the USSR.
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) was famous for his public bluster, but U.S. analysts did not appreciate the extent to which he was privately concerned that his country was at a disadvantage in the rivalry between the superpowers. For example, Khrushchev knew that, after a slow start, the United States had been able, by the early 1960s, to surpass the USSR in the production of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In addition to sites in the United States, these enormously destructive weapons were deployed on bases in Western Europe and Turkey, and thus, from Khrushchev’s perspective, were able to surround the USSR. In addition, American officials had tried in 1961 to overthrow communism’s only outpost in the Western Hemisphere, the regime of Fidel Castro (1926–) in Cuba.
To address these issues, Khrushchev launched a massive and daring undertaking in the spring of 1962. First, the USSR would publicly provide large amounts of conventional weapons to Cuba, including fighter aircraft, tanks, patrol boats, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and radar. Second, the Soviets would secretly send several dozen medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) to Cuba, along with a large contingent of Soviet troops to protect them. “
In what ways could the 1962 Cuban missile crisis be considered an intelligence failure? And in what other ways might it be characterized as an intelligence success?
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