Fifty years after they discovered Soviet missiles poised to strike the United States from Cuba, two intelligence officers met with hundreds of their current-day counterparts to commemorate the anniversary of the crisis that nearly brought the world to nuclear war.
Dino Brugioni and Vincent DiRenzo were part of a small group from the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center who worked for 13 tense days in October 1962 to avert disaster. They joined author and journalist Michael Dobbs, and two current analysts, in an Oct. 15 panel discussion at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency here.
Through reminiscences and present-day observations, the group illustrated the significance of the crisis and its continued impact on the tradecraft of imagery and geospatial analysis.
A photo interpreter, DiRenzo led the NPIC team and formed the initial conclusion about the presence of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba from analysis of U-2 spy plane imagery. He discussed the immediate wake of his discovery.
"Considering the severity of the identification, we figured we'd be in for a long night," DiRenzo said. He indicated that the initial assessment was not a "slam dunk," as convincing people of the true significance of the find was difficult. While DiRenzo was absolutely sure, the image did not show clearly identifiable missiles, but rather, long, canvas-covered objects that, to the layman, could be almost anything.
Charged with preparing materials on daily developments for NPIC Director Arthur C. Lundahl’s briefs to the executive committee and the White House, Brugioni was instrumental in arming President John F. Kennedy with intelligence needed to navigate this perilous moment in history.
He recalled with humor how many of his briefing boards came back from the White House marked up with blue crayon from a doodling Caroline Kennedy. On a more somber note, he also relayed the fearful mood of the time.
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