338. Memorandum from McCone to USIB members, October 191

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A discussion among the principals on October 18th indicated a probable decision, if any action is taken against Cuba, to initiate a limited blockade designed to prevent the importation into Cuba of additional arms. To do this the United States would make such statements concerning a condition of war as is necessary to meet the legal requirements of such a blockade, but a formal “declaration of war against Cuba” would be avoided if possible and resorted to only if absolutely necessary.

The blockade could be extended at our discretion to include POL and possibly a total blockade if Castro persisted in the offensive build-up.

Continued surveillance would go forward so that we would know of the situation within Cuba as it evolved.

The blockade would start possibly on Monday, following a public announcement by the President which would include a display of photographic intelligence, persuasive notification to our Allies among the Soviets and the Cubans, but with no prior consultations with our Allies or any Latin Americans unless it proved necessary for legal reasons to assemble the OAS and secure the necessary approval to invoke the Rio Pact.

More extreme steps such as limited air strike, comprehensive air strike, or military invasion would be withheld awaiting developments. The possibility of more extreme actions has not been dismissed, however initiating such actions was considered unwise.

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The argument in favor of the blockade was principally that it initiated a positive action which could be intensified at our will or could be relaxed depending upon evolving circumstances. Soviet reactions are expected to be severe and very probably involve a blockade of Berlin and a widespread propaganda effort, however it was considered that we could have some control over the extent of Soviet reaction and in the event of a confrontation, would be negotiating from a position of positive action which would be intensified at our own direction.

The obvious disadvantages are the protracted nature of the operation, the difficulties of sustaining our position in world opinion because of our own complex of foreign bases and our deployment of offensive [Typeset Page 1080] missiles and nuclear weapons and finally, the action does not reverse the present trend of building an offensive capability within Cuba nor does it dispose of the existing missiles, planes, and nuclear weapons if the latter now exist there.

Positive military action initiated now appeared undesirable because of the impact of current and future world opinion, the spectacle of a powerful nation attacking by surprise attack a weak and insignificant neighbor, engagement by the United States in a “surprise attack” thus giving license to others to do the same, the indefendable position we would be in with our allies, and finally, the price to us of extreme actions of which the Soviets appear capable of executing.

The above course of action is by no means unanimous. The opinions range from doing nothing on the one hand, to immediate military action on the other. There exist differences of opinion as to the handling of Khrushchev, Castro, NATO, the OAS and Latin American states; and finally, a question of the “declaration of war” awaits legal opinion; also differences exist concerning the intensity of the blockade with some advocating a more comprehensive blockade which would include POL at the very start.

I would like guidance from USIB members for my use in further discussions which are to take place commencing at 11:00 a.m., October 19th, and will probably continue throughout the week end.

John A. McCone
  1. Transmits probable decision among principals to initiate a limited blockade of Cuba. Top Secret. 2 pp. CIA, DCI (McCone) Files: Job 80–B01285A, DCI Meetings with the President, 1 July–31 December 1962.