691. Memorandum of telephone conversation between McNamara and Ball and U. Alexis Johnson, June 241
GB: You probably know there was a note delivered by the Cubans this afternoon?
GB: which has two rather interesting passages. One of them protests the low level flight (in the singular) over Cuban territory for the purpose espionage by a US military plane which US press has taken upon itself to reveal.
RM: I’m not sure where the revelation comes.
AJ: Let me say on this, Bob, I’ve been having our people check around, and they are absolutely unable to find anything on it.
RM: When I read that I didn’t know whether the Cubans were trying to say in effect we have confessed we had done it or whether they just had that information and no other.
GB: In any event, what they say is they’ve warned that the Cuban gunners have orders to fire against . . . .
RM: Yes. I noticed it said “fire against low level”.
GB: Which makes low level flight. Then later in the telegram it says “this event as well as the attack carried out at the end of last April against the same Cuban refinery by a plane which took from US territory, etc. at any altitude.”
RM: This is in the Beechcraft context.
GB: Yes, but it mentions at any altitude but it talks about hastening our defensive preparations. It suggests not being able to do it now but they’re hopeful of being able to do it later. I wanted to get something off to Bonn tonight just to bring them up-to-date on this and what I propose to say was that as they knew there were not going to be any low-levels until after the President got back and we could take another look at the thing. As far as high levels were concerned it was my understanding that the ones that would be conducted from tomorrow on would be with the engines which would . . . . three or four thousand feet.
RM: Well, I wouldn’t emphasize that, George. I don’t think it would make a lot of difference.[Typeset Page 1783]
AJ: You don’t think they . . . .
RM: No, I wouldn’t emphasize it.
AJ: Well, should we mention it?
RM: I certainly wouldn’t say it’s 3 or 4,000 feet; there is some argument about that, for one thing; some say 1500. In any case . . . . personally, I wouldn’t even mention it.
GB: I see.
RM: I wouldn’t even mention it, simply because I don’t think it affords any great degree of safety that wasn’t there before.
AJ: I see.
RM: Particularly I feel that when I think that the major attack would come from the SAMs, rather than the aircraft.
GB: Well, this does raise one question, Bob, which I think we ought to give a little thought to. That is, whether we ought to stand on flights altogether until the President gets back. There is some risk in this. On the other hand, the consequences of a plane being shot down while he is overseas are very considerable.
RM: Yes, they are. I’ve thought some of this, but I really don’t think. . .
GB: You don’t the risks are sufficient?
RM: No. McCone was pushing the other way over the weekend—give up these aborts. We’ve had three now since the 19th.[Facsimile Page 2]
GB: Well I think at least we should say to the President that there have been three aborts.
RM: I think that’s reasonable, yes.
GB: And that we’re going ahead with high levels following . . . .
RM: following abort rules that minimize the possibility of attack.
RM: Yes, I think that’s fine.
GB: And not mention the engines, then?
RM: No. I’m not trying to hide the engines. The only reason I wouldn’t mention it is I just don’t want to give him any extra feeling of safety, because I really don’t think it’s there.
GB: OK. I just wanted to make sure that you and I were on the same line.
RM: Sure. I really don’t know what’s going there. I’m inclined to think that they’re just practicing. I think they’re quite a way from any capability of actually shooting it down. This is a very difficult maneuver. I think they’re just practicing.
AJ: And we’ll have a slightly added margin, hopefully.
RM: Yes, that’s right. There will be some added margin.[Typeset Page 1784]
GB: Fine. Then I’m sending a message to the President tonight. I’ll tell him that you and I talked about it.
RM: Very good.
- U–2 reconnaissance flights over Cuba in response to Cuban note of protest. No classification marking. 3 pp. Kennedy Library, Ball Papers, Telephone Conversations, Cuba.↩