193. Editorial Note

In White House Years, Henry Kissinger, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, describes his and President Richard Nixon’s reactions to the Soviet note on Cuba delivered by Yuli Vorontsov on August 4, 1970 (Tab A, Document 192):

Nixon and I even speculated that the message delivered by Vorontsov might be a token of Soviet goodwill to improve the atmosphere for a summit in the fall. Our complacency was reflected in our reaction to an FBI report which, as chance would have it, reached us on August 5; it claimed that two boats hired by exiles in Miami would try to sink a Soviet tanker headed for Cuba.” (page 634)

Concerned that the Cuban exile operation might provoke a crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union, the National Security Council staff immediately began monitoring the situation. On August 5, at 9:35 p.m., General Alexander Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and Arnold Nachmanoff, NSC Operations Staff officer for Latin America, spoke on the telephone. Haig informed Nachmanoff of the following:

“I spoke to Henry [Kissinger]. He thinks the best bet is to call the Coast Guard and get the Coast Guard duty officer. Henry wants you to get some war game contingency plans. I mentioned the possibility of notifying the Soviets and Henry said he didn’t think we should now and if we do, we should go to the President. We don’t want this to happen at this point in time. I will now tell [Captain] Dan[iel] Murphy to check with NMCC for more feedback from CINCLANT [Commander in Chief, Atlantic]. They can not engage in anything like this—if they can get a fix on it and buzz it, they might frighten it away. Check the Coast Guard.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Haig Chronological File, Haig Telecons, 1970)

In an August 6 memorandum to Nixon, Kissinger summarized the administration’s follow-up actions concerning the Cuban exile operation:

“A Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to intercept and escort a Soviet tanker, the only known Soviet vessel scheduled to traverse the [Page 590] Straits, to prevent possible attack. An extensive air and sea search during the night has failed to locate the Cuban-manned vessel. Although our intelligence agencies are still attempting to corroborate the report, the search is continuing today.” (Ibid., Box 25, President’s Daily Briefs)

By August 10, the possibility of a crisis over the Cuban exile operation subsided. In an August 10 memorandum to the President, Kissinger explained: “The search for possible Cuban exile vessels allegedly involved in attempting to attack a Soviet ship was concluded Saturday morning. In view of the time elapsed, the probability of the raid occurring had become very low. The Coast Guard has returned to normal operations and U.S. Navy P–3 aircraft have been released from surveillance/patrol flights.” (Ibid.)