208. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Cuba/USSR—Military Activity in Cienfuegos


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State—U. Alexis Johnson
  • Defense—David Packard
  • CIARichard Helms
  • JCS—Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • NSC Staff—Viron P. Vaky


There would be a restricted NSC meeting on the subject on Wednesday, September 23 immediately following the regularly scheduled one.2
There would be a pre-NSC meeting Tuesday afternoon3 (time to be announced). Johnson and Kissinger would check to see if Llewellyn Thompson could not be present to discuss the Soviet perception of the situation.
Moorer is to prepare a paper on the strategic significance of the Soviet activity in Cienfuegos.4
Discussion of possible US responses will be deferred to give the principals time to consider the matter.
If there are press leaks, everyone will “stone-wall,” simply saying we constantly receive such reports and we constantly and carefully evaluate them; no further comment.5

Dr. Kissinger stated that the Cuban/Soviet Base problem was to be discussed only in this very restricted group. The President and Secretary Rogers want to keep it very restricted. They want to avoid a crisis mood until we know what we are going to do. Therefore, each principle is to keep the circle that knows about this very small and paperwork very restricted.

Dr. Kissinger then asked if there were any new facts to add to the intelligence we now have on the Cienfuegos area.

Mr. Helms said there was nothing to add to the report6 circulated yesterday.

In response to Dr. Kissinger’s question as to military significance, Moorer said that there was no question but that the Soviets were building an advance submarine base. This kind of installation would enable the Soviets either to have submarines come into the port or have the tender rendezvous anywhere in international waters. It greatly increases the on-station time of the subs.

Dr. Kissinger observed that there was some evidence this is also an R&R area. Thus he assumed they could fly in reserve crews and rotate crews via the tender. All the servicing of the subs could take place in international waters; in short, it was possible for the Soviets to operate in a “legal” way that would make it very difficult for us to meet.

Admiral Moorer suggested, however, that this might be a violation of the 1962 Kennedy–Khrushchev agreement.7

Mr. Johnson pointed out that strictly speaking there was never an “agreement” in 1962. There was an exchange of letters some of which crossed each other. In essence, the discussion then concentrated on UN inspection. The only thing we focussed on were land-based missiles and IL 28’s. There was really nothing else, and no “agreement” in the conventional sense.

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Dr. Kissinger agreed with this interpretation based on his review of the record and talks with McCloy and McNamara.

Dr. Kissinger pointed out that what the Russians did in 1962 was “legal.” What President Kennedy did was to react on the basis of a challenge to our security. There were two questions—Do the Russians violate an international understanding with this activity? Probably not. Secondly, what do we do from the security aspect?

Mr. Johnson cited President Kennedy’s press conference of November 20, 1962, in which the President said that peace in the Caribbean would depend upon strategic weapons being removed from Cuba and “kept out in the future” under adequate measures of inspection. This was the only specific thing we had, although everyone agreed that this was only a unilateral declaration of our own position. (A copy of the text of the November statement was given to Dr. Kissinger.)8

Mr. Johnson asked if there was any evidence as to whether the base accommodated Y-Class subs or attack subs or both.

It was generally agreed it could accommodate both.

Moorer pointed out that the base extends the operation of either Y or E class subs. The Soviets can now do with 1 what it now takes 5 to do. The net effect is to permit them to maintain a greater number of subs on station with the same force level.

Mr. Packard pointed out that the Soviets put up this installation in a hurry, something they do not usually do. They apparently want to have it quickly as a fait accompli. He believed the Soviets may want it in existence before the November 1 SALT talks.9

Mr. Johnson added that this was his theory.

Dr. Kissinger asked Moorer to do a paper on military implications. He asked if the Russians would store missiles at the base, and inquired as to what we did.

Admiral Moorer replied that we keep weapons on the tender, and that is what they will undoubtedly do.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Packard both pointed out that the Russians were doing just what we are doing in advanced areas.

Mr. Helms said he was surprised they had not done it sooner.

Mr. Packard also pointed out that apart from the SALT angle, the number of Y class subs becoming operational now made the establishment of this kind of advanced base installation more sensible from the Russians’ viewpoint.

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Dr. Kissinger then asked if it was agreed that any decision we make in this regard must be on the assumption that the base can be used for Y Class, not just attack subs; in short, there was no point in trying to distinguish—the base is to be assumed to be for both. All agreed.

Secondly, Dr. Kissinger suggested that the strategic situation is different from 1962.

Mr. Packard agreed, saying this does not change the balance very much.

Mr. Johnson agreed, pointing out that the 1962 situation did constitute a major change of the strategic balance.

Mr. Packard said we must nevertheless assess the matter carefully, and that one danger was to the US bomber bases. The subs would have to get in close to our shore and they would need about 4 to 5 Y Class subs to have a credible threat against the bases.

All agreed with Dr. Kissinger’s observation that what the Russians are doing is comparable to our building a sub base on the Black Sea.

Dr. Kissinger said that the President wanted an NSC discussion of this subject on Wednesday (Sept. 23) with just the major principals concerned—Rogers, Helms, Laird, Moorer. This would be done after the regular NSC meeting. We will operate on the assumption that the base is designed for Y Class subs and the question is whether a base of that kind requires a US response and if so what it should be.

Dr. Kissinger again asked Moorer to prepare a paper on what the base does for Y Class subs, for attack subs, to the strategic balance. The worldwide USSR naval picture should be included.

Dr. Kissinger asked how we can get a sense of Soviet perception of the situation.

Mr. Packard expressed the view that it is a long-range naval plan; he did not think it was a nuclear strike move, just a long-range buildup of power.

Mr. Helms observed that the Russians are doing the same thing in the Indian Ocean—they have built an airfield on the “God-forsaken island” of Scotoa, which belongs to South Yemen.

Admiral Moorer stated it may be just the beginning, and they might want to put up facilities in Chile.

Mr. Johnson said he would like to talk to “Tommy” Thompson on the Soviet angle.

Dr. Kissinger said that maybe Thompson should talk to the whole group. They agreed that Dr. Kissinger would check with the President and Johnson would check with Secretary Rogers, and they would be in touch with each other.

It was further agreed that there would be a pre-NSC meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

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Mr. Helms pointed out that the jumpiest people in the world about Cuba are in the Congress.

Mr. Packard pointed out that the only reason for some speed is that the story is likely to leak, and may leak by Wednesday. Everyone agreed that they would just stone-wall it.

In response to Dr. Kissinger’s question, everyone said they would prefer to think about the matter before proceeding to discuss possible US responses. It was agreed that consideration should proceed through the spectrum from doing nothing on up, but at the moment the meeting had gone as far as it could.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 214.
  3. The President’s Daily Diary does not indicate that a meeting was held before the NSC meeting scheduled for 12:07 p.m. on September 22. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  4. Document 211.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 221.
  6. Not found. A September 18 memorandum from Nachmanoff to Kissinger summarizes the report. Kissinger included the information in his memorandum to the President on that day; see Document 207.
  7. See Tab A, Document 194.
  8. For text, see Public Papers: Kennedy, 1962, pp. 830–838.
  9. The third phase of SALT was to begin on November 2 in Helsinki.