214. Minutes of Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • Jordan and Cuba


  • The President
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird
  • Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard
  • Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • General Alexander M. Haig

The President opened the meeting by stating that there would be two topics on the morning’s agenda—the first a review of the situation in Jordan and the second a sensitive discussion of the latest intelligence on the situation in Cienfuegos Bay in Cuba.

[Here follows an intelligence briefing and discussion on Jordan.]

He [Secretary Rogers] suggested that the group now turn from the Jordanian problem to the problem of Cuba. The President cautioned the group that the discussion on Cuba was limited to a strictly need-to-know group, pointing out that we were faced with a major election issue which opponents could seize upon for their own domestic political advantage. He cautioned each of the principals to hold the information strictly to themselves and to take equivalent action on any paperwork associated with the Cuban issue.

The President then asked Mr. Helms to present an update briefing on the Cuban situation to the group. Mr. Helms followed the prepared text at Tab A,2 using photos. As Mr. Helms depicted the situation on the ground in Cuba through photographic evidence, Secretary Laird stated that it was important that we proceed with the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Corona. Deputy Secretary Packard commented that the only limitation on the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] adding that the experience in Cuba confirmed the [Page 649] importance of providing for the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The President asked whether or not the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] would have helped us along the Suez Canal. Secretary Packard replied, “Yes, providing it had been scheduled properly.” He also pointed out that the Real-Time-Readout camera would be of great benefit [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The President asked whether or not these systems would not be an important factor in the policing of any SALT agreement. Secretary Laird confirmed that, indeed, these would be important technological assets for us. The President then stated that he wanted no more budgetary nibblings on [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] or the Real-Time-Readout capability and stated that these systems were too important and must be funded. He added, somewhat jokingly, that the Department of Defense could pay for these systems out of its funds.

Director Helms continued with his prepared briefing and Secretary Rogers asked when the construction in Cienfuegos and Alcatraz Island actually started. Director Helms stated that we had our first evidence this spring. He stated that in August we noted the athletic facilities and all believed that it was significant that there were no baseball fields—only soccer fields, suggesting Soviet occupation rather than Cuban. The President commented that the dates were very important and Mr. Helms replied that he would try to get a firm verification on the precise dates when various stages of the construction were initiated. Secretary Laird said that the construction had moved extremely rapidly and Moorer commented that all of the work had been done within 30 days from the period August 15 to September 15.

Admiral Moorer then commented that if the Soviets increased their SLBN levels to 41 and put a portion of them in Cuba that the Cienfuegos facility would give them what would amount to 10–12 additional submarines. The facility would also enable them to penetrate more deeply into the Gulf of Mexico and therefore enhance their targeting capabilities within the central United States. Moorer concluded that if the Cienfuegos base is, in fact, a permanent submarine support facility, it will have the effect of increasing Soviet force levels.

Admiral Moorer next stated that we are watching the situation very carefully through U–2 flights at a minimum of one every three days. He reported that the JCS are developing an attack plan and a plan for trailing Soviet submarines as well. He remarked that the Soviets themselves maintain surveillance trawlers adjacent to all U.S. bases.

Admiral Moorer then asked Mr. Helms to comment on the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] which were picked up from one of the Soviet vessels. Mr. Helms stated that they had overflown with detection aircraft one of the Soviet vessels enroute to Cienfuegos and [Page 650] had received positive evidence of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] from the vessel. However, following departure of the vessel from Cienfuegos a similar flight did not pick up such [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The President stated that this suggested that they have already stored some nuclear components in Cienfuegos.

The President then asked Moorer what additional surveillance besides U–2’s we had undertaken. Moorer responded that the Navy has a destroyer right in international waters close by and stated that the Soviets are aware of its presence. Secretary Rogers asked if we have positive evidence that they have or intend to have nuclear weapons stored on shore in Cuba. The President stated that in his view whether the weapons are on the tenders or on shore, this would constitute a violation of the nebulous 1962 understanding.

Admiral Moorer replied that they have built a dock and have established permanent buoys, and that storage can be effected afloat or on shore. Secretary Rogers agreed that this would be a violation. The President stated that anyone familiar with the problem would agree that it would constitute a serious violation. Moorer stated that current Soviet tactics we have observed permit the Soviets to transfer missiles from Soviet tenders to the submarines at sea, so that storage on the tenders alone constitutes an important military asset for the Soviets.

The President then pointed out that the situation was especially serious in view of the exchange between Vorontsov and the White House in August,3 since at that time, Vorontsov had given the U.S. assurances that they would abide by the earlier understanding and asked us to do the same. Secretary Rogers stated that his understanding of the so-called agreement was that we agreed not to invade Cuba in return for the removal of offensive missiles from Cuba. Mr. Kissinger stated that there was no agreement as such but merely a series of parallel statements. He stated that the U.S. conditions were open-ended and provided that we would not invade if adequate inspection were established whereby the removal of offensive weapons could be verified. The Soviets, in turn, never delivered on the inspection issue. Therefore, in effect, there is no binding agreement and we never gave any additional pledges.

The President asked what has been said recently on the subject. Mr. Kissinger stated that on August 4 [5], there was a scare report of a Cuban exile attack against a Soviet trawler4 and that he, Kissinger, had assured Vorontsov that we were taking protective action in behalf of the Soviet vessel traveling to Cuba. Vorontsov, in turn, had told [Page 651] Kissinger that the Soviets wished to use the occasion to reaffirm the understandings of 1962.

The President then asked whether or not CIA had the capability to re-institute the exile program against Cuba. Mr. Helms stated that this capability had been dismantled. The President commented that obviously there was no real understanding, and Secretary Laird confirmed this. Secretary Rogers stated that, in any event, it was a very fuzzy understanding.

Secretary Laird commented that we must now consider whether we want to reaffirm our position with respect to Cuba. The President stated that the important thing today is to think about this issue very carefully. The U.S. could consider sending a note to the Soviets but where would we go from there? The alternatives must be carefully considered. Secretary Laird stated that the whole issue will surface very shortly. He pointed out that it had come up in conference on the military authorization bill and was discussed openly. The issue added more effect to the conference, adding $25 million more for U.S. ships. He stated that the issue will surface just the same as it did in 1962 and the timing is important. The U.S. must consider and be prepared on how it will handle this issue very quickly.

Mr. Kissinger then commented that the U.S. also had to consider the international political implications of the Soviet action. Why, for example, had they chosen this point to install a base? Why also would the Soviets try to reaffirm the 1962 understandings and then 11 days later move precipitously to install strategic weapons in Cuba? What is the relationship with this action and the situation in Chile and what are its implications should Chile go Marxist? Mr. Kissinger stated that the political consequences of the Soviet action present a most serious dilemma and transcend the purely military strategic implications of the Soviet action. The real question, he stated, was why have the Soviets undertaken this move directly against the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1962 understandings?

Secretary Laird reported that they have three Y-class submarines now targeted on the U.S. and that this would increase that capability. Secretary Rogers stated that he hoped that the United States would not pull any alarm bells until after the Congressional election. He suggested that if the Soviet action leaks, then it will be necessary to low-key our response. It would be disastrous to have this break between now and elections. Therefore, it is essential that this group react very carefully to the intelligence presented. The President stated that our problem is not to react to the Soviets in a blustering way. He stated that the U.S. needs to low-key the issue for the present. We should respond with the fact that the government is aware of the situation, that we are watching it very carefully, that we consider the understandings of 1962 [Page 652] in effect, and that we will hold the Soviets to that. Moorer interjected that this action should be tied into the Soviets world-wide naval expansion. The President directed the WSAG to develop a suggested U.S. public response if the intelligence information breaks. He also directed the WSAG to prepare a suggested line to take officially with the Soviets.

The President then commented that, in his view, the new base would constitute a marginal strategic advantage. Therefore, it might be that the Soviets thought out the implications of this action very carefully for other political reasons. In either event, the President stated, it is desirable to keep the discussion within the group assembled in the room. That group, the President stated, knows what is actually being done by the Soviets and all understand that there can be no Soviet offensive weapons in Cuba. Mr. Kissinger stated that he regretted the necessity of playing the role of a villain on this issue. The President interrupted, stating that what he had been referring to was the public U.S. position. It was necessary, the President noted, that in private we must be very tough but that this line was to be taken privately. If we are to take a tough public stance, we will set up a great domestic clamor. Secretary Rogers reiterated that it was necessary to keep all discussions and information within this particular group. The President stated we need, in effect, two lines: (1) a public line designed to preclude a crisis atmosphere, and (2) an official line to take privately with the Soviets. It will be necessary to consider this line most seriously and it was essential that our concerns be brought forcefully to Soviet attention. In public, however, we should merely take the stance that we are aware of the situation and are watching it carefully. Dr. Kissinger stated that the important aspect of our public line is not to permit the Soviets to think that what they have done is acceptable. The President agreed, stating that it was true, that we had to be sure that the Soviets know that their acts were unacceptable.

Secretary Laird then stated again that the whole situation was soon to break and that it was important that the Soviets know our stand before it breaks publicly—not after. Secretary Rogers asked what the United States would do if the Soviets were to ignore our warning. What action could the United States take to show that it is serious? It is important that the U.S. is able to back up its words with deeds. Secretary Laird stated that we might consider moving strategic bombers into Turkey. Secretary Rogers said, “What about Cuba, itself, if we take naval action around Cuba?” Secretary Laird replied that we need more ships in the area and more surveillance.

Secretary Laird added that he did not visualize our being able to do anything in Guantanamo. The President asked if we could blockade Cuba or mine Cienfuegos Harbor. Moorer confirmed that this was possible. The President stated that he wanted us to refrain from restraining the Cuban exile community from acting against Cuba. He wanted to consider the possibility of a new blockade with surface [Page 653] ships and the possibility of mining the entrance to the harbor. Admiral Moorer added that we should initiate a trailing program with respect to Soviet ships traveling to and from Cuba. Secretary Laird stated he would implement this immediately.

Secretary Rogers said the important thing is how it is all done. Mr. Kissinger stated that the WSAG, which was in effect the same group as in this room, would work out a careful scenario for Presidential decision. The President stated that two problems existed—the first was the problem of our public posture. This was to be accomplished with calmness, an expression of awareness of the situation, but above all, in such a way that it is low-key. The danger would be that we would take a bellicose public stance which would force the Soviets to react in the same way. The second problem concerned the official line. The President indicated he wanted strong U.S. action. He wanted to make it clear that the U.S. could not permit the establishment of a Soviet strategic base in Cuba. In his view, the President stated, even though the strategic balance has changed drastically since 1962 the Soviets would never trade Russia for Havana.

Secretary Laird then stated again that it would be difficult to hold this any longer. He reiterated that he had been asked three times on the Hill about Cuban intelligence. Secretary Rogers suggested that we prepare a scenario without anyone knowing. Admiral Moorer commented that he could prepare one himself. The President pointed out that this was a special case with particular impact domestically. It may already be clear what the Soviets are up to. They may step up their activities world-wide and this may only be the beginning. The President stated that the group should meet again at noon the following day.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes, Originals, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Attached but not printed. For additional information about Helms’ briefing, see footnote 2, Document 212.
  3. See Document 192.
  4. See Document 193.