Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited

Today’s post is written by Michael Rhodes, an archives technician in the Archives’ National Declassification Center. 

Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we are still piecing together the actions of his administration. From the Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Record Group 330), a report – probably one of several copies created – was declassified in 1999. After being processed by the National Declassification Center (NDC), the document was released to the public. Entitled “Department of Defense Operations During the Cuban Crisis” (NARA online catalog identifier 7365855), it chronicles the period from October 1 to November 21, 1962.

For people unfamiliar with the terms “declassification” or “declassified”, I refer you to President Obama’s Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information, which defines declassification as “the authorized change in the status of information from classified to unclassified.” In the case of this particular record, the original marking SECRET has been canceled. At the bottom of the first page is the declassification authority, represented by a project number assigned when the records were reviewed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).

The NDC facilitates the review and declassification of Executive Branch records in the holdings of the National Archives. While examining a box of OSD files, I opened a folder labeled “CUBA.” Inside, among memos, press releases, transcripts, news clippings and photographs, I found this twenty-page report. Created to serve as an official record, it is divided into the following sections: The Quarantine, Contingency Planning, Logistics, Civil Defense, and Reserve Forces. Under each heading is a narrative account of the activities of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine units in the Western Hemisphere, positioned everywhere from Fort Hood, Texas to Guantanamo Bay.

The details of the U.S. military response to Soviet forces in Cuba and the Caribbean Sea are interesting in themselves. However, this document is important not so much for the record it provides of what happened, but rather for what did not happen. Today, we know that the Americans and the Russians were poised to attack each other with atomic weapons, both at sea and on land. Fortunately, a sequence of decisions, actions, and inactions largely avoided a war, much less a nuclear one.


This is page one of the full 20-page report. Please see the online catalog description to view the document in its entirety.

3 thoughts on “Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited

  1. Thanks for your post Michael. Your post is helpful in understanding in giving a quick overview of both how declassification and the NDC work.

    Now, can you tell us more about the record you found – I see the words “My Cuba File” handwritten on the top of the page. Who is the “my”?

    1. Michael Rhodes, guest blogger of this post, has provided the following response to your question:

      Assistant Secretary of Defense (Legislative Affairs) David E. McGiffert, August 8, 1962 – June 30, 1965. McGiffert directed the office that created and/or maintained the files, which of course includes the “Cuban Crisis” report.

      For more information about the creating organization of these files, visit the Organization Authority Record for this series

  2. 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the whole story of the resolution of the crisis has yet to be told. The Departments of Energy and Defense still have not declassified key information. Learn more by reading our report to the President on “Transforming the Security Classification System” – or by reading and commenting on our blog:

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