Day 1: Monday, October 15
After analyzing the pictures from the Heyser flight, the National Photographic Interpretation Center found what they thought were more surface-to-air missile sites. Closer inspection revealed, however, six much larger missiles -- each 60 to 65 feet long. What the photo interpreters had discovered were SS-4 nuclear missiles. They immediately knew it would involve the president.
For more information on reconnaissance see the Recon Room.
Day 2: Tuesday, October 16
Still in his pajamas, President Kennedy was informed of the missiles in Cuba during his breakfast. He did not react, but it was now clear that for months the Soviets had purposely been deceiving the American president. Kennedy immediately took charge and scheduled two meetings for that morning. First, he wanted to see the photographs himself. Looking over the photos Kennedy remarked, "They look like footballs on a football field." The missiles he held in his sight had a range of 1,100 miles and threatened major population centers in the U.S. including New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. At this point, the missiles were not yet operational, nor were they fitted with nuclear warheads, but as Marshall Carter, Deputy Director of the CIA, so accurately assessed, "They soon would be."
The second meeting of the day Kennedy scheduled for 11:45. He hand-picked a group of trusted government officials to advise him on the crisis. The assembled group was later referred to as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council or EX-COMM. (see link for a list of all the members) In that first meeting, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara outlined three possible courses of action for the U.S. to take against Cuba and the Soviet Union.
EX-COMM worked from the premise that the missile warheads were not yet in Cuba and not attatched to the missiles. Therefore, the goal of any action they proposed was to stop the warheads from reaching Cuba or to prevent the missiles from becoming fully operational.
A majority of the discussion that first day revolved around option number three and how the Soviets would respond. What EX-COMM didn't know was that the Soviets did indeed have nuclear warheads on the island. They had also installed battlefield nuclear weapons in Cuba and were prepared to fire them to halt an invasion.
In taking a stance on Cuba, Kennedy wanted to appear tough yet avoid a military confrontation. No matter what action the U.S. took, EX-COMM expected Khrushchev to retaliate.
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