Master of Arts (MA)


David L Snead

Primary Subject Area

Hispanic American Studies; History, Modern; History, Russian and Soviet


Cold War, Crisis, Cuba, Kennedy, McCone, Missile


My thesis focused on John McCone and his role during the Cuban Missile Crisis. On this subject, I will examine John McCone's efforts from May to September 1962 to understand the Soviet buildup in Cuba, pushing President John F. Kennedy for more reconnaissance of the island to aid this effort. During the crisis in October 1962, McCone was one of the main officials responsible for briefing the Kennedy administration on the Soviet efforts in Cuba, where he sided with the members of the cabinet pushing for an air strike and invasion to remove the missiles. Following the crisis, McCone continued to watch the Soviet withdrawal of offensive weapons from Cuba, all the time maintaining his staunch anti-communist views.

John McCone maintained throughout the summer and fall of 1962 that the Soviet Union might place nuclear weapons into Cuba. Part of the reason for this hypothesis was the correct assumption that the placement of missiles into Cuba gave Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev a way to counter the growing American nuclear superiority, protect the communist government on Cuba, and quell fears of the missiles being used against Moscow. McCone made his concerns clear to President Kennedy and other members of the administration before leaving on his honeymoon in late August 1962. During his honeymoon, he called for more reconnaissance flights over Cuba, empowering his deputy, General Marshall Carter, to continue his efforts in Washington. When he returned from his honeymoon, he found gaps in the reconnaissance over western portions of Cuba, and pushed for more reconnaissance flights. On the final of those authorized flights, October 14, the reconnaissance flights found the missiles. McCone's "crusade" during the summer and fall of 1962 was a primary reason for the early discovery of the missiles.

McCone also pushed to remove Castro and his communist government from power. Continuing his crusade against Castro, McCone joined several prominent members of the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) proposing a surgical strike against missile sites followed by an invasion. Despite his push for air strikes even during the blockade, McCone had the job of briefing the administration on daily intelligence reports, keeping Kennedy and his cabinet informed on construction efforts in Cuba. Despite his emotional calls for attacks on Cuba, McCone's efforts to combine the intelligence reports, analysis, and photo interpretation branches during the Crisis allowed the President to have a detailed picture on the withdrawal of the missiles, allowing Kennedy to make informed decisions when dealing with the Soviet government.

Finally, I examined McCone's efforts in November 1962, during the Soviet withdrawal of offensive weapons from Cuba. Kennedy, under intense pressure from Congress and public, relied on the CIA Director and the rest of the EXCOMM for intelligence analysis on whether the missiles had indeed left Cuba. McCone gave the administration the conclusions of the analysts studying the Soviet withdrawal, concluding that the weapons indeed were being dismantled and shipped back to the Soviet Union. Again, McCone had the important role of giving Kennedy the evidence he needed that the missiles were in fact leaving Cuba, bringing an end to the crisis.