The images on this draft briefing board provided National Photographic Interpretation Center imagery analysts the first indication that the USSR was placing offensive weapons – intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles – in Cuba. In an already tense national policy environment that pitted Communist ideals against Democracy, this revelation would change the course of the negotiations between USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
This imagery was key to understanding that the Soviet intentions in Cuba were more threatening than previously assessed. Until these images, captured by Air Force U-2 high altitude and U.S. Navy low altitude photo reconnaissance aircraft, only defensive weapons – surface-to-air missiles – had been detected by U.S. intelligence, which seemed to support statements made by Khrushchev.
A team of imagery analysts under the leadership of National Photographic Interpretation Center founding director Arthur P. Lundahl pored over these images, quickly realizing the gravity of their discovery and the risk they posed to upsetting the balance of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Analysts Dino Brugioni, James Holmes, Vincent DiRenzo Dick Reninger and Joseph Sullivan worked to prepare Lundahl to brief then-President John F. Kennedy the next day, leading to the crisis., The discovery of true Soviet intentions beganwhat some historians have called the 13 most dangerous days in world history, what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The discovery was also a critical milestone in the evolution of geospatial intelligence and its vital role in shaping foreign policy decision making.
NPIC is one NGA’s predecessor organizations. Like NPIC did in 1962, NGA still provides intelligence that provides ground truth that helps shape national policy.