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NGA in History - Defining Moments

Cuban Missile Crisis

For 13 days in October 1962, the U.S. and Soviet Union stared down the barrel of mutually assured destruction. Throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, the National Photographic Interpretation Center – a heritage organization of NGA – provided timely, vital intelligence that shaped President Kennedy's understanding of the threat, and armed him with crucial details that formed the basis for the sound judgment and decision making Kennedy and his administration exhibited in tense negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.

After successful brinkmanship and diplomacy by the Kennedy administration de-escalated the nuclear crisis, NPIC photo interpreters provided key support to confirm through imagery analysis that Khrushchev’s Soviet nuclear forces were, in fact, being withdrawn from Cuba.

Following the crisis, Kennedy commended NPIC Director Arthur Lundahl in a personally-signed letter. The letter thanked Lundahl and his team for their tireless efforts during the crisis, and acknowledged the quality of the imagery analysis he considered so vital to his decision making. The same professional analysis that averted nuclear war in 1962 informs the President and other policymakers is still produced at NGA today.

Associated Document(s)

Cuban Missile Crisis Fact Sheet
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