McCone's Nightmares

September 4, 1962

August didn’t feel like August this year: not enough time in Hyannis Port, not enough time sailing, not nearly enough time spent golfing. (I have to be careful about being photographed playing golf, which is supposed to be a game played only by Republicans. Not a problem this summer. I scarcely picked up a club.)

The problem is the damned Cubans and their hyperactive leader, Mr. Castro. First, I had to return to Washington on the 23rd of August to convene the NSC because my CIA director, John McCone said he was having nightmares about the Soviets putting nuclear missiles into Cuba. Sometimes I think John is paranoid. Even his most loyal underlings at the Agency don’t believe Khrushchev would be that reckless, that foolish, that irrational—that he would introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba, 90 miles from Key West Florida. But anyway, John is the director, so we had to meet and discuss his nightmares. Finally I got to go back to the Cape, but only after I signed a memorandum authorizing stepped up covert operations against the Cuban government by CIA operatives and Cuban exiles. I have to give the exiles a bone to chew on, or they will cause me even more political trouble than they already do in Florida.

I also regret what I said on 29 August at a news conference: I should not have said that I was against a U.S. invasion of Cuba “at this time,” because so far we haven’t spotted any Soviet combat troops or nuclear missiles on the island. I have to be more careful about that. By saying not “at this time,” I implied that there might come a time and a circumstance when it will be the right time to invade Cuba. That god-damned Ken Keating jumped on it a couple of days later, claiming publicly that the Soviets were already installing “rockets” in Cuba, and calling on me to order a full-scale invasion of the island. Sometimes I’d like to walk up to Keating and tell him to kiss my ass. He won’t say who his intelligence sources are. He won’t even engage in a reasonable conversation about the possible consequences of a U.S. invasion of Cuba. He’s a demagogue and an irresponsible senator. And there are rumors coming out of his home state of New York that he wants my job in 1964.

This is getting really dicey. Today, I got a letter from Khrushchev, delivered by their ambassador, Dobrynin, telling me to relax, that the Russians would never do anything foolish, certainly nothing as foolish as putting nuclear weapons in Cuba, especially not right before the U.S. Congressional election. Dobrynin confirmed it orally as well to Bobby. But why are they telling me this? I mean, what kind of leader writes to another leader and says, in effect, “I’m not lying; none of us lying; all of us are telling the truth?” It makes me think that all these statements about not putting nukes in Cuba are pure bullshit.

Bobby is right. We had to issue the statement earlier today, basically saying that if nuclear weapons are spotted in Cuba, we’ll give you one chance to remove them, and if they don’t, then we’ll destroy them. The problem is that I don’t want to go to war with Cuba. I don’t want to have a bigger version of the Bay of Pigs, which was bad enough for my reputation. I just hope Khrushchev is telling the truth and that McCone is wrong. If missiles turn up, there will be hell to pay. The hawks will descend on me like pigeons to breadcrumbs. They will want to go to war. But war with the Soviet Union, with a nuclear power, putting our survival at risk? It looks as if September is going to be like August, maybe worse.