This is a short story that I had a little fun with. I went to the reading library page at CIA.gov and picked one of the pages of John F. Kennedy’s Daily Intelligence Briefings at random and used it to create a story (hence the footnote in the text).

For the one I picked, I generated a purely fictional conversation between President Kennedy and then-Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles.


Top Secret-For the President Only

Date: 17 June 1961

From: The Director of Central Intelligence

Subj: Daily Intelligence Briefing

  1. Bilateral disarmament talks with the USSR begin Monday[1].
  2. The Soviet Long-Range Air Force exercise—most extensive ever—is over and practically all aircraft have returned to their bases[1].
  3. Soviet Party Central Committee in session[1].

The president glared at his intelligence chief. That the two hated each other was the worst kept secret in Washington. They’d known of each other before the inauguration, had had an icy professional relationship during the president’s years as a congressman and senator, but this was different. The shrewd, combative man on the other side of the resolute desk, with his neat moustache and wire-rimmed spectacles, was giving him chicken feed.

“Mister Director,” the president spoke, a thick Boston accent drawling out his words, “I need more information than this. I cannot make decisions based on what I have in my hands right now.”

     Allen Dulles sat coolly, unmoving, staring back. He answered, his nasally New York accent irritating the president almost as much as his words.

“Mister President. We do not have anything more to give you at this time.”

“Bullshit Allen. We have nuclear talks beginning, the Committee is in session and we think that some of the Long-Range Air Force didn’t go home. Where’d they go? You have to have some idea. What planes? Are they bombers, Mister Director?”

     Dulles began to answer, to restate his position, but the president raised his hand, stopping the director. He continued.

“Mister Director. On the intelligence front alone, we outspend the Soviets more than four-to-one, and that is just the portion of the budget we tell the public about. If we can’t find missing bombers, just days before nuclear disarmament talks begin, what are the good, hardworking taxpayers getting for their money?

“Mister President. We believe that the missing planes are bombers. TU-16s. Roughly the same as our B-47 bombers.”

“I gathered that. If it was not a bomber, you wouldn’t put it in here. Where did the bombers go, Mister Director?”

“Cuba, Mister President. We believe the bombers were sent to Cuba.”

     The president just glared at his intelligence chief, rolling the word over and over in his mind. Cuba. He was tiring of this charade, had the inclination to fire the man on the spot.

“Cute, Mister Director.”

     The president saw Dulles’s eyes flare at that.

“Mister President. You asked for our assessment. Those planes went to Cuba.”

     The president smiled, eyes twinkling. Since the day he’d first sat in this chair, invading Cuba had been something pressed on him. He’d initially agreed, but something was holding him back about the idea. An invasion seemed unwarranted, dangerous. Yet these people, leftovers from the Eisenhower Administration, were pushing for another war. Pushing hard. It came from everywhere. The joint chiefs. The Pentagon. Congressmen and Senators. Lobbyists and previously trusted confidants who had fortunes tied up in the defense industry.

He thought about that. The military-industrial complex, his predecessor had warned, could endanger liberty and democratic processes. It was certainly interfering with his administration’s agenda. So many problems, right here at home, and he was forced to spend hour-after-hour-after-hour listening to people invested in the industry talk to him about the Soviets and the Cubans and whoever else they could paint as a threat. He was tiring of this game.

“Mister Director. Five months ago, when I agreed to Pluto, part of the discussion revolved around Joint Chiefs wanting to land B-26s on Cuba. Do you remember that conversation?”

“I do.”

“And do you remember the outcome of that discussion.”

“I do not.”

“Well, Mister Director, I’ll give you the short version. We can’t land a single B-26 on any Cuban airfield because the runways are not long enough to support that aircraft. An aircraft, Mister Director, whose required runway length is significantly less than that of the Soviet bombers you just tried to tell me have somehow made their way to Cuba. Don’t you find that odd?”

“Mister President. I am just answering your question…”

     The president rose, standing behind the wooden desk.

“Based on what Allen? Based on what? What evidence do you have? Did they construct a new airfield? Can I see the pictures? We’ve spent millions of dollars on the U-2 program. Overflying Cuba from Laughlin. Surely there are photographs.”

     The president could see that Dulles did not like being mocked, could see the man’s face flush. He waited for an answer.

“Mister president. There are no such photographs. We believe that it would be logical for the Soviets to have an airstrip capable of accommodating these planes on Cuba.”

“I agree, Mister Director. That is completely logical. Have they built the thing? Or are we just talking about what they should do, what we would do in their place?”

“We have no indications that a new airfield capable of accommodating the TU-16 has been built.”

“Then why did you just insist that the missing planes are in Cuba? I’m not stupid Mister Director. Even if the Soviets shipped each plane there, bolt-by-goddamned-bolt, the planes are still useless without a runway. They’d be better served to just ship the Cubans a few missiles!”

“Mister President. It would make sense to have the planes in Cuba before the airfield is…”

     The president leaned over the desk, finger pointing directly at his intelligence chief. His voice lowered, a quiet, dangerous whisper.

“Don’t you dare, Mister Director. In the last twenty years, this nation has fought in two major wars, one of which was the bloodiest conflict in human history. I will not be bullied or misled into starting another war.”

“Mister President. An invasion of Cuba hardly qualifies as…”

“As a what, Mister Director? A what? Sure. An American invasion of Cuba would last, what? Two weeks? Maybe three? And what happens when the Soviets get involved. They will. You know it as well as I do.”

     The president lowered his finger, placed both palms on the cluttered desk, spoke.

“Mister Director. If the Soviets start placing weapons in Cuba, or even the means to deliver those weapons, this administration will act accordingly. We will not, however, invade a sovereign nation based on thoughts, hunches, or jury-rigged and twisted intelligence. If the facts dictate that an invasion of Cuba is necessary, I will support and direct such action when it becomes necessary. I will not place the men and women of this nation at risk to serve the interests of the joint chiefs.”

“But Mister President…”

“Mister Director. I asked for a daily intelligence briefing and I expect to get one that is based on factual information, Mister Director. Facts. Not hunches. Not premonitions. Facts. Evidence, Mister Director. An intelligence chief who cannot do that, who insists on twisting those facts to serve a single purpose, will not remain in his post. I cannot afford that.”

“Mister President…”

“You are dismissed, Mister Director.”

     The president watched the older man quietly gather his papers and leave the room. When the door was closed, he pressed a button on his intercom. When the voice of Ken O’Donnell answered, the president spoke.

“Get Robert here. Now.”

[1] Central Intelligence Agency. (2020, April 9). The President’s Intelligence Checklist 17 June 1961. Retrieved from CIA.gov: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/collection/presidents-daily-brief-1961-1969

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