One minute to midnight Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the brink of nuclear war

Michael Dobbs, 1950-

Book - 2008

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New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2008.
Main Author
Michael Dobbs, 1950- (-)
1st ed
Item Description
"A Borzoi book"--T.p. verso.
Physical Description
xvi, 426 p., [24] p. of plates : ill., maps, ports. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • List of Maps
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. Americans
  • Chapter 2. Russians
  • Chapter 3. Cubans
  • Chapter 4. "Eyeball to Eyeball"
  • Chapter 5. "Till Hell Freezes Over"
  • Chapter 6. Intel
  • Chapter 7. Nukes
  • Chapter 8. Strike First
  • Chapter 9. Hunt for the Grozny
  • Chapter 10. Shootdown
  • Chapter 11. "Some Sonofabitch"
  • Chapter 12. "Run Like Hell"
  • Chapter 13. Cat and Mouse
  • Chapter 14. "Crate and Return"
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments and a Note on Sources
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Despite the obvious importance of the Cuban Missile crisis, one must be forgiven for wondering what new can be said for such a heavily studied historical moment. After all, the subject has already been explored in detail in fine works such as R. L. Garthoff's Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis (CH, Jul'88; rev. ed., 1989); J. S. Blight and D. A. Welch's On the Brink: Americans and Soviets Examine the Cuban Missile Crisis (CH, Oct'89, 27-1158); A. Fursenko and T. Naftali's One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-64 (1997); and Sheldon Stern's The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005). The assumption that there is no more room for yet another study of the Cuban Missile Crisis is wrong, however, as Washington Post journalist Dobbs has put together a wonderfully written and well-researched page-turner that will inform, entertain, and even terrify professional historians and laypersons alike. The last section provides a detailed account of the climactic final day of the crisis that is as gripping as an episode of the television show 24, though One Minute to Midnight is more anxiety producing for being the real account of the world teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Summing Up: Essential. General and undergraduate collections. G. Eow Yale University Library

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

Any new entry in the crowded field of books on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis must pass an immediate test: Is it just another recapitulation, or does it increase our net understanding of this seminal cold war event? By focusing on the activities of the American, Soviet and Cuban militaries during those tense October days, Michael Dobbs's "One Minute to Midnight" passes this test with flying colors. The result is a book with sobering new information about the world's only superpower nuclear confrontation - as well as contemporary relevance. Dobbs, a reporter for The Washington Post, states his central thesis concisely in a description of the state of play on Oct. 25, the 10th day of the crisis: "The initial reactions of both leaders had been bellicose. Kennedy had favored an air strike; Khrushchev thought seriously about giving his commanders in Cuba authority to use nuclear weapons. After much agonizing, both were now determined to find a way out that would not involve armed conflict. The problem was that it was practically impossible for them to communicate frankly with one another. Each knew very little about the intentions and motivations of the other side, and tended to assume the worst. Messages took half a day to deliver. ... The question was no longer whether the leaders of the two superpowers wanted war - but whether they had the power to prevent it." Ten days earlier, a U-2 spy plane had produced photographic evidence that the Soviets were sneaking nuclear missiles into Cuba. In "High Noon in the Cold War," published four years ago, Max Frankel described this reckless action as "worthy of the horse at Troy." Within hours of the discovery, Kennedy made a decision: the United States would not tolerate the missiles remaining in Cuba. During the next week, a small group of officials who would go down in history as the Executive Committee, or ExComm, deliberated in total secrecy. Most narratives focus on the dramatic debates in the Cabinet Room, during which America's leaders changed their positions frequently as they searched desperately for the proper mix of diplomatic and military pressure. Dobbs gives relatively short shrift to that first week, covering it in only 54 pages. His focus - extending over almost half the book - is Oct. 27, "Black Saturday," the darkest day of the cold war. On that day a Soviet missile team in Cuba shot down a U-2, killing its pilot; the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended immediate military retaliation; Castro sent Khrushchev a wildly emotional letter saying that he was facing an imminent American invasion, and Khrushchev sent a second letter to Kennedy, far tougher than an earlier one. That night men in Washington went to sleep not knowing (as Dean Rusk told me later) if they would awake in the morning, and wives debated whether to stay in Washington with their husbands or go to safer rural hideaways. (Almost all stayed, including Jackie Kennedy.) By Black Saturday, the two leaders seem to have been transformed by the magnitude of this crisis. But as they searched for a peaceful, face-saving way out, their military machines kept preparing for war. Dobbs is at his best in reconstructing the near misses, misunderstandings and unauthorized activities that could have led to an accidental war. He follows secret CIA. infiltration teams deep into the swamps of Cuba as they try to carry out a previously authorized plan te sabotage a copper mine. He traces the flight of a U-2 pilot, Chuck Maultsby, who, confused by the Northern Lights, wanders hundreds of miles into Soviet airspace and somehow escapes without triggering a Soviet reaction. ("There's always some sonofabitch who doesn't get the word," Kennedy notes with characteristic irony.) Dobbs also finds Soviet missile unit commanders in Cuba who, uninstructed by Moscow, prepare to fire missiles at the United States on their own authority if they feel threatened. And all the while, some military leaders in each country agitate for military action. Robert and John Kennedy confer at the White House in October 1962. In Washington, the Joint Chiefs, whose members include several World War II giants, push for action. Gen. Curtis LeMay, the brutal, cigar-chomping Air Force chief of staff, with 3,000 nuclear weapons under his command, barks at Kennedy that his blockade of Cuba is "almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich." In a dramatic confrontation in a Pentagon war room, the chief of naval operations tells secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that the Navy will handle any engagement with the Soviets in accordance with long-standing Navy procedures and tradition, and needs no supervision from civilians. Furious, McNamara puts new procedures into place that give him and the president greater direct operational control - or so they think. More than 40 years later, there is no longer any dispute about the most critical meeting of the crisis. It started at 8:05 p.m. on Black Saturday, when, at Kennedy's instruction, his brother Bobby summoned the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to his cavernous office in the Justice Department, and told him that the crisis had reached its moment of truth. "We're going to have to make certain decisions within the next 12, or possibly 24 hours," he declared. With the downing of the American U-2 that day, Bobby Kennedy said the American military, and not only the generals, were demanding that the president "respond to fire with fire." This meeting, coupled with a letter to Khrushchev skillfully drafted by Bobby Kennedy, Ted Sorensen and others, led to the Soviet announcement the next day that the missiles would be removed from Cuba. But threats were only part of Kennedy's brilliantly calibrated approach. He also offered Khrushchev a public pledge that the United States would not invade Cuba again, a virtually meaningless offer from Washington but politically valuable for Khrushchev with Castro. And there was one more thing - a secret both sides obscured for years - the story of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. The Soviets had suggested they would remove their missiles from Cuba if the United States withdrew its 15 medium-range Jupiter missiles from Turkey. By the time these missiles had been deployed in early 1962, they were already obsolete; Kennedy had asked that they be removed before the missile crisis, but no action had been taken. Kennedy was more than willing to dismantle them, but he was determined not to leave a public impression that he had made any sort of deal or "trade" with Moscow. Asked by Dobrynin about the Jupiters, Bobby Kennedy said they were not an "insurmountable obstacle" but that they could not be linked - ever - to the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles. Bobby Kennedy also said that there would have to be a time lag of several months before their removal. It was this "non-deal deal" that opened the door for a resolution. In "Thirteen Days," his posthumously published chronicle of the crisis, Bobby Kennedy carefully edited his account of the Dobrynin meeting to remove any hint of a deal on Turkey. But almost from the beginning, many people suspected the truth, and looking back on it today, it may seem surprising to see how hard the Kennedys sought to conceal it. But in 1962, with the midterm elections days away, Kennedy did not want to appear weak. Dobbs's research uncovers some juicy nuggets for history buffs. My favorite is the debunking of the once-famous "back-channel" between the ABC reporter John Scali and Aleksandr Feklisov, a K.G.B. station chief. The Kennedy administration attached great importance to this connection, and spent much time drafting a message for Scali to give to Feklisov. But on the basis of extensive analysis and interviews, Dobbs believes that the so-called back channel was a self-generated effort by an ambitious spy to send some information to his bosses in Moscow, as well as self-promotion by an ambitious journalist, who parlayed his meetings with the K.G.B. agent into a public legend that eventually led to his becoming the American ambassador to the United Nations. Dobbs, one of the most thorough journalists in Washington, concludes that "there is no evidence" the K.G.B. cable containing Scali's message "played any role in Kremlin decision-making on the crisis, or was even read by Khrushchev." He calls it "a classic example of miscommunication." Nonetheless, Dobbs adds wryly, "the Scali-Feklisov meeting would become part of the mythology of the Cuban missile crisis." "One Minute to Midnight" is filled with similar insights that will change the views . of experts and help inform a new generation of readers. For those not versed in the full story, I would recommend reading this book in conjunction with Frankel's short and elegant overview. For those already familiar with the crisis, Dobbs's account more than stands on its own. IT is hard to read this book without thinking about what would have happened if the current administration had faced such a situation - real weapons of mass destruction only 90 miles from Florida; the Pentagon urging "surgical" air attacks followed by an invasion; threatening letters from the leader of a real superpower and senators calling the president "weak" just weeks before a midterm Congressional election. Life does not offer us a chance to play out alternative history, but it is not unreasonable to assume that the team that invaded Iraq would have attacked Cuba. And if Dobbs is right, Cuba and the Soviet Union would have fought back, perhaps launching some of the missiles already in place. One can only conclude that our nation was extremely fortunate to have had John F. Kennedy as president in October 1962. Like all presidents, he made his share of mistakes, but when the stakes were the highest imaginable, he rose to the occasion like no other president in the last 60 years - defining his goal clearly and then, against the demands of hawks within his administration, searching skillfully for a peaceful way to achieve it. 'We're going to have to make certain decisions within the next 12, or possibly 24 hours,' Bobby Kennedy said. Richard Holbrooke, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "To End a War."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review

The 1962 Cuban missile crisis is probably the single most analyzed episode of the cold war. In the past decade, declassified American and Russian documents have proved that a nuclear exchange was even closer than most scholars had previously realized. Dobbs, a reporter for the Washington Post, has used those sources as well as numerous new ones gleaned from two years of research in the U.S., Cuba, and Russia. Although nothing presented here will change the overall view of the crisis, Dobbs presents new and often startling information that again confirms that the thirteen days in October brought the world to the edge of an unprecedented cataclysm. Dobbs spends little time describing the characters of the key players, but he does convey a sense of men under immense stress as events threaten to outstrip their ability to cope with them. This is a well-written effort to explain and understand our closest brush with nuclear war.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Saboteurs) is a master at telling stories as they unfold and from a variety of perspectives. In this re-examination of the 1963 Bay of Pigs face-off between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Dobbs combines visits to Cuba, discussions with Russian participants and fingertip command of archival and printed U.S. sources to describe a wild ride that--contrary to the myth of Kennedy¿s steel-nerved crisis management--was shaped by improvisation, guesswork and blind luck. Dobbs¿s protagonists act not out of malevolence, incompetence or machismo. Kennedy, Khrushchev and their advisers emerge as men desperately seeking a handle on a situation no one wanted and no one could resolve. In a densely packed, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative, Dobbs presents the crisis from its early stages through the decision to blockade Cuba and Kennedy¿s ordering of DEFCON 2, the last step before an attack, to the final resolution on October 27 and 28. The work¿s climax is a detailed reconstruction of the dry-mouthed, sweaty-armpits environment of those final hours before both sides backed down. From first to last, this sustains Dobbs¿s case that "crisis management" is a contradiction in terms. (June 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

What really happened during the Cuban missile crisis; with a three-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A nuanced account of the events of October 1962, when the Cold War almost ran hot. Countless historians have noted that the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, but Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America, 2004, etc.) gives a vivid account of just how close to the brink the world truly came. The story begins at the Bay of Pigs, with John F. Kennedy's disastrous effort to land CIA-trained Cuban exiles in Cuba and bring down Fidel Castro's government. Castro's victory there, Kennedy was convinced, gave Nikita Khrushchev cause to devalue the American president: "Probably thinks I'm stupid. Maybe most important, he thinks that I had no guts." JFK had no love for his Soviet counterpart, to be sure, and less so when Khrushchev, citing treaty obligations, installed missiles on Cuba easily capable of delivering nuclear warheads anywhere in America. JFK was prepared to go to war to keep the missiles from going online. Khrushchev may not really have been, though, as Dobbs sagely observes: "Once set in motion, the machinery of war quickly acquired its own logic and momentum," adding that the unwritten protocol that neither side could appear hesitant made it difficult to back away from a martial stance once it was assumed. There were other difficulties, the author observes, including the slow speed of communications in those days, often still through letters delivered by hand. So it was when Khrushchev, having almost unleashed an attack on the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, finally stepped back, writing to JFK that he had ordered the offensive missiles to be crated and sent back home. That decision, Dobbs notes, gave the Soviet Union an edge in public relations, "yet another triumph for Moscow's peace-loving foreign policy over warmongering imperialists." Hard-line Soviets saw it as surrender, though, which contributed to Khrushchev's later fall. Dobbs's careful narrative supposes no prior knowledge of those long-ago events, making it a welcome introduction to that perilous time. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Americans Tuesday, October 16, 1962, 11:50 a.m. The Central Intelligence Agency's chief photo interpreter hovered over the president's shoulder. Arthur Lundahl held a pointer in his hand, ready to reveal a secret that would bring the world to the edge of nuclear war. The secret was buried in three black-and-white photographs pasted to briefing boards hidden in a large black case. The photographs had been shot from directly overhead, evidently from a considerable distance, with the aid of a very powerful zoom lens. On superficial inspection, the grainy images of fields, forests, and winding country roads seemed innocuous, almost bucolic. One of the fields contained tubelike objects, others oval-shaped white dots neatly lined up next to one another. John F. Kennedy would later remark that the site could be mistaken for "a football field." After examining the photographs earlier that morning, his brother Bobby had been unable to make out anything more than "the clearing of a field for a farm or the basement of a house." To help the president understand the significance of the photos, Lundahl had labeled them with arrows pointing to the dots and blotches, along with captions reading "ERECTOR LAUNCHER EQUIPMENT," "MISSILE TRAILERS," and "TENT AREAS." He was about to display the briefing boards when there was a commotion outside the door. A four-year-old girl burst into one of the most heavily guarded rooms in the White House. The heads of the fourteen most powerful men in the United States swiveled to the doorway as Caroline Kennedy ran toward her father, babbling excitedly: "Daddy, daddy, they won't let my friend in." The somber-looking men in dark suits were used to such intrusions. Their frowns dissolved into smiles as the president got up from his leather-upholstered seat and led his daughter back toward the door of the Cabinet Room. "Caroline, have you been eating candy?" No reply. The president smiled. "Answer me. Yes, no, or maybe." Father and daughter disappeared for a few seconds, his arm draped around her shoulders. When Kennedy returned, his expression had again become grave. He took his place at the center of the long table beneath the presidential seal, his back to the Rose Garden. He was flanked on either side by his secretary of state and secretary of defense. Facing him across the table were his brother, his vice president, and his national security adviser. Behind them stood a small bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln, flanked by some model sailing ships. Above the fireplace to the right was the celebrated Gilbert Stuart portrait of a powdered and bewigged George Washington. The thirty-fifth president of the United States called the meeting to order. Kennedy seemed preternaturally calm to the other men in the room as he listened to the evidence of Kremlin duplicity. In secrecy, while insisting they would never contemplate such a thing, the Soviet leaders had installed surface-to-surface nuclear missiles on Cuba, less than a hundred miles from American shores. According to the CIA, the missiles had a range of 1,174 miles and were capable of hitting much of the eastern seaboard. Once armed and ready to fire, they could explode over Washington in thirteen minutes, turning the capital into a scorched wasteland. Lundahl took the briefing boards out of his bag and laid them on the table. He used his pointer to direct the president's attention to a canvas-covered missile trailer next to a launcher erector. Seven more missile trailers were parked in a nearby field. "How do you know this is a medium-range ballistic missile?" asked the president. His voice was clipped and tense, betraying a boiling anger beneath the calm. "The length, sir." "The what? The length?" "The length of it, yes." CIA experts had spent the last thirty-six hours poring over thousands of reconnaissance photographs of the hills and valleys of western Cuba. They had discovered telltale cables connecting one of the tubelike objects to the nearby oval-shaped splotch, and had used a revolutionary new computer device that filled up half a room--the Mann Model 621 comparator--to measure its length. The tubes turned out to be sixty-seven feet long. Missiles of identical length had been photographed at military parades in Red Square in Moscow. The president asked the obvious question: when would the missiles be ready to fire? The experts were unsure. That would depend on how soon the missiles could be mated with their nuclear warheads. Once mated, they could be fired in a couple of hours. So far, there was no evidence to suggest that the Soviets had moved the warheads to the missile sites. If the warheads were present, one would expect to see some kind of secure storage facility at the missile sites, but nothing was visible. "There is some reason to believe the warheads aren't present and hence they are not ready to fire," said Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. The computerlike brain of the former head of the Ford Motor Company clicked away furiously, calculating the chances of a surprise attack. He believed the president still had some time. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed. General Maxwell Taylor had parachuted into Normandy during World War II, and had commanded Allied forces in Berlin and Korea. It fell to him to point out the risks of delay. The Soviets could be in a position to fire their missiles "very quickly." Most of the infrastructure was already in place. "It's not a question of waiting for extensive concrete pads and that sort of thing." The president's advisers were already dividing into doves and hawks. Kennedy had received an initial intelligence briefing earlier that morning. His national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, had knocked on the door of his bedroom, on the second floor of the White House, shortly after 8:00 a.m. The president was propped up in bed, in pajamas and dressing gown, reading the morning newspapers. As often happened, he was annoyed by a page-one headline in The New York Times . On this particular morning, his exasperation was directed at his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had broken the unwritten convention of former presidents refraining from publicly criticizing the current occupant of the Oval Office. EISENHOWER CALLS PRESIDENT WEAK ON FOREIGN POLICY -- Denounces "Dreary Record," Challenging  Statements by Kennedy on Achievements -- HE SEES SETBACK TO U.S. As Bundy described the latest U-2 mission over Cuba, Kennedy's irritation with Ike was replaced by a burning anger toward his Cold War nemesis. Over the past two years, he and Nikita Khrushchev had been engaged in a very public game of nuclear oneupmanship. But Kennedy thought he had an understanding with the mercurial Soviet premier. Khrushchev had sent word through intermediaries that he would do nothing to embarrass the U.S. president politically before the midterm congressional elections, which were exactly three weeks away. News that the Soviets were constructing missile bases on Cuba could hardly have come at a worse time. During the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had used Cuba as a stick to beat the Republicans, accusing the Eisenhower government of doing nothing to prevent Fidel Castro from transforming the island into "a hostile and militant Communist satellite." Now that the Democrats were in power, the political roles were reversed. Republican politicians were seizing on reports of a Soviet military buildup on Cuba to denounce Kennedy for weakness and fecklessness. Just two days earlier, Kennedy had sent Bundy out on nationwide television to knock down a claim by the Republican senator from New York, Kenneth B. Keating, that the Soviets would soon be able "to hurl rockets into the American heartland" from their Caribbean outpost. Kennedy's immediate reaction on learning from Bundy that Khrushchev had double-crossed him was to sputter, "He can't do this to me." An hour later, he walked into the office of his appointments secretary, Kenny O'Donnell, and announced glumly, "Ken Keating will probably be the next president of the United States." Determined to keep the information secret as long as possible, Kennedy decided to stick to his regular schedule, acting as if nothing was amiss. He showed off Caroline's pony Macaroni to the family of a returning astronaut, chatted amiably for half an hour with a Democratic congressman, and presided over a conference on mental retardation. It was not until nearly noon that he managed to break away from his ceremonial duties and meet with his top foreign policy advisers. Kennedy conceded that he was mystified by Khrushchev. Alternately ingratiating and boorish, friendly and intimidating, the metalworker turned superpower leader was unlike any other politician he had ever encountered. Their single summit meeting--in Vienna, in June 1961--had been a brutal experience for Kennedy. Khrushchev had treated him like a little boy, lecturing him on American misdeeds, threatening to take over West Berlin, and boasting about the inevitable triumph of communism. Most shocking of all, Khrushchev did not seem to share his alarm about the risks of nuclear war, and how it could be triggered by miscalculations on either side. He spoke about nuclear weapons in a casual, offhand kind of way, as simply one more element in the superpower competition. If the United States wants war, he blustered, "let it begin now." "Roughest thing in my life," Kennedy had told James Reston of The New York Times , after it was all over. "He just beat the hell out of me."  Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was contemptuous of his boss's performance. "Khrushchev scared the poor little fellow dead," he told his cronies. British prime minister Harold Macmillan, who met with Kennedy shortly after he left Vienna, was only slightly more sympathetic. He thought that the president had been "completely overwhelmed by the ruthlessness and barbarity of the Russian Chairman." For the first time in his life Kennedy had met a man "who was impervious to his charm," Macmillan noted later. "It reminded me in a way of Lord Halifax or Neville Chamberlain trying to hold a conversation with Herr Hitler." Part of the problem lay in Kennedy's own miscalculations as president. The biggest mistake of all was the Bay of Pigs. In April 1961, four months after taking office, he had authorized an invasion of Cuba by fifteen hundred CIA-trained Cuban exiles. But the operation was disastrously planned and executed. Castro mounted a vigorous counterattack, trapping the exiles in an isolated beachhead. Anxious to conceal official American involvement as much as possible, Kennedy refused to order U.S. ships and planes stationed just offshore to come to the rescue of the outnumbered invaders, most of whom ended up in Castro's jails. As Kennedy later confessed to Reston, his superpower rival had no doubt concluded that "I'm inexperienced. Probably thinks I'm stupid. Maybe most important, he thinks that I had no guts." The perception of an  inexperienced leader with no guts was one that he had been struggling to reverse ever since. The news from Cuba reinforced Kennedy's impression of Khrushchev as a "fucking liar." He complained to his brother that the Soviet leader had behaved like "an immoral gangster . . . not as a statesman, not as a person with a sense of responsibility." The question was how to respond. They would definitely step up U-2 reconnaissance of the island. Military options ranged from an air strike targeted on the missile sites alone to an all-out invasion. General Taylor warned that it would probably be impossible to destroy all the missiles in a single strike. "It'll never be a hundred per cent, Mr. President." Any military action was likely to escalate quickly to an invasion. The invasion plan called for as many as a hundred and fifty thousand men to land in Cuba a week after the initial air strikes. In the meantime, the Soviets might be able to launch one or two nuclear missiles against the United States. "We're certainly going to do [option] number one," Kennedy told his aides grimly, referring to the air strike. "We're going to take out those missiles." Tuesday, October 16, 2:30 p.m.  Robert Kennedy still had an angry glint in his eye later that afternoon when he met the men in charge of America's secret war against Fidel Castro in his cavernous Justice Department office. He was determined to make clear the president's "dissatisfaction" with Operation Mongoose, which had been under way for a year, achieving virtually nothing. Countless acts of sabotage had been planned, but none had been carried out successfully. Fidel and his bearded revolutionaries were still in power, inflicting daily humiliations on the United States. Officials from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department were arrayed in a semicircle in front of the attorney general. A fresh assortment of his children's watercolors decorated the walls, along with standard-issue government art. One of the documents on the untidy, paper-littered desk was a two-page memorandum captioned "secret mongoose" with the latest ideas for fomenting an insurrection inside Cuba. It had been put together by the CIA in response to prodding from the Kennedy brothers to be much more "aggressive." RFK nodded approvingly as he glanced through the list: • Demolition of a railroad bridge in Pinar del Río province; • Grenade attack on the Chinese Communist embassy in Havana; • Mine the approaches to major Cuban harbors; • Set an oil tanker afire outside Havana or Matanzas; • Incendiary attacks against oil refineries in Havana and Santiago. The attorney general title masked Bobby's true role in government, which was closer to that of deputy president. His extracurricular responsibilities included heading a secret committee known as the Special Group (Augmented), whose goal was to "get rid of" Castro and "liberate" Cuba from Communist domination. The addition of the president's brother to the group--signified by the cryptic word "Augmented"--was a way of emphasizing its importance to the rest of the bureaucracy. Soon after taking personal control of Operation Mongoose in November 1961, Bobby had decreed that "the Cuban problem carries top priority in the U.S. government. No time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared." By coincidence, he had arranged a long-scheduled review of covert action plans against Cuba the very day that Soviet missiles were discovered on the island. Bobby chose his words carefully as he addressed the Special Group. Half the officials in the room were unaware of the latest developments, and the president had stressed the need for total secrecy. But it was difficult for him to conceal his anger as he talked about "the change in atmosphere in the United States government during the last twenty-four hours." Frustrated by the lack of "push" in getting on with acts of sabotage, he announced that he planned to devote "more personal attention" to Mongoose. To accomplish this, he would meet with the Mongoose operational team every morning at 0930 until further notice. For Bobby, the appearance of Soviet missiles in the western hemisphere was not simply a political affront; it was a personal affront. He was the emotional member of the family, as rough and intense as his brother was smooth and calm. JFK had been humiliated once again by Castro and Khrushchev, and RFK was determined to redress the insult. He was extraordinarily competitive--even by the intensely competitive standards of the Kennedy clan--and the longest to nurse a grudge. "Everybody in my family forgives," the family patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., had once remarked. "Except Bobby." Excerpted from One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.