By Dr. Earl Tilford
As posted at The Center for Vision and Values
In light of recent publicity about the U.S-British-Israeli cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, we might want to consider intelligence lessons from the past.
In the autumn of 1960, with the presidential race between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy tightening, the Democratic Party candidate made much of a supposed “missile gap” that had emerged during the Eisenhower administration. Ike could have exposed the non-existent missile gap, but didn’t.
In May 1960, Soviet air defenses downed a U-2 reconnaissance plane flying high over the Urals on its way from a secret CIA base in Pakistan to Norway. In the messy aftermath, President Eisenhower suspended U-2 flights over the Soviet Union. He didn’t say that these missions were no longer necessary, which they weren’t, given the advent of satellite photo reconnaissance so good that only a handful within the American intelligence community knew the missile gap overwhelmingly favored the United States.
That fact was so far beyond top-secret classification that it’s likely Vice President Nixon wasn’t even cleared for it. In the interest of national security, Ike kept mum even though revealing the true nature of the missile gap might have favored the Republican candidate. Consequently, in October 1962, President Kennedy was ready to call Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s bluff during the Cuban missile crisis. National security trumped partisan politics—as it should and always must.
The Kennedy administration proved equally adept at keeping secrets by covertly committing U.S. forces to combat in Vietnam while claiming they were “advisors.” In February 1962, Air Force planes commenced Operation Steel Tiger, bombing a network of pathways leading from North Vietnam through Laos to South Vietnam. By 1968, the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail had escalated, but the secrecy surrounding what was then called “Operation Commando Hunt” held until mid-1971.