How CIA Analysts Spotted Missile Sites in Aerial Photos of Cuba

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Smithsonian revisits the Cuban Missile Crisis, which unfolded 50 years ago this month, in this short documentary about the reconnaissance images that sparked the conflict. Dino Brugioni was the Chief Information Officer of the National Photographic Interpretation Center at the time, and worked with a team to analyze images taken by U-2 spy planes flying over Cuba. Brugioni briefed President Kennedy, explaining which structures could indicate the presence of Soviet missile sites. "This was the first time that aerial photography was displayed at the United Nations Security Council, and it had an enormous impact," he explains. The situation was so dire, he says, "I called my wife and I said 'If I call you again, put the kids in the car and start off for Missouri,' because I was convinced that we were going to be bombing Cuba on Monday." 

Smithsonian's Megan Gambino tells Brugioni's story in more detail in "Document Deep Dive: What Did Analysts Find in the Recon Photographs From the Cuban Missile Crisis?" where you can see a slideshow of annotated aerial photographs, courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum. Gambino produced this documentary with Ryan Reed for Smithsonian. Don't miss Alan Taylor's In Focus gallery of historic images of the Cuban Missile Crisis here

For more videos from Smithsonian Magazine, visit the YouTube channel

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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