How CIA Analysts Spotted Missile Sites in Aerial Photos of Cuba

Dino Brugioni describes how his team interpreted reconnaissance images of Cuba during the Missile Crisis. 

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

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

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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