|Shoppers in a Los Angeles department store stop to watch President |
Kennedy's address to the nation on Oct. 22, 1962.
Photograph by Ralph Crane/LIFE magazine.
Fifty years ago this month - on the evening of October 22, 1962 - President John Kennedy, in a televised address to a stunned nation, announced that recently-taken aerial reconnaissance photos showed Russian missile bases under construction in Cuba.
According to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum's website, on the morning of October 16, 1962, Kennedy was shown U2 surveillance images of the missile bases under construction in Cuba.This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.
Upon receiving the first preliminary hard information of this nature last Tuesday morning at 9 A.M., I directed that our surveillance be stepped up. And having now confirmed and completed our evaluation of the evidence and our decision on a course of action, this Government feels obliged to report this new crisis to you in fullest detail.
In the fifty years since the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of mutual annihilation, those 13 days in October have been the subject of thousands of scholarly papers, tens of thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and hundreds of books.
But, very little of what's been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis contains any mention of Hal Hendrix, the shadowy newspaper reporter who broke the story.
In 1962, Harold (Hal) Hendrix covered Latin America for the Miami News.
On, Sunday, October 7 - a full two weeks before Kennedy's Oct. 22 address - a story headlined, "Soviets Launch Work On Six Missile Bases", appeared on the front page of the Miami News.
More than 3 weeks earlier - on Sept. 20 - Hendrix also broke the news that supersonic Mig-21 jet fighters had "been added to Cuba's mushrooming Russian-supplied "defensive arsenal."
In 1963, Hendrix won the Pulitzer Prize for, according to the Pulitzer citation, "his persistent reporting which revealed, at an early stage, that the Soviet Union was installing missile launching pads in Cuba and sending in large numbers of MIG-21 aircraft."
So, how was Hendrix able to scoop the much larger Miami Herald?
Over the years, some have alleged that Hendrix was a little too cozy with CIA station chiefs in Miami. Others claimed - without much proof - that he was on the agency's payroll.
After leaving the Washington Post in 1977, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein, wrote an article for Rolling Stone magazine that looked "at the relationship of the CIA and the press during the Cold War years."
In the Rolling Stone piece, Bernstein wrote:
In an article in the October 17, 1987 issue of the Miami News, Clarke Ash, who was an associate editor of the News, wrote of the challenges in covering the missile crisis story in 1962:Two of the Agency’s most valuable personal relationships in the 1960s, according to CIA officials, were with reporters who covered Latin America—Jerry O’Leary of the Washington Star and Hal Hendrix of the Miami News, a Pulitzer Prize winner who became a high official of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. Hendrix was extremely helpful to the Agency in providing information about individuals in Miami’s Cuban exile community. O’Leary was considered a valued asset in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Agency files contain lengthy reports of both men’s activities on behalf of the CIA.
In his piece, Ash labeled the allegations that Hendrix was a CIA "asset" as a "concoction of sour grapes and baloney."[I]t appeared that there were more CIA agents in Miami than there were local police officers. Miami was roiling with intrigue.
For a U.S. newspaper it was an incredibly difficult story to cover. The central problem was to sort fact from fiction, legitimate news sources from people perhaps paid to peddle a point of view. Mysterious-looking people wound hourly through our newsroom, visiting this or that reporter, whispering gossip from Miami refugees and the Havana underground.
Hendrix never denied the obvious - that he had excellent CIA contacts. What I did not know until I talked to him recently was that he habitually checked those contacts against two other sources. One was deep in Cuba, somehow funneling out information through relatives in Miami. The other source was kind of a "deep throat" right in the White House.