Monitoring Cuban missile crisis as a U.S. spook in Tokyo
Third in a four-part series
TOKYO — By far the most stressful time at Fuchu Air Base’s Elint Center was a two-week period in October 1962, during what became known as the Cuban missile crisis. I turned 20 during that time but, along with everyone else in the center, I seriously wondered if I would live to see another birthday. We fully expected a Soviet nuclear warhead to take out our facility.
On October 14 of that year, our U-2 spy plane flights over Cuba discovered that the Soviet Union had installed medium-range atomic missiles there, just 90 miles from Florida. The weapons were SS-4s, 22 meters long and carrying megaton warheads. Their presence placed large swaths of the United States within range of attack. A missile launched from Cuba could reach the White House in just 15 minutes.
On October 19, the U.S. military was put on “high alert” and ordered to be ready to invade Cuba at a moment’s notice. At Fuchu, we were all confined to base and placed on 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. We remained on standby during off-duty hours.
On October 22, U.S. President John F Kennedy told the nation about the discovery of the missiles. Branding Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev an “immoral gangster,” he demanded the removal of the missiles and set up a naval blockade around Cuba. He also had his generals draw up plans to bomb the Cuban missile sites in case that should prove necessary.