Military `bypassed JFK' in Cuba crisis US military `nearly caused nuclear war'

An American researcher claims the world came closer to an accidental nuclear war during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis than has so far been realised, writes Steve Connor.

During the dispute, when President Kennedy came perilously near to launching an all-out attack on the Soviet Union because of its plan to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba, US military officers bypassed the normal safety rules on their Minutemen missiles in order to allow them to launch them without authorisation from Washington, it is claimed.

Scott Sagan, a political scientist at Stanford University in California, says he found found evidence that officers at the US Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana "jerry-rigged their Minutemen missiles to give them the independent ability to launch missiles immediately".

Dr Sagan told the conference of a cover-up following the crisis. "When an investigation took place after the crisis, the evidence was altered to prevent higher authorities from learning that officers had given themselves the ability to launch unauthorised missile attacks."

In a new book to be published in April, Dr Sagan details further "mistakes and poor judgment" during the period of the crisis which could have resulted in an accidental nuclear exchange. He found that:

n The US Strategic Air Command secretly deployed nuclear warheads on nine out of ten intercontinental ballistic missiles designated for tests over the Pacific. The 10th missile was launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base in a pre-scheduled test but "no-one in the responsible organisations thought through the risks that Soviet intelligence might learn of the nuclear weapons deployment, and then, in the tension of the crisis, might misinterpret a missile launch from the base," Dr Sagan said.

n The North American Air Defence Command was told on 28 October 1962 that a nuclear-armed missile had been launched from Cuba and was about to hit Tampa in Florida. "Only when the expected detonation failed to occur was it discovered that a radar operator had inserted a test tape simulating an attack from Cuba into the system."