Back Channel The Kennedy Years
Inside the John F. Kennedy White House

An Underwater Approach to the White House

This is a preview to the chapter An Underwater Approach to the White House from the book Back Channel The Kennedy Years by William Bertram MacFarland.
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An Introduction to Bertie Mac


My name is William Bertram MacFarland. I am a patriot, a soldier, a spy and an assassin. I have served under, and reported directly to, nine Presidents of the United States – from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. I have participated in some of the most momentous events which have occurred during that period – and due to that participation, in some small ways, may even have had an influence in this nation’s history. Throughout my long career, I have tried to keep a record of the events that I witnessed, lived through, and participated in. Taken together, I believe they provide insights that are available through no other source – and if I die without passing them along, these facts will never come to light.

The Early Days


It was October 1962 and I was sitting alone in the cavernous Pentagon conference room adjacent to the office of the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, waiting for Secretary McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of staff to arrive for a critical meeting. They were coming to discuss the latest letter which President Kennedy had received from Chairman Khrushchev concerning the nuclear missiles being installed In Cuba and the naval blockade (“quarantine”) which was being implemented by the United States. I was a lowly Captain in the United States Army but forbidden by the President to wear a uniform. On the President’s instructions to his brother “Bobby” (the Attorney General), Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary McNamara, McGeorge Bundy and others, I was to be included in all meetings relating to the “Cuban Missile Crisis”. I was to be introduced simply as Special Assistant to the President and my name was not to be included in the minutes of any meeting. Ever since my meeting with the President on August 20 (along with all the people mentioned above), my entire world had been turned upside down. Whatever career path I had envisioned or hoped for, whatever I had aspired to become and accomplish, whatever I had dreamt of as my private life – had been completely demolished by the reality of my present situation.

I put my head in my hands and thought, “I’m 25 years old for God’s sake! What the hell am I doing here? I am about to participate in a discussion that could ultimately result in a recommendation from the Secretary to the President for a “surgical” air strike on the Cuban missile sites. In a few minutes, when the Joint Chiefs file in, there will be so many stars in this room that it will look like the Milky Way. I felt as though I was living in some sort of hellish dream from which I couldn’t wake up or escape. This was not the first, and probably would not be the last meeting of this group on this subject and although the action recommendations formulated here today might not be totally accepted by the President, they could not help but influence his thinking. And these recommendations, though classified “Top Secret” now, would eventually be declassified and become a part of history. The President could not fail to recognize that in his decision making process.
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had already warned in a speech to the United Nations that any attack by the US on Cuba could mean war with the Soviet Union. That war would inevitably mean nuclear confrontation. The decisions made here today in this room would have a material impact on the likelihood of such a war and confrontation.

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