Operation Northwoods: US False Flag Attacks to Invade Cuba in 1962

Updated on July 31, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Castro and Khrushchev

Cuban Leader Fidel Castro and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev in Cuba, circa 1961.
Cuban Leader Fidel Castro and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev in Cuba, circa 1961. | Source

Operation Northwoods

In March 1962 the US Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted preliminary plans to the US Secretary of Defense that included attacking an American military base and launching terrorist attacks in American cities. These and other incidents, under the code name Operation Northwoods, were “False Flag” operations, that is, incidents the US would stage in such a way that blame would fall on Castro's Cuba. In response to Cuba's “aggression”, the United States would then be justified in a massive invasion of Cuba, ridding the Western Hemisphere of a Communist outpost 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Top Secret

Photo of Page 1 Northwoods Memorandum for the U.S. Secretary of Defense (March 13, 1962)
Photo of Page 1 Northwoods Memorandum for the U.S. Secretary of Defense (March 13, 1962) | Source

Under the Umbrella of the Cuban Project

After the CIA-supported Bay of Pigs Invasion failed miserably in April 1961, the US started to develop the Cuban Project, an umbrella of covert operations to “help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime” by October 1962. Organized by President Kennedy's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the CIA, the Cuban Project was also known as Operation Mongoose. Operation Northwoods was one of 33 plans that were considered under Operation Mongoose; other plans included tainting Fidel Castro's clothes with thallium salts so his beard would fall out and spraying hallucinogens in the broadcast studio before Castro gave a televised speech.

Operation Northwoods contained nine “pretexts to justify US military intervention in Cuba”.

1. Provoke a Cuban military response

The best outcome would be to harass or trick the Cubans into believing an attack was imminent so they actually attacked US forces first.

2. Stage a Cuban Attack on Guantanamo

Friendly uniformed Cubans could be used to attack the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba, including actually firing mortars into the base and damaging some infrastructure. Meanwhile, aircraft on the ground inside the base could be sabotaged and burned and a ship sunk in the harbor entrance. “Attacking” Cubans would be captured and mock funerals held for their American victims. The US would respond by attacking Communist Cuban artillery and mortar emplacements near Guantanamo to be followed by large scale military operations.

USS Maine

Battleship USS Maine entering Havana Harbor on January 25, 1898. On February 15, 1898 the Maine exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances, killing 266 sailors. There were 89 survivors.
Battleship USS Maine entering Havana Harbor on January 25, 1898. On February 15, 1898 the Maine exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances, killing 266 sailors. There were 89 survivors. | Source

3. “Remember the Maine”

In a reference to the battleship Maine which mysteriously blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898 contributing to start of the Spanish-American War, a “Remember the Maine” incident could be staged. An unmanned ship could be blown up, preferably near Havana or Santiago with many Cuban witnesses. Cuban vessels and aircraft investigating the burning ship would then appear to be involved in the “attack”. US air/sea rescuers protected by US fighters would evacuate the non-existent crew and casualty lists would be published in US newspapers, fanning national outrage.

4. Stage Cuban Terrorist Attacks on American Soil

A coordinated Cuban terrorist plot could be manufactured by staging attacks in Florida cities and Washington (DC), including setting off bombs. Cuban refugees could be targeted and, for maximum publicity, actually wounded in the process. A “boatload” of Cubans seeking refuge in the US could be targeted by the “Cuban terrorists” (at the time, about 2,000 Cubans were fleeing Cuba each week). The sinking of their boat could be simulated or real.

5. Stage a Cuban Attack on a Neighbor

As an example, B-26 Medium Bombers and C-46 Transports could be disguised as Cuban military aircraft and make cane-field burning runs against the Dominican Republic dropping Soviet incendiaries. Radio traffic could lead to planted “Cuban” arms shipments on Dominican beaches.

6. Fake MiGs

It would take about three months to create reasonable facsimiles of Cuban MiGs. These would be flown by US pilots to harass civil aircraft (ordinary American passengers would become witnesses that Cuban MiGs flew at them), attack shipping and destroy unmanned US aircraft.

7. Staged Hijackings

Staged hijacking of civil aircraft and shipping could be made to appear to be condoned by Cuba.

8. Stage the Shooting Down of a Civil Airliner

Two civil airliners could be painted with identical identifications. One would be converted to a drone and hidden at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, while the other would become a chartered flight full of hand-picked “college students” bound for Venezuela or some other country which would require overflying Cuban airspace. Somewhere south of Florida, the two planes would rendezvous where the one with passengers would descend and proceed to Eglin AFB where the passengers would be evacuated. The drone would then continue on the filed flight plan until it was over Cuba where it would begin broadcasting a Mayday distress signal that it was under attack by Cuban MiGs. Shortly thereafter, a radio signal would detonate the aircraft.

9. Stage Shooting Down a US Fighter

A series of exercises including four or five F-101 fighters would occur on a frequent basis whereby they would string themselves out and approach Cuba, turn back before the 12-mile limit and return home. After this routine has been established, a previously briefed pilot would take up position as the tail end plane and gradually fall further and further behind. When near Cuba he would broadcast that he was being attacked by Cuban MiGs and was going down. He would drop to extremely low altitude and proceed to a secure base. Meanwhile, a submarine or boat would disperse F-101 parts, including a parachute, about 15 miles off the Cuban coast.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer

General Lyman Louis Lemnitzer, United States Army (b. Aug 29, 1899, d. Nov 12, 1988), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff (1960 - 1962), Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1963 - 1969)
General Lyman Louis Lemnitzer, United States Army (b. Aug 29, 1899, d. Nov 12, 1988), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff (1960 - 1962), Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (1963 - 1969) | Source

Operation Northwoods Sent to the Secretary of Defense

All these incidents were discussed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and compiled into Operation Northwoods under the subject “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (Top Secret)” with the recommendation that any overt or covert military operations be assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The paper was specifically NOT to be forwarded to commanders of unified or specific commands, US officers in NATO or the Chairman of the US Delegation to the UN Military Staff Committee. The proposal, signed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer, was sent to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962.

A Meeting With Kennedy

President Kennedy meets with General Curtis LeMay and reconnaissance pilots in the Oval Office. This is not the meeting described in the text, but a later meeting during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962).
President Kennedy meets with General Curtis LeMay and reconnaissance pilots in the Oval Office. This is not the meeting described in the text, but a later meeting during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962). | Source

Meeting With President Kennedy

Three days later, a meeting was held in the Oval Office to discuss “Guidelines for Operation Mongoose”, including plans proposed in Operation Northwoods. Among those attending were several generals, including General Lemnitzer, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and President John Kennedy.

When General Lemnitzer told the President of the plans to create plausible pretexts that would allow full military retaliation, President Kennedy personally rejected them, stating bluntly that "we were not discussing the use of US military force”. Of the four divisions to be used in the military “response”, Kennedy told Lemnitzer that none of them would be available as they might be needed elsewhere.

Aftermath

A few months later, Kennedy removed Lemnitzer as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. American military leaders thought Kennedy was going soft on Cuba and Kennedy's mistrust of his generals grew, culminating in the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that a full-scale invasion of Cuba was the only solution and Kennedy overrode them.

Lemnitzer's career was not over, however. In November 1962 he was appointed as Commander of US European Command. Just two months later, in January 1963, General Lemnitzer was appointed Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, where he served until July 1969.

Operation Northwoods Released to Public

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Operation Northwoods was made public in 1997 as part of a series of documents released by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board and put online in April 2001. The entire PDF can be viewed here.

Cuba

A
Havana, Cuba:

get directions

B
Bay of Pigs:

get directions

C
Guantanamo:

get directions

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 David Hunt

    Comments

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      • Thief12 profile image

        Thief12 

        3 years ago from Puerto Rico

        American Choices, good question. My initial thought would be to say that the US was just pissed by the way the Cuban Revolution snatched from their hands the little gold mine they had in Cuba in the early 20th Century. But I'm sure there might be additional reasons.

      • Engelta profile image

        Engelis 

        3 years ago from Albania

        I definitely needed this hub for my Law school studies subjects. Thanks!

      • NateB11 profile image

        Nathan Bernardo 

        3 years ago from California, United States of America

        Very educational and interesting, particularly the part about Kennedy rejecting these plans. Makes a person wonder if there were repercussions for Kennedy for defying this agenda.

      • emge profile image

        Madan 

        3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

        Very informative post. But all said and done nothing happened

      • American_Choices profile image

        American_Choices 

        3 years ago from USA

        The back story of Cuba needs to be told so that all global citizens, American alike, can learn from this.

        I don't understand the real story of why all of this was crafted.

        Money is usually the culprit, so the question is who profited from this propaganda? Joseph Kennedy in some manner? But how?

        What is the "motive" for this debacle?

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks all for the congrats. I enjoyed researching and writing this hub so it's always nice to get this positive feedback.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Congrats on the HOTD, David. This was real fascinating to know about Operation Northwoods and how it made history for our country. Voted up for interesting.

      • Thief12 profile image

        Thief12 

        3 years ago from Puerto Rico

        Historically, the US way to handle foreign matters has always been worth crap. This is no exception. Good read and congrats on the HOTD!

      • Kathleen Cochran profile image

        Kathleen Cochran 

        3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        Very interesting. Thanks for the documentation. This is a lot of history to write a hub about, and it is a refreshing change in HODs. Must read more of your work. Very informative.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        3 years ago from Oklahoma

        Congratulation on HOTD!

        This is a wonderful hub and I am so glad it has got its due publicity.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi cougsam. If my interest in history has taught me anything it's to instill a healthy skepticism in everything we're told. If it happened in the past, what's happening now?

      • cougsam profile image

        Sam 

        3 years ago from Seattle,WA

        Great article. After I heard about this and other false flag operations a few years ago I lost some trust in our government. Makes me appreciate some of the whistle blowers we've seen come forward in the past.

      • Besarien profile image

        Besarien 

        3 years ago

        Some of what we know is farther out there than the wildest meanderings of hard-core conspiracy theorists. The crazier something sounds, the less likely most people will believe it. Powers that be know that and plan accordingly.

      • lollyj lm profile image

        Laurel Johnson 

        3 years ago from Washington KS

        This article is thought provoking and very well done. I fear most Americans were naieve and trusting back in those days and knew nothing about false flags.

      • somethgblue profile image

        somethgblue 

        3 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

        Could you give a Hub title in which you share your opinion with your reader, after reading a dozen or so of your articles I have yet to find one?

      • greatstuff profile image

        Mazlan 

        3 years ago from Malaysia

        Interesting article and I agree with Thomas Swan that some of these plans are eerily similar to some recent events, and hence, what has become to our world today.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        There are many theories flying about and it would not surprise me one bit if some of them are true. I'm under no illusions regarding the Military Industrial Complex in this and other countries. Some of my hubs contain my opinions; this is not one of them. It was enough that I show the FACTS that the US engaged in False Flag planning. That was my intent. And you can read articles in Wikipedia but you won't find everything in this hub. I used various sources-- including the actual memorandum submitted to the Defense Department and the President. And there was nothing in Northwoods contemplating flying disguised airliners into New York buildings.

      • somethgblue profile image

        somethgblue 

        3 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

        A decent account revealing the numerous false flag events during the 60s by the MIC (MIlitary Industrial Complex) which Eisenhower warned the American people about in his farewell address.

        However what I found lacking in the article was a severe lack of connecting these events to the various political intrigue our government engaged in and NO conclusions? Hello, I can research this data myself and list them in an article or simple go to Wikipedia.

        I want to know what you think?

        "JFK "fired" Lemnitzer when he "promoted" him to represent the U.S.A. in NATO, in Brussels, Belgium, a position with little authority, power, or contact with The Military Industrial Complex."

        From Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff to "Siberia."

        If you understand and read the full implications of Operation NORTHWOODS, you would realize that their plan was to use military aircraft disguised as commercial airliners and fly them into Government and civilian buildings in New York and Washington DC and lo and behold 39 years later that is exactly what happened on September 11, 2001 . . . hello anybody home?

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 years ago from USA

        It was stunning to read about this. Ideas must certainly be vetted, no matter who generates them.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, Alan. I understand the US engineered the rights to Guantanamo in 1903 for $2,000 a year for 45 square miles of land. By the 1970s, this was up to $4,000 and the US religiously sends a check each year. Castro does not cash these checks, keeping them in a desk drawer.

      • alancaster149 profile image

        Alan R Lancaster 

        3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

        'Ey our Dave, Kennedy must have wetted himself reading this one. It comes across like a Marx Brothers comedy. No wonder 'Lemmy' was shifted sideways, out of harm's way before he dreamed up a real nasty.

        What was he thinking of?

        As it is, Cuba let the US use Guantanamo Bay for 'storing' Taliban prisoners before they were put on trial.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for your generous comment, Thomas. I suppose there is a small amount of bias in just writing about "false flags". I try to stick to the facts and make them easy to read. Sometimes I throw in a bias. In this case, I consciously did not mention that some conspiracy theorists think Lemnitzer may have been involved with JFK's assassination. I just stated the fact that the document was released as part of the assassination records review.

      • Thomas Swan profile image

        Thomas Swan 

        3 years ago from New Zealand

        An excellent article that sticks to the facts and avoids bias... so expect to be lambasted for it by those whose uninformed bias and unchecked patriotism impels them to do so!

        I thought #4 was particularly interesting: "Cuban refugees could be targeted and, for maximum publicity, actually wounded in the process." ... because many of those who fled Cuba were clearly anti-Castro; and they brought their biased outlook to America with them. Ironically then, the victim's families would have been the first to blame Cuba for such attacks.

        It's a good thing Kennedy was there to stop it happening. I don't think many other Presidents would have (e.g. Truman, who I've written about).

        Also, many of these `plans' are eerily similar to some recent events. It certainly gives ammunition to conspiracy theorists. Voted up and shared on Hubpages.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Larry. Yeah... look how well things have worked for the last 50-plus years. I don't know about you, but I think the move toward normalizing relations between the US and Cuba is long overdue.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        3 years ago from Oklahoma

        The whole US Cuba conflict and all the bizarre things that were done in relation to it never fail to fascinate me.

        Wonderful article.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        (Duplicate comments deleted)

        Always great to hear from you, Graham. Yes, what could possibly go wrong with plans that call for wounding people and setting off bombs in American cities-- not to mention sinking a boatload of refugees?

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

        Hi David. Well done yet again. This makes one wonder what is going on these days. Subterfuge was and is I am sure rife. Another well researched hub as usual. Always bringing us the little known facts and secrets.

        I have to think though. mock funerals, surely someone was going to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

        Voted up and all.

        Graham.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        I agree, Eric. If history has taught me anything, it's to be skeptical enough to question what's actually going on that's hidden from us.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        This was a very interesting read. Those were wild times, but it makes you wonder just what is being cooked up today.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, lions44. I was 10 during the Missile Crisis in 1962. I think what scared me the most was seeing so many grownups scared. Not sure what the world would be like today if the generals had had their way.

      • lions44 profile image

        CJ Kelly 

        3 years ago from Auburn, WA

        Great article. Smart guys think of crazy things. I remember the fear during the Cold War, but this was ridiculous. Always good to remember what not to do. Voted up and shared.

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