Operation Northwoods: US False Flag Attacks to Invade Cuba in 1962
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. It can be viewed at https://archive.org/stream/OperationNorthwoods/operation_northwoods#page/n0/mode/1up.
© 2015 David Hunt
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