Operation Northwoods: When the US Joint Chiefs of Staff slid into insanity

Fifty-five years ago, a top-secret plan was proposed by the United States government to secure support for military intervention against Cuba. A plan that included acts of terrorism, sabotage, murder, treason and other crimes, many of which were proposed to occur on American soil.

I have read plenty of declassified government documents over the years and after reading many of them I found myself screaming out loud, WTF. Operation Northwoods I must tell you, tops them all.

Documents referencing Operation Northwoods surfaced about 20 year ago after being hidden from the American public for almost 40 years.

It is the definitive blueprint for false flag operations. A false flag is a covert operation that is designed to deceive in a way that the activities appear as though they are being carried out by a group or nation other than those who actually planned and executed them.

This plan was to say the least, so deplorable, so unimaginable it’s hard to believe that any member of the armed forces of the United States would not only conceive such a plan but also have the nerve to put it in writing and then submit it to the Secretary of Defense.

If I had heard someone proposing what is described in Operation Northwoods I would tell myself that that person is a few cans short of a six-pack and probably should be penciled in for a phone call from the angel of death. Then after that I would be on the telephone to the FBI.

What makes this so bad and so twisted is that Operation Northwoods was spearheaded by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Lyman L. Lemnitzer and eventually signed off by all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It’s unbelievable but true.

No conspiracy theory here folks, it’s all fact.

You could call it a full-blown conspiracy, one to deceive the American public and the rest of the world.

It was the period of the Cold War and tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union. The overthrow of the American-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba by Fidel Castro in 1959 didn’t help. Cuba was now the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere and just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

The US military at that time was itching to invade Cuba, there is no doubt about that. But when does the end justify the means. Just how low and how far the leaders of the US military at the time wanted to stoop is evident in the documents of Operation Northwoods.

[Note: Everything in Italics in this article came right out of the official documents].

Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer (Wikipedia)

In a memorandum dated March 13, 1962 to then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, General Lemnitzer writes:

The Joints Chiefs of Staff have considered the attached Memorandum for the Chief of Operations, Cuba Project, which responds to a request of that office for brief but precise description of pretexts which would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the proposed memorandum be forwarded as a preliminary submission suitable for planning purposes. It is assumed that there will be similar submissions from other agencies and that these inputs will be used as a basis for developing a time-phased plan. Individual projects can then be considered on a case-by-case basis. Further, it is assumed that a single agency will be given the primary responsibility for developing military and para-military aspects of the basic plan. It is recommended that the responsibility for both overt and covert military operations be assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

What was so horrifying was the description of pretexts described in Operation Northwoods that the JCS were considering that would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba.

How could a set of pretexts be used so the American public could be fooled into believing that the Cuban regime was an actual threat?

That is answered in the Northwoods documents as follows: Such a plan would enable a logical build-up of incidents to be combined with other seemingly unrelated events to camouflage the ultimate objective and create the necessary impression of Cuban rashness and irresponsibility on a large scale, directed at other countries as well as the United States. The plan would also properly integrate and time phase the courses of action to be pursued. The desired resultant from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.

The plan also accounted for how the military would get political approval for military action: It is recognized that any action which becomes pretext for US military intervention in Cuba will lead to a political decision which then would lead to military action.

JFK at Rice University. (Public Domain)

Operation Northwoods was being planned after Operation Zapata, the failed CIA Bay of Pigs plan in April 1961 to invade Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime and prior to October 1962 when the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Also during this time, the JCS were often-times at odds with the civilian leaders of the US military, Commander-In-Chief President John F. Kennedy and the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. The JCS believed that Kennedy and McNamara lacked determination to do whatever was necessary to achieve success.

It was well known at the time that General Lemnitzer had a deep hatred for President Kennedy. Lemnitzer never addressed him as Mr. President, just Mister Kennedy.

In a National Security Council meeting in July 1961 Lemnitzer presented a plan for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. In disgust JFK left the meeting in the middle of Lemnitzer’s speech.

Lemnitzer and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time were not comfortable in the least that civilians were in control of the military.

Thank God even to this day that in this country we have civilian control of the military.

There was even talk at the time about a possible coup by the military to take control of the government. It worried many including members of Congress so much that the Foreign Relations Committee convened a series of hearings to investigate activities of extreme right-wing officers in the US military.

The JCS at that time were falling into an abyss of insanity with their crazy plans to trick the American public into approving for a war against Cuba. It’s not to say that Castro wasn’t a bad guy, he was a ruthless dictator but we still have something in this country that was far more important; The Constitution of the United States, something that the JCS at the time wanted to throw out the window with Operation Northwoods.

Were the JCS worried about the Russians

World opinion, and the United Nations forum should be favorably affected by developing the international image of the Cuban government as rash and irresponsible, and as an alarming and unpredictable threat to the peace of the Western Hemisphere.

While the foregoing premise can be utilized at the present time it will continue to hold good only as long as there can be reasonable certainty that US military intervention in Cuba would not directly involve the Soviet Union. There is as yet no bilateral mutual support agreement binding the USSR to the defense of Cuba, Cuba has not yet become a member of the Warsaw Pact, nor have the Soviets established Soviet bases in Cuba in the pattern of US bases in Western Europe. [Note: Seven months later the JCS would learn that they were wrong in that assumption, not only were there Soviet offensive ballistic missiles in Cuba but there were also Soviet military personnel] Therefore, since time appears to be an important factor in resolution of the Cuba problem, all projects are suggested within the time frame of the next few months.

The JCS couldn’t let everyone in on it

Enclosure A together with its attachments should be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense for approval and transmittal to the Chief of Operations, Cuba Project. This paper NOT be forwarded to commanders of unified or specified commands. This paper NOT be forwarded to US officers assigned to NATO activities. This paper NOT be forwarded to the Chairman, US Delegation, United Nations Military Staff Committee.

Provoke the Cubans into attacking us first

Since it would seem desirable to use legitimate provocation as the basis for US military intervention in Cuba a cover and deception plan, to include requisite preliminary actions such as has been developed could be executed as an initial effort to provoke Cuban reactions. Harassment plus deceptive actions to convince the Cubans of imminent invasion would be emphasized. Our military posture throughout execution of the plan will allow a rapid change from exercise to intervention if Cuban response justifies.

Make it appear Guantanamo Naval Base is under attack

A series of well-coordinated incidents will be planned to take place in and around Quantanamo to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. Start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio. Land friendly Cubans in uniform “over the fence” to stage attack on base. Capture Cuban (friendly) saboteurs inside the base. Start riots near the base main gate (friendly Cubans). Capture assault teams approaching from the sea or vicinity of Guantanamo City. Capture militia group which storms the base.

Bomb Quantanamo Naval Base

Lob mortar shells from outside of base into base. Some damage to installations. Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. Burn aircraft on air base (sabotage). Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires – naphthalene. Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock-victims. United States would respond by executing offensive operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying artillery and mortar emplacements which threaten the base.

Blow up a US ship

A “Remember the Maine” incident could be arranged in several forms: We could blow up a US ship in Quantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in the Cuban waters. We could arrange to cause such incident in the vicinity of Havana or Santiago as a spectacular result of Cuban attack from the air or sea, or both. The presence of Cuban planes or ships merely investigating the intent of the vessel could be fairly compelling evidence that the ship was taken under attack. The nearness to Havana or Santiago would add credibility especially to those people that might have heard the blast or have seen the fire.

Provide false information to US newspapers

The US could follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to “evacuate” remaining members of the non-existent crew. Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.

Conduct terrorist acts within the United States

We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated).

We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized.

Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.

Stage Attacks on other countries

A “Cuban-based, Castro-supported” filibuster could be simulated against a neighboring Caribbean nation (in the vain of the 14th of June invasion of the Dominican Republic). We know that Castro is backing subversive efforts clandestinely against Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua at present and possible others. These efforts can be magnified and additional ones contrived for exposure. For example, advantage can be taken of the sensitivity of the Dominican Air Force to intrusions within their national air space. “Cuban” B-26 or C-46 type aircraft could make cane-burning raids at night. Soviet bloc incendiaries could be found. This could be coupled with “Cuban” shipments of arms which would be found, or intercepted, on the beach.

Attack civilian ships and harass civilian aircraft

Use of MIG type aircraft by US pilots could provide additional provocation. Harassment of civil air, attacks on surface shipping and destruction of US military drone aircraft by MIG type planes would convince air passengers that they saw a Cuban MIG, especially if the pilot of the transport were to announce such fact. The primary drawback to this suggestion appears to be the security risk inherent in obtaining or modifying an aircraft. However, reasonable copies of the MIG could be produced from US resources in about three months.

Hijack civilian aircraft and ships

Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba. Concurrently, genuine defections of Cuban civil and military air and surface craft should be encouraged.

Fake a Cuban attack on an American airliner

It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner enroute from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. The destination would be chosen only to cause the flight plan route to cross Cuba. The passengers could be a group of college students off on a holiday or any grouping of persons with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight.

An aircraft at Eglin AFB would be painted and numbered as an exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft belonging to a CIA proprietary organization in the Miami area. At a designated time, the duplicate would be substituted for the actual civil aircraft and would be loaded with the selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone.

Take off times of the drone aircraft and the actual aircraft will be scheduled to allow a rendezvous south of Florida. From the rendezvous point the passenger-carrying aircraft will descend to minimum altitude and go directly into an auxiliary field at Eglin AFB where arrangements will have been made to evacuate the passengers and return the aircraft to its original status. The drone aircraft meanwhile will continue to fly the filed flight plan. When over Cuba the drone will begin transmitting on the international distress frequency a “May Day” message stating he is under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft. The transmission will be interrupted by destruction of the aircraft which will be triggered by radio signal. This will allow ICAO radio stations in the Western Hemisphere to tell the US what has happened to the aircraft instead of the US trying to “sell” the incident.

Fake a Cuban attack on a USAF aircraft

It is possible to create an incident which will make it appear that Communist Cuban MIGs have destroyed a USAF aircraft over international waters in an unprovoked attack.

Approximately 4 or 5 F-101 aircraft will be dispatched in trail from Homestead AFB, Florida, to the vicinity of Cuba. Their mission will be to reverse course and simulate fakir aircraft for an air defense exercise in southern Florida. These aircraft would conduct variations of these flights at frequent intervals. Crews would be briefed to remain at least 12 miles off the Cuban coast; however, they would be required to carry live ammunition in the event that hostile actions were taken by the Cuban MIGs.

On one such flight, a pre-briefed pilot would fly tail-end Charley at considerable interval between aircraft. While near the Cuban Island this pilot would broadcast that he had been jumped by MIGs and was going down. No other calls would be made. The pilot would then fly directly west at extremely low altitude and land at a secure base, an Eglin auxiliary. The aircraft would be met by the proper people, quickly stored and given a new tail number. The pilot who had performed the mission under an alias, would resume his proper identity and return to his normal place of business. The pilot and aircraft would then have disappeared.

At precisely the same time that the aircraft was presumably shot down a submarine or small surface craft would disburse F-101 parts, parachute, etc., at approximately 15 to 20 miles off the Cuban coast and depart. The pilots returning to Homestead would have a true story as far as they knew. Search ships and aircraft could be dispatched and parts of aircraft found.

Facts Bearing On The Problem

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have previously stated that US unilateral military intervention in Cuba can be undertaken in the event that the Cuban regime commits hostile acts against US forces or property which would serve as an incident upon which to base overt intervention. The need for positive action in the event that current covert efforts to foster an internal Cuban rebellion are unsuccessful was indicated by the Joint Chief’s of Staff on 7 March 1962, as follows: “… determination that a credible internal revolt is impossible of attainment during the next 9-10 months will require a decision by the United States to develop a Cuban “provocation” as justification for positive US military action.” It is understood that the Department of State also is preparing suggested courses of action to develop justification for US military intervention in Cuba.  

Operation Northwoods was a masterful piece of writing, well thought out and boldly filled with numerous scenarios that if executed, most likely capable of fooling most Americans. All of that is true; If you are preparing to write a novel in the genre of Tom Clancy that is. But that wasn’t the intent of the US military. They weren’t writing a New York Times bestseller, they wanted to sell the American public a false bill of sale, at any cost, to garner support for an invasion of Cuba.

Terrorism, murder, treason and sabotage.

If you or I were to conspire with others or even act individually for that matter, and draw up even one of the scenarios in Operation Northwoods, we would most likely be facing many years in a federal prison and rightfully so.

General Lemnitzer, after approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff did in March 1962 present Operation Northwoods to then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara who passed it on to President John F. Kennedy.

President Kennedy, thank God, nixed the plan and made it clear that the US would not take military action against Cuba. A few months later, Lemnitzer was denied another term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I wore the uniform of this country and I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that Army General Lyman L. Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and any other military personnel at that time who had a hand in Operation Northwoods, subverted the Constitution of the United States and were a disgrace to the military uniform they wore.

President Kennedy after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 fired his CIA Director, Allen Dulles and Kennedy remained skeptical of the military ever since.

In October 1962 Kennedy faced the toughest challenge of his presidency with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once again, he found himself at odds with the military who were advocating a preemptive strike against the Cuban missile sites. Kennedy believed that had he listened to the military and did what they wanted to do, that nobody would have been alive to tell them they were wrong.

President Kennedy brought the Cuban Missile Crisis to a successful conclusion, much to the dismay of his own generals, and averted what could have been all out nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

JFK during his presidency made more than a few enemies in the CIA and the US military, not least of who were fired CIA Director, Allen Dulles and former Chairman of the JCS, Army General Lyman L. Lemnitzer.

On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Operation Northwoods, was a national disgrace and remains to this day one of the most morally and legal corrupt plans ever to be conceived by members of the U.S. military.