Americans are very confident that they would know if their government fakes “terrorist attacks” and uses them in arguing for war. But Operation Northwoods tells us how wrong we can be.
Fortunately, Operation Northwoods was shot down by President John F. Kennedy before it could be implemented. But what about the numerous other false flag operations, before and since? Was Northwoods a rare exception, a precursor or business as usual for the CIA and the Pentagon?
by David Stone
What Was Operation Northwoods?
Operation Northwoods was a proposed military operation to be carried out by the CIA, with Pentagon backing, creating a pretext for invading Cuba and overthrowing Fidel Castro. Businesses hated Castro because he nationalized their companies, and politicians feared a communist outpost so close to American shores.
American operatives would carry out false flag attacks and frame the Cuban government for them. At the time, Operation Northwoods was rejected by President John F. Kennedy as “unrealistic.”
The plan anticipated injuring and even killing Americans as well as Cubans fleeing to America as a way of generating hatred toward Castro. The irresistible insight here is that they knew Castro would not do anything like this himself; so, the CIA, empowered by the Pentagon, had to fake it.
Operation Northwoods’s proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives attacking or harassing Cuban refugees and the U.S. military, hijacking aircraft and blaming it all on Cuba.
Operation Northwoods proposals included:
- Hijacking or bombing a civilian airliner
- Attacking surface targets with disguised weapons
- Simulated Cuban jets overflying U.S. cities and warships
- Destroying a U.S. military drone (remotely piloted) over Cuba
- Faking a Cuban military attack against a neighboring country
American propagandists would use any or all of that as an excuse to invade Cuba, President Kennedy rejected it in an April 1962 meeting.
Details of the Plan
It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed by General Lyman Lemnitzer and sent to the Secretary of Defense. The main proposal was presented in a document titled “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (TS),” a top-secret collection of draft memoranda written by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) representative to the Caribbean Survey Group.
The main proposal outlined Operation Northwoods, which would use genuine U.S. military aircraft painted and numbered in the same way as those hijacked during the real Operation Northwoods would be. The planes would have been repainted, returned to their original bases, and used for insertions of phony evidence that they had been shot down over Cuba.
In addition, schemes were proposed to “create an incident which has the appearance of an attack” on the U.S. Navy in Guantánamo Bay. The CIA would also “develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami and other Florida cities – even in Washington – justifying a war against Cuba in which the United States would take control, depose Fidel Castro and establish a friendly government in its stead.
Operation Northwoods proposals were rejected by President John F. Kennedy shortly after they were presented, and the ultimate choice for the assassination of Castro fell to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Operation Mongoose (the CIA’s ongoing campaign).
Within the military and intelligence communities, President Kennedy was soon seen as “weak on Cuba.” A firm link was never established, but Kennedy was assassinated a little over six months later.
Operation Northwoods Place in History
The proposals are relevant to history because they demonstrate that high-ranking U.S. government officials are fully capable of developing and proposing such operations for carrying out complex, highly-organized plans to deceive the public to start wars. Other documents show that Operation Northwoods was not unique in history.
The Operation Northwoods document was released during the John F. Kennedy assassination records collection and has been declassified since 2001.
It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed by General Lyman Lemnitzer and sent to the Secretary of Defense. The main proposal was titled “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (TS),” a top-secret collection of draft memoranda written by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) representative to the Caribbean Survey Group.
The CIA’s History of Falsehoods
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a long history of overthrowing foreign governments, including democracies. Some of their most infamous activities include:
- Operation Gladio: A secret operation during the Cold War designed to overthrow communist governments in Europe.
- Operation Mockingbird: A project that involved the infiltration of the American media by the CIA to control the narrative.
- Operation Bowe: A project to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya.
- Operation Fast and Furious: A botched operation tracking weapons smuggling into Mexico, but instead resulted in the death of hundreds of Mexican civilians.
- Operation Paperclip: A project for finding and recruiting former Nazi scientists for employment by the U.S. government, as well as a project to deny their scientific knowledge to the Soviet Union via Operation Osoaviakhim.
Operation Northwoods Closest Relative: The Gulf of Tonkin Incident
The push for war on the rails of falsehoods didn’t stop there. The George W. Bush administration’s disastrous war in Iraq rested on accusations about weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there. But nothing tops The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, faked by the Pentagon and CIA, leading to the Vietnam War and costing over a million civilian lives as it escalated.
Just two years after Northwoods, in 1964, the CIA and Pentagon tried another falsehood-laden gambit for starting an all-out war. But this one, The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, worked, plunging America into a yearslong war. The U.S. lost after causing the loss of over a million lives, plus countless other casualties and political consequences. The defense industry, however, did quite well.
In the United States, there was once a time when people cared about truth and integrity. That all changed on August 2nd, 1964, after reports of an unprovoked attack in Vietnam proved false. President Lyndon B Johnson knew they were not credible, but he sent hundreds of thousands of American troops over to Vietnam anyway. Most Americans back then didn’t care what happened overseas or had any idea how complicated things could get. They were in for a lesson.
Falsehoods leading to devastating wars never ended nor was anyone ever punished for them, even after the war crimes of Johnson, Henry Kissenger and Robert McNamara were well-known. But there may be some hope.
In the waning days of President Donald Trump’s time in office, credible rumors circulated about his considering brewing up a new war that might rally Americans to the cause and help his reelection. To his credit, he didn’t instigate a conflict that would cost thousands of lives. But given the amorality of American governments, there’s no telling how that will be seen. As a bold stand against unjust wars or a miscalculation leading to his leading an effort to overthrow the government?
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