What Happened During Operation Northwoods?
The year is 1962 and the United States is embroiled in a global struggle for power known as the Cold War. On one side stands the US and its democratic allies, and on the other the Soviet Union and its expanding network of Communist states. Cuba has recently fallen to communism, replacing the military dictatorship that was propped up by the United States- and acting more in its own interest rather than in an interest to promote democracy, the US has decided that this cannot stand.
A communist ally of the Soviet Union simply cannot be allowed to remain so close to US shores, especially with the possibility of opening up military bases for use by Soviet forces, placing them less than a hundred miles from the Florida coast. In this blogpost, We take a look at a very desperate, and terrifying, proposal to overthrow the Cuban government with Operation Northwoods: secret US false flag operations against Americans.
The US finds itself in a precarious position
The strategic picture is grim for the US. A communist Cuba with close ties to the Soviet Union could serve as a staging area for Soviet forces in preparation for an attack into the United States. This is a position the US has not been in since the War of 1812, and after the burning of the American capital at the hands of the British, the US military has vowed that no enemy shall ever set foot on American soil again.
Yet now there’s the potential for hostile Soviet forces to be based just a few dozen miles from Miami, and Soviet navy and air force bases in Cuba could not only threaten targets deep in the US, but could also cripple the US economically by blockading the Gulf of Mexico. A Soviet invasion force could board its ships and in a matter of hours be making landfall in Miami, or use the strategically important shipping port of Mobile, Alabama to unload thousands of troops virtually unopposed.
Requiring at least 24 hours to marshal a response force, such an invasion could be pulled off before the majority of US naval forces could respond, leaving several key port facilities in Soviet hands and making the offloading of even more troops easier.
There are of course even greater concerns from Soviet nuclear forces. Right now with the aid of a picket line of powerful radar installations across the Arctic circle, the US and its allies can detect and respond to a Soviet nuclear launch or incursion by nuclear bombers with plenty of time to get its own nuclear forces in the air.
Any soviet forces located in Cuba though could strike deep into US territory well before America can respond, and its fighters would have practically no chance to stop Russian nuclear bombers striking into Florida, Alabama, Georgia, or Louisiana. Then there’s the fear of Soviet ballistic nuclear missiles, which could be launched and strike their targets in a matter of minutes, potentially knocking out the US’s ability to respond and leaving America completely vulnerable to a total defeat of World War III.
The plan to overthrow the Castro regime
For the United States, it’s clear- a communist Cuba cannot be tolerated, and almost as soon as Castro takes power, plans begin to depose him. In 1962 the United States launches Operation Mongoose, which would become one of the most ambitious, and flat-out crazy, intelligence operations in all history.
Mongoose will pull together all the various arms of the US intelligence services in a bid to figure out ways to either replace Castro, outright kill him, or at the very least diminish his influence. Nothing is too crazy to try, from exploding sea shells placed by Navy divers at his favorite beaches, to the training of one of his ex lovers to murder him mid-coitus, there’s no avenue too out of the box to explore.
The CIA even considers exposing the leader to high levels of estrogen and chemicals that’ll make his hair fall out, all in the hopes that Castro’s rugged manly persona could be turned into a whiny, overly hysterical emotional wreck- with breasts. That’s right, the CIA tried to defeat Castro by giving him breasts, you heard that correctly, and you heard it here on The Infographics Show.
The fastest way to finish off Castro
Yet while CIA spooks were coming up with all sorts of crazy and zany ideas to either kill or humiliate Castro on the international stage, the Joint Chiefs of Staff- supreme commanders of the various branches of the US armed forces- had a much more straightforward idea. They say that to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and the US military is very much a hammer and Castro was very much a particularly troublesome nail.
At first they floated the idea of simply bombing Castro- not secretly, the way the CIA planned to do in a bid to avoid international outrage, but much more overtly with a strike by military aircraft. Short, sweet, and very much to the point, within seconds Castro would be less a bothersome nail that needed hammering, and more a floating cloud of ashes. When the Joint Chiefs were reminded however that this was not the way the US did things, they realized that if they wanted to kill Castro dead- and they definitely did- then they would need an excuse to do so.
A dilemma of sorts
Thus the hammers decided to get sneaky, and came up with one of the most morally abhorrent plans to remove Castro from power in US history. With the CIA elbows deep in Operation Mongoose, the official codename for the removal of Castro, the Joint Chiefs decided that the best way to kill or remove Castro would be through military force. Yet an unmerited invasion of Cuba would have not just disastrous political consequences, but would never be supported by the American people themselves. The US would need a reason to go to war against the tiny island nation, something that every American could get behind and support.
Under the codename of Operation Northwoods, a series of plans to justify the invasion of Cuba were drawn up. Known as false flag operations, the Joint Chiefs drew up a series of plans to conduct hostile operations against its own military and civilians, as well as those of neighboring nations, while making it look as if the attacks were being carried out by Cuban operatives. To achieve their ultimate objective of a Cuban invasion, the Joint Chiefs made the following proposals, all to be carried out by clandestine American agents:
1. Attacking Guantanamo Bay Naval station,
This was to happen either with teams of fake commandos who would then be captured, or by lobbying mortar shells into the installation from outside of its boundaries. Aircraft could also be purposefully set on fire and sabotaged by individuals inside the base, and a ship- either a real Navy ship with actual sailors aboard, or a drone ship- could be blown up in Guantanomo Bay itself, with the blame falling on Cuban military forces.
This would be purposefully reminiscent of the ‘remember the Maine’ incident in 1898 where a US battleship was sunk in Havana harbor, with the death of 260 American sailors. The incident helped spur the American public to support a war against Spain and secure Cuban semi-independence.
2. The Pentagon would foster a homegrown terror campaign
The target was cities like Florida, Washington, and possibly other cities, all perpetuated by fake Cuban operatives and blamed on Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. This would include the gunning down of American civilians on the street and the planting of bombs in public places, all with the intent of whipping up the American public into a frenzy against Cuban refugees and thus Cuba.
3. Fake terror attacks against Cuban refugees
Perhaps because even the Joint Chiefs thought at the time that murdering American civilians might be too cold-blooded, they also suggested that instead of terror attacks against American citizens, they could launch a series of fake terror attacks against Cuban refugees, or sink boats- which they point out could be real or simulated- full of refugees. The purpose of this campaign would be to foster a sense of pity for refugees from Americans, who would surely support a war against the evil Fidel Castro and his Cuban government.
4. Supporting Cuban efforts to subvert the governments of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
The US was fully aware that Castro was secretly funneling aid to guerilla movements in those nations in the hopes of expanding communism across the Caribbean. The Joint Chiefs suggested actually helping those plans along, and exposing them so as to draw international consternation against Cuba and justify an invasion in the name of ‘keeping the peace’.
The plan listed as an example raids by the US Air Force, flying fake Cuban B-26 or C-46 aircraft, into the Dominican Republic where they could launch attacks against sugar cane fields, even using Soviet incendiary munitions. These attacks would be supplemented by fake messages from Cuba to the communist underground present in the Dominican Republic, and even shipments of weapons and explosives that could be conveniently intercepted on the beaches.
5. MIG type aircraft flown by US pilots
These could be used to harass civilian airliners, or attack surface shipping vessels. Military drone aircraft could be targeted and destroyed by these fake MIGs in order to add to the credibility of the Cuban threat. The plan acknowledges the difficulty in procuring a real MIG but notes that a credible copy could be developed in just about three months.
6. Hijacking attempts
These were to be done against air and naval craft by fake Cuban operatives, which were of course designed to fail or succeed only temporarily.
7. The shooting down of a chartered civilian aircraft
This would secretly be a repainted US Air Force plane. The aircraft would be remotely piloted and in the press, the American people could be told that it was full of US college students off on a trip to South America. This plan involved the drone aircraft and a real aircraft which would really be boarded by fake passengers. The drone aircraft would rendezvous with the real aircraft at a determined location off the Florida coast, and the drone aircraft would then continue flying the flight path filed with civilian aviation agencies.
The real aircraft would immediately dive to minimum altitude and fly back to an auxiliary airfield in Eglin Air Force Base, with the fake passengers offloaded. Once flying over Cuba, the drone would transmit a may day with a pre-recorded message saying that it was under attack by Cuban MIGs, and then the drone would be remotely detonated via radio. This would allow civilian radio installations around the Western Hemisphere to tell the US what had happened, rather than the US itself trying to convince people of what happened.
8. While just 15 to 20 miles off the Cuban coast, a US Air Force fighter jet would radio a distress call, saying he was being attacked by Cuban MIGs.
The jet would then dive to minimum altitude and fly back to an auxiliary airfield in Eglin Air Force Base, where the jet’s tail number would be changed and the pilot, flying under an alias, would resume his real identity and rejoin his real squadron. Then a US submarine would secretly disperse jet parts and a parachute off the waters of Cuba, as if to make it seem like a US air force jet had really been shot down.
How President Kennedy prevented World War 3
The Joint Chiefs quickly took their proposal straight to President John F. Kennedy, who read through the briefing document and immediately denied it. Appalled at the lengths which the Joint Chiefs were willing to go to justify an invasion of Cuba, President Kennedy would go on to fire General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Though Operation Northwoods would have indisputably achieved its objective of giving the US a pretense to go to war against Cuba, President Kennedy could not stomach the sheer horror of some of what the Joint Chiefs seemed ready to do in order to get their invasion. Kennedy’s strong and immediate reaction to northwoods false flag operations would go on to make the Joint Chiefs believe that he was soft on Cuba, and create a rift between himself and the america top military, which would last until the Cuban missile crisis.
Thankfully once again President Kennedy would stand up to the Joint Chiefs during the crisis and reject the use of force, potentially saving the world from World War III. In the end, Operations Northwoods was an immoral and un-American proposal to justify a needless war, and proof of why civilian leadership of the military is vital for the health and well being of any democracy.
Do you think Operation Northwoods would have actually worked? See More