Operation Northwoods was a Pentagon plan to provoke a U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1963 through the use of deception operations. First disclosed by the Assassination Records Review Board in 1997, the Northwoods plans are among the most significant new JFK documents to emerge since Oliver Stone’s “JFK” movie.
Operation Northwoods envisioned U.S. intelligence operatives staging violent attacks on U.S. targets and arranging for the blame for the mayhem to fall on Fidel Castro and his communist government. The idea, wrote one planner, was to creates a “justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba,” by orchestrating a crime that placed the U.S. government “in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government” in Cuba.
These plans included the use of violence on American soil against American citizens.
“We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities, and even in Washington,” wrote one Northwoods planner who worked in the Defense Department. Another Northwood scheme envisioned faking the shooting down of a U.S. airplane and manufacturing “evidence” that Castro’s government was responsible.
The Northwoods plans were developed while Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, a hawk who clashed repeatedly with JFK, served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Kennedy rejected the idea of such “pretext operations” at a testy meeting in March 1962, but the JCS continued to push them as the solution to problem of Castro.
In May 1963, the Pentagon asserted that JFK’s policy to encourage a domestic rebellion against Castro was likely to fail and that policy alternative were needed.
“An engineered provocation,” declared a JCS policy statement, “offers greater advantages in control, timing, simplicity and security than would a fomented revolt.”
There is some resemblance between the imaginary Northwoods schemes and the reality of Kennedy’s assassination, allegedly by a Castro supporter.
The Northwoods planners proposed CIA assets be used to publicize the “evidence” of Cuban involvement in the attack on a U.S. target, the better to rally public opinion in support of an invasion.
After JFK’s murder, the CIA’s assets in the Cuban Student Directorate–funded by a CIA program codenamed AMSPELL and run by CIA officer George Joannides–publicized evidence of Oswald’s pro-Castro ways in an unsuccessful effort to generate support for a U.S. invasion.
While some JFK conspiracy writers see Operation Northwoods as a template for JFK’s assassination, there is no direct evidence to link the CIA and Pentagon planners to Lee Harvey Oswald or any other alleged Dealey Plaza gunman. But the fact that the Pentagon and CIA hid the deeply cynical nature of Operation Northwoods from the public and from JFK investigators for 35 years invites suspicion that the national security agencies had something to hide.
What seems indisputable is author James Douglass’s observation that the Northwoods documents illuminate “the mentality of Kennedy’s military advisers,” who pursued devious and murderous conspiracies to advance their ambition of launching a preemptive war against Cuba that would remove Castro from power.
Intelligence historian James Bamford was the first author to write about Operation Northwoods. In his book “Body of Secrets, rightly described it as “the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.” Northwoods, he said, was a prescription for “treason.”