JFK Redacted: Operation Northwoods Was Approved and Never Cancelled

In a thoughtful interview on the David Pakman Show, the host and I differed on the last of the JFK assassination files to be released in the next year by order of President Biden.

Pakman, the anchor of a high-quality independent news production, makes a point that is not implausible. He suggests the still-redacted documents contain nothing that is really germane to the causes of JFK’s assassination. Mark Zaid, national security attorney in Washington, has also made this argument to The Independent. Since we don’t have the files, I can’t prove that they’re wrong.

But in the interview, I make what I think is an equally germane observation. At every previous stage of JFK disclosure, the CIA has withheld significant information that speaks directly to the causes of the assassination.

In 1964 the CIA concealed numerous plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro from the Warren Commission. Counterintelligence chief James Angleton sought to “wait out” the commission on the pre-assassination Oswald file. In 1970, the Agency seized and suppressed the unpublished memoir of Mexico City station chief Win Scott, who wrote that the Agency’s Oswald investigation was superficial and there likely was a conspiracy.

In 1978, the CIA stonewalled the House Select Committee on Assassinations about undercover officer George Joannides’s handling of the AMSPELL political action network, which generated propaganda about Oswald before and after JFK was killed. In 1995, the CIA told the Assassination Records Review Board that Joannides wasn’t a real person, merely a “routing indicator.” The ARRB discovered that claim was false.

Operation Northwoods
Graphic artist Mack White told the story of Operation Northwoods in comic book form.

So it strikes me as premature, if not naive, to assume that the CIA is not withholding material JFK facts in 2021. Nothing in the Agency’s past performance warrants such a conclusion.

Pakman then cited Operation Northwoods, which he said was never implemented. This claim too is open to dispute, a point that I could have made more clearly.

What was Operation Northwoods?

Northwoods was a Pentagon plan to provoke a war with Cuba by staging a spectacular crime in the United States and arranging for the blame to fall on Cuba. The J-2 Planning Staff called it a “contrived provocation.”

Northwoods is relevant to the JFK story because someone committed spectacular crime on November 22 and, as documents declassified in the late 1990s show, CIA assets (funded under the AMSPELL program) immediately set out to blame the crime on Cuba.

The existing Northwoods records show that the concept was first approved by the JCS in March 1962. The file includes documents showing that President Kennedy brusquely rejected the Northwoods strategy at a White House meeting in March 1962.

Fourteen months later, on May 1, 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously re-approved the Northwoods plans. Approval, of course, is the formal expression of intent to implement. There is nothing in the Northwood files to indicate that the Kennedy rejected–or approved–the Northwoods plans, the second time around. The record is silent on the question.

So while Pakman says Northwoods was never implemented, I think it would be more accurate to say the Northwoods plans were approved and never cancelled, at least according to the public record.

Three additional points about Northwoods are beyond dispute:

1)There is nothing in the Northwoods file to indicate that anyone in the Pentagon or CIA had any objections to the idea of a false flag operation on U.S. soil to achieve the destruction of the Cuban government.

2) The U.S. officials cleared for Northwoods never disclosed the existence of the “contrived provocation” planning to JFK investigators. That withholding insured that CIA propaganda operations around Oswald before and after the assassination were not scrutinized. The Oswald-AMSPELL contacts in the summer of 1963, for example, have never been explained by the CIA.

3) The CIA is still withholding AMSPELL material. My lawsuit, Morley v. CIA–dismissed in 2018 by Justice Brett Kavanaugh— found scores of documents from 1963 and 1978 are still withheld in their entirety. And 87 pages of AMSPELL documents from 1964 are still heavily redacted.

CIA Non-Response

And what does the CIA say?

In October 2017 David Robarge, Chief Historian of the CIA, claimed in the Washington Decoded blog, that Northwoods was never implemented. Robarge presented no evidence to support the claim. There is no such evidence in the extant Northwoods file.

I find it revealing that Robarge offered this assertion about Northwoods in such an ad hoc manner.

Robarge’s statement did not come through the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, the repository of the Agency’s non-classified information and analysis. Nor was it issued by the Office of Public Affairs, which speaks for the Agency in media matters. In other words, Robarge’s claim appears to be merely a private opinion. It does not carry any institutional authority. So while some choose to believe that Northwoods was never implemented, the CIA itself has never made such a claim officially. So the claim that Northwoods was not implemented is uncorroborated.

Finally, the Defense Department is still withholding two paragaphs of the Northwoods plans from public view. The question, Pakman and I agree, is why? Are they hiding evidence of complicity? Or incompetence? Only full disclosure will answer the question.

Will the Northwoods and AMSPELL files be fully declassified on December 15, per Biden’s order. Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “JFK Redacted: Operation Northwoods Was Approved and Never Cancelled”

  1. The CIA is an agency of the government. There is no one who is an elected official. They have no right to keep this information from the people.
    If they do not cooperate their budget should be pulled, until the answers are known.

  2. Verily, every JFK documents release has proved valuable, and revealed earlier official dissembling.

    If there is nothing in the JFK records…why not dump them out in the middle of the National Archives and be done with it?

    Great blogging and much recognition to Jeff Morley for a sustained effort to shine lights where they are most needed—where others want darkness.

  3. Geesh, Jeff. This one blog post is as damning as JFK Revisited.

    I think what the CIA and JCS really depended on was that nobody would ever believe people in our own govt could commit such a despicable crime.

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