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Operation Northwoods

On March 13, 1962, the U.S. government had a plan called "Operation Northwoods." The plan was basically to carry out fake terrorist attacks on American soil, and then blame them on Cuba. The goal of Operation Northwoods was to get public support for an invasion of Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that Americans would only support a war against Cuba following a series of surprise attacks by Cuban "terrorists" against the US.

A document known as Operation Northwoods was presented to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and it was declassified in 1997. Although it was signed by the five Joint Chiefs, the plan was never carried out. In fact, the Northwoods document frequently refers to staging fake terror attacks against American citizens.

They were going to:
  • Hijack planes
  • Fake a Cuban air force attack on a civilian jetliner
  • Shoot people in sniper attacks
  • Blow up a ship
  • Blow up John Glenn's space capsule
  • Attack military bases







Excerpts from declassified 1962 U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Memo
Operation Northwoods
Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba
Page 1

T O P    S E C R E T    S P E C I A L    H A N D L I N G    N O F O R N



13 March 1962


      Subject: Justification for U.S. Military Intervention
               in Cuba (TS)

   1. The Joint 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.

   2. 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.

   3. 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 this responsibility for both overt and
covert military operations be assigned the Joint Chiefs of

                            For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

BY JCS ON 21 May 84                [signed]

                                L. L. Lemnitzer
                            Joint Chiefs of Staff

1 Enclosure
  Memo for Chief of Operations, Cuba Project

Page 6

. . .


   8. It is recommended that:

      a. 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.

      b. This paper NOT be forwarded to commanders of unified
   or specified commands.

      c. This paper NOT be forwarded to US officers assigned
   to NATO activities.

      d. This paper NOT be forwarded to the Chairman, US
   Delegation, United Nations Military Staff Committee.

. . .

Page 8




      Subject: Justification for U.S. Military Intervention
               in Cuba (TS)

   1. Reference is made to memorandum from Chief of Operations,
Cuba project, for General Craig, subject: "Operation MONGOOSE",
dated 5 March 1962, which requested brief but precise
description of pretexts which the Joint Chiefs of Staff
consider would provide justifications for US military inter-
vention in Cuba.

   2. The projects listed in the enclosure hereto are forwarded
as a prelimiary 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.  The individual projects
can then be considered on a case-by-case basis.

   3. This plan, incorporating projects selected from the
attached suggestions, or from other sources, should be
developed to focus all efforts on a specific ultimate
objective which would provide adequate justification for
US military intervention.  Such a plan would enable a logical
build-up of incidents to be combined with other seemingly
unrelated events to camoflage 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 inter-
national image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 9
   4. Time is an important factor in resolution of the Cuban
problem.  Therefore, the plan should be so time-phased that
projects would be operable within the next few months.

   5. Inasmuch as the ultimate objective is overt military
intervention, it is recommended that primary responsibility
for developing military and para-military aspects of the plan
for both overt and covert military operations be assigned the
Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 10



   (Note: The courses of action which follow are a preliminary
submission suitable only for planning purposes.  They are
arranged neither chronologically nor in ascending order.
Together with similar inputs from other agencies, they are
intended to provide a point of departure for the development
of a single, integrated, time-phased plan.  Such a plan would
permit the evaluation of individual projects within the context
of cumulative, correlated actions designed to lead inexorably
to the objective of adequate justification for US military
intervention in Cuba).

   1. 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 in response to Task 33 c,
could be executed as an initial effort to provode 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 responses justifies.

   2. A series of well coordinated incidents will be planned
to take place in and around Guantanamo to give genuine
appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. 

      a. Incidents to establish a credible attack (not in
   chronilogical order): 

         (1) Start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio. 

         (2) Land friendly Cubans in uniform "over-the-fence"
      to stage attack on the base. 

         (3) Capture Cuban (friendly) sabateurs inside the

         (4) Start riots near the entrance to the base (friendly
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 11
         (5) Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. 

         (6) Burn aircraft on airbase (sabatage). 

         (7) Lob morter shells from outside of base into base.
      Some damage to installations. 

         (8) Capture assault teams approaching from the sea
      of vicinity of Guantanamo City. 

         (9) Capture militia group which storms the base. 

        (10) Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires -- napthalene.

        (11) Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals
      for mock-victims (may be lieu of (10)). 

      b. United States would respond by executing offensive
   operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying
   artillery and mortar emplacements which threaten the base. 

      c. Commence large scale United States military operations.

   3. A "Remember the Maine" incident could be arranged in
several forms: 

      a. We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and
   blame Cuba. 

      b. We could blow up a drone (unmannded) 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 presense
   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.  The US could
   follow with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US
   fighters to "evacuate" remaining members of the non-existant
   crew. Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful
   wave of national indignation. 

   4. We could develop a Communist Cuba terror campaign in
the Miami area, in other Flordia cities and even in Washington.
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 12
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. 

   5. A "Cuban-based, Castro-supported" filibuster could be
simulated against a neighboring Caribbean nation (in the vein
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 incidiaries could be found.  This could be coupled
with "Cuban" messages to the Communist underground in the 
Dominican Republic and "Cuban" shipments of arms which would
be found, or intercepted, on the beach. 

   6. 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 be useful as complementary actions.
An F-86 properly painted 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 modify-
ing an aircraft.  However, reasonable copies of the MIG could
be purchased from US resources in about three months.
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 13
   7. 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. 

   8. 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.

      a. 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
   subsituted 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. 

      b. 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 being transmitting on the inter-
   national distress frequency a "MAY DAY" message stating he
   is under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft.  The transmission
   will be interrupted by the destruction of aircraft which will
   be triggered by radio signal. This will allow IACO radio
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 14
   stations in the Western Hemisphere to tell the US what
   has happened to the aircraft instead of the US trying to
   "sell" the incident.

   9. 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.

      a. Approximately 4 of 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.

      b. 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
      c. 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
   retuning to Homestead would have a true story as far as
   they knew.  Search ships and aircraft could be dispatched
   and parts of aircraft found. 
Appendix to
Enclosure A

Page 15




   1. 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.

   2. 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 Chiefs 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."

   3. It is understood that the Department of State also is
preparing suggested courses of action to develop justification
for US military intervention in Cuba. 

 * (JCS 1969/303)
** (JCS 1969/313)
Appendix to
Enclosure B