General Lyman Lemnitzer, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Operation Northwoods was developed in early 1962. Photo taken 2 Jan 1963 after his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
In the spring of 1962, a few months after the launch of Operation Mongoose with General Edward Lansdale at its head, an incredible proposal was put forth by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Operations Northwoods called for faked and actual terrorist actions against the U.S. to be conducted by the U.S., but done in such a way that they could be blamed on Cuba. This would provide a pretext for launching a full-scale military invasion of the island nation, and the removal of Fidel Castro.
Here are excerpts from the ideas put forth in a March 13 1962 proposal for U.S.-initiated actions which could be falsely blamed on Cuba:
Other ideas included simulating a shootdown of a US civilian airliner in a convincing way, and contriving "Cuban" subversion of neighboring countries.
James Bamford's book Body of Secrets describes the documents and the surrounding atmosphere. The proposal was presented to Secretary of Defense McNamara on March 13, 1962, and apparently rejected. Was this an "out of control" proposal by military chiefs completely out of step with the Kennedy administration?
It is worth noting that the proposals were generated in reponse to a request by Mongoose head Edward Lansdale, who was picked by Kennedy to run operations against Cuba. Also, Cuban invasion planning proceeded after the March 13 presentation. However, no further development of pretexts for war appear in later records, and the circumstantial evidence is strong that McNamara simply rejected it.
While it is not certain that President Kennedy was appraised of the full Northwoods details, a White House meeting on March 16 which included Kennedy did refer to the plans. General Lemnitzer said the U.S. had contingency plans for invasion and "plans for creating plausible pretexts to use force." Lansdale's memo of the meeting records Kennedy's reply: "The President said bluntly that we were not discussing the use of U.S. military force."
It should be noted that only one copy of the Northwoods documents has been located, though there were certainly several in existence at one point in time.
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