Operation Northwoods - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity

Off-the-Wall Stuff

Operation Northwoods

The Conspiracy

I recently came across references to a secret U.S. government plan back in 1962, , called "Operation Northwoods", to launch terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and then plant evidence blaming these attacks on Cuba. These attacks would then be used as a pretext to start a war against Cuba.

You can find plenty of articles on the web expressing outrage that the U.S. government would deliberately kill U.S. citizens just to stir up war fever. I've even seen a couple of articles linking this to the 9/11 attacks, basically saying, see, if the government was planning on doing this back in 1962 to justify war against Cuba, they might well have done it in 2001 to justify war against Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Reality

Sadly, the truth is far less entertaining than the myth. Operation Northwoods was declassified back in 1997. I got a copy of the document from the government archives. You can read it yourself here.

The real plan was to stage fake attacks against U.S. ships and planes, and then blame them on Cuba. For example:

  • Land friendly Cubans in uniform "over the fence" to stage attacks on base. [The U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.]
  • Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock victims.
  • We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in the Cuban waters. ... The presence of Cuban planes or ships merely investigating the intent of the vessel could be fairly compelling evidence that the ship was under attack. ... The US could follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to "evacuate" remaining members of the non-existent crew.

There is a lengthy discussion of how a simulated attack on a US commericial airplane could be carried out:

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 substituted for the actual civil aircraft and would be loaded with the selected passerngers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone. Take off times of the drone aircraft and the actual aircraft would 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 [sic] transmitting on the international distress frequency a "MAY DAY" message stating he is under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft. The transmission will be interrupted by the estruction of the aircraft which will be triggered by radio signal.

And so on. At no point does the document say that any Americans would actually be killed or that any American property would be destroyed, other than radio-controlled ships and planes owned by the military or the CIA. The attacks would all be faked. Note in the quotes above, the "mock" casualties, "non-existent" crew, etc.

Granted, the proposal is not so careful about lives of Cubans:

We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. 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.

So they were willing to contemplate killing Cubans, though even there they hedged with "real or simulated". Note that they were a little more careful about Cubans in the US: "even to the extent of wounding". No one would be killed on US soil, though maybe possibly they would wound a foreign city in the US.

A "Cuban-based, Castro-supported" filibuster [guerilla war] could be simulated against a neighboring Caribbean nation ...

They then talk about having planes painted to look like Cuban aircraft harass passenger jets. But no one would actually be hurt.

They talk about having the US stage a fake arms delivery to communist rebels in another country, and then have US forces catch them. Again, no one is really hurt.

The most extreme action that is actualy spelled out is this:

For example, advantage can be taken of the sensitivity of the Dominican Air Force to inrustions within their national air space. "Cuban" B-26 or C-46 type aircraft could make cane-burning raids at night. Soviet Bloc incendiaries could be found.

So they apparently really would actually destroy private property in the Dominican Republic so it could be blamed on Cuba. But again, efforts are taken to prevent any casualties. While the plan contemplates injuring or killing Cubans, it carefully details plans designed to prevent any non-Cuban -- U.S. citizens and people from other South American countries -- from being hurt.

There are a couple of ambiguous statements that could be construed to call for actual violence rather than simulated violence. Referring to the fake terror campaign in Florida, they say:

Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots

The other is:

Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba.

Given that all of the plans that are actually spelled out in any detail make clear that no non-Cubans will actually be hurt, that only unmanned planes and ships be destroyed, I suspect that the "careful placement" of the bombs was intended to mean, to be sure that no one is actually hurt. And the reference to hijacking probably means simulated hijacking, like the simulated destruction of ships and planes.


Yes, the plan was a sleazy lie: Stage fake attacks and blame them on Cuba to justify a war. And of course if a war really did start, plenty of American and Cuban soldiers would be injured or killed, and likely there would be deaths of innocent civilians on the Cuban side, if not in America.

And yes, I find it particularly disturbing that they would consider really sinking a boatload of refugees and to wound refugees in Florida. These were people coming to the U.S. for help, and instead they were to be used as pawns.

But this was most definitely not a plot by the US government to kill innocent Americans so they could blame it on Cuba. Sorry, no.

And by the way, the plan was rejected. None of this ever happened. Whether it was rejected because the president and other decision-makers refused to engage in such a deception, or whether it was rejected because it was considered impractical and no one had a problem with the morality of it, I don't know. But none of this ever happened, it was all just a blue-sky proposal that never got past the brain-storming phase.

© 2015 by Jay Johansen


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