Castro and Cuba: The Northwoods Project

© Jason N. Parkinson 2004.

Recently declassified documents proved US military and intelligence officials planned to fake terrorist attacks to justify a war with Cuba, seven months before the Cuban missile crisis.

Obtained from the George Washington University, JCS 1969/321 was authorised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 13, 1962, and signed by JCS chairman, Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer.

Operation Northwoods stated: “It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner en-route from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela.

“An aircraft at Elgin AFB (Airforce Base) would be painted and numbered as an exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft belonging to a CIA proprietary organisation in the Miami area. At a designated time the duplicate would be substituted for the actual aircraft and would be loaded with selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone.”

At a specific rendezvous point, named as the south of Florida, the aircraft containing the passengers would descend to a minimum altitude and fly directly to an auxiliary airfield at Elgin AFB where “arrangements will be made to evacuate the passengers and return the aircraft to its original status”.

The duplicate drone plane would continue to fly along the designated flight path, broadcasting a distress signal on the international distress frequency, so the May-Day could be picked up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation radio stations in the Western Hemisphere. This would aid the validity rather than, as the document states, the US trying to “sell the incident”.

Once the May-Day transmission was activated the drone plane would then be blown up, triggered by a radio signal.

Operation Northwoods also planned to fake a Cuban MIG strike on an USAF aircraft over international waters.

Four or five F-101 aircraft would be dispatched to 12 miles off the Cuban coast carrying live ammunition, in case of a real attack. One of the aircraft, a pre-briefed pilot, would report that he had “been jumped by MIGs and was going down”. The pilot would then fly at “extremely low altitude” and land at an auxiliary base at Elgin AFB. A submarine would surface and distribute wreckage in the area to validate the story. The returning fellow pilots would have no knowledge of the plot and enforce the incident further.

The Northwoods plan was to be built up over several months, with other actions instigated to increase US-Cuban tensions, formulating an international image of the Cuban government as “rash and irresponsible”. This would help form a solid world opinion and create a favourable United Nations forum to justify US military intervention.

These “incidents”, most to occur at the US Guantanamo military base, included landing friendly Cubans “over the fence” to fake an attack, start riots outside the base, blow up ammunition and aircraft, real mortar bomb attacks, blow up and sink an American ship in Guantanamo Bay and conduct funerals for mock victims.

Other plans included staging simulated Cuban terror campaigns on American soil and the “real or simulated” sinking of Cuban refugee boats.

The fear of Soviet intervention was dismissed in the document because “there is as yet no bilateral mutual support agreement binding the USSR to the defense of Cuba, Cuba has not yet become a member of the Warsaw Pact, nor have the Soviets established Soviet bases in Cuba in the pattern of US bases in Western Europe”.

Project Northwoods, also known as “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba”, was requested on March 5, 1962, by US Gen. William Craig, the Pentagon representative for Operation Mongoose – a CIA backed PSYOP mission devised in 1961 to assassinate President Fidel Castro and disrupt and undermine the Cuban government.

The plan was submitted by M. J. Ingelido and F. J. Blouin of the Joint Secretariat and was passed on March 13, 1962. Listed as a “Memorandum for the secretary of defence” it was specifically stated that the paper not be submitted to “commanders of unified or specified commands”. Nor was it to be seen by US officers assigned to NATO duties or the US delegation of the United Nations Military Staff Committee.

Project Northwoods was passed on to President Kennedy’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara, less than a year after the Bay of Pigs incident in April 1961. The plans were finally rejected by the civilian leadership and remained undisclosed for 40 years.

Originally Published in The Morning Star, 6 October 2004.

© Jason N. Parkinson 2004

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