Friendly Fire

Book: U.S. Military Drafted Plans to Terrorize U.S.

Cities to Provoke War With Cuba


By David Ruppe




N E W  Y O R K, May 1 — In the early 1960s, America's

Top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill

innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S.

cities to create public support for a war against Cuba.




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Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans

reportedly included the possible assassination of

Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on

the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S.

ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in

U.S. cities.

The plans were developed as ways to trick the

American public and the international community

into supporting a war to oust Cuba's then new

leader, communist Fidel Castro.

America's top military brass even contemplated

causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We

could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and

blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S.

newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national


Details of the plans are described in Body of

Secrets (Doubleday), a new book by investigative

reporter James Bamford about the history of

America's largest spy agency, the National

Security Agency. However, the plans were not

connected to the agency, he notes.

The plans had the written approval of all of the

Joint Chiefs of Staff and were presented to

President Kennedy's defense secretary, Robert

McNamara, in March 1962. But they apparently were

rejected by the civilian leadership and have gone

undisclosed for nearly 40 years.

"These were Joint Chiefs of Staff documents. The

reason these were held secret for so long is the

Joint Chiefs never wanted to give these up because

they were so embarrassing," Bamford told

"The whole point of a democracy is to have leaders

responding to the public will, and here this is

the complete reverse, the military trying to trick

the American people into a war that they want but

that nobody else wants."

Gunning for War

The documents show "the Joint Chiefs of Staff drew

up and approved plans for what may be the most

corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government,"

writes Bamford.

The Joint Chiefs even proposed using the potential

death of astronaut John Glenn during the first

attempt to put an American into orbit as a false

pretext for war with Cuba, the documents show.

Should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, they

wrote, "the objective is to provide irrevocable

proof … that the fault lies with the Communists et

all Cuba [sic]."

The plans were motivated by an intense desire

among senior military leaders to depose Castro,

who seized power in 1959 to become the first

communist leader in the Western Hemisphere — only

90 miles from U.S. shores.

The earlier CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of

Cuba by Cuban exiles had been a disastrous

failure, in which the military was not allowed to

provide firepower.The military leaders now wanted

a shot at it.

"The whole thing was so bizarre," says Bamford,

noting public and international support would be

needed for an invasion, but apparently neither the

American public, nor the Cuban public, wanted to

see U.S. troops deployed to drive out Castro.

Reflecting this, the U.S. plan called for

establishing prolonged military — not democratic —

control over the island nation after the invasion.


"That's what we're supposed to be freeing them

from," Bamford says. "The only way we would have

succeeded is by doing exactly what the Russians

were doing all over the world, by imposing a

government by tyranny, basically what we were

accusing Castro himself of doing."

'Over the Edge'

The Joint Chiefs at the time were headed by

Eisenhower appointee Army Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer,

who, with the signed plans in hand made a pitch to

McNamara on March 13, 1962, recommending Operation

Northwoods be run by the military.

Whether the Joint Chiefs' plans were rejected by

McNamara in the meeting is not clear. But three

days later, President Kennedy told Lemnitzer

directly there was virtually no possibility of

ever using overt force to take Cuba, Bamford

reports. Within months, Lemnitzer would be denied

another term as chairman and transferred to

another job.

The secret plans came at a time when there was

distrust in the military leadership about their

civilian leadership, with leaders in the Kennedy

administration viewed as too liberal,

insufficiently experienced and soft on communism.

At the same time, however, there real were

concerns in American society about their military

overstepping its bounds.

There were reports U.S. military leaders had

encouraged their subordinates to vote conservative

during the election.

And at least two popular books were published

focusing on a right-wing military leadership

pushing the limits against government policy of

the day. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee

published its own report on right-wing extremism

in the military, warning a "considerable danger"

in the "education and propaganda activities of

military personnel" had been uncovered. The

committee even called for an examination of any

ties between Lemnitzer and right-wing groups. But

Congress didn't get wind of Northwoods, says


"Although no one in Congress could have known at

the time," he writes, "Lemnitzer and the Joint

Chiefs had quietly slipped over the edge."

Even after Lemnitzer was gone, he writes, the

Joint Chiefs continued to plan "pretext"

operations at least through 1963.

One idea was to create a war between Cuba and

another Latin American country so that the United

States could intervene. Another was to pay someone

in the Castro government to attack U.S. forces at

the Guantanamo naval base — an act, which Bamford

notes, would have amounted to treason. And another

was to fly low level U-2 flights over Cuba, with

the intention of having one shot down as a pretext

for a war.

"There really was a worry at the time about the

military going off crazy and they did, but they

never succeeded, but it wasn't for lack of

trying," he says.

After 40 Years

Ironically, the documents came to light, says

Bamford, in part because of the 1992 Oliver Stone

film JFK, which examined the possibility of a

conspiracy behind the assassination of President


As public interest in the assassination swelled

after JFK's release, Congress passed a law

designed to increase the public's access to

government records related to the assassination.

The author says a friend on the board tipped him

off to the documents.

Afraid of a congressional investigation, Lemnitzer

had ordered all Joint Chiefs documents related to

the Bay of Pigs destroyed, says Bamford. But

somehow, these remained.

"The scary thing is none of this stuff comes out

until 40 years after," says Bamford.