Operation Northwoods

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.
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:

  • "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 'Remember the Maine' incident could be arranged in several forms: a. We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba..."
  • "We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities, and even in Washington."
  • "The terror campaign could be pointed at refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated)..."
  • "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..."

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.



Kennedy and the Cold Warriors: The Case for a "Big" Conspiracy, by Tim Howells.

Operation Northwoods, by What Really Happened.

Venezuelan Arms Cache - A Northwoods Operation?, by Bill Kelly.

Other Links

Pentagon Proposed Pretexts for Cuba Invasion in 1962. The National Security Archive presents one of the main Northwoods memos with a short discussion.

U.S. Military Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba. ABC News reported on the Operation Northwoods story in 2001.

Operation Northwoods. Mack White's comic-book style presentation on Operation Northwoods.

Operation Northwoods and Body Of Secrets. www.AttackOnAmerica.net is one of several websites which includes discussion of Operation Northwoods and its parallels with the events of 9/11.

Operation Northwoods on wikipedia.



Northwoods. This lengthy document, declassified from JCS Central Files in 1997, contains a number of smaller memos and documents related to Operation Northwoods, arranged in reverse chronological order. The links below are in forward chronological order - the two bolded ones contain the amazing proposals which have generated the most interest in Operation Northwoods:

Lansdale Memo of 16 Mar 1962. This memo records a high-level meeting in the White House 3 days after McNamara was presented with Operation Northwoods.

Related Starting Points

Books of Interest

    Body of Secrets
James Bamford
Anchor Books, 2002
    Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume III
John Newman
Self Published, 2019

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