Andrew Lepore | United States
How far would the government go in order to convince the American people to go to war? Revelations from a series of Pentagon documents declassified over 20 years ago reveal a willingness on the part of U.S. officials to go to shocking lengths to justify a war in Cuba. Some were even willing to manufacture acts of terrorism on U.S. soil.
In 1997, The JFK Assassination Records Review Board released over 1,800 previously classified records from the Kennedy era. Among these documents was a series of memorandums titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba”. These memorandums detailed possible plans to remove Fidel Castro’s Communist regime, and the means of which to justify this military action to the American people. This series of plans and operations became known as the Cuban Project, which was a prime foreign policy focus for the Kennedy administration.
The Cuban Project
When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, U.S. officials predicted he would have trouble holding on to power. Officials were first wary of his rule. Castro had not yet shown himself to be a communist, though U.S. intelligence knew his brother Raul was. Officials feared that Castro could pose a threat to U.S. assets on the island, or that he could demand a far higher rent for ownership of Guantanamo Bay.
Then, in 1960, Castro severed the once-strong ties between Cuba and the U.S. by nationalizing (government seizure) all American-owned business in the country without compensation. This prompted U.S. officials to end diplomatic relations and place a trade embargo on the island. The move greatly increased tensions between the two countries. Soon after, talks of Castro’s disposition began.
On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower authorized covert military action against the Cuban government with his signing of a CIA document titled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”. This order authorized the CIA to begin a propaganda offensive against the regime, develop a series of intelligence networks within the country, and “Develop a paramilitary force to be introduced into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance groups against the Castro regime”.
Sabotage against Castro
The agency even had plans to sabotage Castro’s public image through zany schemes. For example, they proposed secretly drugging him with an LSD-like substance before a speech. They hoped this would “cause him to flail into delusional gyrations during a public appearance”. There were also thoughts to line his shoes with toxic thallium salts to make his beard fall out.
Throughout 1960, the CIA carried out these orders, which soon became known as the Cuban Project. Then, following his inauguration, President Kennedy was briefed on the latest plan in the Cuban Project, codenamed Operation Pluto. This plan detailed an amphibious invasion of the island by over 1,000 CIA-trained Cuban exiles. Kennedy approved the operation and ordered active departments to continue and report progress.
On April 17, 1961, the exiles landed on the beach of Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs, but harsh resistance met the invasion. In only three days, most of the attackers had surrendered to Cuban forces. The Bay of Pigs invasion, thus, was a major failure for American foreign policy and an embarrassment for the Kennedy Administration.
However, the Bay of Pigs failure did not deter American officials from trying to topple the Castro Regime. In a dateless 1962 CIA memoranda, the agency concluded that “The United States cannot tolerate a permanent communist government in Cuba”, and that “Military intervention by the United States will be required to overthrow the Cuban Communist Regime”. (Image #46)
Public Distaste, Manipulation
At this time, following both WWII and Korea, the American public did not want another war. In particular, they opposed one that could lead to greater tensions with the now Cuban-allied Soviet Union. Nobody wanted World War Three. This posed a problem for U.S. officials, as any act of war would require support of the public and of Congress. Nonetheless, they wanted to manipulate the public into supporting and even calling for military action.
Following a meeting at the White House on November 3rd, 1961, American officials determined that the best course of action for the Cuban problem was a centralized effort from senior White House officials. This strategy gained the name Operation Mongoose. The end goal of the project, as the Department of Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff outlined, was to “provide adequate justification for military intervention in Cuba”.
In a dateless 1961 memorandum, the government ordered that “All information output should be designed to reassure the populace that the U.S- supported movement is designed to carry forward the realizations of the social and economic aspirations of the Cuban people”. Previously, the same document gave orders to “Engage in all-out psychological warfare and propaganda stressing the morality of the United States [military] action”. (Image #35)
The John Glenn Experiment
In February 1962, the agency saw a prime opportunity to persuade the American people of Castro’s disposition. On February 20th, NASA planned on sending the First American astronaut, John Glenn, into orbit. The likelihood of success on this mission was fairly unknown. Therefore, if a failure was to occur, officials could seize the opportunity to blame Cuba.
In a February 2nd, 1962 memo, the government outlined a proposal to “provide an irrevocable proof that, should the mercury man to orbit flight fail, the fault lies with Cuba”. They would accomplish this by “manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference on part of the Cubans”. Of course, planners knew that with the whole country watching, the shock and anger of the death of John Glenn at the hands of Cuba would surely result in the American public calling for retaliation against the Cuban government. Luckily, the mission was successful, and the agency was never able to fulfill the proposal.
That October 4th, a special group met at the White House to discuss proceedings in the Cuban Project. At this meeting, the group ordered four new directives. The last of these ordered that “All efforts should be made to develop new and imaginative approaches to the possibility of getting rid of the Castro Regime“. This directive gave birth to a new initiative in the Cuban Project: Operation Northwoods. Declassified Operation Northwoods documents reveal disturbing plots, and the length to which U.S. officials would go to achieve their goal.
An dateless 1962 memo titled “Pretexts to Justify US Military Intervention in Cuba” directed that “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”, and that “Such a plan would enable a logical build-up of incidents to be combined with other seemingly unrelated events to camouflage the ultimate objective and create necessary impression of Cuban rashness and irresponsibility on a large scale”. (Images #136, #138) Planners proposed a series of possible false flag incidents to establish justification for an invasion of the island.
Cuban Project False Flag Ideas
“Incidents to establish a credible attack (Not in chronological order)
Start Rumors (many)” (Image #138)
“Blow up ammunition inside base; start fires.
Burn Aircraft inside base (Sabotage).
Start Riots near gate.
Capture militia group which storms the base.
Lob mortar shells from outside of base, into base.
We could sink a boatload of Cuban en route to Florida (real or simulated).
Sabotage ships in harbour, start fires, — naphthalene.
Sink ship near harbour entrance. Conduct funerals for mock victims”. (Image 139)
“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 America to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama, or Venezuela” (Image #141)
The documents also propose that “A ‘Remember the Maine’ incident could occur in several forms. We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba”. And that “We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in Cuban waters. We could arrange to cause such an incident in the vicinity of Havana or Santiago as a spectacular result from a Cuban attack from land or sea or both. The presence of Cuban planes or ships merely investigating the intent of the vessel could be fairly compelling evidence that the vessel was taken under attack”.
It then goes on to say “Casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.” (Image #139)
Terrorism from Washington, to Washington
One of the most disturbing pieces of the memo proposes “We could develop a communist Cuban terror plot in the Miami area, other Florida cities, and even in Washington. The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States”. It goes on to say, “Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots, the arrest of Cuban agents, and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement would be helpful in projecting the idea of irresponsible government”. (Images #139, #140)
In response to any of these possible instances, and with the establishment of a credible attack in the eyes of the American public, the document states “The United States would respond by executing offensive operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying artillery, and mortar emplacements which threaten the base. Commence large scale military operations”. (Image #139)
Planners suggested compartmentalization to ensure the covert nature of the operation. This means that only select officials and departments would be aware of the plans. The rest, on the other hand, would only know the “official” story. The same memo directed that “this paper NOT be forwarded to commanders of unified or specified command, this paper NOT be forwarded to U.S. officers assigned to NATO activities, this paper NOT be forwarded to the chairman, U.S. delegation, United Nations staff committee.” (Image #47) If this plan went into action, only a handful of government officials would even have known of the scheme. The majority, contrarily, would receive the same misinformation as the public and the media.
By the People, For the People, Kill the People
Operation Northwoods did, in fact, come frighteningly close to implementation. The President’s Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested both approval and immediate action. After all, it made it all the way up to the president’s desk. In the end, though, President Kennedy rejected the proposal. Had it been a more hawkish President in the Oval Office, the proposal would have likely gone into motion.
Imagine for a second: if the president did sign off on this proposal, how would we know? In short, we wouldn’t; it would simply be another page in the history books. The Cuban Project would not exist to us. The Cuban communist terror attacks would be a day we annually remember. We would also probably say something like “We will always remember the American people who died at the hands of the Communists”. And if anybody ever did question the possibility that it didn’t happen exactly as the books said? Well, society might view them as un-American conspiracy nuts.
Of course, many find it unfathomable that a government of the people and for the people would kill the people. Sadly, however, the Cuban Project proves it is a reality. I find it highly unlikely this was the first or last time when the state considered false flag operations. Thus, this begs the question: has the government ever implemented such a proposal before?
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