University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor(s): Jim Garrett, Peter Paik
Operation Northwoods: The Department-of-Defense-Engineered Plot to Terrorize, Deceive, and Wager the Lives of American Citizens
Operation Northwoods: The Department-of-Defense-Engineered Plot to Terrorize, Deceive, and Wager the Lives of American Citizens
A top-secret Department of Defense plan to kill simulated Cuban refugees, coupled with the mass shooting of American civilians, the planting and detonation of plastic bombs in public areas, and false-flag attacks against the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay and civilian aircraft, intentionally staged to have been perpetuated by Cuban hostile operatives has all the hallmarks of a fantastical conspiracy theory. Grainy photocopies of government documents may seem like some Photoshopped image intended to misinform gullible readers. In September 1998, however, it was revealed in the U.S. National Archives release of thousands of once-classified documents surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy that the Joint Chiefs of Staff of his administration proposed and actively endorsed a scheme to deceive the American public and fabricate a pretext to invade Cuba and depose Fidel Castro. Other plans included faking a Cuban perpetuated 'Remember the Maine' incident against a Navy ship, shooting down U.S. military aircraft over Cuban waters, sending false mayday transmissions, and infiltrating newspapers to corroborate their narrative. Regardless of which method the proposal suggested, the report entitled 'Operation Northwoods' has a clear objective- to create a pretense justifying the deposing of Castro as well as intentionally manipulating the American public into supporting the invasion and removal of Castro from power as well as regaining their pre-existing political and economical hold over Cuba.
Throughout the history of the United States, sugar remained the dominant import due to its industrial versatility. While sugar can be produced in the United States, Cuban sugar exports usually made up 80% of American sugar imports until 1961. One statistic from 1959 reports that while America imported 3.4 million tons of Cuban sugar, domestic sugar plantations produced 4.7 million tons - indicating that Cuban sugar imports made up 40% of all sugar in the United States at that time. Sugar has had value in American society since even before the United States existed, leading to import tariffs on sugar such as during the 18th century, when nearly 90% of 'American' sugar was actually imported, and only 10% was domestically produced. Thus, land that produces sugar has intrinsic value to the U.S., as seen with the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. Hawaii had become a major sugar producer in the late 19th century, and American companies were able to import Hawaiian sugar without tariffs. Estimates presume that 70% of U.S. sugar (both imported and domestically produced) is used industrially. However, there still exists a large margin representing the direct consumer purchasing of sugar. Moreover, domestically produced beet sugar is less efficient than imported cane sugar, which cannot grow in most American climates. Cane refining produces 3.5% more raw sugar on average than beet refining. As a result, American companies and the American government were able to profit more from international cane sugar imports rather than domestic beet sugar production.
After the Spanish-American War, the United States was able to gain a significant foothold in the prosperous Cuban sugar market that had been primarily dominated by Spanish influence. Cuba became reliant on American import of sugar for wealth. After years of political turmoil in Cuba, an opportunity loomed for Fulgencio Batista, then a Cuban military sergeant, to take the reins of the Cuban government in 1940. He and his junta gained international approval and became recognized as the political leaders of Cuba. Throughout the consolidation of his power, the United States financially and militarily supported him. Eventually, Batista suspended the 1940 Cuban Constitution and other civil liberties. He would continue on to allow the United States to take a significant foothold on the Cuban sugar industry. 70% of farmable land laid under the control of foreign powers at one point during Batista's rule. Although Batista was not initially despised by the Cuban populace, his dictatorial actions such as postponing elections and exiling revolutionaries stirred resentment within the country. Legislation favoring American businesses owning Cuban land cut back from any populist progress Batista was able to make during this time, and eventually paramilitary groups and other movements were organized against his despotic rule, including the successful 26th of July movement, popularly known as the Cuban Revolution, that was led by Fidel Castro.
The United States initially recognized the Castro regime as legitimate. He was received in America with welcome, and even met with top members of the presidential cabinet and the vice president himself. Although Castro originally reinforced Cuban neutrality, he eventually sided with the Soviets after failing to receive American-backed financial aid for his country. Back in Cuba, he expropriated American- owned land, especially sugar plantations, and imposed tariffs on American imports and discouraged American trade. Castro created a program that took away properties that were greater than 4 square kilometers in area from landowners under the pretense of an 'agrarian reform'. However, he created bureaucratic agencies to mandate the 'forced lending' of these lands, payable with worthless 20 year bonds that could not be used until they matured. Despite American protest, Cuba remained strong with their decision and refused to rewrite the terms of the decree. American businesses and the United States government itself protested to no avail. As the Castro regime began to consolidate its power, efforts to retain U.S. interests persisted and plots to depose Castro started to formulate. Cuba increased taxes to be paid by the U.S. when importing sugar, as well as antagonizing the United States by politically aligning with the Soviet Union. The U.S. responded by freezing Cuban assets, as well as creating embargoes and severing diplomatic communication lines to the Cuban government. Cuba's political alignment with the U.S.S.R. catalyzed the CIA's plans to overthrow the Castro regime. What later became known as the Bay of Pigs plot brutally failed in April 1961- a U.S.-sponsored force of Cuban exiles aiming to overthrow Castro fell to the Cuban military in mere days and fueled the anti-American sentiment in Cuba. As tensions worsened and Soviet-Cuban relations strengthened, a discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba motivated the U.S. Navy to incite a stalemate naval blockade of Cuba, better known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and continued to attempt to assassinate and failed to even somehow land a blow onto Castro's regime besides the economic effects of the trade embargoes. The potential for Soviet missiles to strike American cities posed a grave threat to the security of the United States- spurring the Joint Chiefs of Staff to investigate potential courses of action.
Ultimately, the Pentagon created proposals that generally shared the same intended result through wildly different methods- to fabricate a narrative victimizing the United States and portraying the Castro regime as an aggressor towards a peaceful US. While there were a myriad of plans declassified and likely many more still hidden or destroyed in years past, many centered on using deceptive and immoral tactics to achieve their goal. One plan the Pentagon created was Operation Dirty Trick, a plot to blame the Cubans and Soviets for a potential failure with John Glenn's Mercury spaceflight in 1962. They would have accused Cuba of using electronic interference technology to manipulate and cause the failure of John Glenn's capsule. Another operation crafted by the Pentagon proposed the fabrication of a damning photo of Castro surrounded by a feast of food while Cuba starved under trade embargoes. They would continue to add to the flagrant propaganda by captioning the faked photo with the phrase 'my ration is different', implying that Castro's political actions are propagated with the intent to benefit himself rather than his people. These efforts culminated in the creation of Operation Northwoods, a deplorable and immoral plot that aimed to create false-flag attacks against American civilian targets to blame on Cuba and the Castro regime. Operation Northwoods was designed in order to fabricate a pretext to facilitate the deposing of Castro. The United States felt provoked by the military fortification of Cuba- and had to rectify their dominance of power within the international world. The operation aimed to avoid international chastisement for the deposing of Castro while evoking national outrage through portraying Cuba as an aggressor. In the words of Lyman L. Lemnitzer, the Kennedy Administration Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Operation Northwoods intended to "place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere"(5).
Operation Northwoods was devised to deceptively elicit domestic and international outrage in corroborating a pretext to depose the Castro regime and salvage American political and economic interests that had been foiled by the Soviet-Cuban alliance. Regardless of their immorality or willingness to wager the lives and safety of the American population, the numerous methods of action generally exist in a few defined categories: false-flag terrorist attacks posed by fake Cuban operatives, false-flag military provocations, and deceptive multimedia manipulation. The report, entitled Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba, is plastered with 'TOP SECRET' and 'UNCLASSIFIED' in the beginning pages. Its contents begin by encouraging 'legitimate provocation' and outlining a plot to simulate a Castro-supported military provocation against the Guantánamo Bay Naval base in Cuba. The report first theorized the fabrication of incidents to corroborate the 'attack' against the United States. In a section captioned, "Incidents to establish a credible attack," the report suggests,
"[start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio.], Land friendly Cubans in uniform "over-the-fence" to stage attack on base. Capture Cuban (friendly) saboteurs inside the base. Start riots near the base main gate (friendly Cubans). Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. Burn aircraft on air base (sabotage). Lob mortar shells from outside of base into base. Some damage to installations. Capture assault teams approaching from the sea or vicinity of Guantánamo City. Capture militia group which storms the base. Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires — naphthalene. Sink ships near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock-victims." "United States would respond by executing offensive operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying artillery and mortar emplacements which threaten the base"(10). Operation Northwoods continues to suggest other plots involving false-flag provocations against the United States military. The report proposes, "A "Remember the Maine" incident could be arranged in several forms: We could blow up a US ship in Guantánamo Bay and blame Cuba. We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in the Cuban waters. We could arrange to cause such incident in the vicinity of Havana or Santiago as a spectacular result of Cuban attack from the air 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 ship was taken under attack. The nearness to Havana or Santiago would add credibility, especially to those people that might have heard the blast or have seen the fire. The US could follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to "evacuate" remaining members of the non-existent crew. Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation" (11-12).
This section of the plan attempts to recreate the "Remember the Maine" incident, an attack against a U.S. Navy ship named the U.S.S Maine, which propelled U.S. public and political involvement into the Spanish War of 1898. The authors of this report used this language to juxtapose this fabricated incident to an epitome of public outcry. They would infiltrate the media to create fake casualties to create a common enemy pitted against American citizens: Cuba. The next set of proposals suggests creating a domestic terror campaign in Florida and Washington. The report suggested killing Cuban refugees and detonating plastic explosives in public places. The next step of Operation Northwoods involved foiling Castro's efforts to sponsor Communist revolutions in other Latin countries. The report suggests that Castro is attempting to cause other revolutions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. However, in order to create a detrimental paradigm against the Cuban government, they would use fabricated Cuban aircraft to cause damage to the goods of these countries and fabricate Soviet weapons to be intentionally intercepted. The document explained, "We know that Castro is backing subversive efforts clandestinely against Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua at present and possible others. These efforts can be magnified, and additional ones contrived for exposure. For example, advantage can be taken of the sensitivity of the Dominican Air Force to intrusions within their national airspace. "Cuban" B-26 or C-46 type aircraft could make cane-burning raids at night. Soviet Bloc incendiaries could be found. This could be coupled with "Cuban" messages to the Communist underground in the Dominican Republic and 'Cuban' shipments of arms which would be found, or intercepted, on the beach" (13).
This proposal was not the only one among those in Operation Northwoods that suggested fabricating Cuban or Soviet military resources to terrorize innocent civilians under the disguise of Castro-supported operations. The Department of Defense also suggested harassing civil aircraft and destroying faked U.S. military aircraft, as well as painting Soviet designs and colors in order to create the illusion of Soviet aircraft. They would use these fabricated planes to attempt hijackings against boats and planes to fake a condonation by the Cuban government. These fabricated aircraft also were intended to be used in hijackings. The plan proposed faking a chartered plane crash with American citizens inside, and to create fake radio signals to say a Cuban aircraft provoked their craft. The intent of these radio signals, in the words of the Operation Northwoods report, was to "allow ICAO radio stations in the Western Hemisphere to tell the US what has happened to the aircraft instead of the US trying to 'sell' the incident"(14). The plan continues on with other proposals to destroy American military aircraft in a fabricated international provocation over Cuban waters. Ultimately, these proposals culminate in an evil contrivance to deceive the American populace and the international world itself to spark outrage against the Castro regime and justify United States military intervention in Cuba.
Despite the insistence of top Department of Defense officials, specifically Lyman Lemnitzer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John F. Kennedy unequivocally rejected the use of military force in Cuba along with the deception and terrorizing of American citizens. Kennedy firmly rejected the proposal due to his fears of re-instigating a military failure such as the Bay of Pigs invasion or suffering the consequences of invading a sovereign nation. Although international conflict and the foretold catalyzation of the Cold War was avoided through the diplomatic and peaceful rhetoric of Kennedy, the implications of the mere existence of such an abominable plot stand clear. The message is stated within itself- "The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that a national policy of early military intervention in Cuba be adopted by the United States" (9). Essentially, the highest members of one of the most powerful government departments within the United States conspired against the wills of the American people and the morals of the international community. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the most senior advisors to the president and presidential cabinet, nearly succeeded with enacting what would undoubtedly be regarded as one of the most horrible atrocities a government committed against its constituents: a terror campaign against innocent civilians, refugees, and military infrastructure, funded by the same government in order to deceive its own constituents and allies into supporting violence towards a dissident nation within its sphere of influence. Although now all that physically remains of Operation Northwoods exists in the U.S. National Archives, the significance of the existence of this plan is more important now than ever. Other nations are actively using these same methods of deception against their own citizens and against the international community. For example, evidence suggests Russia has been creating digital misinformation campaigns as a form of false-flag warfare in order to paint itself as a victim of provocation, similar to how the United States intended to portray itself within Operation Northwoods. In summary, the declassification of Operation Northwoods is an item of significance in American history. It is a moment that proves the American government does not always act in the best interest of its citizens. It is an event that serves to be imperative in dispelling the false paradigms of the exceptionalist propaganda taught or perpetuated in schools, across media outlets, and in the political rhetoric of American citizens and politicians. In conclusion, the infamous, or rather, unfamous Operation Northwoods is not just a moral fluke in the virtuous ethos of the American government. Instead, it is a symptom of a troubling phenomenon that has plagued the United States since its conception - the repeated improperly justified intervention into the politics of sovereign nations. Operation Northwoods is an event that dispels the propagandist notion that the American government always acts in the beneficial interest of its constituents and the world itself, and instead exemplifies the pattern of deplorable actions the U.S. government's leaders have committed, proposed, and are willing to commit to benefit itself. Operation Northwoods is an event that should raise the question in the mind of every American citizen of the authority and clout of the words in their nation's framing documents, as well as of the intent behind the American government's actions and statements and integrity of its morals. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the reaction to this proposal's revelation should not be one of ignorance; but instead a plea for transparency of the actions of the United States, an urge to learn the true history of the nation, and a challenge and acknowledgement of both political propaganda of current events as well as of the unconscionable actions the American government may commit.