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.
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 indignation."
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.
Scanned copies of the full declassified Operation Northwoods documents
can be viewed and read for free
here. Right clicking
here and choosing "save as" will
allow you to download a PDF copy.
On pages 10-14 you
will read the following. (We have highlighted the most relevant portions,
namely sections 8 and 9.)
1. Since it would seem desirable to use legitimate provocation as the
basis for US military intervention in Cuba a cover and deception plan,
to include requisite preliminary actions such as has been developed in
response to Task 33 c, could be executed as an initial effort to provoke
Cuban reactions. Harassment plus deceptive actions to convince the
Cubans of imminent invasion would be emphasized. Our military posture
throughout execution of the plan will allow a rapid change from exercise
to intervention if Cuban response justifies.
2. 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. Incidents to establish a credible attack (not in chronological
(1) start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio.
(2) Land friendly Cubans in uniform "over-the-fence" to stage attack
(3) Capture Cuban (friendly) saboteurs inside the base.
(4) Start riots near the base main gate (friendly Cubans).
(5) Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires.
(6) Burn aircraft on air base (sabotage).
(7) Lob mortar shells from outside of base into base. Some damage to
(8) capture assault teams approaching from the sea or vicinity of
(9) Capture militia group which storms the base.
(10) Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires -- napthalene.
(11) Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for
mock-victims (may be lieu of (10)).
b. United States would respond by executing offensive
operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying artillery
and mortar emplacements which threaten the base.
c. Commence large scale United States military operations.
3. A "Remember the Maine" incident could be arranged in several
a. We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.
b. 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.
4. 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). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees
in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be
widely publicized. Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen
spots, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents
substantiating Cuban involvement, also would be helpful in projecting
the idea of an irresponsible government.
5. A "Cuban-based, Castro-supported" filibuster could be simulated
against a neighboring Caribbean nation (in the vein of the 14th of June
invasion of the Dominican Republic). 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 air space. "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 arm which would be found, or intercepted, on the beach.
6. 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. An F-86 properly painted would convince
air passengers that they saw a Cuban MIG, especially if the pilot of the
transport were to announce such fact. The primary drawback to this
suggestion appears to be the security risk inherent in obtaining or
modifying an aircraft. However, reasonable copies of the MIG could be
produced from US resources in about three months.
7. Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should
appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of
Cuba. Concurrently, genuine defections of Cuban civil and military air
and surface craft should be encouraged.
8. It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate
convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a
chartered civil airliner enroute from the United States to Jamaica,
Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. The destination would be chosen only to
cause the flight plan route to cross Cuba. The passengers could be a
group of college students off on a holiday or any grouping of persons
with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight.
a. An aircraft at Eglin AFB would be painted and numbered as an
exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft belonging to a CIA
proprietary organization in the Miami area. At a designated time the
duplicate would be substituted for the actual civil aircraft and would
be loaded with the selected passengers, all boarded under carefully
prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to
b. Take off times of the drone aircraft and the actual aircraft
will be scheduled to allow a rendezvous south of Florida. From the
rendezvous point the passenger-carrying aircraft will descend to
minimum altitude and go directly into an auxiliary field at Eglin AFB
where arrangements will have been made to evacuate the passengers and
return the aircraft to its original status. The drone aircraft
meanwhile will continue to fly the filed flight plan. When over Cuba
the drone will being transmitting on the international distress
frequency a "MAY DAY" message stating he is under attack by Cuban MIG
aircraft. The transmission will be interrupted by destruction of the
aircraft which will be triggered by radio signal. This will 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
9. It Is possible to create an incident which will make it appear
that Communist Cuban MIGs have destroyed a USAF aircraft over
international waters in an unprovoked attack.
a. Approximately 4 or 5 F-101 aircraft will be dispatched in
trail from Homestead AFB, Florida, to the vicinity of Cuba. Their
mission will be to reverse course and simulate fakir aircraft for an
air defense exercise in southern Florida. These aircraft would conduct
variations of these flights at frequent Intervals. Crews would be
briefed to remain at least 12 miles off the Cuban coast; however, they
would be required to carry live ammunition in the event that hostile
actions were taken by the Cuban MIGs.
b. On one such flight, a pre-briefed pilot would fly tail-end
Charley at considerable interval between aircraft. While near the
Cuban Island this pilot would broadcast that he had been jumped by
MIGs and was going down. No other calls would be made. The pilot would
then fly directly west at extremely low altitude and land at a secure
base, an Eglin auxiliary. The aircraft would be met by the proper
people, quickly stored and given a new tail number. The pilot who had
performed the mission under an alias, would resume his proper identity
and return to his normal place of business. The pilot and aircraft
would then have disappeared.
c. At precisely the same time that the aircraft was presumably
shot down a submarine or small surface craft would disburse F-101
parts, parachute, etc., at approximately 15 to 20 miles off the Cuban
coast and depart. The pilots returning to Homestead would have a true
story as far as they knew. Search ships and aircraft could be
dispatched and parts of aircraft found.