Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

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FTR #363 Operation Northwoods

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This pro­gram focus­es on a chill­ing set of provo­ca­tions that were ten­ta­tive­ly planned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the ear­ly 1960s. Although they were not for­mal­ly insti­tut­ed (as far as any­one can tell), the sce­nar­ios dis­cussed below may have been employed lat­er on dur­ing the Cold War. The think­ing that char­ac­ter­ized ele­ments of the nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment at this time is very impor­tant to under­stand in the light of 9/11 attacks. It should be not­ed that Mr. Emory does not believe that 9/11 was a provo­ca­tion, in and of, itself. Rather, there are extrem­ists in con­trol of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion who appear to be uti­liz­ing the attacks in an alto­geth­er oppor­tunis­tic, cyn­i­cal and fascis­tic fash­ion. The milieu involved in North­woods is the milieu that spawned the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. What they will con­tin­ue to do, if not turned out of pow­er, is not pleas­ant to con­tem­plate.

1. The dis­cus­sion begins with Oper­a­tion North­woods’ gen­e­sis. The plan grew out of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s ret­i­cence to invade Cuba. (The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs at the time was Gen­er­al Lyman Lem­nitzer, who was involved in the Oper­a­tion Sun­rise nego­ti­a­tions for the sur­ren­der of the SS forces in Italy. The “Sun­rise” milieu involved Bush fam­i­ly invest­ment advis­er Allen Dulles, SS Gen­er­al Karl Wolff, Himm­ler’s per­son­al adju­tant, and Nazi oper­a­tive Fran­cois Genoud whose name has cropped up in con­nec­tion with 9/11 in sev­er­al con­texts.

2. “Although no one in Con­gress could have known it at the time, Lem­nitzer and the Joint Chiefs had qui­et­ly slipped over the edge. Accord­ing to secret and long-hid­den doc­u­ments obtained for Body of Secrets, 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. In the name of anti­com­mu­nism, they pro­posed launch­ing a secret and bloody war of ter­ror­ism against their own coun­try in order to trick the Amer­i­can pub­lic into sup­port­ing an ill-con­ceived war they intend­ed to launch against Cuba.” (Body of Secrets; by James Bam­ford; Copy­right 2002 [SC]; Anchor Books [Ran­dom House]; ISBN 0–385-49907–8; p. 82.)

3. “Code­named Oper­a­tion North­woods, the plan, which had the writ­ten approval of the Chair­man and every mem­ber of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for inno­cent peo­ple to be shot on Amer­i­can streets; for boats car­ry­ing refugees flee­ing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of vio­lent ter­ror­ism to be launched in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Mia­mi, and else­where. Peo­ple would be framed for bomb­ings they did not com­mit; planes would be hijacked. Using pho­ny evi­dence, all of it would be blamed on Cas­tro, thus giv­ing Lem­nitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the pub­lic and inter­na­tion­al back­ing, they need­ed to launch their war.” (Idem.)

4. “The idea may have actu­al­ly orig­i­nat­ed with Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er in the last days of his admin­is­tra­tion. With the Cold War hot­ter than ever and the recent U‑2 scan­dal fresh in the pub­lic’s mem­o­ry, the old gen­er­al want­ed to go out with a win. He want­ed des­per­ate­ly to invade Cuba in the weeks lead­ing up to Kennedy’s inau­gu­ra­tion; indeed, on Jan­u­ary 3 he told Lem­nitzer and oth­er aides in his Cab­i­net Room that he would move against Cas­tro before the inau­gu­ra­tion if only the Cubans gave him a real­ly good excuse. Then, with time grow­ing short, Eisen­how­er float­ed an idea. If Cas­tro failed to pro­vide that excuse, per­haps, he said, the Unit­ed States ‘could think of man­u­fac­tur­ing some­thing that would be gen­er­al­ly accept­able.’ What he was sug­gest­ing was a pretext‑a bomb­ing, an attack, an act of sab­o­tage-car­ried out secret­ly against the Unit­ed States by the Unit­ed States. Its pur­pose would be to jus­ti­fy the launch­ing of a war. It was a dan­ger­ous sug­ges­tion by a des­per­ate pres­i­dent. Although no such war took place, the idea was not lost on Gen­er­al Lem­nitzer. But he and his col­leagues were frus­trat­ed by Kennedy’s fail­ure to autho­rize their plan, and angry that Cas­tro had not pro­vid­ed an excuse to invade.” (Ibid.; pp. 82–83.)

5. “Oper­a­tion North­woods called for a war in which many patri­ot­ic Amer­i­cans and inno­cent Cubans would die sense­less deaths-all to sat­is­fy the egos of twist­ed gen­er­als back in Wash­ing­ton, safe in their tax-pay­er-financed homes and lim­ou­sines. One idea seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered involved the launch of John Glenn, the first Amer­i­can to orbit the earth. On Feb­ru­ary 20, 1962, Glenn was to lift off from Cape Canaver­al, Flori­da, on his his­toric jour­ney. The flight was to car­ry the ban­ner of Amer­i­ca’s virtues of truth, free­dom, and democ­ra­cy into orbit high over the plan­et. But Lem­nitzer and his Chiefs had a dif­fer­ent idea. They pro­posed to [Gen­er­al Edward] Lans­dale that, should the rock­et explode and kill Glenn, ‘the objec­tive is to pro­vide irrev­o­ca­ble proof that . . . the fault lies with the Com­mu­nists et al Cuba. [sic]’ This would be accom­plished, Lem­nitzer con­tin­ued, ‘by man­u­fac­tur­ing var­i­ous pieces of evi­dence which would prove elec­tron­ic inter­fer­ence on the part of the Cubans.’ Thus, as NASA pre­pared to send the first Amer­i­can into space, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were prepar­ing to use John Glen­n’s pos­si­ble death as a pre­text to launch a war.” (Ibid.; pp. 83–84.)

6. “Glenn lift­ed into his­to­ry with­out mishap, leav­ing Lem­nitzer and the Chiefs to begin devis­ing new plots which they sug­gest­ed be car­ried out ‘with­in the time frame of the next few months.’ Among the actions rec­om­mend­ed was a ‘a series of well coor­di­nat­ed inci­dents to take place in and around’ the U.S. Navy base at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba. This includ­ed dress­ing ‘friend­ly’ Cubans in Cuban mil­i­tary uni­forms and then have them ‘start riots near the main gate of the base. Oth­ers would pre­tend to be sabo­teurs inside the base. Ammu­ni­tion would be blown up, fires start­ed, air­craft sab­o­taged, mor­tars fired at the base with dam­age to instal­la­tions.’ ” (Ibid.; p. 84.)

7. “The sug­gest­ed oper­a­tions grew pro­gres­sive­ly more out­ra­geous. Anoth­er called for an action sim­i­lar to the infa­mous inci­dent in Feb­ru­ary 1898 when an explo­sion aboard the bat­tle­ship Maine in Havana har­bor killed 266 U.S. sailors. Although the exact cause of the explo­sion remained unde­ter­mined, it sparked the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War with Cuba. Incit­ed by the dead­ly blast, more than one mil­lion men vol­un­teered for duty. Lem­nitzer and his gen­er­als came up with a sim­i­lar plan. ‘We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guan­tanamo Bay and blame Cuba,’ they pro­posed; ‘casu­al­ty lists in U.S. news­pa­pers would cause a help­ful wave of nation­al indig­na­tion.’ ” (Idem.)

8. “There seemed no lim­it to their fanati­cism.: ‘We could devel­op a Com­mu­nist Cuban ter­ror cam­paign in the Mia­mi area, in oth­er Flori­da cities and even in Wash­ing­ton,’ they wrote. ‘The ter­ror cam­paign could be point­ed at Cuban refugees seek­ing haven in the Unit­ed States . . . We could sink a boat­load of Cubans en route 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.’ ” (Ibid.; pp. 84–85.)

9. “Bomb­ings were pro­posed, false arrests, hijack­ings: ‘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.’ ” (Ibid.; p. 85.)

10. “ ‘Advan­tage can be tak­en of the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the Domini­can [Repub­lic] 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 arms which would be found, or inter­cept­ed, on the beach. Use of MIG type air­craft by U.S. pilots could pro­vide addi­tion­al provo­ca­tion.’ ” (Idem.)

11. ‘Hijack­ing attempts against civ­il air and sur­face craft could appear to con­tin­ue as harass­ing mea­sures con­doned by the Gov­ern­ment of Cuba.’ Among the most elab­o­rate schemes was to ‘cre­ate an inci­dent which will demon­strate con­vinc­ing­ly that a Cuban air­craft has attacked and shot down a char­tered civ­il air­lin­er en route 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.’ ” (Idem.)

12. The broad­cast details oth­er plans to arrange a pre­text for inva­sion. (Ibid.; pp. 85–86.)

13. Nonethe­less, Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s admin­is­tra­tion reject­ed the plans. “What hap­pened dur­ing those meet­ings is unknown. But three days lat­er, Pres­i­dent Kennedy told Lem­nitzer that there was vir­tu­al­ly no pos­si­bil­i­ty that the U.S. would ever use overt mil­i­tary force in Cuba. Unde­terred, Lem­nitzer and the Chiefs per­sist­ed, vir­tu­al­ly to the point of demand­ing that they be giv­en author­i­ty to invade and take over Cuba.” (Ibid.; p. 87.)

14. “With­in months, Lem­nitzer was denied a sec­ond term as JCS chair­man and trans­ferred to Europe as a chief of NATO. Years lat­er, Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford appoint­ed Lem­nitzer, a dar­ling of the Repub­li­can right to the Pres­i­den­t’s for­eign Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board. Lem­nitzer’s Cuba chief, Brigadier Gen­er­al Craig, was also trans­ferred. Pro­mot­ed to major gen­er­al, he spent three years as chief of the Army Secu­ri­ty Agency, NSA’s mil­i­tary arm.” (Ibid.; p. 88.)

15. Lem­nitzer ordered his sub­or­di­nate (Gen­er­al Craig) to destroy the rel­e­vant com­mu­ni­ca­tions, because he feared an inves­ti­ga­tion. “Because of the secre­cy and ille­gal­i­ty of Oper­a­tion North­woods, all details remained hid­den for forty years . . . With the evi­dence destroyed, Lem­nitzer felt free to lie to Con­gress. When asked, dur­ing secret hear­ings before a Sen­ate com­mit­tee, if he knew of any Pen­ta­gon plans for a direct inva­sion of Cuba he said he did not. Yet detailed JCS inva­sion plans had been drawn up even before Kennedy was inau­gu­rat­ed. And addi­tion­al plans had been devel­oped since . . . Because so many doc­u­ments were destroyed, it is dif­fi­cult to deter­mine how many senior offi­cials were aware of Oper­a­tion North­woods. As has been described, the doc­u­ment was signed and ful­ly approved by Lem­nitzer and the rest of the Joint Chiefs and addressed to the Sec­re­tary of Defense for his sig­na­ture.” (Ibid.; pp. 88–89.)

16. Lem­nitzer’s removal as chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no effect on the con­tin­ued plan­ning. “Even after Lem­nitzer lost his job, the Joint Chiefs kept plan­ning ‘pre­text’ oper­a­tions at least into 1963. Among their pro­pos­als was a plan to delib­er­ate­ly cre­ate a war between Cuba and any of a num­ber of its Latin Amer­i­can neigh­bors. This would give the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary an excuse to come in on the side of Cuba’s adver­sary and get rid of Cas­tro . . . Among the nations they sug­gest­ed that the Unit­ed States secret­ly attack were Jamaica and Trinidad-Toba­go. Both were mem­bers of the British Com­mon­wealth; thus, by secret­ly attack­ing them and then false­ly blam­ing Cuba, the Unit­ed States could lure Eng­land into the war against Cas­tro.” (Ibid.; p. 89.)

17. Paul H. Nitze (lat­er part of George H.W. Bush’s “team B” at the CIA) con­tin­ued to pro­pose oper­a­tions in the North­woods vein. “In May, 1963, Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense Paul H. Nitze sent a plan to the White House propos­ing ‘a pos­si­ble sce­nario where­by an attack on a Unit­ed States recon­nais­sance air­craft could be exploit­ed toward the end of effect­ing the removal of the Cas­tro regime.’ ” (Ibid.; p. 89.)

18. Some of Bam­ford’s con­clud­ing thoughts on North­woods are worth bar­ing in mind. “Lem­nitzer was a dan­ger­ous-per­haps even unbal­anced-right-wing extrem­ist in an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly sen­si­tive posi­tion dur­ing a crit­i­cal peri­od. But Oper­a­tion North­woods also had the sup­port of every sin­gle mem­ber of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial Paul Nitze argued in favor of pro­vok­ing a pho­ny war with Cuba. The fact that the most senior mem­bers of all the ser­vices and the Pen­ta­gon could be so out of touch with real­i­ty and the mean­ing of democ­ra­cy would be hid­den for four decades.” (Ibid.; p. 90.) It is worth bear­ing this type of men­tal­i­ty in mind when con­tem­plat­ing the apoc­a­lyp­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties of the con­tem­po­rary polit­i­cal land­scape and the extrem­ists in posi­tions of pow­er in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

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