In 1959, an armed revolution by Fidel Castro succeeded in overthrowing the US-backed Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Castro became the first communist leader in the western hemisphere, just 90 miles from the American mainland.
The US government sought ways of replacing the Castro regime with one more in line with American policies, with President Eisenhower creating a plan to overthrow the Cuban government using anti-Castro forces from Cuba and the surrounding area. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, it was desirable to use the United States military to conduct a large scale invasion of Cuba instead of relying on rebel fighters. However, it was important for the United States to not look like the aggressor.
Operation Northwoods was a plan drawn up by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962 which outlined ways to generate support for American military operations in Cuba. In a nutshell, it consisted of a number of attacks, some real and some simulated, that would be performed by American forces and then blamed on the Cuban government. The document, which has since been declassified and can be read in its entirety over a cup of coffee, outlined plans that ranged from blowing up unmanned drones and performing mock funerals, to conducting legitimate attacks on US military installations and American cities. At one point it states, “We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington.”
On March 16, 1962, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lemnitzer, presented Operation Northwoods to President Kennedy. Nothwoods was rejected and Lemnitzer was quickly removed from his seat as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Operation Northwoods was successfully kept a secret until 1997, when the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review board declassified 1,521 secret military records dated 1962-64.
While Operation Northwoods was officially rejected and never put into action, elements of the plan sprung up elsewhere in American history. Operation Dirty trick was a plot to blame Castro if the 1962 Mercury space flight carrying John Glenn crashed, stating, “The objective is to provide irrevocable proof that, should the Mercury manned orbit flight fail, the fault lies with the Communists et al. Cuba [sic].” It continues, “This to be accomplished by manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference on the part of the Cubans.” Even following the departure of General Lemnitzer, a Department of Defense policy paper in 1963 outlined the possibility of making it appear that Cuba attacked a member of the Organization of American States. The attacked party would request American assistance, giving the US a way into all-out war with Cuba.