“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Chicago Mayor and former Presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
The President takes an oath to defend our county against all enemies, foreign and domestic. So when it was perceived a rouge nation with an unstable leader could be a threat to the US, our President was desperate for a rallying point or even a crisis to back military force to perhaps overthrow a brutal dictator.
War is hard to sell to congressional lawmakers and, most importantly, the average American. But, as the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor taught us, if there’s enough outrage toward an enemy, the nation will roll up its sleeve and work together.
In this case all that was needed was a crisis.
At the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) crafted a plan guaranteed to outrage Americans – mass acts of terrorism across the heartland. With bombings of US cities, sinking of ships and even killing innocent Americans by hijacking airliners and either crashing the planes or shooting them down, the complex plans arranged to have all the evidence of the terroristic style attacks point directly at the rouge nation.
The CIA would then provide the manufactured evidence of the rouge nation being behind the attacks to the President who could easily ride the surge of American indignation into Congress and get unlimited power and resources to wage war anywhere he saw fit.
Within months the CIA delivered the plan, code named Operation Northwoods, to the Secretary of Defense. Under the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA would wage a covert war while, presumably, the armed forces would fight a much visible war.
President John F. Kennedy was presented the plan on March 16, 1962.
With Cuba just 90 miles off the Florida coast and now under the leadership of radical communist Fidel Castro, Kennedy was desperate to oust the Soviet friendly leader before he could present a threat.
With the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a failed CIA backed paramilitary invasion of Cuba occurring less than a year earlier, Kennedy needed a plan that unequivocally enraged all America’s if he was going to get public support for the Cuba problem. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, personally briefed the President on Northwoods. The plan even contemplated causing US military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. Casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."
Kennedy was flabbergasted. Within days he personally informed the general there was no chance the US would take military action against Cuba. Months later General Lemnitzer was denied another term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Despite JFK’s disgust, Northwoods was almost resurrected.
Late August 1962: aerial surveillance photographs revealed a Soviet military buildup on Cuba. With missiles parked just 90 miles from the continental U.S., Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy urged the Joint Chiefs to consider new “aggressive steps” including “provoking an attack against Guantanamo which would permit us to retaliate.”
Once again JFK held firm. He cautioned his brother that such action that could instigate a blockade of West Berlin or a Soviet strike against U.S. missile sites in Turkey and Italy.
President Kennedy instead imposed a blockade of Cuba without consulting the military chiefs with any seriousness. Kennedy justified the action by stating he saw no “satisfactory alternatives” but considered a blockade the least likely to bring a nuclear war.
With the world on the brink of possible extermination, First Lady Jackie Kennedy told her husband that if the Cuban crisis ended in a nuclear war, she and their children wanted to die with him. But it was Mimi Beardsley, a 19-year-old intern who spent October 27, 1962, with JFK who claims she knew the presidents true feelings. In her 2012 memoir she claims JFK confessed something he could never admit in public: “I’d rather my children be red than dead.” Almost anything was better, he believed, than nuclear war.
Regarding generals crafting plans that could have started nuclear armageddon, Kennedy privately told longtime aide Kenny O’Donnell, “These brass hats have one great advantage. If we do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them they were wrong.”
Publically, Kennedy stated “The first thing I’m going to tell my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that just because they were military men, their opinions on military matters were worth a damn.”
Historian James Bamford was the first to write about Northwoods. In his book “Body of Secrets” Bramford described the plan “as the most corrupt event ever created by the US government.” The radical plans might have been lost to history if not for the 1991 Oliver Stone film “JFK”, which examined the possibility of a conspiracy behind the assassination of President Kennedy. As public interest in the assassination swelled after JFK's release, Congress passed a law designed to increase the public's access to government records related to the murder of our nation's 35th president.
Northwoods finally became public on November 18, 1997, when a records review board that oversaw the release of records related to the JFK assassination released 1521 pages of once classified records.
Appendix to Enclosure A" and "Annex to Appendix to Enclosure A" - the section of Northwoods document containing plans to stage terrorist attacks - were first published online by the National Security Archive on November 6, 1998, in a joint venture with CNN as part of a 1998 Cold War television documentary series.
There’d long been rumors of a rift between JFK and his generals and the CIA. The Northwoods documents confirmed those suspicions. Some JFK conspiracy theorists view Northwoods as a template for the Novermber 23, 1963, JFK assassination however there’s no direct evidence linking the CIA or the Pentagon to Lee Harvey Oswald or any other alleged Dealey Plaza gunman. Regardless, conspiracy theorists claim the fact that the Pentagon and the CIA hid Northwoods from the public for 35 years proves our national security agencies had – and perhaps has – something to hide.