Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Operation Northwoods, Cuba, and American Politics


Operation Northwoods, Cuba, and American Politics

Peter Schultz


            One of the keys to understanding the assassination of JFK and its aftermath is Operation Northwoods. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October, 1992. All of Kennedy’s military advisers wanted him to authorize an invasion of Cuba to take the missiles out and to take Castro out. Kennedy refused to do that and the crisis was resolved without an invasion taking place.


            In November, 1992, in fact, on November 5, election day in the US, a group of anti-Castro Cuban “students,” the Washington Times published an article entitled “Exiles Tell of Missiles in Cuban Caves.” The article was written by Jerry O’Leary, “a CIA asset who happened to be a good friend to Dave Phillips, [who was] a senior Cuba operations officer” with the CIA. The article quoted a spokesman for the Directorio Revolutionario Estudiantil, the DRE, a CIA-funded group. A week later the secretary general of DRE went on “The Today Show” and repeated these allegations. President Kennedy was irritated and contacted the head of the CIA, John McCone, who in turn contacted Dick Helms, the deputy director of plans. Helms called the secretary general into his office at the CIA and indicated that while he thought the DRE should chill, he indicated obliquely that he was supportive of the DRE’s motives and desires. The secretary general of DRE was “a paid CIA agent with ‘provisional operational approval’ to participate in covert activites. In CIA files he was identified by the cryptonym AMHINT-53.” [Scorpions’ Dance, Jefferson Morley, pp. 36-37]


            Sometime in 1963, the Joints Chief of Staff created what they dubbed “Operation Northwoods,” which was “a daring alternative to JFK’s passive policy.” The operation would undertake a “contrived” or “engineered provocation” that would make it look like an invasion of Cuba was justified and even necessary. Some of the possibilities considered by the Chiefs were a terror campaign in Miami; another was faking the downing of a US airplane by the Cubans; another was faking the hijacking of a civilian airliner; and a fourth was sinking a boatload of Cuban refugees, “real or imagined,” and implicating Castro in the atrocity. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods unanimously, thereby indicating that “the idea of staging a spectacular crime and blaming it on Cuba as a way of overthrowing Castro appealed to the highest echelons of the Pentagon and CIA….”


            Within hours of the Kennedy assassination, the CIA station in Miami had heard from Luis Rocha, the secretary general of DRE, saying that they, the DRE, knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that he was the assassin. And “The DRE was remarkably well-informed about the suspected assassin, who had been in custody for barely two hours.” As Morley puts it: “A CIA propaganda operation was unfolding.” [p. 56] Jose Lanusa, spokesman for DRE, waited fifty minutes, as he was counseled to do by the head of the Miami CIA station, and then “started to call my list” of reporters and publications. One of those reporters was Hal Hendrix, who was described by Carl Bernstein who later investigated the CIA’s ties to news organizations as having “one of the Agency’s ‘most valuable personal relationships.’” He also alerted Mary Wilkinson at the Miami News, whose husband, Robert, was a CIA officer.


Another group, the Information Council of America, “which specialized in publishing ‘truth tapes’ about the spread of Castroite communism,” made a tape of Oswald’s WDSU radio debate that it had just happened to have, sending it to NBC which played it on air on November 22. So “Thanks to the DRE and INCA, Oswald’s association with the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee became headline news all over the country and the world within twenty-four hours. No one outside of Langley knew both groups were CIA propaganda assets.” [p. 56] As Morley sums it up: “For the very few people in Washington who knew about Operation Northwoods, the plan approved by the joint chiefs back in May, the scenario had familiar contours: a spectacular crime against a US target had taken place, and CIA assets were seeking to lay the blame on Cuba.” [59]


Whether or not we assume that LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover were two people who knew about Operation Northwoods – although I think it is safe to assume both of them knew of it - their actions in the aftermath of the assassination appear to be actions taken to avoid, to nullify the attempts being made to pin the assassination of Castro and Cuba. Hence, their rather quick decision that Oswald had acted alone, that he was a lone assassin. And, hence, Johnson’s push for what became known as the Warren Commission and his strong arming of both Senator Russell – LBJ’s mentor from Georgia – and Chief Justice Earl Warren, the latter to head the commission. Of course, neither Hoover nor Johnson would ever be able to give voice to their suspicions that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of Operation Northwoods, but at least with regard to Senator Russell, it is a safe bet that he understood what LBJ was about, and what LBJ’s suspicions were and why he, LBJ, wouldn’t take no for an answer from Russell. And Johnson knew he needed someone as respected as Chief Justice Warren to head the investigation, insofar as he had to know the investigation would necessarily be controversial. His decision to invite Allan Dulles to be on the commission may be seen as a shrewd move insofar as Dulles was “retired” from the CIA and had hated John Kennedy passionately. Better Dulles be “in the tent pissing out, then outside the tent pissing in.”


The stronger were LBJ’s suspicions about the assassination and the CIA’s role in it, the more his suspicions would influence his actions. As some have noticed, LBJ changed JFK’s policy regarding Vietnam within days of the assassination, leading them to suspect that LBJ used the assassination to implement the kind of Vietnam policy he wanted implemented, that is, “I am not going to be the president who loses Vietnam.” But what if Johnson’s changes in Kennedy’s Vietnam policies were a way of shifting attention away from Cuba and the assassination, a way of giving the military a war, as well as distracting the nation’s attention away from JFK’s assassination? As Morley reminds us: between 1964 and 1968, “Cuba faded as an issue, and Vietnam exploded.” [71] Perhaps this is what LBJ intended to happen. Afterall, a war in Vietnam, especially a limited war, was safer than a war with Cuba insofar as the USSR did not have the kind of relationship with Vietnam that it had with Cuba. No one thought that US “involvement” in Vietnam would lead to a nuclear war with the USSR or even with China.

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