How the US planned to start a war with Cuba

Spring 2002

By Steve Wilkinson

A recently declassified US government document casts a startling new light on America’s obsession with destroying the Cuban revolution.

As most Cuba Solidarity supporters know, ever since the revolution triumphed in January 1959, successive US governments have spared no expense in their efforts to overthrow it.

Among the more bizarre plots hatched by the CIA were the now fabled exploding cigars, the potion to make Fidel’s beard fall out and a nerve poison smeared into his scuba-diving suit. Such farcical facts tend to diminish somewhat the very serious consequences of US policy. Over the years, more than 3,500 Cuban civilians have been killed and 2,000 maimed by the terror campaign perpetrated first by the CIA and later by proxy émigré groups based in Florida. These attacks have included bombing raids on commercial and diplomatic targets in Cuba and around the world, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and more recently the series of bomb attacks at tourist hotels in Havana in which an Italian tourist was killed.

Recently, a newly declassified document, reveals a further twist in this long terror campaign. This new material, released under the Freedom of Information Act proves beyond a doubt that 40 years ago this summer, the US was planning to invade Cuba again, this time using the full force of its military instead of just a band of émigrés as in the Bay of Pigs invasion. In order to provide the opportunity to carry out such an audacious plan, it was necessary to create pretexts in order to justify it. This is where the documentation is most illuminating.

In a top secret memorandum to the President, datelined 13 March 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to an instruction to suggest “pretexts to provide justification for military intervention in Cuba’ by placing the US “in the position of suffering justifiable grievances”.

What is startling about this in the context of what has happened since September 11, is that the invented provocations were mostly concocted to take place in or around the Guantanamo Naval base that is illegally held on Cuban territory by the US. That the US has housed what it calls terrorist suspects at the base should be cause for alarm enough, but the revelation that the US has in the past already intended to use the base as a pretext to cause a war between the two countries is very serious.

These provocations are even referred to in the document as “Maine type incidents” after the explosion of the US battleship USS Maine in Havana Bay in 1898 that provided the pretext for the US intervention in the Cuban war of Independence.

General L. L. Lemnitzer prepared the document in question, known as the Northwood Document. In this he reports that the first step would be to create: “a series of well co-ordinated incidents planned to take place in and around the Guantanamo Bay to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces”.

The incidents would include a landing of “friendly” Cubans in uniform to stage mock attacks on the US base, capturing “saboteurs” inside the base and blowing up ammunition.

US aircraft would be set on fire, mortar shells would be lobbed into the base from outside the perimeter fence, US ships would be “sabotaged” in the harbour and mock funerals would be held for the “victims”. The US would then stage the “shooting down” of an American civil aircraft in international airspace and concoct “reliable” evidence to “prove” the Cubans were responsible. Any self-respecting intelligence service would have called it a day at this point but the US, chastened by past failures, carried on regardless.

The next stage involved a chartered plane full of students on their way to Central America, to be swapped with a “double” belonging to the CIA. “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 two planes would rendezvous somewhere south of Florida. From there the passenger-carrying aircraft would descend to minimum altitude and go into a field at Eglin Air Force Base where arrangements will have been made to evacuate the passengers.

The CIA drone would continue its journey on a scheduled flight path until it crossed Cuban airspace, at which point it would begin transmitting a Mayday message stating it was under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft. The transmission would be interrupted by the destruction of the aircraft which would be triggered by radio signal to allow “radio stations in the western hemisphere to tell the US what has happened to the aircraft instead of the US trying to ’sell’ the incident”.

The Americans also planned to make it look like Cuban MIGs had destroyed a US air force aircraft over international waters in an unprovoked attack. A “pre-briefed 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... 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.

In a final flourish the US dirty tricks department then planned to distribute parts of the missing aircraft into the shores off Cuba. Search ships and aircraft would then be dispatched, with appropriate outrage, to find parts of the “downed” aircraft. The doors would then be wide open to “commence large-scale military operations”.

The plan was approved by the then Secretary of Defence Robert MacNamara and would in all probability have taken place were it not for the timely introduction of missiles by the USSR into Cuba. According to the plans, the invasion of Cuba was to have been provoked in ‘the Fall’ of 1962, but the Soviet missiles were discovered in October. The ensuing crisis stalled the invasion and ultimately prevented its future implementation.

The implications of this story are serious. In March 1962 Cuba had no formal military alliance with the Soviet Union - that only came as a result of the missile crisis. Cuba was essentially alone, a factor mentioned by Lemnitzer in his Joint Chiefs of Staff report as a reason to invade sooner rather than later in that year.

He writes the proposed invasion: “... would only hold good as long as there can be reasonable certainty that US military intervention in Cuba would not directly involve the Soviet Union. There is as yet n bilateral mutual support agreement binding the USSR to the defense of Cuba, Cuba has not yet become a member of the Warsaw Pact, nor have the Soviets established Soviet bases in Cuba.... Therefore, since time appears to be an important factor in resolution of the Cuba problem, all projects are suggested within the time frame of the next few months.”

The formal military presence of Russian troops was ended earlier this year when Putin arbitrarily pulled out the regiment that staffed and protected the Lourdes listening base set up in the aftermath of the missile crisis. Once again, Cuba is essentially alone in the world. Looking around the globe today, it is difficult to find any country willing or even able to come to its side, should an ‘outrage’ be fabricated around the base.

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