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Operation. . . North. . .Iran?

John Macmurrary: With the increasing and increasingly shrill volume of rhetoric about war with Iran, it might be a good time to let the White House and our elected representatives know how we feel about that.

Remember “Dr. Strangelove,” about a bunch of U.S. military fanatics starting a nuclear war?

bay of pigs

Or, “Seven Days in May,” about a group of U.S. military leaders staging a coup d’état because they were upset over the President’s peace overtures with the Soviet Union?

But “Dr. Strangelove” was a movie, and “Seven Days in May” was a movie, and both were based on novels. So they didn’t really happen?

Well “Operation Northwoods,” did happen. It was a U.S. military plan to start a war with Cuba. And if President Kennedy had not squashed it, hundreds and maybe thousands of Americans might have died just so our military leaders could have a war.

And, there are signs that something like it might happen again soon.

Operation Northwoods

Briefly, “Operation Northwoods” was a 1962 plan conceived and planned by our highest-level military leaders (all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed off on it) to stage diversionary attacks on US cities and civilian aircraft then blame them on the Castro regime. With enough public relations work -- and enough carnage -- went the reasoning, the American people would be screaming for revenge and would demand that our military invade Cuba and destroy Fidel Castro and his regime.

And our military, having planned the whole scenario, would, of course, be only too willing and able to carry out these demands.


A bit of background: The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a board that serves as the unified high command of the American military; its chairman is the highest ranking U.S. military commander. He also serves as the principal military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council. The board consists of the chiefs of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff was developed in 1942, and formally established in 1947 by the National Security Act.


And some of the truly horrifying strategies these top-tier military planners set out in the “Operation Northwoods” proposal included: assassinating Cubans living in the United States, developing and carrying out fake terror campaigns in Florida cities and even in Washington, D.C; sinking boatloads of Cuban refugees, staging attacks on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and other military bases, faking a Cuban air force attack on civilian airliners using repainted USAF fighter planes; concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters, even blowing up the rocket carrying Col. John Glenn to the first U.S. orbital flight; blaming all the incidents, of course, on Fidel Castro’s Cuban military.

The fact that many American and Cuban civilians would die in these scenarios does not seem to have concerned the JCS. The full list of proposed atrocities is contained in the JCS memo to Secretary of State Robert McNamara, sourced in the bibliography at the end of this article.

Crazies in the Basement

And what makes the example of “Operation Northwoods” truly scary, and not just a 50-year-old historical artifact, is that our military and civilian leaders might well be pushing us along a similar path with Iran.

According to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Iran — like Iraq -- has done nothing to harm the United States. It has abided by all the treaties they have signed dealing with nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Ritter, you will recall, has been much-maligned for his personal failings, and ostracized for publicly claiming — correctly, as it turned out — that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

And like Iraq, which likewise had done no harm to America but became the target of a bloody and prolonged war anyway, Iran’s greatest fault has been to run afoul of certain powerful and influential right-wing groups.

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And there in the details seems to lie the Devil.

Actually, several devils. Known collectively as “the crazies in the basement,” (a term ascribed variously to George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan), but more formally as the “New Conservatives” (or, Neocons), these extreme right-wing ideologues banded together as “Project for a New American Century.” During its formal lifetime, from 1992 to 2006, the group pushed their agenda for extending American presence all over the globe, and using our military to force regime change on those countries not willing to go along.

Several PNAC members (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving “Scooter” Libby, Richard Armitage, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton) were installed in high offices in the George W. Bush administration. Other members (like John McCain, Gary Bauer, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Richard Perle) were not directly part of the Bush Administration, but still exerted great influence.

Again, according to Scott Ritter, then-UN Ambassador John Bolton had been given a letter to read to the UN saying, in effect, that after strenuous efforts and heroic negotiations (paraphrasing, here) to get Iran to cease its nuclear weapons efforts, and after receiving no help from our allies, the United States had no choice but to declare war on Iran.

Another Iraq in Our Future?

This obviously is a near-identical scenario to the run-up that led to our catastrophic war in Iraq. And it’s frighteningly similar to the path “Operation Northwoods” set forth.

President Kennedy squashed “Operation Northwoods” before it could be implemented. President Bush went along with the “basement crazies” and sent us to war in Iraq. President Obama may soon have to make a similar decision about war with Iran.

With the increasing and increasingly shrill volume of rhetoric about war with Iran, it might be a good time to let the White House and our elected representatives know how we feel about that.

Information Sources

As information sources, there are several web sites dealing with “Operation Northwoods.” Most are not really credible or useful.

The best ones I found are:

  • Official web site for Project for a New American Century
  • James Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, Doubleday; 1st edition (April 24, 2001) ISBN 978-0-385-49907-1. Anchor; Reprint edition (April 30, 2002) ISBN 978-0-385-49908-8. Mr. Bamford broke the secret about “Operation Northwoods”

John MacMurray

Published: Thursday, 26 July 2012