On the 54th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, it’s important to remember he was in a constant battle with a trigger-happy coterie of generals.

In March of 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then chaired by four-star general Lyman Lemnitzer, presented a plan to President Kennedy dubbed “Operation Northwoods.” The top-secret document outlining the plan has been declassified, and has been covered by reputable national media outlets. Any claim that Operation Northwoods is a conspiracy theory can be easily debunked with a simple Google search.

Cover sheet of Operation Northwoods

Operation Northwoods was so secretive that even high-ranking military officials including “commanders of unified or specified commands,” “US officers assigned to NATO activities,” or even “the Chairman, US delegation, United Nations Military Staff Committee,” were not allowed to know about it. The plan outlined in the document involved a highly-complex series of terrorist attacks designed to kill actual Americans, blame Cuba, and use the attacks as justification for a war with the Fidel Castro regime.

Some of the details of the terror attacks proposed by Gen. Lemnitzer are reminiscent of the attacks that happened on September 11, 2001 — including the hijacking of planes:

“A series of well-coordinated incidents will be planned to take place in and around Guantanamo to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces.”

“We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated).”

“Hijacking attempts of civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba.”

Northwoods even contained a detailed plan to disguise a drone as a civilian passenger flight, complete with a manufactured flight manifest, to be detonated over Cuban airspace. The Pentagon even came up with the idea to circulate the fake list of casualties to the media as a means of getting the American public in support of a retaliatory invasion of Cuba.

“The US could follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to ‘evacuate’ remaining members of the non-existent crew,” the document read. “Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”

Kennedy rejected the plan, and denied a renewal of Lemnitzer’s chairmanship over the Joint Chiefs of Staff several months later. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Lemnitzer became the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He died at the age of 89, and was described by the New York Times as a “war hero” in a flattering 1,305-word obituary that made no mention of Cuba or JFK.

JFK succeeded Dwight D. Eisenhower — the Republican five-star general who warned Americans to make sure the influence of the “military-industrial complex” didn’t supersede democratic institutions in his farewell speech. One of JFK’s final actions before his sudden assassination 54 years ago was to de-escalate conflict in Vietnam.

National Security Action Memorandum 263, which was issued on October 11, 1963, ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from Vietnam by the end of the year. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tenure, however, Vietnam escalated from a conflict to a full-blown war within one year of JFK’s assassination.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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