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  • Operation NorthwoodsThe Pentagon's Scripts for Overthrowing Castro
  • Tracy C. Davis (bio)

We cannot, as a free nation, compete with our adversaries in tactics of terror, assassination, false promises, counterfeit mobs and crises. […] We possess weapons of tremendous power but they are least effective in combating the weapons most often used by freedom's foes: subversion, infiltration, guerrilla warfare, civil disorder.

—President John F. Kennedy, 16 November 1961 (1962:725)

A review of Pentagon planning [in 1990…] makes it clear that for a small circle of high civilian and military officials, the idea that the United States might deliberately provoke events in Cuba that could serve as a pretext for U.S. intervention represented a possible course of action, frequently invoked, rather than an unthinkable libel that had emerged from the paranoid fantasies of Havana and Moscow.

—James G. Hershberg (1990:172)

In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy, determined to avoid another fiasco like the Bay of Pigs invasion—which was hatched under the Eisenhower administration, planned by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and carried out by Cuban émigrés the previous April—authorized Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a plan for dealing with Fidel Castro, who had been in power nearly two years. They created "Operation Mongoose," a covert project aimed at making Cubans receptive to a counterrevolution, triggering an uprising, assisting Cubans in overthrowing Castro, and installing a government friendly to U.S. interests (Kennedy [1961] 1997; Lansdale [1961] 1997; White 1999:71-164; Hershberg 1990). The project was under the direction of Brigadier General Edward Lansdale and reported to the Special Group (Augmented), known as SGA, which included Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Mongoose is important because it demonstrates the extent to which the Kennedy administration continued a bellicose stance toward its new Communist neighbor, long after the Bay of Pigs, and because unlike other anti-Cuban schemes that came to public attention through testimony before the 1975 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (chaired by Frank Church), Mongoose involved not just the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House staff, and the Attorney General's office, but was masterminded by the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs were motivated by the desire to prevent Castro from spreading Communism elsewhere in Latin America. For them, time was of the essence (Nelson 2001:147). Evidence of Mongoose justifies, though only post hoc, [End Page 134] the Soviets' increasingly defensive stance toward Cuba, to the extent that they began to construct missile launchers to defend the island in the summer of 1962.

Plots against Castro and his regime were rife in this period (Bundy [1963] 1996; Rabe 2000). As Senator Church explains in his introduction to published testimony from the 1975 Senate committee:

The only time when Fidel Castro permitted his island to become a base for Russian missiles, the only time during which it might have been said that he had become a threat to the security of the American people, was the one time when all assassination activity, plans, and plots against his life were stood down. (United States Senate 1976:xix)

Evidence that came to light in 1992 reveals that even during the Cuban Missile Crisis plots against Castro were proposed: the CIA sought approval to send in ten teams of subversives by submarine two days before Khrushchev capitulated to U.S. demands to dismantle the missile sites. However, neither Mongoose nor plots of CIA origin were regarded seriously by the U.S. administration as a viable tool during the Missile Crisis itself (McCone [1962] 1996; Halpern 1993; Parrott [1962] 1996). Unlike the plots against Castro's life or reputation involving poisoned cigars, depilatory shoes, an exploding seashell, a contaminated diving suit, mobster assassins, and a poisoned hypodermic needle hidden in a ballpoint pen (U.S. Senate 1976:71-90), which were mooted by the CIA but rarely got off the drawing board, Operation Mongoose focused on utilizing a Cuban and Cuban-exile political base opposed to Castro, infiltrating the island, and instigating sabotage in order to spark the overthrow of the regime by internal revolt. To authorize any of this during the period of hyper-alertness surrounding the installation of the missile sites...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4715
Print ISSN
1054-2043
Pages
pp. 134-148
Launched on MUSE
2006-04-20
Open Access
No
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