The US is moving towards ending its 50-year political and economic embargo on Cuba, a breakthrough in American relations with the island nation.
But at the height of the Cold War, the US was panicked over the prospect of a communist regime less than 100-miles from its territory. And in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro and his allies had successfully carried out their Communist revolution in Cuba, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) proposed a number of measures aimed at legitmising a US invasion of the island.
The majority of these measures involved false-flag attacks that would give the US the leeway needed to carry out regime change in Havana.
In an unclassified memo titled “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba,” the JCS floats a number of actions that the US could execute which would “develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.”
The plans were developed under the name “Operation Mongoose,” with an emphasis on the namesake animal’s speed: The JCS wanted to carry out these operations, thereby legitmising attacks on Cuba, before Havana and the Soviet Union established bilateral mutual support agreements. The report was released in March, seven months before the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The JCS suggested eight ideas for legitmising an invasion of the island. Many of them are far-fetched, and the more outlandish ones weren’t operationalized. But they offer a glimpse into the US’s sometimes-paranoid approach to the very real strategic challenges that the island’s communist takeover presented.
A simulated attack on Guantanamo Bay
In order to justify an invasion, the JCS proposed simulating “a series of well-coordinated incidents … in and around Guantanamo” that would “give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces.”
These incidents would include burning aircraft on base, blowing up ammunition inside the base and starting fires, staging riots near the base’s main gate with the help of friendly Cubans, sabotaging a ship in the harbour, and capturing a group of friendly Cubans disguised as saboteurs inside the base.
A ‘Remember the Maine’-type incident
In addition to simulated sabotage at Guantanamo Bay, the JCS floated an idea of destroying a US vessel entirely and blaming the attack on the Cubans. It’s an echo of the destruction of the USS Maine in 1898, which was used as a justification for the Spanish-American War (It’s now believed that the explosion that destroyed the ship was in fact accidental.)
One of the ideas proposed was to “blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay.” A second idea was to destroy an unmanned US vessel somewhere in Cuban waters close to Havana or Santiago.
“The presence of Cuban planes or ships merely investigating the intent of the vessel could be fairly compelling evidence that the ship was taken under attack.” After the explosion, the US could then stage a mock rescue attempt. Afterwards, mock “casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”
A coordinated terror campaign
“We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated) … Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots … would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”
A simulated Cuban attack on a neighbouring country
The JCS proposed carrying out an attack on a neighbouring Caribbean nation while disguised as Cuban forces. This attack would show that Cuba was a reckless spear’s-tip for Communist expansionism in the region.
Harassment of civilian air lines
US pilots could be trained to fly in a Cuban MiG aircraft. The pilot would then carry out simulated harassment of civilian airliners.
“An F-86 properly painted would convince air passengers that they saw a Cuban MIG,” the JCS proposed, “especially if the pilot of the transport were to announce such fact.”
Simulated hijacking attempts
“Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba. Concurrently, genuine deflections of Cuban civil and military air and surface craft should be encouraged.”
A simulated downing of a chartered jet
“It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft jas attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner enroute from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela,” the JCS wrote.
An actual civilian airliner, flying from a proprietary CIA company in the Miami area, would be loaded with selected passengers with aliases. This plane would then be swapped out at Eglin Air Force Base and would be replaced with an identical unmanned aircraft. The drone, once over Cuba, would release a May Day signal before being detonated through a radio signal.
A simulated attack by Cuban forces over international waters
“It is possible to create an incident which will make it appear that Communist Cuban MiGs have destroyed a USAF [air force] aircraft over international waters in an unprovoked attack,” wrote the JCS.
According to this plan, four or five F-101s would fly from Florida to the vicinity of Cuba, before changing direction back to the US. Of the five pilots, one would have been briefed to fly at the tail end of the formation far from the other aircraft.
This pilot would then signal that he had been attacked by Cuban MiGs and was going down, after which he would make no other calls. The pilot would then fly at low altitude directly to Eglin Air Force Base.
Meanwhile, a submarine would disburse F-101 parts approximately “15 to 20 miles off the Cuban coast and depart. The pilots returning to Homestead would have a true story as far as they knew.”
H/t Micah Zenko
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