|New book on NSA sheds light
U.S. terror plan called Cuba invasion pretext
By Scott Shane and Tom Bowman
April 24, 2001
WASHINGTON - U.S. military leaders proposed in 1962 a
secret plan to commit terrorist acts against Americans and blame
Cuba to create a pretext for invasion and the ouster of Communist
leader Fidel Castro, according to a new book about the National
"We could develop a Communist Cuban terror
campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in
Washington," said one document reportedly prepared by the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and
blame Cuba," the document says. "Casualty lists in U.S. newspapers
would cause a helpful wave of indignation."
The plan is laid
out in documents signed by the five Joint Chiefs but never carried
out, according to writer James Bamford in "Body of Secrets." The new
history of the Fort Meade-based eavesdropping agency is being
released today by Doubleday.
NSA regularly picks up the
conversations of suspected terrorist financier Osama bin Laden, says
Bamford, and has monitored Chinese and French companies trying to
sell missiles to Iran. He provides new details about an Israeli
attack on a Navy eavesdropping ship in 1967, suggesting that the
sinking was deliberate. And he reveals the loss of an "entire
warehouse" full of secret cryptographic gear to the North Vietnamese
in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War.
Bamford, a former
investigative reporter for ABC News who wrote "The Puzzle Palace"
about the NSA in 1982, said his new book is based mostly on
documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act or found
in government archives. "NSA never handed me any documents," he
said. "It was a question of digging."
He said he was most
surprised by the anti-Cuba terror plan, code-named Operation
Northwoods. It "may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the
U.S. government," he writes.
The Northwoods plan also
proposed that if the 1962 launch of John Glenn into orbit were to
fail, resulting in the astronaut's death, the U.S. government would
publicize fabricated evidence that Cuba had used electronic
interference to sabotage the flight, the book says.
previously secret document obtained by Bamford offers further
suggestions for mayhem to be blamed on Cuba.
"We could sink a
boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). ... We
could foster attempts on lives of Cubans in the United States, even
to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized," the
document says. Another idea was to shoot down a CIA plane designed
to replicate a passenger flight and announce that Cuban forces shot
Citing a White House document, Bamford writes that
the idea of creating a pretext for the invasion of Cuba might have
started with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the last weeks of his
administration, when the plan for an invasion by Cuban exiles
trained in the United States was hatched. Carried out in April 1961,
soon after Kennedy became president, the Bay of Pigs invasion proved
a fiasco. Castro's forces quickly killed or rounded up the
Army Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs, presented the Operation Northwoods plan to Kennedy early in
1962, but the president rejected it that March because he wanted no
overt U.S. military action against Cuba. Lemnitzer then sought
unsuccessfully to destroy all evidence of the plan, according to
Lemnitzer and those who served with him in 1962 as
chiefs of the nation's military branches are dead. But two former
top Kennedy administration officials said yesterday that they were
unaware of Operation Northwoods and questioned whether such a plan
was ever drafted.
"I've never heard of Operation Northwoods.
Never heard of it and don't believe it," said Theodore Sorenson,
Kennedy's White House special counsel. "Obviously, it would be
totally illegal as well as totally unwise."
McNamara, Kennedy's defense secretary, said: "I never heard of it. I
can't believe the chiefs were talking about or engaged in what I
would call CIA-type operations."
Bamford writes that besides
the Joint Chiefs, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze
also favored "provoking a phony war with Cuba."
"There may be
a piece of paper" on Northwoods, said McNamara. "I just cannot
conceive of [Nitze] approving anything like that or doing it without
talking to me."
The book contains many other revelations in
its detailed account of NSA, the biggest U.S. intelligence agency
and Maryland's largest employer, with more than 25,000 personnel at
Fort Meade, site of its global eavesdropping efforts.
In recent years, NSA has regularly listened to bin
Laden's unencrypted telephone calls. Agency officials have sometimes
played tapes of bin Laden talking to his mother to impress members
of Congress and select visitors to the agency.
In the late
1990s, NSA tracked efforts by Chinese and French companies to sell
missile technology to Iran, particularly the C-802 anti-ship
missile. The eavesdropping led to U.S. protests to the Chinese and
When U.S. troops evacuated Vietnam in
1975, "an entire warehouse overflowing with NSA's most important
cryptographic machines and other supersensitive code and cipher
materials" was left behind. It was the largest compromise of such
equipment in U.S. history, Bamford writes, but the agency still has
not acknowledged it.
When Israeli fighter jets attacked the
NSA eavesdropping ship USS Liberty in the Mediterranean in 1967,
killing 34 Americans and wounding 171, an NSA aircraft was listening
in and heard Israeli pilots referring to the American flag on the
ship. U.S. officials, including President Lyndon Baines Johnson,
decided to forget the matter, Bamford writes, because they did not
want to embarrass Israel. To this day, Israeli officials say their
forces mistakenly attacked the U.S. ship.
Bamford says the
reason for the strike was Israel's desperate effort to cover up its
attacks on the Egyptian town of El Arish in the Sinai. The Liberty
was sitting offshore and the Israelis feared that the ship would
detect the operation, which included the shooting of
Yesterday, an NSA spokesperson questioned a point
made in the book about the USS Liberty.
"We do not comment on
operational matters, alleged or otherwise; however, Mr. Bamford's
claim that the NSA leadership was `virtually unanimous in their
belief that the attack was deliberate' is simply not true," the
When he wrote "The Puzzle Palace" in 1982,
Bamford was attacked by some NSA officials, who said his revelations
gave the Soviet Union and other U.S. adversaries too much
information on the secret agency. One former director referred to
him as "an unconvicted felon."
With the end of the Cold War,
the agency has been less guarded. NSA's current director, Air Force
Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, has granted a number of interviews.
Hayden "cracked the door open a tiny bit," said Bamford, partly to
burnish NSA's public image and correct misconceptions.
staff writer Laura Sullivan contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore