Episode 8 - Pulling Down the Judges Trousers (Banned Literature Week)
Updated: Apr 19
Sam's Episode Notes: Operation Northwoods and the insane CIA thought exercise on discrediting Castro by blowing up US soldiers and citizens.
The documents relating to operation Northwoods, drawn up in early 1962, are pretty well known among conspiracy theorists, but most of what's out there as 'evidence' or otherwise is terrible journalism, fake, speculation or conspiracy theory nonsense taken as fact. What we do know is that the official, remarkably unredacted documents were made public in 1997 in a release of a trove of articles relating to president John F Kennedy. So I've gone off those documents alone. Cuba and the US had enjoyed strong relations, but when Castro took power in 1959, the US was terrified. There was suddenly a communist state - albeit an independent one - just 90 miles from the US mainland and Florida. American foreign policy could not allow the Cuban government to survive. April 1961 saw the Bay of Pigs invasion, a CIA plot to train anti-communist Cuban forces and land them on a beachhead in Cuba. Failed miserably when Kennedy withdrew air support. What became clear to military cheifs was that if they wanted something done, they would have to do it themselves – it would have to be US forces involved in the invasion. Easier said than done, because they knew the USSR would have something to say about it – Cuba had become an important source of sugar for Moscow. So to avoid an escalating conflict, the US had to have a really good reason to go in. Now Cuba wasn't playing nice, unsurprisingly, it was using covert operations to instill unrest around the Carribean and was in the process of executing many of the Bay of Pigs Prisoners. BUT it didn't have the military capability to do much damage internationally, and so it was very difficult for the US to justify a full, US-led invasion. Something else was needed. And that's where a series of plans with silly codenames like Mongoose and northwoods come in. They were plans relating to covert operations to bring down Castro's government and attack his military – some attacks aimed directly at Cuba, such as the plan to sink Cuba's navy using divers or other means – that bit's been redacted so I'm going to assume it's dolphins armed with bombs. But Northwoods was very specifically a series of musings formulated by the Military Chiefs of Staff and the Carribean Survey Group – a military organisation under Brigadier William H Craig. The idea was to make Cuba look bad through a series of false flag attacks. The idea being that the USA could claim that Cuba was acting as an unstable and rash party, and that America had a duty to react to an active threat on its doorstep. Now, it should be said here that this was not an operation that was carried out. It was just a series of musings. But it's all in black and white and it's a fascinating insight into how the CIA was thinking at the time. Now, some of this was pure disinformation. There were plans to use any disaster or accident possible to throw blame on Cuba – for example America's first astronaut to orbit the Earth was John Glenn, who blasted off in his mercury rocket in February 1962. There were discussions afoot that should the launch fail and Glenn be killed, the failure would be blamed on a Cuban interference or electronic warfare weapon. Likewise air disasters and the like which were very common at the time were to be blamed on Cuban agents and evidence planted to that effect. But that's the sane stuff, Tom. Let me give you some examples of what gets planned when a group of generals and mad spies sit around a big table in a darkened room filled with screens, because it's proper James bond. We'll start with the less mad. A US invasion of the US base at Guantanamo bay. Image of Northwoods papers here in podcast form.
... could be executed an initial effort to provoke Cuban reactions. Harassment plus deceptive actions to convince the Cubans of imminent Invasion would be emphasized. Our military posture throughout execution or the plat will allow a rapid change from exercise to intervention if Cuban response justifies. 2. A series of well cordinated incidents will be planned to take place in and around Guantanamo to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. a. Incidents to establish a credible attack (not in chronological order): (1) Start rumors (many). Use clandestine radio. (2) Land friendly Cubans in uniform 'over-the-fence" to stage attack on bane. (3) Capture Cuban (friendly) saboteurs inside the base. (4) Start riots near the base main gate (friendly Cubans).
(5) Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. (6) Dunn aircraft on air base (sabotage). (7) Lob mortar shells from outside of base into base. Some damage to installations. (8) Capture assault teens approaching from the sea or vicinity of Guantanamo City. (9) Capture militia group which attacked the base. (10) Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires -- napthalene. (11) Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock victims (may be lieu of (10)). b. United States would respond by executing offensive operations to secure water and power supplies, destroying artillery and mortar emplacements which threaten the base. o. Commence large scale United Staten military operation°. 3. A "Remember the Maine" incident could be arranged in several foams: a. We could blow up a US ship In Guantanamo Boy and blame Cuba. b. We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in the Cuban waters. We could arrange to cause such incident in the vicinity of Havana or Santiago on a spectacular result of Cuban attack from the air or sea, er both Te pretense of Cuban planes or ships; merely investigating the intent of the vessel could be fairly compelling evidence that the ship was taken under attack. The nearness to Havana or Santiago would add credibility especially to those people that might have heard the blast or have seen the fire. The US could follow up with an air/sea rescue operation covered by US fighters to 'evacuate" remaining members of the non-existent crew. casualty lists in us newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation. 4. We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and oven in Washington.
Blow up some Cuban refugees (real or simulated):
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). We could rooter attempts on lives or Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. Exploding a few plastic bombs in aim:fully chosen Booth, the arrest of Cuban agents and the release of prepared documents substantiating Cuban involvement also would be helpful in projecting the idea of on irresponsible government. 5. A "Cuban-based, Castro-supported' filibuster amid be simulated against a neighboring Caribbean nation (in the vein of the 14th of June invasion of the Dominican Republic). We know that Castro is backing efforts clandestinely against Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Nicaragua at present and possible others. These efforts; can be magnified and additional ones contrived for exposure. Bur example, advantage con be taken of the sensitivity of the Dominican Air Force to Intrusions within their national air apace. 'Cuban" B-26 or CJI6 type aircraft could make cane-burning raids at night. Soviet Bloc incendiaries could be found. This could be coupled with "Cuban" messages to the Communist underground in the Dominican Republic and "Cuban" shipments of arms which would be found, or intercepted, on the beach. 6. Use of no type aircraft by US pilots could provide additional provocation. Harassment of civil air, attacks on surface Mapping and destruction of US military drone aircraft by )1/0 type planes would be useful as complimentary actions. An F-66 properly painted would convince air passengers that they saw a Cuban MIG, especially if the pilot of the transport were to announce such fact. The primary drawback to this suggestion Appears to to the security risk inherent in obtaining or modifying an aircraft. However, reasonable copies of the MIG could be produced from US resources in about three months.
They also discussed pretending one of their own fighters had been shot down using a submarine-launched wreck and a tin of paint...
Stations in the Western hemisphere to tell the US what has happened to the aircraft instead of the US trying to "sell" the incident. 9. It seems possible to create an incident which will make it appear that a Communist Cuban MIG destroyed a USAF aircraft over international waters in an unprovoked attack. a. Approximately A or 5 F-101 aircraft will be dispatched in trail from Homestead AFB, Florida, to the vicinity of Cuba. Their mission will be to reverse course and simulate fakir aircraft for an air defense exercise in southern Florida. These aircraft would conduct variations of these flights at frequent intervals. Crews would be briefed to remain at least 12 miles off the Cuban coast; however, they would be required to carry live ammunition in the event that hostile actions were taken by the Cuban MIGs. b. On one such flight, a pre-briefed pilot would fly tail-end Charley at considerable Interval between aircraft. While near the Cuban Island this pilot would broadeast that he had been jumped by MIGs and was going down. No other calls would be made. The pilot would then fly directly west at extremely low altitude and land at a secure base, an Elgin auxiliary. The aircraft would be met by the proper people, quickly stored and given a new tail number. The pilot who had performed the mission under an alias, would resume his proper identity and return to his normal place of business. The pilot and aircraft would then have disappeared. C. At approximately the same time that the aircraft was presumably shot down a Submarine or small surface craft would deploy F-101 parts, paraohute, etc., at approximately 15 to 23 miles off the Cuban coast and depart. Thus pilots returning to Homstead would have a true story as far as they knew. Search ships and aircraft could be dispatched and parts of aircraft found. And this is the maddest one – blowing up a fake planeload of tourists, in a plot involving duplicate aircraft and swift repainting jobs:
7. Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government or Cuba. Concurrently, genuine defections of Cuban civil and military air and surface craft should be encouraged. 8. It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner enroute from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. The destination would be chosen only to cause the flight plan route to cross Cuba. The passengers could be a group of college students off on a holiday or any grouping of persons with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight. An aircraft at Elgin AFB would be painted and numbered to an exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft belonging to a CIA proprietary organization in the Miami area. At a designated time the duplicate would be substituted for the actual civil aircraft and would be loaded with the selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone. b. Take off time of the drone aircraft and the actual aircraft will be scheduled to allow a rendezvous south of Florida. From the rendezvous point the passengers carrying aircraft will descend to minimum altitude and go directly into an auxiliary field at Elgin AFB where arrangements will have been made to evacuate the passengers and return the aircraft to its original status. The drone aircraft meanwhile will continue to fly the filed flight plan. When over Cuba the drone will being transmitting on the inter-national distress frequency a 'MAY DAY" massage stating he is under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft. The transmission will be interrupted by destruction of the aircraft which will be triggered by radio control.
Fortunately, these musings were just a plan and never made it off the drawing board, they were pretty quickly shot down by the Secretary of Defence and, in turn, Kennedy himself. You'd hope that was because they saw that these plans were bastard mad and truly evil, but actually it was because the deputy Secretary of Defence at the time, Roswell Gilpatrick, thought they were too niche, and was hoping to be presented with more of a grand strategy than a series of proposed fake attacks. He was also pissed off that the generals were talking about spending money they hadn't been allocated, and that the CIA should be footing the bill for all the extra ships and aircraft they'd need to be blowing up. So not denied because it was mad, denied because the finances weren't in order and it wasn't mad on a grand enough scale. But there we go. An illicit document that shows just how dangerous men in uniforms and men in trenchcoats can be when they get together. But you have to remember this was at the height of the CIA's mad plans to deal with the USSR and dangers at home: MK Ultra, bomb cats, funding all sorts of nonsense invations such as bay of pigs, Gulf of Tonkin etc etc. As for what happened to Cuba? Well the US spent decades trying to assassinate Castro, but the grander strategy point became somewhat more pressing when Soviet nuclear missiles were moved to the island in October 1962, and Cuba went from a thorne in the side to a major worldwide incident requiring a bit more care and attention than a few bombed ships.
Tom's notes: Boccaccio’s Decameron
· Written in the middle of the 14th Century
· Backdrop of the 1347-8 Black Death
o 70 to 80% of the Italian population died!
o 100s of millions of people died across the world
· Seven young women and three young men escape Florence to the countryside.
· For 2 weeks, they tell each other stories in the evening (100 tales on 10 days; 2 days for cleaning and 2 the Sabbath)
· Very bawdy! Slapstick and generally care-free good fun.
o Written in the Italian vernacular so lots of people could enjoy it
o Jonathon Swift
o Edgar Allan Poe
· Emerging Mercantile class
· Renaissance Humanist
· Correspondent with Petrarch
o Another famous humanist
o Rediscovered some of Cicero’s work
o Invented the concept of the ‘Dark Age’
· Like Petrarch; believed that God gave humans creativity, ambition and intellect and this could be used to pursue secular ambitions without impiety
o This is a major theme in the Decameron
§ Stupid people punished, smart people succeeding
o Catholics getting up to no good
o Theme of people pursuing their ambitions in commercial and secular life, not religious life
· USA; numerous times
o “obscene, lewd, and lascivious book of indecent character”
· Australia too
· Other places probably too!
3 stories chosen
· Difficult to choose; some that I didn’t go for
o A young nun is caught with a lover in her convent room. A senior nun arrived to tell her off but instead of her habit, she has her lover’s breeches on her head
o A man who is persuaded that he is pregnant, he tells her wife off for always going on top and pays someone for an abortion
o A women is seeing a man whilst her husband is at work. The husband returns home and the lover hides in a barrel. The women berated her husband for not being at work. It’s because he’s sold the barrel for 5 ducats, she has sold it for 7 to the man who is in their at the moment! He even helps him take it home
Day 7, story 4
· A rich man called Tofano with a wife Ghita
o He grew jealous of her for no good reason
o She finds a young man to have an affair with and gets Tofano drunk in the evening so that she can wander off
· Tofano get’s suspicious
o Feigns drunkenness, watches her leave and then await the return
o She can’t get back in
o Says she’ll drown herself in the well
o She pretends to
o He runs out and she gets in!
Day 8, Story 5
· Governors from Ancona who are (6)
· Bring with them judges (7)
· Maso del Saggio spots this judge
o Decides to show his mates the scruffy chap
o Ribi and Matteuzzo
· The next day
o Matteuzzo hides under the judges table
o Ribi and Maso stand either side of him having an argument about some stolen boots/saddle bags
Day 3, story 10
· Alibech; a beautiful non-Christian daughter of a rich man
o She’d heard much about Christianity and wanted to learn how to best serve God
o The most holy people, best to answer the question, lived in solitude in the desert
o The first holy man (1)
o Second holy man
o The best thing you can help God do is to put the devil back in hell
o She asks how
o He get’s naked
o This bit seems to be too raunchy for some translators translate!
o Over the coming days, the devil was repeatedly put in hell
o She enjoys it! (4)
o (5) – he can’t keep up!
· Eventually a young man called Neerbale finds Alibech because her family have died in a fire and he wants to marry her to save her estate
o Rustico pleased!
· Back in her home town, she speaks to ladies and criticises Neerbale for taking her from her pious pastime, they ask her what…