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The Pentagon and the CIA Were Responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis


One of the enduring U.S. myths from the Cold War is that communist Cuba, headed by Fidel Castro, and the Soviet Union were responsible for bringing the world to the brink of all-out nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The myth holds that the Soviets and Cubans were responsible for the crisis by basing Soviet offensive nuclear missiles 90 miles away from American shores, thereby precipitating the crisis that almost led to all-out nuclear war.

The truth, however, is different from the myth. Actually, it was the U.S. national-security state apparatus — specifically the Pentagon and the CIA, which had been foisted onto the American governmental system after World War II to fight the Cold War against America’s World War II ally and partner, the Soviet Union — that was responsible for nearly bringing the world to total nuclear destruction.

Last week, I wrote an article entitled “The Paranoid Obsession Over Cuba,” in which I detailed the paranoid obsession that the Pentagon and the CIA have had about Cuba ever since Fidel Castro assumed power after ousting the U.S.-supported Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. The Pentagon and the CIA were convinced that a communist outpost 90 miles away from American shores was a grave threat to “national security.”

However, as I pointed out in last week’s article, this mindset was nothing more than extreme paranoia about communism and communists. Communist Cuba has been in existence now for more than 50 years and the United States is still standing. Moreover, there are several regimes in Latin America that have closely aligned themselves with Castro’s Cuba and that have adopted socialist economic systems. Examples include Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador. In fact, the same reasoning applies to Vietnam and China, nations that remain communist and yet peacefully coexist with the United States.

Who cares that Cuba was communist or that it was inspiring other Latin American regimes to be communist? What difference has any of that made to the American people? It hasn’t made any difference at all.

There is not one instance in which Cuba has attacked the United States, invaded Florida, attempted to occupy our nation, sponsored terrorist attacks against Americans, attempted to assassinate U.S. officials, or engaged in regime-change efforts within the United States.

In fact, it’s always been the other way around. Such acts of aggression have always been committed by the Pentagon and the CIA against Cuba, in large part owing to the paranoid mindset that national-security state officials have always had about the dangers that communism posed to “national security.” As a matter of fact, Cuba has never even retaliated for the many acts of aggression committed by the Pentagon and the CIA against Cuba.

Thus, the reason that Cuba invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 was not for the purpose of initiating a nuclear war against the United States. Instead, the purpose was defensive in nature — that is, to deter a U.S. invasion of Cuba, an invasion that the CIA and the Pentagon were pressuring President Kennedy to undertake throughout his term of office. That was what the infamous Operation Northwoods was all about.

Americans didn’t learn about Operation Northwoods until the 1990s, when the Assassination Records Review Board succeeded in prying open some of the military’s top-secret records relating to the Kennedy era. The ARRB had been formed in the wake of public outrage arising from Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK,” which posited that the U.S. national-security state assassinated Kennedy out as part of a national-security regime-change operation. Americans were outraged over the fact that the U.S. government was still keeping many of its records relating to the Kennedy assassination secret from the American people. Thus, the job of the ARRB was to require government agencies, including the Pentagon and the CIA, to open up their files and records, an effort that was only partially successful, given the fact that the CIA still refuses to comply with the open-records mandate.

Operation Northwoods was a top-secret plan that was unanimously approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that advocated a full-scale military invasion of Cuba to eliminate this supposed threat to “national security” by ousting Castro from power and installing a pro-U.S. ruler in his stead. In order to disguise the fact that such an invasion would be a naked act of aggression, the JCS recommended a series of fake terrorist attacks and fake airplane hijackings, in which innocent American citizens would be killed, with the aim of blaming the deaths on Cuban terrorists. That then would enable Kennedy to go on national television and exclaim, “We’ve been attacked! We’ve been attacked!” The fake terrorist attacks and fake hijackings would then provide the pretext for invading Cuba. It goes without saying that the false nature of the pretexts for the invasion would forever be kept secret.

To Kennedy’s everlasting credit, he rejected Operation Northwoods, to the anger and chagrin of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nonetheless, it was an open secret that there was nothing the CIA and Pentagon wanted more than to invade Cuba and remove the grave threat to “national security” that Castro supposedly posed.

Notwithstanding his victory over a small band of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, Castro knew that there was no way his armed forces could defeat the United States in a full scale military battle for the island. Therefore, Castro concluded that he had only one hope of deterring or resisting a U.S. invasion of Cuba. That was when he invited the Soviets to install nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev eagerly accepted the invitation. Knowing that the Soviets lagged far behind the United States in nuclear capability, he figured that this would be a good short-cut to balancing out the nuclear forces. Moreover, since the U.S. government had stationed nuclear missiles in Turkey that were aimed at the Soviet Union, Khrushchev figured that stationing Soviet missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States would be just a tit for tat.

But what’s important to keep in mind is that it was the Pentagon and the CIA that were responsible for all this. If they had not been obsessed with bringing about regime change in Cuba with a military invasion, there would have been no reason for Castro to invite the Soviets to install nuclear missiles in Cuba as a deterrent.

The fact that the purpose of the Soviet missiles was defensive in nature was confirmed by the way the crisis was resolved. Once Kennedy promised Castro and Khrushchev that the U.S. government would not invade Cuba — and also promised (secretly) that the U.S. government would remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey, Khrushchev agreed to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba. That resolved the crisis.

Unfortunately, however, it didn’t resolve the anger and rage of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who considered Kennedy’s resolution of the crisis to have been a major defeat for the United States by communist forces. After what they had perceived as Kennedy’s weakness at the Bay of Pigs for refusing to provide air support for the CIA-sponsored invaders, Kennedy’s guarantee that the United States would never invade Cuba was too much for both the Pentagon and the CIA to bear. After all, as part of the deal Kennedy had effectively guaranteed that the United States would be permanently saddled with the grave threat to “national security” supposedly posed by Cuba’s communist regime 90 miles away from American shores, a  supposed threat to “national security” that has been the obsession of the Pentagon and CIA ever since Castro took power.

There are, of course, countless examples of what a disaster it has been for the American people to have embraced the dark-side practices and programs of the national-security state in the name of fighting “communism” (and later “terrorism.”) But the most dangerous consequence of having embraced this bizarre apparatus in the name of protecting “national security” continues to be the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that brought America and the world to the brink of nuclear disaster.


This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.