John F. Kennedy was America's president in the middle of the Cold War with Russia. Arguably, some of the most interesting and compelling John F. Kennedy facts are stories from the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The dramatic showdown with the Soviets represents the high-water mark in Kennedy’s presidency, regarding both restraint and achievement. The public facts of the incident only scratch the surface of the overall intrigue, though.
While JFK was busy negotiating with Nikita Khrushchev, the other powers-that-be in the US government spent 1962 planning alternate ways to deal with the crisis. This included a scheme called Operation Northwoods, a false flag attack on Americans intended to justify a war with Cuba. If the US government couldn't find a legitimate reason to strike Cuba, they planned to invent one. Luckily, President Kennedy firmly rejected the proposal, which could have spelled disaster for American morale.
There were many “hot spots” in the decades-long Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, but 1962 was one of the warmest. Cuban leader Fidel Castro aligned himself with his perceived fellow Communists in the USSR, and the Soviets started deploying nuclear missiles to the Caribbean nation.
With a Soviet ally now in striking distance of the American mainland, the simmering tension of the Cold War would soon erupt into the Cuban Missile Crisis. But before that, the US government started hunting for potential options to end the perceived threat from Cuba.
Not long after his rise, the US intelligence community began scheming to remove Fidel Castro from power. Having a popular Communist leader in the neighborhood was seen as a threat to American democracy, and Castro's allegiance to the Soviets posed an even greater danger. While the CIA considered countless plots to assassinate Castro, they proposed militaristic options, as well - though these carried a significant risk of angering the Soviets.
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later described the obsession, saying, “We were hysterical about Castro at the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter.”
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was the first American attempt at a direct intervention in Cuba. The plot involved the CIA hiring a paramilitary group consisting primarily of Cuban exiles to act as a counter-revolutionary force against Fidel Castro. The invasion, which began on April 17, 1961, was a complete failure, as inadequate air support led the group to surrender shortly after their attempt began, resulting in imprisonment and public interrogation.
With some serious international egg on their face, the American government understood that they’d need a more legitimate reason to invade Cuba, so they began formulating possible justifications. With Operation Northwoods, the intelligence community considered committing acts of terror in American cities, then blaming Cuba to provide grounds for declaring war on the communist country.
With the danger of Soviet missiles in Cuba now a startling reality, the United States felt they needed to swiftly find a reason to invade Cuba and depose Fidel Castro. They settled on covertly engineering “various pretexts” to justify a full-scale attack.
The overall anti-Castro program, dubbed Operation Mongoose, involved the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which meant this campaign of deception was conducted at the highest levels of government.