With the recent scandal of ‘destroyed’ Foreign Office documents in connection with Britain’s bloody colonial past and more recent revelations of our secret services’ murky complicity with Gadafhi’s security services it is perhaps worth recalling Britain’s role in the nefarious conspiracy in the Congo after it gained independence from Belgium in June 1960.
The Belgians had done nothing to prepare the country for independence, and it quickly degenerated into chaos, providing a motive for the Belgians to keep troops there. While the Belgians favoured Joseph Kasavubu to lead the new nation, the Congolese chose Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. Lumumba asked the United Nations, then headed by Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld, to order the Belgians to withdraw, and the UN voted to send a peacekeeping mission to the Congo.
Impatient and untrusting of the UN, Lumumba threatened to ask the Soviets for help in expelling Belgian forces. He was no communist, but was interested in getting aid from wherever he could, including from the Soviet Union. He’d also sought and, for a time, obtained American aid. Civil war broke out four days after independence, and local leader Moise Tshombe announced copper-rich Katanga’s secession in July.
In 1959 Lumumba had visited businessmen in New York, and stated unequivocally, ‘The exploitation of the mineral riches of the Congo should be primarily for the profit of our own people and other Africans.’ The country had rich deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, and uranium. Asked whether the Americans would still have access to uranium, as they had during the Belgian occupation, Lumumba responded, ‘Belgium doesn’t produce any uranium; it would be to the advantage of both our countries if the Congo and the US worked out their own agreements in the future.’ The US, though, didn’t trust Lumumba to protect their interests. Investors in copper and uranium in the Congo at that time included the Rockefellers, the Guggenheims and C. Douglas Dillon, who participated in a National Security Council meeting where the removal of Lumumba was discussed. In September, only twelve weeks after his election, his government was indeed overthrown in a western-backed coup by the military, and he was allegedly shot while escaping custody in January 1961.
The CIA was not satisfied solely with the death of Lumumba. One of the barriers to completing the takeover of the Congo remained the United Nations, and more specifically, the Swede Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld who was UN Secretary-General.
HammarskjÃ¶ld was killed only nine months after Lumumba in September in a mysterious air crash. Allegations were immediately made of a link between the two and of Western involvement, but firm evidence was difficult to come by. His death was part of an attempt to prevent Katanga’s mineral wealth falling under the control of a progressive government.
He was flying aboard the Albertina to the Ndola airport at the border of the Congo in Northern Rhodesia, where he was to meet with Tshombe to broker a cease-fire. The pilot of the Albertina filed a fake flight plan in an attempt to keep HammarskjÃ¶ld’s ultimate destination hidden. Despite this and other measures taken to preserve secrecy, less than 15 minutes into the flight the press was reporting that HammarskjÃ¶ld was en route to Ndola. HammarskjÃ¶ld and 15 other people were killed when their aircraft crashed entering what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, where the UN head was due to meet rebel leader Moise Tshombe to negotiate a truce in the Congolese civil war. Newspapers at the time alleged British involvement in a plot to kill HammarskjÃ¶ld to prevent UN support for Tshombe and his diamond-rich Katanga province.
However, in 1998 Reuters reported that South Africa’s Truth Commission chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu Wednesday had released documents which suggested a Western plot was behind the death of the head of the United Nations in 1961.
Tutu said his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was investigating crimes committed during the apartheid era, had decided to release the documents although it could not verify their authenticity. Commission investigators stumbled across the documents by chance while researching an unrelated issue. They link South African agents to the death of Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld. The papers also revealed that the project was plotted at the highest levels of the CIA and MI5.
The alleged plot was revealed as the brainchild of at least two British security agencies – MI5 and the Special Operations Executive, together with the CIA – as these top-secret documents show. A series of messages between a ‘commodore’ and a ‘captain’ point to a plot hatched on South African soil by a group which had access to large sums of money and the ability to muster mercenary forces to protect Western investments in turbulent post-colonial Africa. The letters, with South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR) letter-heads, include references to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British MI5 security service [SAIMR was a front company for the South African military].
In addition to outlining Operation Celeste – the plan to get rid of the ‘troublesome’ HammarskjÃ¶ld – the documents also implicate the SAIMR and international intelligence agencies in the death of Patrice Lumumba and they also implicate then CIA chief Allen Dulles. They claim that the explosives used for the bomb that downed the aircraft were supplied by the Belgian mining conglomerate, Union MiniÃ¨re. The company had extensive interests in copper-rich Katanga, and was known to have backed Tshombe’s use of mercenaries, including the group led by South Africa’s Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare.
The most damning document, marked ‘Top Secret’, refers to a meeting between MI5, Special Operations Executive, the CIA and the SAIMR at which it was recorded that Dulles ‘agrees … Dag is becoming troublesome and … should be removed’ and ”I want his removal to be handled more efficiently than was Patrice.’
These documents have predictably been dismissed as fakes by both MI5 and the CIA who still deny any involvement in HammarskjÃ¶ld’s death. However, they bear a striking resemblance to others emanating from the SAIMR seven years before, when it was headed by ‘commodore’ Keith Maxwell-Annandale and had developed links with both South Africa’s military intelligence and the National Intelligence Services. These documents also show that the SAIMR masterminded the abortive 1981 attempt to depose Seychelles president Albert RenÃ©, and that it was also behind a successful 1990 coup in Somalia.
The CIA later opened its files on Cold War assassinations and admitted it had ordered the murder of Patrice Lumumba, but it still denies any involvement with that of HammarskjÃ¶ld.
The former UN Representative in Africa under HammarskjÃ¶ld, Conor Cruise O’Brien, said, ‘I do not think there was anyone there who believed that his death was as accident.’ He and another of HammarskjÃ¶ld’s close associates, Stuart Linner, had both been targets of assassination attempts.
Interestingly, in 1976 a long-time CIA operative, Bud Culligan, a man with a grudge against his former employer, claimed he personally shot down HammarskjÃ¶ld’s plane. He had kept a detailed journal of every assignment he had performed for the CIA. He had dates, names, places – he was a professional assassin. He clearly worked for the CIA in Africa but the extent of his involvement is impossible to prove.
We may never be able to uncover the real truth behind HammarskjÃ¶ld’s death, but there is certainly no shortage of precedents for CIA involvement in other successful and unsuccessful assassinations of progressive leaders, from Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, to Omar Torrijos and Bishop Romero.Tags: Africa
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This post was written by John Green