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The CIA in Angola

In response to:

Angola: A Story of Stupidity from the December 21, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

I would like to congratulate the NYR and Dr. Bender for his authoritative review (NYR, December 21) of John Marcum’s The Angolan Revolution, Volume II (MIT Press, 1978) and my own book, In Search of Enemies (W.W. Norton, 1978).

A few of Dr. Bender’s points, however, bear comment. For example, he misquotes me: ” ‘The United States ignored the revolutionary movements’ before the election of Richard Nixon.” My book clearly discusses the US indifference to those movements before and during the Nixon administration—a difference of five years.

Dr. Bender further states that I “was apparently not informed of the millions of dollars of military and financial assistance which the CIA gave one Angolan party throughout the 1960s.”

The content and duration of the CIA’s support of its favorite Angolan movement, the FNLA, are often exaggerated. For example, it is also frequently stated in print that Holden Roberto, the FNLA president, was on a CIA retainer of $10,000 throughout this period.

The CIA supported the FNLA with money and arms only until about 1963 or 1964, and that support probably never cost millions of dollars. When Portugal applied leverage through NATO and its control of the Azores bases, such aid ceased. From the mid-sixties until 1974, the CIA had little contact with the FNLA or any other Angolan liberation movement. Holden Roberto accepted personal financial support from the CIA in the early sixties, but contact with him was sporadic and payments to him were suspended for a number of years, from the mid-sixties until 1974.

Dr. Bender’s claim of a CIA officer being in Luanda during the mid-1960s could be true; an officer could have been assigned there while I was in other areas.

However, Dr. Bender’s reference to “Stockwell’s lack of knowledge of the recent past in Angola” is unwarranted. My book is an account of the Angola covert war from July 1975 through 1976, and I would never pretend to be a scholar of Angolan history.

However, as I worked on the manuscript of In Search of Enemies, after leaving the CIA, I had at my elbow copies of Dr. Marcum’s first book on the Angolan revolution and copies of the galley proofs of his Volume II (which Dr. Bender reviews with justified, unreserved admiration in the NYR) and I drew heavily on both for background to my own story.

John Stockwell

Austin, Texas

Gerald Bender replies:

I certainly did not intend to disparage John Stockwell’s book by noting that it had little to say about pre-1975 Angola. I merely wished to underscore how it complements John Marcum’s The Angolan Revolution which is rich in history but sparse in discussion of the period on which Stockwell concentrates—the Angolan civil war.

I was concerned when I read In Search of Enemies that its discussion of the CIA’s lack of contact with Angola and Angolan nationalist movements during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations could unintentionally mislead the reader. I have been able to confirm from two impeccable sources that the CIA did have a case officer in Angola who worked under the cover of the US Luanda consulate from 1964 through 1967. On page 51 Mr. Stockwell does, in fact, state that “…the United States ignored the Angolan revolutionary movements.” On page 49 he also notes that “we didn’t support the black fighters….” These statements, without the additional information contained in his letter (but not in the book) that “the CIA supported the FNLA with money and arms only until about 1963 or 1964,” do suggest that the Agency was not active in Angola prior to Nixon’s election in 1968.

While I asserted that one Angolan movement (the FNLA) received several million dollars worth of military and financial aid through the 1960s, Mr. Stockwell argues here that it stopped in late 1963 or 1964. I have interviewed a number of individuals who I am convinced are in a position to know and they all state that aid to Roberto and the FNLA continued through the end of the Johnson Administration. In trying to pin this fact down I have come to the conclusion that in my review I may have exaggerated the total amount of aid and that it was probably something less than “several millions of dollars.” I should note, however, that it is difficult to fix the actual amount because some of the CIA support was channeled through third parties (e.g. Zaire). Some American corporations also provided assistance to Roberto at this time and it is suspected that part of this money may have been a front for the Agency.

I can certainly understand how Mr. Stockwell could conclude from his experiences in Zaire in 1967–1969 (when he was instructed to have nothing to do with the FNLA and the Kinshasa station chief was denied permission to pass funds on to Roberto) that the Agency had cut its links with Roberto. It is entirely possible, however, that the CIA preferred not to deal with Roberto through its Zaire station because it feared detection by the Portuguese secret police (PIDE) who were very active in Zaire at the time. I agree that the US government and the Agency were concerned about not offending Portugal and risking the loss of the Portuguese bases in the Azores but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the CIA completely cut off its old friend Holden Roberto. Two top officials in the State Department’s African bureau during the Johnson era told me that they had no recollection of the CIA aid to the FNLA ever being cut off. This confirms the assertion of Franco Nogueira, then Portuguese foreign minister, that the CIA was still aiding the FNLA in early 1968 (interview with Nogueira, Lisbon, 8 March 1968).

I hope that this exchange will encourage some curious individual to attempt to shed some more light on the duration and nature of the CIA’s assistance to the FNLA during the 1960s by utilizing the Freedom of Information Act to assemble relevant documents. It could help clarify the question which plagued Stockwell and nearly all observers of American covert intervention in Angola’s civil war: How did the US choose to support the FNLA in 1974-1975 when virtually nobody in the US government had a positive thing to say about the leadership or organization of the FNLA?

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