In June 1975, Professor John Marcum—then president of the African Studies Association and the leading American expert on Angola—warned the African Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against American intervention in the Angolan civil war. “The most important thing the American Government can do in Angola,” he cautioned, “is to refrain from projecting parochial or ideological intolerance into its perception of the situation there. Washington should, above all, avoid the trap of overreacting to hostile rhetoric and socialist advocacy and of identifying potential ‘enemies.’ ”

Neither Marcum nor Senator Dick Clark, the chairman of the subcommittee, knew that almost a year before the hearings the United States had already identified its “enemy” and had begun to intervene in support of Holden Roberto, leader of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Six weeks after the hearings, the CIA assigned John Stockwell, a young officer who had served in Vietnam, to the CIA’s Angola Task Force. Not surprisingly, Stockwell had neither heard of Marcum nor read any of his voluminous writings about Angola until he resigned from the Agency in April 1977.

During the year following the June 1975 hearings, while the civil war continued in Angola, Marcum and Stockwell were on opposite sides. Marcum traveled around the US giving speeches against US policy in Angola, and arguing with government officials about it. Stockwell, a former marine, was in Zaire, helping to run the CIA’s Angola operations. Marcum’s activities were only a minor nuisance to Stockwell; the CIA was more concerned about protecting the true nature of its operation from Congress, which it correctly feared would stop its Angola operations if the truth were known. When Stockwell and Marcum finally met in the fall of 1977, they were finishing the books under review. Stockwell was so appalled by the stupidity of US policy he had decided to resign from the CIA and write about it publicly.

Their two books now complement each other. Both are carefully documented and give a remarkably detailed picture of what happened in and to Angola during the final years of the struggles for independence there. Each has much that is useful to say about issues that are still central to US policy in Africa.

Unlike Marcum’s, Stockwell’s book has little to say about events in Angola, including the CIA’s activities, before 1975. He writes, for example, that “the United States ignored Angolan revolutionary movements” before the election of Richard Nixon. He apparently was not informed of the several millions of dollars of military and financial assistance which the CIA gave one Angolan party throughout the 1960s. When he writes that “the CIA had not had coverage inside Angola from the late 1950s until 1975,” he ignores the CIA case officer who worked under cover in the US consulate from 1964 through 1967. The officer was removed because the CIA did not believe that his information justified the expense.

Stockwell’s lack of knowledge about the recent past testifies to the poor quality of information gathered by the CIA. He notes that most of the agency’s “intelligence reporting on Angola was predominantly from Zairian and FNLA sources.” Holden Roberto had been paid about $10,000 a year to provide the CIA with information on his own nationalist movement and two others—Agostino Neto’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). CIA briefing sheets, reflecting Roberto’s prejudices, described Neto as a “drunken, psychotic poet” and Savimbi as a thief who allegedly stole $50,000 from the FNLA two years after he quit Roberto’s movement. On more important matters, such as his own relations with the Chinese and North Koreans, Roberto said nothing to the CIA. “The glaring weakness of the program,” Stockwell concluded in his first month, “was a lack of information about our allies and about the interior of Angola.”

Stockwell’s (and the CIA’s) weakness is Marcum’s strength. A professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Marcum has closely followed events in Angola since his travels with nationalist guerrillas in 1961, only months after the start of their fourteen-year war against Portugal. Since then he has written two books and scores of articles on Angola and US foreign policy toward southern Africa. No other scholar or library or government agency can match the amount and depth of information and documentation that Marcum has assembled during the past two decades on the Angolan nationalist parties. The 125 pages of notes at the back of his book give references to hundreds of private letters and documents sent him by Angolan nationalists, from all parties, since the early 1960s. His first volume, The Angolan Revolution: The Anatomy of an Explosion (1950-1962), appeared in 1969 and immediately became the main source for anyone trying seriously to understand Angolan nationalism, including Portuguese officials in Lisbon and revolutionaries in Angola. Marcum’s second volume should prove to be just as valuable as the first since it concentrates on the period from the out-break of armed struggle against Portugal in the early 1960s through 1976, the first year of the People’s Republic of Angola.


Stockwell’s book, useful as it is for its revelations about the CIA’s secret war, may prove to be just as important in showing how high American officials, including Henry Kissinger and William Colby, repeatedly provided congressmen with half-truths and “patently false information.” In Search of Enemies supplied important evidence for the Senate Intelligence Committee which concluded last May that the agency did indeed “mislead” Congress about the Angolan operation. The committee’s study, sent to the White House and the CIA on May 17, could still result in charges of perjury against Kissinger, Colby, and others.

Angola received little attention from the US and the USSR before the crisis in 1974 which led Portugal to give up its colonies. Today the civil war of 1975 is widely thought an important event in the decline of “détente” between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the last three years Ford, Kissinger, Colby, Bush, Moynihan, and, more recently, Brzezinski and Admiral Turner have all claimed that Angola is the testing ground of the American will to stand up to the Russians and Cubans in Africa. Practically everybody agrees that the events in Angola soured relations between the US and the USSR, yet few really understand exactly what happened in Angola before, during, or after the fighting there. Here Marcum and Stockwell provide indispensable information.

Both books suggest that the situation in Angola might not have led to any severe strain in relations between the great powers if the Ford administration had chosen to follow a diplomatic approach to the crisis there instead of engaging in covert military intervention. Ford, Kissinger, Colby, and other high officials shared a similar perspective on the events in Angola and it is in this perspective itself that the causes of the American failure in Angola are to be found.

All of these officials took what might be called a “globalist” view of Third World conflicts, interpreting events in Africa or Asia according to their supposed effect on the contest for world power between the United States and Russia. If the Russians give aid to one side in a Third World dispute, the US, in their view, must back an opposing side, or withhold US cooperation in some matters of special interest to the Soviet Union.1 For the globalists in the Ford administration Soviet support of the MPLA was intended as a direct challenge to the United States. As Senator Daniel Moynihan put it during the Panama Canal Treaty debate last spring, Angola was a case of “openly flaunted Soviet aggression…clearly meant to be a test of our will in the aftermath of Vietnam.” Covert military intervention in support of anti-MPLA factions was the globalists’ response to that “test.”

Ford, Kissinger, Colby, Moynihan, and others who believed in the secret military police in Angola still insist that its failure was caused by Congress, which they accuse of cutting off funds just as the policy had begun to yield results. Ford said the Congress was “losing its head” when it refused to authorize an additional $28 million for the CIA in December 1975 and January 1976. Kissinger argues in a recent issue of Public Opinion Magazine that “we had them [the Soviets] defeated in Angola and then we defeated ourselves.” The facts in the book by Marcum and Stockwell suggest, on the contrary, that the administration’s approach would have failed no matter what funds Congress approved, and that Kissinger, misunderstanding what was happening, followed a policy that was bound to increase rather than diminish Soviet influence.

Throughout the period of US intervention in Angola, for example, Ford, Colby, and Kissinger denounced the USSR and Cuba for supporting the MPLA while denying or minimizing the support given the FNLA and UNITA by other nations including the US and China. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger insisted the FNLA and UNITA were standing on their own against the nefarious triple alliance of the MPLA, the USSR, and Cuba. From this he concluded that the Soviets were trying “to take advantage of a turbulent local situation.”

Marcum and Stockwell present much evidence to show that the FNLA and UNITA in fact had considerable outside help and from strangely assorted sources. Stockwell, for example, notes that the FNLA and UNITA “were supported at one time by the United States, China, Rumania, North Korea, France, Israel, West Germany, Senegal, Uganda, Zaire, Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa.” In the years just before the Portuguese coup in 1974, China provided both the FNLA and UNITA with most of their foreign aid, far more than the Soviets and Cubans had given the MPLA. That the FNLA accepted help from China, Rumania, and North Korea hardly argues that it was “pro-Western”; yet that was how it was described by the American press, which took its cues from officials in Washington.


Nor was it accurate for the administration to describe the MPLA as a Soviet puppet and therefore an enemy of the United States. While one source close to the MPLA estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the MPLA’s weapons in 1971 came from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Marcum shows that “Soviet aid began to wane in 1972, however, and ceased entirely by early 1974.” This prompted Neto, “in his mistrust of the big powers,” to turn to the Scandinavian countries for help. Marcum also shows that just after the 1974 coup in Portugal, the Russians made serious approaches to Daniel Chipenda, Neto’s rival for MPLA leadership, who later joined the FNLA and then collaborated closely with South Africa during the war. The Russians did not resume their support of the MPLA until Neto had gained the upper hand over both Chipenda and the “Revolta Activa,” another dissident faction, in late 1974.

Before Stockwell’s book was published, critics of the CIA had assumed that its intervention began in January 1975 when the “40 Committee”—which authorizes secret operations—approved $300,000 for CIA assistance to the FNLA. This was a few months after the Soviets had renewed their support for the MPLA. Stockwell reports, however, that the CIA began to send funds to Holden Roberto in July 1974. The CIA did this “without 40 Committee approval, small amounts at first, but enough for word to get around that the CIA was dealing itself into the race.” The CIA knew, Stockwell writes, that in July 1974 the Soviets had, in effect, dropped out of the race while China had just sent 450 tons of arms and 112 military instructors to the FNLA in Zaire, making it by far the largest and best equipped of the three contending armies.

Stockwell learned the “facts of life” about the intervention of the great powers before he had even settled into his job in the autumn of 1975. Talking with the CIA desk officer responsible for Angola, he loyally repeated “Kissinger’s simplistic line that the Soviets had to be confronted anywhere they made a move, this time in Angola. Stockwell was immediately set straight by this officer, who had opened the CIA Luanda station in early 1975:

“You are suffering from a bad case of ‘party line.’… The Soviets did not make the first move in Angola. Other people did. The Chinese and the United States. The Soviets have been a half-step behind, countering our moves.”

While the MPLA appeared as the one and only enemy to Kissinger, many other US government officials and corporate executives shared this CIA officer’s view that the MPLA wanted peaceful relations with the United States. A few months before the end of the war, Stockwell writes, the US consul general in Angola, Tom Killoran, believed that “the MPLA was best qualified to run Angola and that its leaders sincerely wanted a peaceful relationship with the United States.” Much the same position, as Stockwell and Marcum show, was also taken by the CIA station chief in Luanda and by the executives of the major American corporations with Angolan interests, including Gulf Oil, National Cash Register, and Boeing.

Stockwell’s account makes it clear that Kissinger and the other globalists had to distort the reality of the three contending parties in order to fabricate pro-Soviet and pro-American sides. But even so partial a view did not automatically suggest that military intervention was the only way to deal with Soviet influence. Most members of the National Security Council’s “Special Angola Task Force,” including officials from the NSC, CIA, State Department, and Defense Department, favored attempts to arrive at a peaceful solution through diplomacy and political pressure. Nathaniel Davis, then assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that the task force rejected a military venture because it believed that diplomacy offered

the chance that factional competition within Angola might be shifted back toward the political arena, thereby improving FNLA and UNITA prospects and reducing the likelihood of Soviet arms determining the outcome.2

Davis wrote several protesting memos to Kissinger and Joseph Sisco during the week before the 40 Committee made its crucial decision in July 1975 to raise US covert support to $14 million—almost fifty times more than their previous allocation six months earlier. “The CIA paper makes clear,” Davis wrote to Sisco, “that in the best of circumstances we won’t be able to win. If we are to have a test of strength with the Soviets, we should find a more advantageous place.” But Kissinger and Ford were interested neither in waiting for a more advantageous place nor in the possibilities of quiet diplomacy; they wanted a test in Angola.

The situation was made clear to Stockwell on his first day as head of the CIA Angola Task Force on July 30, 1975. The deputy chief of CIA African operations told him that “it was Kissinger who was pushing the agency into the covert operation in Angola…. Kissinger was seeking opportunities to challenge the Soviets. Conspicuously, he had overruled his advisors and refused to seek diplomatic solutions in Angola.” The day after Nathaniel Davis learned that President Ford had signed the 40 Committee’s proposal of July 17 for covert action rather than his own recommendation for diplomatic action, he resigned from his State Department office.

The globalists did not reject diplomacy altogether. They believed that it would yield results only after the CIA built up a stock of “bargaining chips” in Angola. Ostensibly the Ford administration’s principal goal was to bring about a coalition of all three Angolan movements. Marcum’s book shows how the US ignored the long history of conflict among the three movements in simplistically proclaiming this goal—one that it secretly tried to subvert, in any case. The three Angolan nationalist groups were divided by culture, region, race, class, ideology, leadership, and organizational structure, as well as foreign alliances. The MPLA drew support from the Kimbundu-speaking peoples (representing about a quarter of the country’s population), most of whom are concentrated within 150 miles of the capital Luanda, as well as from most of the mestiços (mulattoes) and from many whites as well. The MPLA leaders tended to come from the cities, to be well-educated, racially mixed, and politically radical.

By contrast, both the FNLA and UNITA were supported mainly by rural peasants and villagers. UNITA’s strength was, and is, concentrated in Angola’s central highlands and southern plateau areas, especially among the Umbundu-speaking peoples who make up about a third of Angola’s population. The FNLA’s appeal has been limited to the Kikongo-speaking community of north-western Angola, less than 20 percent of the population. Unlike the MPLA, the FNLA and UNITA included few whites, mestiços, intellectuals, or people caught up in revolutionary ideologies.

If there were American officials who seriously believed that covert intervention was the best method for creating a coalition government, our tactics almost certainly guaranteed failure. When the CIA began to give help to Holden Roberto in July 1974, his army was unquestionably superior to the combined forces of the MPLA and UNITA by conventional military standards. He had more soldiers, more and better weapons, more military and financial assistance from foreign governments. According to Portuguese military sources, by early 1975 the FNLA had 24,500 soldiers (including Chipenda’s 3,000 former MPLA troops who had joined the FNLA); the MPLA had 5,500; and UNITA 3,000. Washington chose to back the movement that, according to Marcum, had the strongest tendency to use “military force in lieu of political action and education.”

Ironically, the 40 Committee’s first approval of support for the FNLA and its rejection of $100,000 in aid to UNITA came only eight days before Angola’s transitional government, made up of all three parties and the Portuguese, was installed on January 30, 1975. Marcum speculates that the 40 Committee, when it refused to help UNITA, was “apparently moved by past connections and habits to think in terms of ‘our team’ and ‘theirs.’ ” Our decision not to aid Savimbi’s UNITA when his movement was militarily almost helpless assured its later defeat. As long as Washington believed it had a winner in the FNLA, UNITA could be dropped. That view of UNITA prevailed until mid-July when the FNLA began to look like a paper tiger. Then the 40 Committee approved the first grant of military aid to Savimbi’s party. The CIA knew that the outmoded arms sent to UNITA could not prevent its defeat; it nevertheless thought these weapons would at least make the MPLA’s eventual victory more costly.

Here Stockwell makes one of his grimmest revelations—that the US deliberately pursued a “no-win” policy in Angola. Colby, he writes, advised the National Security Council in July 1975 that “the CIA would have to spend $100 million to be sure of winning in Angola, and a $100-million program would be too big to keep secret.” Stockwell asked a superior what he was expected to do with the mere $14 million the CIA was supposed to give Roberto and Savimbi. He was told: “the best we can. The 40 Committee paper reads that we are to prevent an easy victory by Soviet-backed forces in Angola.” Later, reflecting on a CIA memo to Colby which spelled out the “no-win” policy and stated the objective of avoiding “a cheap Neto victory,” Stockwell writes: “I wondered what ‘cheap’ meant. Would it be measured in dollars or in African lives?”

Henry Kissinger told a news conference in Brussels in December 1975 that “the United States favors a solution in which all of the parties in Angola can negotiate with each other free of outside interference and in which the problem of Angola is handled as an African issue.” But in fact the CIA had been interfering, and with destructive effects. When Stockwell met with Savimbi in Angola in late August 1975, the UNITA leader suggested repeatedly “that the ultimate hope for Angola still lay at the conference table rather than on the battlefield.”

Apparently following this line of thought, Savimbi is reported to have sent representatives to meet in Lisbon with MPLA leaders in late August. Portuguese newspapers speculated about an alliance between the MPLA and UNITA. On August 29, informed political journalists in Lisbon wrote that the MPLA and UNITA had agreed to a cease-fire and their reports were not denied. In September, the CIA reported to Washington on Savimbi’s “feelers to the MPLA for a negotiated solution.” This immediately prompted headquarters to send a CIA station officer from Zaire into Angola to tell the UNITA leader that, as Stockwell puts it, “We wanted no ‘soft’ allies in our war against the MPLA.” This, Stockwell writes, was the last opportunity for UNITA and the MPLA to negotiate with each other free from outside interference. Instead they met on the battlefield, aided respectively by South Africans and the Cubans, and UNITA, as the CIA had foreseen, was defeated.

Marcum presents considerable evidence suggesting that a UNITA-MPLA alliance would have been more workable than the short-lived UNITA-FNLA alliance at the end of the war. Whether UNITA and MPLA could in fact have agreed to work together in September 1975 if the CIA had not discouraged Savimbi, no one can say. But had such an alliance been allowed to emerge without the CIA or Soviet Union undermining it, Angola would be a very different and less troubled country today. The estrangement and resistance of UNITA’s supporters are still among the main problems facing the Neto government.

Superficially, the no-win policy had been “successful,” for the MPLA’s victory was far from cheap. It “cost” the Russians between $300 million and $400 million in military assistance; tens of thousands of Angolans died. Obviously the victory was far more expensive for Angola than for either the US or the USSR. The cost in lives would have been considerably greater—without changing the outcome—if the Congress had not rejected the administration’s request for an additional $28 million for Angola in December 1975.

Congress’s vote against CIA funds for Angola created the impression that Congress had finally succeeded in gaining control over the CIA’s activities, and that the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, passed in 1974 to exert congressional control over the Agency, was working effectively. 3 Most congressmen probably believed that it was no longer possible for the US to become involved clandestinely in a foreign war without their approval.

Events in Angola showed that they were wrong. The 40 Committee’s first approval of CIA assistance for the FNLA in January 1975 came only one month after the Hughes-Ryan Amendment was passed in December 1974. Yet the first briefing of a congressman on the CIA’s actions did not take place until July 25—half a year later. Almost two weeks before the briefings began, the 40 Committee had approved an additional $14 million for the CIA’s Angolan operation; thereby drawing the US further into the civil war. The timing of the briefings illustrates a major weakness in the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, which does not require congressional approval of CIA operations, only that Congress be informed. The Angolan operation also showed that the amendment does not oblige the CIA to be complete or even accurate when it briefs congressmen. Colby told Senator Clark neither that the CIA had been assisting the FNLA before July 1975 nor that it was also aiding UNITA. Before Clark left for southern Africa, Colby told him “no American arms would be sent into Angola.”

The Agency, as Stockwell observed, also went to extraordinary lengths to hide the truth from Clark during his fact-finding trip to Angola and Zaire in August 1975. Clark was scheduled to meet with Mobutu, Roberto, Savimbi, and Neto. Concerned that he would discover the full extent of its operations on his trip, CIA headquarters cabled the Kinshasa station chief to prepare Roberto and Mobutu for their meetings with the senator. Stockwell asked his CIA colleagues whether they thought they could get away with “coaching African politicians before they met with one of our senators.” A fellow officer told him, “Clark shouldn’t waste our tax-payers’ money on such a trip…you couldn’t trust senators any further than you could throw them.”

Clark returned from his August trip convinced that American involvement was a mistake; he immediately put this view to Colby, who simply replied that he disagreed. Frustrated, Clark concluded that the Hughes-Ryan Amendment provided “for nothing more than an ex-post-facto communication to Congress of decisions already reached…[with] no provision for advice or consent.” Classified briefings, he said, “actually become an impediment to effective oversight.” Once he had been briefed by the CIA, Clark, the senator best informed about Angola, could no longer question government witnesses appearing before his committee about sensitive matters. Nor could he take part in the public debate because, as Stockwell notes, “he was now muzzled by the CIA…he had given his tacit path not to expose the information he received.” Although William Colby gave over thirty-five congressional briefings, Stockwell writes that he “misled Congressmen about what we were doing in Angola, but nevertheless deprived them of the opportunity of going public.” These weaknesses in the Hughes-Ryan Amendment have not been remedied, notwithstanding the claims of Congressman Edward P. Boland, Chairman of the House committee on intelligence, that oversight of the CIA’s covert activities is now “vibrant.”

A few days before the Senate voted to cut off CIA funds to Angola, in December 1975, Secretary Kissinger told Senator Clark that his opposition to US intervention might possibly be right for Africa, but that it was wrong so far as global politics were concerned. Yet one important lesson that emerges from the two books under review is that the US cannot willfully ignore or misinterpret local realities in Africa and still gain advantages in global politics.

The Ford administration’s Angolan policy not only failed but, as Stockwell shows, made things far worse. The first contingent of Cuban troops did not arrive in Angola until more than six months after the United States began covert activities against the MPLA. The Cubans had been assisting the MPLA with military training, educational scholarships, and financial support for some twelve years, but most of this aid had been given in Cuba itself. In the early summer of 1975, when John Stockwell became chief of the CIA’s Angola Task Force and the Ford administration chose to intervene militarily, there were only 260 Cubans in Angola. The MPLA then dominated twelve of the sixteen provinces in the country. Hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives later we see that the MPLA still dominates most of Angola but there are now approximately 20,000 Cuban troops there. The Angolan government is burdened with debts to the Soviet Union for the huge material help it gave when the MPLA was threatened with defeat by “our side,” which included South Africa.

No one can prove that diplomatic action, as opposed to military intervention, would have produced a reasonably stable three-party or two-party coalition or a peaceful transition to independence in Angola. But Stockwell, Marcum, and Davis give what appears to be incontrovertible evidence that our political failure was a predictable result of covert military intervention. Amazingly enough, two officials of the Carter administration, Zbigniew Brzezinski and CIA Director Stansfield Turner, contemplated more covert intervention on the side of UNITA only last spring. President Carter’s last-minute rejection of this proposal—strongly attacked by Senator Clark in late May—surely saved the US from another disaster in Africa. It should have been obvious that another “no-win” CIA program in Angola would only have increased the MPLA’s dependence upon Soviet and Cuban assistance, worsening American relations with both Angola and the Soviet Union. As if the presence of large Cuban forces did not already pose enough problems for the US.

Instead of secretly sending arms to UNITA last June and July, President Carter sent Ambassador Donald McHenry to talk with Angolan officials. As a result, some progress was made in resolving two issues that had defied solution for years. First, the Angolan government disarmed the Katangese soldiers after their attack in Zaire’s Shaba province last spring; then it negotiated more “normal” relations with the Mobutu government. Had the US sought military rather than diplomatic solutions, neither step would have taken place. Nor is it likely that the Neto government would have cooperated with the US in putting pressure on SWAPO and the South Africans to accept a peaceful transition to independence in Namibia if Carter had followed the counsel of Brzezinski and Turner rather than Vance, Young, and McHenry. Meanwhile, the Gulf Oil Company—which, as we have seen, opposed the US policy of fighting the MPLA—continues to manage its oil holdings in Angola in collaboration with the Neto government, which it supplies with most of its foreign currency. Unlike Kissinger, the Gulf executives observed what was actually happening in Angola.

The president, in deciding future policies not only toward Angola but toward other parts of Africa, would be well advised to consider the implications of the books by Stockwell and Marcum. They both confirm the wisdom of a recently declassified State Department document on Africa,4 written in 1962 and largely ignored since:

We are also prepared to work with apparently unfriendly leaders who have or will have great influence, in the hope of eventually moderating their orientation. In an area as volatile as Africa, we make no sharp distinction between “enemies” and “friends,” for today’s opponent may be tomorrow’s friend—and vice versa.

This Issue

December 21, 1978