Angola: A Story of Stupidity

The Angolan Revolution Volume II: Exile Politics and Guerrilla Warfare (1962-1976)

by John A. Marcum
MIT Press, 473 pp., $25.00

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…

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