Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 6881

Memorandum by the Secretary of Defense (Marshall) to the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Dean)2

top secret

Subject: Security of the Uranium Ore Mining Area in the Belgian Congo and the Ore Transport Boute from the Mining Area to the United States.

1. As you know, the Department of Defense has been studying the above subject for some months. This memorandum contains our current views and recommendations for action.

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2. Comments concerning transport of material from the Congo to the United States:

  • With respect to the delivery of material to the United States by military means, there appears to be no insurmountable problem. However, it is believed that the military measures to be taken to insure that normal ocean transportation will not be interrupted will obviate the necessity for delivery of essential cargo by military aircraft or naval vessels. From General Handy’s report,3 it is noted that there are three alternate all-rail routes available for the shipment of the ore from the mining areas to the ports. These routes terminate at ports on the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and at Capetown, respectively. Use of these alternate routes would require negotiations with the Portuguese and the Union of South Africa. The Belgian Government is constructing a major airbase at Kamina, but, since this facility is some 200 miles from the Shinkolobwe area, its use would necessitate rail or truck transportation of the ore from the mine to the field. There are, at the present time, two air strips available for use in case emergency airlift of the ore from the mines to the coast becomes necessary. Both strips are approximately 5,000 feet in length and are hard surfaced strips capable of supporting C–54 type aircraft. One strip is located at Elizabethville and one at Leopoldville.

3. Comment with respect to the security of the mining area itself:

a.
With respect to the security of the mining area, the greatest threat is that of possible sabotage to the power sources to the mine or the destruction of the two mine shafts. An air attack on the area, while not impossible, does not appear to be a serious threat due to the distances involved. It would seem that some of this risk must be accepted since the construction and manning of an air defense system capable of thwarting such an attack does not appear to be feasible. However, the Director, Central Intelligence Agency, should be requested to make early arrangements for covert counter-sabotage to improve the military security of the Belgian Congo, particularly that of the Shinkolobwe mine to assure continued operation of the mine.
b.
It is reported that communist activity and agitation among the natives of the Belgian Congo, as well as in adjoining areas, is somewhat on the increase. Since a large-scale uprising of the natives in the area or considerable disaffection of the natives employed at the mines or supporting activities would, in all probability, disrupt production, this is considered to be the primary source of danger. At present, it is doubtful that there are sufficient troops in the area to control large-scale disorders. It is, however, understood that the Belgian Government plans to increase the available troops by a battalion of Belgian white regulars to be stationed in the Katanga district. A major weakness in the control of the area is the lack of intelligence agents available to insure advance warning of possible trouble. At the present time, [Page 689]only one agent is operating in the Katanga district. Provided the Belgian Government were persuaded to expedite the deployment of the battalion of regular troops to the area and bolster the intelligence capabilities of the district in order to insure early warning of possible trouble, it is believed that the forces then available would be capable of dealing with any foreseeable danger. The Department of State should request the Belgian Government to take appropriate measures to counteract communist activity and agitation among the natives in the Belgian Congo.

4. Comment concerning possible necessity of seizing area by force:

  • There is a possibility that if Western Europe is overrun by the USSR, a collaborationist Belgian Government may succeed in closing off our sources of supply in the Belgian Congo of uranium and a number of other strategically important minerals. Under such circumstances our problem relative to the Congo would be similar to that of Martinique and North Africa early in World War II. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have under study the possible requirement, under such circumstances, for the seizure of critical areas in the Congo by force.

5. Recommendations for action:

a.
The Belgian Government should be asked to increase the defensive capabilities of the mining area against possible internal disorders and external attacks by the provision of additional troops and the strengthening of intelligence forces.
b.
The Belgian Government, and any other appropriate Governments which the State Department may feel necessary, should be urged to take all steps necessary to insure that at least one of the routes for the shipment of ore from the mining area is available at all times.
c.
The Belgian Government should be requested to initiate immediately measures to maintain high morale among the natives of the Congo and to counteract communist activities in that area.
d.
The Director, Central Intelligence Agency, should as soon as practicable initiate plans and preparations for covert counter-sabotage to improve the military security of the Belgian Congo, particularly that of the Shinkolobwe mine to assure continued operation of the mine.

G. Marshall
  1. Department of State consolidated lot file on atomic energy policy, 1944–1962.
  2. The source text is labeled “abridged copy.” No lengthier version has been found in Department of State files.
  3. In late 1950, representatives of General Thomas T. Handy, Commander in Chief, European Command, visited the Belgian Congo to evaluate security conditions. The report by General Handy based on their investigation has not been found in Department of State files.