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Office of the Historian

1. Editorial Note

Within 3 weeks of the day the Congo gained its independence on June 30, 1960, disorder and rioting broke out, Belgium flew in paratroopers to protect its citizens and protect order, and Katanga Province seceded. The new Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, whom U.S. officials already believed was a dangerous, pro-Communist radical, turned to the Soviet Union for political support and military assistance, confirming the worst fears of U.S. policymakers. In August 1960, the U.S. Government launched a covert political program in the Congo lasting almost 7 years, initially aimed at eliminating Lumumba from power and replacing him with a more moderate, pro-Western leader. The U.S. Government provided advice and financial subsidies. At the same time, based on authorization from President Eisenhower’s statements at an NSC meeting on August 18, 1960, discussions began to develop highly sensitive, tightly-held plans to assassinate Lumumba. After Lumumba’s death at the hands of Congolese rivals in January 1961, the U.S. Government authorized the provision of paramilitary and air support to the new Congolese Government.

Operation Supporting Anti-Communist Congolese Politicians

Even before Congolese independence, the U.S. Government attempted to ensure election of a pro-Western government by identifying and supporting individual pro-U.S. leaders. During August 1960, reporting from the Station in Leopoldville warned Washington that unless Prime Minister Lumumba was stopped in the near future, he would become a strongman and establish a government under the influence of, or completely controlled by, Communists. Washington authorized limited funds for an operation in the Congo with the objective of replacing Lumumba with a pro-Western group. These funds were to be channeled in such a way as to conceal the U.S. Government as a source.

On September 14, 1960, Congolese Army Chief of Staff Joseph Mobutu carried out a virtual coup by establishing a College of Commissioners to administer the country on an interim basis. The Station provided the new government with covert funds as part of a general program of covert support, using the previously established, not attributable to the United States, channel. In addition, the covert program included [Page 2] organizing mass demonstrations, distributing anti-Communist pamphlets, and providing propaganda material for broadcasts.

The Special Group (later the 303 Committee), the high-level interdepartmental group set up to approve and supervise covert operations, made its first approval of major funding to strengthen Mobuto’s de facto government, in order to prevent Lumumba from regaining control, on October 27, 1960. U.S. covert support continued during the series of political crises that followed.

After the Special Group’s authorization in October 1960, a pattern evolved. One of the Congolese leaders urgently asked the Station for funds to avert an imminent crisis, such as the establishment by Lumumba supporters of a rival government in Stanleyville, an army mutiny, or a parliamentary defeat. Expenditure of at least some of the requested funds was almost always authorized. Periodically, the Special Group would meet and approve overall funding and direction of covert operations. On February 14, 1961, following a near mutiny of the Congolese army and police, the Special Group approved an even larger request to the Congolese Government through clandestine channels. President Kennedy’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy, reported to the Special Group on June 21, 1961, that the President had approved a CIA recommendation, with Department of State concurrence, for a substantial contingency fund. The fund was to be used for a covert political action program to help elect a pro-U.S. prime minister and government during the upcoming parliamentary session at the University of Lovanium scheduled to convene in late July. On August 2, 1961, the Congolese parliament approved a predominantly moderate government headed by Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula.

On November 22, 1961, the Special Group approved additional funding to strengthen the Adoula government as a moderate force and eventually build a new cohesive national political party. This carried the funding through fiscal year 1962 and averted two parliamentary crises: a proposed censure of then Foreign Minister Bomboko in June and a vote of no confidence in the government in late November.

In March 1963, the Embassy warned that terminating U.S. financial support would probably result in the fall of the government. Responding to the warning, the Special Group on April 25 approved funding for FY 1964 for continuation of the covert action program supporting the government. The Congolese were subsequently warned, however, that the United States would not continue the crash ad hoc funding it had provided in the past and wanted instead an organized program leading to formation of a national political party that would act as a political instrument in the forthcoming national elections. On November 6, 1963, the Station in Leopoldville submitted an additional [Page 3]budget to support establishment of a national political party. This was approved on November 8.

On June 1, 1964, a revised budget was approved for the project for FY 1964. Following former Katanga premier Moise Tshombe’s appointment as Prime Minister in July 1964 and the fall of Stanleyville to rebel forces in early August, the program continued to provide limited support to selected Congolese leaders. On June 30, 1966, the program was formally terminated on the recommendation of CIA and Department of State officials that it was no longer necessary to engage in large-scale political funding in the Congo. However, limited funding continued into 1968.

Lumumba Assassination Attempt

On August 27, 1960, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles cabled the Leopoldville Station Chief that there was agreement in “high quarters” that Lumumba’s removal must be an urgent and prime objective. CIA’s Deputy Director for Plans, Bissell, told a CIA scientist in late summer or early fall 1960 to have biological materials ready at short notice for the assassination of an unspecified African leader and that he (Bissell) had Presidential authorization for such an operation. In September 1960, the Chief of CIA’s Africa Division, Bronson Tweedy, instructed the scientist to take the materials to the Congo and deliver instructions to the Station Chief to mount an operation if it could be done securely. The scientist traveled to Leopoldville, but Mobutu’s coup on September 14 resulted in Lumumba becoming a de facto prisoner in the Prime Minister’s residence guarded by U.N. forces who were in turn surrounded by Congolese troops. The scientist returned to the United States on October 5, but planning continued in Leopoldville to try to implement the assassination operation.

On October 15, Tweedy cabled the Station in Leopoldville that “disposition” of Lumumba remained the highest priority. It was subsequently reported that Lumumba was so closely guarded that he could not be approached. On November 27, 1960, Lumumba escaped but was recaptured by Mobutu’s forces on December 1. On January 17, 1961, the Station reported that Lumumba had been removed from the Thysville military camp to Elizabethville in Katanga province and had been beaten. Between January 17 and February 7, Lumumba’s fate was unknown, although there was widespread speculation that he was dead. On February 7, a Field Report informed Washington that Lumumba and his two companions had been executed on January 17 by Katangan soldiers and a Belgian officer.

Covert Support of the Congolese Air Force

In October 1962, the Congolese Government asked the United States to provide jet fighters, pilots, several transport aircraft, trucks [Page 4]and other military equipment to fight leftist rebels. It was subsequently authorized for the Congolese Government to contract for the services of pilots. On December 7, 1962, the Special Group approved a proposal to provide additional personnel and logistical support to the Congolese Air Force (CAF).

On April 24, 1964, President Johnson authorized the Department of Defense to provide the CAF with six T–28, ten C–47, and six H–21 aircraft, plus a 6-month supply of parts and ammunition. The Special Group approved a proposal on May 28, 1964, to provide covert support to the CAF for maintaining the six U.S.-provided T–28 aircraft and a minimal helicopter rescue capability, in addition to continued operation of the current six T–6 aircraft. The program was further expanded with 303 Committee approval on August 24, 1964, when rebellion throughout the eastern half of the Congo threatened the government’s survival.

On October 28, 1965, the 303 Committee approved a request for continuation of covert support to the CAF at its current funding level. A memorandum for the 303 Committee, dated February 5, 1966, proposed continuing covert funding of the air program through CY 1966 at a reduced level, and on February 17, the 303 Committee reduced the air program again. At Deputy Director of Intelligence Helms’ request, the Committee agreed to await the results of a Joint Chiefs of Staff study to determine the Congo’s military needs. On July 19, 1966, the 303 Committee approved by telephone contingency air support if a coup were mounted against Mobutu.

On October 10, 1966, the 303 Committee was informed that a State-Defense-CIA working group had been established to draw up plans for the phase-out of the air program. The Committee agreed in early November that a turnover of the U.S.-operated Congolese Air Force to the host government should be effected with all convenient speed, with minimum sacrifice of efficiency and order. On March 3, 1967, a progress report warned that the pace of the phase-out had been delayed and might require underwriting beyond the original estimated date of June 30, 1967, on a month-to-month basis. On March 8, the 303 Committee directed that the project be liquidated as soon as possible.

A June 14 progress report alerted the 303 Committee to the problems arising from the Congolese Government’s continued failure to meet its commitment to deposit funds in the account of a maintenance company originally set up under Congolese Government sponsorship to service Congolese aircraft. Finally on June 16, 1967, the Committee refused to authorize further support. The next month, however, a mutiny of white mercenaries and Katangan forces broke out and the 303 Committee directed that the project be extended to December 31, 1967. On November 22, the Committee approved a Department of State [Page 5]recommendation that the contracts of pilots hired on September 4 to fly for the Congolese Government also be extended to December 31. In May 1968, the project was terminated.

Political Action in Support of Tshombe and Maritime Interdiction Program

On August 13, 1964, the 303 Committee approved a proposal to provide covert financial aid and other support to be used periodically as needed for assuring tribal support of pro-Western Congolese leaders in critical areas and also to supplement the pay of white military technicians working for the Congolese Government. In early 1965, a capability was established to interdict supplies going to the Congolese rebels via Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika, creating a “pocket navy” comprised of eight craft belonging to the Congolese Government and five U.S.-owned craft on Lake Tanganyika, which would be under general U.S. control.

Anticipating the cost of the programs for FY 1966, additional funds were requested to finance a greatly expanded maritime operation based in Albertville, to support selected tribal elements in the Northeast Congo, and to provide a contingency fund for use in preserving the existing political balance. On September 23, 1965, the 303 Committee approved the purchase and manning of six additional boats.

On October 7, 1965, the 303 Committee approved a reduced contingency fund, but on November 26 it approved a request for an expanded program. The emergence of Mobutu as head of a new regime was not deemed to eliminate the need for the program.

On February 5, 1966, the 303 Committee was requested to approve continued covert maritime operations in the Congo, as well as covert political funding. The last covert payment to Mobutu under this program was made in September 1966, and 303 Committee authority to make such payments expired on December 31, 1966. In compliance with a 303 Committee decision on November 4, 1966, to phase out U.S. Government participation in the maritime program, control of the boats was transferred to the Congolese on January 7, 1967. The project was terminated effective December 31, 1967.

The Special Group/303 Committee-approved aggregate budget for covert action in the Congo for the years 1960–1968 totaled approximately $11,702,000 (Political Action, $5,842,000; Air Program, $3,285,000; and Maritime Program, $2,575,000).