19. Editorial Note

In telegram 0927 to the Central Intelligence Agency, September 13, 1960, the Station in Leopoldville reported that it had established an informal channel of communications with [name not declassified], had met with Colonel Joseph Mobutu, and was providing both with financial help. The contacts and support had been cleared with Ambassador Timberlake. (Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 78–00435R, DDO/ISS Files, Box 1, Folder 3, [text not declassified])

The Station’s contact with Mobutu first took place during a meeting at the Presidential Palace on September 7. As reported in telegram 0927, Mobutu “complained bitterly Lumumba trying involve army in politics” and, in addition, Mobutu made the following points:

“A. Plans refuse admit Camp Leopold Second 15 MNC political organizers assigned camp by Lumumba.

“B. He ordering troops try avoid fighting Kasai. Said bloody fighting there resulted from attack on troops by Baluba tribesmen.

“C. Hopes avoid attack on Katanga to avoid civil war but bragged his troops well armed and could easily defeat Tshombe and Kalonsi forces.

“D. Has ordered one company whose loyalty ‘sure’ to Leop area. Also said he ordered commanding officer and chief staff Stanleyville area to Leop for talks, indicating wants them under his control during crisis. (They came Leop 8 September.)

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“E. Several times said needed help accomplish his objective.”

At a follow-up meeting the next day Mobutu “explained he strongly opposed Lumumba but wished avoid arresting him for fear starting civil war. Instead said plan was to have opposition parties mount large demonstration, with police and troops arriving too late to prevent people from getting Lumumba.” He was advised that “UN troops would intervene if public order disturbed by mob, but Mobutu refused change plan.” Although it doubted the feasibility of the plan, the Station “decided to bet on long shot.” More importantly, it felt Mobutu offered long term “political action potential, provided he does not destroy himself in plot.” (Ibid.)

In concluding its report, the Station stated in part that it realized the possibility of provocation of the political action program in support of moderate anti-Lumumba leaders and the risk opposition may not achieve its objective. The Station stated: “believe KUBARK should support this long shot operation. Lumumba victory, which quite possible, would mean, at least for near future, govt hostile to ODYOKE interests.” The Station reported it was continuing press the operation even though it realized that [name not declassified] bungling of the coup and lack guts and imagination of most opposition leaders had greatly limited the chances the operation would succeed. (Ibid.)

In a radio interview 37 years later, the Chief of Station said that at the Presidential Palace Mobutu told him of his plans to mount a coup and asked whether the U.S. Government would support him. The Chief of Station recalled that after finessing for some time he finally had said, “I believe we will.” (“The Connection,” WBUR, Boston, Massachusetts, March 27, 1997) In his 1967 debriefing, the Chief of Station gave a somewhat different version of this meeting, saying that Mobutu had complained about Soviet penetration of the army and asked him what he should do. The Chief of Station remembers telling him that, as a junior officer, he could not set policy. Finally Mobutu said that he would not act unless the Chief of Station told him that the U.S. Government would back him. The Chief of Station responded that Mobutu should prevent at any cost the Soviets taking over the army. Arrangements were then made to provide funds. The Chief of Station said that this was the beginning of the plan for Mobutu to take over the government. (16 August 1967 and 20 September 1967 Debriefing: Chief of Station, Leopoldville, 1960–1963, Central Intelligence Agency Files, Job 82–00450R, Box 7, Folder 1, DDO/AF, AF/DIV Historical Files)