221. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson1
- Propaganda Problems Relating to the Congo
No one feels more strongly than I that the immediate security problem in the Congo is the overriding factor in any determination as to what our present policy ought to be. I do believe, however, that we dare not lose sight of the fact that on even a short-term basis much more is at stake than Stanleyville, or Leopoldville, or any amount of real estate in the Congo. There is a real danger that in saving the present situation in the Congo we can suffer psychological and other setbacks that could lose us the longer range struggle for all of Africa.
I am particularly concerned about the damaging implications of possible press reports that United States’ planes are hauling in Belgian guns to be used by South African and Southern Rhodesian mercenaries to kill Africans and to protect “Tshombe and European financial interests.” The New York Times already has had one such story and Communist, and some African, propagandists have seized upon this theme.
This Agency and I are for taking whatever immediate steps are necessary to halt the deteriorating situation in the Congo, but we are [Page 323] convinced that long lasting damage to United States interests throughout Africa will result from our becoming closely identified with any operation involving the aforementioned mercenaries. I think it is unreasonable to assume that the label “technicians” will conceal the fact that the hired soldiers are mercenaries.
I call to your attention the enclosed report2 which spells out propaganda themes being pushed by the Communists with regard to the Congo; the propaganda activities of the Congolese rebels, and reactions in other African countries to United States and other Western activities.
It is our view that the Communist campaign in itself is not as significant as the fact that it is being picked up in other African countries (and is certain to be fed by the debate that began today in the Congress and in the American press).
I believe that there are some things that we can do to make our actions in the Congo more palatable internationally and to make ourselves less vulnerable to Communist propaganda. I recommend that:
1. We seek publicly to justify our activities in the Congo as assistance given in response to requests by President Kasavubu.
2. We do not overpublicize on our initiative relatively small actions that we are taking. I do not advocate hiding facts from the American public, but I do not believe we are obligated to make a press announcement every time an American official confers with Belgian officials; and I believe we can send in transport planes without creating a barrage of press stories that make it appear that we are invading the Congo.
3. If it is possible, we not permit to become public United States activities in transporting arms to the Congo for use by white mercenaries.
4. We avoid, if at all possible, having South African and Southern Rhodesian mercenaries fly United States aircraft in operations against the rebels.