474. Memorandum From Edward Hamilton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Possible Explosion in the Congo

Joe Palmer asked me to come over this afternoon to be briefed on a possible Tshombe attempt to overthrow Mobutu. If it develops, it could be messy—involving all of the worst elements of the Congolese history along with the most disruptive of the Southern African factors. The facts are as follows:

1. The CIA has information from a middling reliable source that Tshombe plans a military coup beginning July 21. The 200–250 white South African and Rhodesian mercenaries are reportedly preparing to move against government troops, starting in Katanga. (This number seems small, but it is sufficient to take over at least the eastern part of the country very quickly.)

2. A new contingent of 75 South African mercenaries is scheduled to arrive in Elisabethville on July 21. Normally, such recruits would not be very useful for awhile. But if it is true, as alleged, that South Africa is involved, they may be first-class troops which would make the rebel forces much stronger. Needless to say, all of these mercenaries are well-armed, including the only armored cars in the country.

3. Tshombe is now in Brussels, reportedly putting the final touches on the plot.

If the revolt comes off, it will (1) put us back into a Congolese Civil War, without much hope of an effective UN intervention, (2) cause great consternation in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, and other surrounding countries, (3) aggravate tensions with Rhodesia and South Africa, and (4) create serious pressure for us to move in. Further, if Mobutu finds out that we know about this plot and have not told him, it will cut our influence substantially.

Thus, I agreed with Palmer’s suggestion that we very quietly give Mobutu the information we have (as we did six weeks ago when he stifled another incipient coup), and advise him to take precautionary steps to head the rebels off. This does not, in my judgment, involve us [Page 696] too deeply and it protects our interest as much as possible, The cabled instructions will be going out tonight, unless you think otherwise.

I also asked Palmer to put four or five sentences on this into the Department’s night-reading paper for the President so that he will know the fundamentals.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. XII, 10/65–10/66. Secret; Sensitive.