185. Action Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Mulcahy) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1
As a result of a CIA briefing on March 22 of the Senate and House Defense and Appropriations Subcommittees, we may shortly face renewed accusations of continuing a “covert war in violation of the intent of Congress.”
CIA owes the Government of Zaire [dollar amount not declassified] to reimburse it for the loss last week of an Air Zaire F–27 aircraft destroyed on the airstrip of Gago Coutinho in southern Angola where the plane was unloading food for UNITA forces. A Cuban-piloted MIG–21 caused the damage. CIA lawyers were concerned about reimbursing Zaire without first discussing it with the Congress since there had been no previous agreement that money could be spent for damaged aircraft. CIA Director Bush decided in consultation with the lawyers that Congress should be consulted, and he is said to have received clearance for Congressional consultation from the White House.
Only in the case of Congressman Mahon of the Defense Subcommittee did the discussion reportedly go beyond the narrow question of reimbursing Air Zaire. It would appear that Mahon followed up on the March 22 briefing and asked Director Bush to appear in person and when he and General Walters could not do so, met with William Nelson on March 23. Mahon, flanked by staff members Snodgrass and Preston, accused CIA of being “a law unto itself” and of failing to respect the intent of Congress to cease all further contributions to the Angolan war. Having been told in January that only [dollar amount not declassified] remained unexpended, Mahon could not be convinced that CIA was in fact in the final phase of its operations. In response to his detailed questioning, Mahon was made privy to virtually all of the details regarding the disengagement program approved at the March 12 meeting of the Operations Advisory Group,2 including the fact that [dollar amount not declassified] are to be funneled to Savimbi and [dollar amount not declassified] used for the final air shipments to Savimbi’s forces. Mahon gave every indication of being furious and threatened to [Page 466]take the issue to the public. He agreed not to do so until at least next week when Director Bush has been requested to appear before the full Defense Subcommittee. A time for the meeting has not yet been set pending the return of Bush to Washington on Friday, March 26, when he must decide how to handle Mahon’s challenge.
It seems to us we could, and should have avoided consulting with Congress on this reimbursement question. It is difficult to imagine that the details of this phasing out operation will not become public property, particularly if Bush appears before the full Defense Subcommittee. Not only has the Agency but also the Administration left itself open to renewed sharp public criticism and heightened suspicions regarding our clandestine support for insurgency in Angola. Renewed debate in Congress risks complicating approval of increased economic and military assistance for Zaire and Zambia. Publicity will also embarrass Mobutu in his efforts to normalize relations with the MPLA. And, finally, even if our legal case is impeccable, as our lawyers have at least assured us, the political reality of Mahon’s reaction would make it very unwise for CIA to proceed to disburse the [dollar amount not declassified] either directly or indirectly to Savimbi.
Even if Mahon and his aides could be persuaded to keep what they know to themselves, it seems likely that some members of the other three oversight committees will ask themselves what the Air Zaire plane was doing in southern Angola. The argument that we are merely providing UNITA with food and the possibility of resettlement will cut little ice, if Mahon’s reaction is any criterion.
The only hope we have, and it is a slim one, is to have Bush persuade Mahon that the Agency is indeed phasing out its final operations in Angola and a full subcommittee hearing could affect US national interests adversely.
That you telephone Bush, indicate our unhappiness over the decision to go to the Congressional committees and urge him to explain in some detail to Mahon and perhaps other key members of the Defense Subcommittee the importance of not renewing domestic debate over covert aid to Angola.3