Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

On Sunday afternoon, August fifth, 1962, Nelson Mandela was in a late-model Austin Westminster coupe making its manner from Durban to Johannesburg. It was a couple of seven-hour drive. Although Mandela was posing as a chauffeur in an extended duster coat, he was sitting within the passenger seat. The motive force was Cecil Williams, a white communist theater director and underground member of the African Nationwide Congress. Mandela, a fugitive from the apartheid regime and the chief of the ANC’s newly fashioned army wing, was South Africa’s most needed man.

A number of days earlier than, Mandela had returned from a two-month journey throughout Africa the place he had been elevating cash for the ANC’s army marketing campaign and receiving army coaching himself. Simply earlier than he left to return to South Africa, he had been given a Soviet-made Makarov pistol in Ethiopia. He had that gun with him within the automotive. Mandela had been summoned again by the ANC’s management who needed him on the bottom to steer the guerilla struggle in opposition to the white-supremacist state. The evening earlier than, on August 4th, he had gone to a secret dinner with different ANC leaders in Durban. He wore his khaki army fatigues and it was a cheerful night of friendship and laughter. Everybody there stated he appeared unconcerned in regards to the country-wide manhunt for him.

Mandela and Williams had been on the street for a few hours when, on a slim, hilly go just a few miles outdoors of the city of Howick Falls, a Ford V-8 pulled in entrance of Mandela’s automotive. The motive force signaled Williams to cease. Mandela knew immediately what was taking place: he was caught. Here’s what he informed me about that second in 1993 after I was working with him on his autobiography, Lengthy Stroll to Freedom.

MANDELA: Now I had a revolver which was unlicensed, and I simply took it out and put it between the seats. And at one time, I believed I may open the door quick and roll down however I didn’t know the way lengthy, you recognize, this financial institution was and what was there. I used to be not accustomed to the panorama… However I used to be very slot in these days, and I may nearly climb any wall. After which I seemed on the again simply on the rear-view mirror I noticed there have been two automobiles behind, then I felt that, no, it will be ridiculous for me to try to escape—they’ll shoot me.

Mandela was all the time a cautious revolutionary. If he had tried to flee, it’s potential that historical past wouldn’t bear in mind Nelson Mandela in any respect. Mandela informed me {that a} tall slender South African policeman whom he’d by no means met approached the automotive, took out an arrest warrant, and politely requested Mandela to establish himself. Mandela, who had grown a beard whereas in Africa, and had been underground for almost two years, gave him his alias, David Motsamayi. Based on Mandela, the officer stated, “Agh, you’re Nelson Mandela and that is Cecil Williams and I’m arresting you.” The officer, who had by no means seen both of them earlier than, knew precisely who they had been.

That small element and a bunch of others which have emerged over time have fueled a long time of suspicion that the South African police had been tipped off about Mandela’s whereabouts and that the likeliest supply for that data was the U.S. Central Intelligence Company. August 1962 was the peak of the Chilly Battle—Mandela’s seize occurred only some weeks earlier than the Cuban Missile Disaster—and the American intelligence neighborhood believed that Mandela and the ANC had been secret allies of the Soviets. I requested him about this in 1993.

 

Courtesy of Richard Stengel

Courtesy of Richard Stengel

STENGEL: Now, Madiba, how, who, how did they know the place you had been, the police in Howick?

MANDELA: No, I don’t assume personally there was something. I don’t assume so. They stated it was an American Consul or one thing like that.

STENGEL: Sure. With some CIA connections.

MANDELA: Sure, fairly. That’s what they are saying. However I don’t assume so as a result of until there was any individual with a CIA connection [INTERRUPTION] and no, I don’t know, I can’t vouch for that, I’ve no proof. I do know nonetheless that I met too many individuals for a person underground…That’s why I feel that it’s not altogether right that it was the American Consul with CIA connections. However I can’t say that that was not the case.

STENGEL: Proper.

MANDELA: I’ve no proof both manner.

STENGEL: So, through the years you by no means heard any extra data?

MANDELA: No, no, no. And I didn’t even inquire.

His reply is superbly Mandela-like: I’ve no proof both manner, so I can’t make a judgment—and I didn’t even attempt to discover out. The reality is, he simply didn’t actually care. He was underneath arrest and now the battle was in a brand new area. He solely ever had one route: ahead.

Although Mandela didn’t care, I did. I had been listening to those tapes we had made 30 years earlier than as a result of I used to be engaged on a 10-part podcast from Audible about Mandela and our work on Lengthy Stroll to Freedom. Virtually nobody had ever listened to the tapes—together with me. On the time, I simply had transcripts typed up, and I labored from them. For years, the tapes remained in a transparent plastic field in storage at my home in New York. Whereas placing collectively Mandela: The Misplaced Tapes, I made a decision that now, in any case these years, I might attempt to resolve this noteworthy second in twentieth century historical past. Had the U.S. been concerned within the arrest of one of many best freedom fighters of the century and, in that case, why—and would these concerned take duty?

Beginning in the summertime of 2021, with the assistance of my former colleagues at TIME, I filed a variety of Freedom of Info requests with the Central Intelligence Company to attempt to affirm what had lengthy been rumored. I’ll get to that byzantine course of in a second, however first it’s necessary to inform you what we’ve got discovered from journalists and students within the years since Mandela’s 1962 seize, his launch from jail in 1990, and his loss of life a decade in the past. This new data helped information the FOIA requests.

In 1986, whereas Mandela was nonetheless in jail, when the U.S. Congress was considering placing anti-apartheid sanctions on South Africa, the Johannesburg Star printed an un-bylined information story that stated, in keeping with a “retired senior police officer,” the South African police had been tipped off to Mandela’s whereabouts by an American diplomat on the U.S. consulate in Durban who was “the CIA operative for that area.” In 1963, the diplomat, in keeping with the Star, had revealed his function whereas drunk at a celebration on the Durban house of “Mad” Mike Hoare, a widely known Anglo-Irish mercenary.

4 years after the Star article, on the time of Mandela’s launch from jail in 1990 when he was about to go to the U.S. and get a hero’s welcome, the Atlanta Journal Structure revealed a chunk reporting {that a} “retired [American] intelligence official” stated that inside hours of Mandela’s arrest, a “senior CIA operative” named Paul Eckel walked into his workplace in Washington and stated, “We’ve got turned Mandela over to the South African safety department. We gave them each element, what he could be carrying, the time of day, simply the place he could be. They’ve picked him up. It’s certainly one of our best coups.”

The article quotes former intelligence officers saying the CIA noticed Mandela and the ANC as a risk to the soundness of the South African authorities. The U.S. had simply signed a army cooperation settlement with South Africa and the nation was an necessary supply of uranium and different strategic minerals. Extra importantly, apartheid South Africa was the West’s most dependable ally in opposition to the Soviets, who had sturdy ties with many different newly unbiased African states. On the time, the U.S. intelligence presence in South Africa was bigger and extra refined than the South African authorities’s. The article quoted a former South African intelligence official named Gerard Ludi saying the CIA had a paid informant within the ANC Durban department who informed the native case officer the place Mandela could be.

Then, in 2016, a long-retired CIA officer named Donald Rickard, then 88 years previous and ailing, gave an interview to British movie director John Irvin through which he stated he had knowledgeable the South African police about Mandela. Chatting with Irvin for his dramatized documentary, “Mandela’s Gun,” Rickard confirmed that he had been working undercover as a State Division vice-consul in Durban. He described town as a “cauldron” of anti-apartheid exercise and that the ANC was riling up town’s substantial Indian neighborhood. Right here’s what he informed Irvin: “Mandela was going to come back down and incite the Indians and I discovered when he was coming down and the way he was coming, and he got here in a black limousine with a man sitting within the again because the passenger and he was the motive force. That’s the place I used to be concerned and that’s the place Mandela was caught.”

His particulars are a bit off, however reporting within the South African and American press on the time and afterward declare Rickard was an American undercover intelligence officer in Durban who was later introduced again to the U.S. underneath a cloud for his drunken candor about CIA actions. A 2018 biography of the mercenary Mike Hoare quotes Hoare confirming Rickard’s story. Rickard was personally unrepentant about helping in Mandela’s seize. “Mandela was utterly underneath the management of the Soviet Union,” Richard informed Irvin. “He was a toy of Moscow. He may have incited a struggle in South Africa. The United [States] must get entangled, grudgingly, and issues may have gone to hell…The Soviet Union would have finished something to get its fingers on the mineral chest—something—and Khrushchev stated: ‘After we get it we’ll dictate the phrases of give up for the West.’ We had been teetering on the brink right here and it needed to be stopped, which meant Mandela needed to be stopped. And I put a cease to it.”

Rickard died two weeks after his confession. His solely remorse was that he had been indiscrete. Rickard stated “the largest mistake of my life” was boasting about it at Mike Hoare’s get together. “I used to be by no means promoted once more after I got here again from South Africa. They had been embarrassed that I embarrassed them.”

In my conversations with present and former intelligence officers—all of whom are too younger to have been round at the moment—they agree that the state of affairs of the CIA tipping off the South African police is each believable and sure, they usually don’t have any motive to query these studies. It was at a time when the U.S. intelligence neighborhood was targeted on Africa as a strategic battleground within the Chilly Battle. Mandela’s arrest got here eight months after the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the primary democratically elected head of the Congo whom the CIA believed was a instrument of the Soviets. The 1975 Church Committee investigation of intelligence abuses revealed that the CIA had thought-about assassinating Lumumba. It was the height of tensions with the Soviet Union and Mandela was regarded not simply as a revolutionary, however somebody who was on the very least sympathetic to the Soviet standpoint. One other piece of data that emerged after Mandela’s loss of life appears to substantiate the CIA’s suspicions: on the day of Mandela’s loss of life, each the ANC and the South African Communist Celebration introduced that Mandela had not solely been a member of the Communist get together, however a member of its central committee. Since then, extra scholarship, together with from Soviet archives, has emerged to recommend that this was the case.

ANC chief Nelson Mandela raises his fingers in response to a bipartisan standing ovation on the completion of his tackle to a joint assembly of Congress.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Photos

In 2017, in response to a normal Freedom of Info request, the CIA declassified some paperwork containing intelligence about apartheid South Africa from 1961-62, the time of Mandela’s seize. I’ve learn by these recordsdata, which often point out Mandela, they usually precisely describe South Africa’s white supremacist rule and the steadfast opposition of the ANC, which is sometimes called being “communist-dominated.” For our functions, I discovered two temporary however related mentions of Mandela, neither of which have ever been revealed earlier than by a information group. In a declassified CIA doc marked SECRET and dated Could 25, 1961, a bit over a yr earlier than he was captured, the company described Mandela as a “possible Communist” who had revived curiosity in anti-apartheid protest. “An in a position organizer who reportedly has ample funds at his disposal, [Mandela] appears to have revitalized the ‘Congress motion,’ the Communist-dominated multiracial teams which had been moribund because the banning final yr of the African Nationwide Congress.”

Then, in an extended memo from the CIA in February of 1962, the yr of Mandela’s seize, additionally marked SECRET, the company pinpoints Mandela as the pinnacle of the ANC guerrilla motion and is clearly conscious that Mandela was not in South Africa. “Mandela, who lived underneath cowl in South Africa and Basutoland after the failure of the final strike he referred to as final Could, has left the nation…” No interval after the phrase “nation,” and the subsequent sentence is blacked out. That is the primary piece of proof that the CIA was monitoring Mandela and knew he was in a foreign country.

With all of this data in hand, I made a decision that I might file a Freedom of Info request with the CIA to see if they might affirm any of the small print round Mandela’s seize and the company’s function in it. It was an extended shot: Congress gave the CIA some notable exceptions to the 1966 Freedom of Info Act. The company is exempted from offering any details about any CIA operations and won’t furnish data of any precise or alleged CIA worker, supply, or methodology. Actually, they’ll neither affirm nor deny the existence of such data. However at occasions, within the curiosity of historical past and democratic accountability, the CIA has been extra clear about its actions. In the course of the Church Committee hearings, it confirmed that it had illegally focused Americans. In 2014, the CIA declassified data exhibiting that after World Battle II it had used former Nazis as spies within the Chilly Battle.

With the in a position assist of reporter Abby Vesoulis in TIME journal’s Washington bureau, we filed 4 separate requests of the CIA. FOIA requests are very formulaic and prescribed. Within the letters, we defined why I used to be searching for this data and we additionally included hyperlinks to the articles I’ve cited above.

Right here’s the guts of the submitting.

Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Info Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, we request entry to and copies of: Information—together with however not restricted to studies, intelligence memos, cables—mentioning “Nelson Mandela” or his three aliases (Madiba, Black Pimpernel, and David Motsamayi) that originated from or had been acquired by the Central Intelligence Company between the years 1957 and 1963.

We additionally requested entry to any studies by or to Donald Rickard that point out Mandela. We additionally requested for expedited dealing with which was instantly rejected.

The CIA has an workplace devoted to responding to FOIA requests. I’ll spare you the a number of letters back-and-forth. After a number of months of emails, together with a number of appeals, we ultimately acquired the next reply from the CIA.

We accomplished a radical assessment of your request and decided that, in accordance with Part 3.6(a) of Govt Order 13526, CIA can neither affirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of data conscious of your request. The very fact of the existence or nonexistence of such data it itself presently and correctly labeled and is [sic] intelligence sources and strategies data shielded from disclosure by Part 6 of the CIA Act of 1949 (50 U.S.C. § 3507, as amended), and Part 102A(i)(I) of the Nationwide Safety Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. § 3024(i)(I), as amended). Subsequently, your request is denied.

Disappointing, however not stunning. I argued in an e-mail response to this that it was within the curiosity of the CIA to step ahead on this subject and clarify its actions as being comprehensible within the context of the Chilly Battle. I didn’t make any headway. The fact is that the U.S. authorities was years behind the remainder of the world in recognizing Mandela’s virtues. Mandela remained on some American terrorist watch lists till 2008—the ultimate yr of his presidency. The CIA has not declassified any materials associated to Mandela’s precise seize. Though the CIA can’t affirm or deny the existence of such data, it’s sure that they exist. This yr, the tenth anniversary of Mandela’s loss of life, could be a very good time to disclose the back-story.


There’s a new competitors in Africa and elsewhere between the U.S. and its democratic allies, on the one hand, and the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China. Within the UN vote this previous fall condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, 19 of the 45 African nations voting on the referendum abstained. Actually, South Africa is presently conducting joint naval workout routines with Russia within the Indian Ocean, an train that additionally contains Chinese language warships. To win this competitors in Africa and elsewhere, America should reveal its willingness to be open about its personal historical past.

There are various contained in the U.S. authorities who agree with this place. I do know just a few of them from my time in authorities as Below Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on the State Division through the Obama Administration. Over the course of this mission, I did converse to a number of sources near the intelligence neighborhood who urged that the CIA did actually play a job within the seize of Nelson Mandela on that winding street in Natal in 1962. For now, nonetheless, they only gained’t say so publicly.

Mandela all the time stated he was not cautious sufficient after he got here again from his African journey for a person underground. Whereas that’s actually the case, that doesn’t preclude the potential of the CIA alerting the South African police. Each will be true—and each seemingly are. Mandela appeared to harbor no exhausting emotions about this—he was an outlaw, he was searching for to overthrow the South African authorities which was a dependable ally of the U.S. ‘s in opposition to the Soviet Union. He was a realist. From the 50s onward, he all the time needed to issue the Chilly Battle into his technique. His freedom battle was all the time fought within the shadow solid by the Chilly Battle. He did complain to me that America and the West by no means supported him till he got here out of jail, however he additionally understood that the U.S. noticed every part by the lens of the Chilly Battle.

I by no means requested Mandela in regards to the CIA’s function once more. As soon as the e-book was completed, our relationship was by no means once more about enterprise. He by no means talked about it publicly whereas he was president of South Africa or afterwards. He welcomed America as an ally and supporter of the brand new South Africa, and gave two addresses to joint periods of Congress the place he acquired a number of bipartisan standing ovations. For him, it was lengthy gone from his rear-view mirror. However within the final formal interview session I had with Mandela in 1993—which is in Episode 10 of “Mandela: The Misplaced Tapes,” I requested him about how he was in a position to work together with his enemies and captors. “Your responsibility is to work with human beings as a result of they’re human beings,” he stated. “Not since you assume they’re angels.”

Rick Stengel’s interviews with Mandela are featured in a podcast sequence Mandela: The Misplaced Tapes, obtainable from Audible

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