SOME TIME DURING the night of September 13, 1974, an unseen group of bucket-bearing revolutionaries plastered every flat surface in downtown Luanda, the capital of Angola, with signs bearing the gold star symbol of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). They did it in spite of the official 2 a.m. curfew imposed by the Portuguese Army, who were everywhere in their clattering three-man jeeps with the American-made .50-caliber machine-guns peeking out over the windshields. It's possible that the Portuguese looked the other way--after their bitter 15-year guerrilla war against black Angolan nationalists, a war that ended by toppling the Salazar/Caetano dictatorship in Portugal earlier in 1974, the Portuguese soldiers just wanted out. No more dying trying to turn back history.
But to a group of Americans from a merchant ship in Luanda's harbor, Luanda's new skin of MPLA signs was mighty impressive. One sailor from Pascagoula, Mississsippi, paid the MPLA organization the highest compliment he could think of: "They're better at this than the Billy Graham Crusade!" All that the Americans had heard about the MPLA was the usual mainstream U.S. media cliches: "radical," "Marxist," "fringe group," "Soviet-supported," with all the connotations of puppetry. But to sign-plaster a city of 500,000 people occupied by the army they'd been fighting for more than a decade--that took organization, and even more importantly, popular support.
If a bunch of American sailors could figure this out after one month's visit, the MPLA's significant popular support was no big secret. But the American foreign policy establishment never knew about it until too late, until the United States had sunk millions of dollars into a vain anti-MPLA fight. The fight was in vain from the start, because, of the two alternatives to the MPLA in Angola, one (the FNLA) was an extension of Zaire's greed to acquire as much of Angola as they could, and the other (UNITA) became South Africa's pet project in Angola. The United States was the only country in the world blind enough not to know that willing association with the South African regime completely discredited anyone claiming to be a black nationalist
AMERICA'S POLICY-MAKERS missed all this because they weren't paying attention--their excitement was in Kissinger's globe-trotting great power diplomacy, and there was no room there for the Third World. Even if the policy-makers had been watching, though, the result wouldn't have been much different. The CIA was paying attention, just enough to take care of its clients, President Mobutu of Zaire and Holden Roberto of the FNLA. The CIA's involvement was the determining factor in U.S. policy in southern Africa, and the CIA fiasco in Angola was yet another in a long string of CIA faulty evaluations, illicit propping-up of clients, violent undercover operations, and massive deception of the American people, Congress, and even the executive branch. CIA estimates were the basis of Kissinger's "Tar Baby" policy in southern Africa, a policy which committed the United States to support the white regimes because, supposedly, they were stable, and there were no viable black nationalist movements in the offing. The Portuguese coup of 1974 took the CIA totally by surprise. The CIA severely underestimated MPLA support among Angolans, as well as the support the Soviet Union and Cuba would give MPLA once the CIA, Zairean, and South African participation against MPLA became obvious. With percentages like the CIA's, a college football coach would have been fired years ago.
THAT THE CIA should be fired, or, more accurately, that the CIA's clandestine operations should be abolished, is the conclusion of the latest revelatory book about the CIA, John Stockwell's In Search of Enemies. Stockwell should know. He grew up in what is now Zaire with missionary parents, did a hitch in the Marine Corps, served 12 years as a CIA officer, and ended up as chief of the CIA's Angola Task Force. In Search of Enemies is the story of that task force, of the American intervention in Angola, and of John Stockwell's growing disillusion with the CIA. When Stockwell joined the CIA, he says, he didn't know that they used poisons or prostitutes or planned assassinations. He admits to have participated in operations "which stretched the boundaries of anyone's conscience." He became cynical about the CIA's role because of the Angola failure, but he wasn't moved to write his book until the Church and Pike committees' revelations about the CIA's abuses of power shocked him into action, into resigning from the CIA, into stating his case on "60 Minutes," into exposing a lot of sordid details about the CIA in this book.
Stockwell's basic case is that clandestine operations and democracy are incompatible, in America or anywhere. He documents all the CIA's institutional imperatives to create dirty little wars, to avoid peaceful options like negotiations, to corrupt everyone in its grasp, to stifle dissenting opinions or information not based on prior, biased, CIA assessments. Stockwell's intimate knowledge of the Angolan operations fills in all these points with layer after layer of scummy stories. To take one minor instance, the last U.S. payoff to the anti-MPLA forces, over a million dollars, was pocketed by Mobutu of Zaire. Stockwell further notes just how shaky Mobutu's regime is, his reliance on American aid and on French and Belgian and Morroccan troops to put down rebellions. Stockwell tells the story of the Lear jet that belonged to UNITA, given to its leader by a London/Rhodesian investment firm in order to guarantee access to Angola's minerals. There's the case of the CIA advisers in Angola, against the wishes and without the knowledge of anyone in the executive branch. And the Congressional briefings-Stockwell says that William Colby, then-director of the CIA, systematically briefed and misled members of Congress, not so they'd know what was really going on, but so they'd be bound by the tacit "national security" silence pledge.
Stockwell's timetable for the Angolan war shows that Soviet and Cuban aid didn't arrive in Angola until Zaire invaded under the guise of the FNLA, and UNITA accepted South African arms and advisers--with the added factor, of course, of CIA encouragement, arms and advisers. As for the presence of Cuban soldiers, Stockwell points out that non-Angolan troops were already fighting against the MPLA, and that the Cubans were not under orders from the Soviet Union; rather, Stockwell says the Cubans were operating from a recognition that the MPLA was the only genuine anti-colonialist force in Angola. The FNLA was a tool of Zaire, and of the CIA in many ways, and UNITA was sympathetic to the Vorster regime in South Africa.
ALONG WITH THE CHURCH and Pike committees' reports, the books by Philip Agee, Marchetti and Marks, and Frank Snepp, Stockwell's revelations flesh out a truly scary picture of the CIA, outwardly vicious and bungling, inwardly paranoid and clubby. The things a CIA operative in a foreign country worries most about, Stockwell says, in order of importance, are the local U.S. ambassador and staff interfering, restrictive cables from CIA headquarters, local gossips in the neighborhood, the local police and the press. Last of all is the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency.
The great gray area of the book, however, is you don't know exactly how much Stockwell himself has changed. He says he was disillusioned with the CIA's operations, but he was disillusioned after a tour in Vietnam, and he didn't quit then. It's possible that the Angolan experience left him cynical enough about the CIA's efficacy that he couldn't get excited over more dirty little wars, and his superiors saw the change and decided to stagnate his career. There are indications that he'd've liked it just as well if the U.S. had gone all out to win--he thought it was "do-able," just that Kissinger couldn't afford another Vietnam. There's a certain wistfulness in his tone when he writes what he could have done with a "Puff the Magic Dragon" in Angola--"completely broken the MPLA." A "Puff" was a C-47 transport plane,
rigged with half a dozen Gatling guns programmed to aim and fire simultaneously, raining eight thousand rounds a minute into an area the size of a football field, driving a bullet into every six inches of ground. As this lumbering weapons sytem circles a battlefield, the stream of lead is played back and forth like a murderous garden hose; all exposed living creatures die.
That's what the CIA does to people.