John Stockwell was one of the great Whistleblowers in American History. He was the Highest ranking CIA officer to come forward and attempt to expose the agencies criminal misdeeds. Thus the book he wrote in the aftermath of his resignation "In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story" is required reading for anyone seeking to look behind the curtain of the national security state. Although Philip Agee (See my February 2014 article Inside the CIA for more on Philip Agee) who preceded him was even more Radical aiming to use his book to blow the covers of as many CIA officers and their agents as he could, Stockwell had higher level access attending meetings of Henry Kissinger's 40 committee in charge of shaping America's foreign policy including responsibility for authorizing the CIA's covert operations. Thus his book is not just an expose of the CIA but of the whole foreign policy establishment. Amusingly he begins his story with the fate of Angola being decided by the interpretation of a single grunt by Henry Kissinger. The CIA had just briefed Kissinger on the situation there and hoped to receive authorization to expand it's covert operations against the MPLA one of the three groups vying for power in Angola and the one with the most broad based support in the country. However Kissinger was extremely busy back then practicing what was known as "shuttle diplomacy" flying all over the place trying to manage the middle east, pursuing Detente with the Russians, and closer ties with the Chinese. Thus he only had time to grunt in response to the report before rushing out the door to catch his flight and the CIA spent all weekend analyzing the grunt trying to guess whether it meant yes or No.
It's important to set the events in their context. The Year was 1975. The US had just lost the war in Vietnam a couple of months before forced to launch a hurried evacuation of Saigon as the South Vietnamese government collapsed. After Decades of fighting Vietnam had finally achieved it's independence after having defeated first the French and then the American's. Watergate had taken place a couple of years before and the country was mired in scandal. As the events in the book were taking place the CIA was under investigation by the Church Committee. Yet despite the disaster in Vietnam which had grown out of a Covert CIA war there, and despite the Church committee the CIA were unrepentant and eager for their next adventure. Their Hopes rested on the meaning of Kissinger's grunt. It turned out Kissinger was equally unrepentant. In the past few years he had authorized the overthrow of Allende in Chile, Massive illegal and secret bombings in Cambodia, and given the green light to the genocidal invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, which would last decades and leave more the half a million dead. Now he was willing to plunge yet another country into war and misery merely to prove that Vietnam had not lessened western resolve to make war on any country on the planet that threatened to slip out of US control. Kissinger decided to authorize covert operations aimed at destabilizing the newly independent state of Angola and preventing the MPLA from achieving an "easy victory"
John Stockwell had grown up in the Belgian Congo the children of missionaries, he had learned to speak the local language, and after serving as a marine had been recruited into the CIA. At the time of his recruitment the CIA had assured him that they never engaged in Coups, assassinations, or involvement with drugs. ( At The time the book takes place the CIA were publicly exposed as being involved in all three by the Church Committee) After joining He had been stationed in a number of African countries. He has some interesting stories from his time in Africa he explains how he inadvertently started a coup in one country. He also repeats a chilling tale one of his superiors told him about driving around late at Night with the corpse of the legendary Patrice Lumumba in the trunk of his car. He also explains how the CIA managed to overthrow Kwame Nkrumah in defiance of orders simply by maintaining contact with certain plotters and dropping certain hints. Another of Africa's great potential leaders was overthrown as a result. After serving a number of years in Africa he was sent to Vietnam. There he had become increasingly disillusioned with the CIA and was considering quitting or alternatively simply living out his days as one of the many burnt out Case officers assigned to unimportant countries. According to both Agee and Stockwell this is the usual route embittered CIA officers take. However when he was offered the job of being in charge of the entire covert war in Angola he decided to take the job partially out of ambition but also because he was truly curious how things really worked. After years of familiarity with how the media are manipulated he knew enough not to trust the newspapers and wondered how things actually worked. How are the decisions that plunge whole nations into war actually made he wondered. Most of his career had been spent in the field and he was always trained not to question what he was doing or why. The higher ups supposedly had their reasons he was told. Now he would finally get to see how and why the decisions were made so he agreed to take the job. At the same time with the specter of watergate he worried that he might end up in jail for what he was about to do. The American Public were in no mood for another Vietnam yet everyone involved in launching the operation realized that the war in Angola had the potential to evolve into another Vietnam. In his portrayal of events he was constantly worried about avoiding a major scandal while his peers seemed sure of their immunity.
I wrote a previous article on the war in Angola based on Piero Gleijese Excellent book "Conflicting Missions" Concentrating on the Cuban Role in the war. It was called Castro vs. Kissinger in Angola (September 2014) you may want to consult it for a more in depth account of the actual war. However the basics are that Angola was a former Portuguese Colony. The Portuguese had been the first Europeans to conquer parts of Africa back in the 1400's even before Columbus reached the new world. Most of Africa wasn't colonized until the 19th century. Not only were the Portuguese the first to found colonies in Africa they were the last to leave them. Britain and France were clever enough to seemingly grant independence to their colonies while using subtle economic forces to continue exploiting them a process known as neocolonialism. Portugal a Fascist country decided to fight brutal wars to keep their colonies where the black population were not merely second class citizens but 9th and tenth class as the Portuguese had a system with ten different classes of people. However the strain of fighting endless counter insurgency wars, like the one in Guinea-Bissau where they faced the brilliant revolutionary and military strategist Amilcar Cabral, proved too much and there was a coup by low ranking officers aimed at ending the dictatorship and Portugal's wars in Africa. During those wars the US had supplied Portugal with weapons because it was an important ally because one of it's military bases had been vital in supplying Israel during it's latest war. The Socialist countries the soviets, cubans, and Eastern Bloc states and even China and North Korea had supplied the various revolutionary groups with weapons and occasionally training. Actually the Russian's and Chinese were in competition rather then allies in supplying the groups. Thus the MPLA had received some support from the Soviets while UNITA had received support from the Chinese. UNITA had also been secretly allied with the Portuguese during the struggle for independence providing them with the intelligence to destroy the MPLA. However the Soviets never really trusted the MPLA who they saw as too close to the Chinese and too pro US. Thus contrary to the cold war paranoia of the times the MPLA were not the pawns of the soviets. After the Coup in Portugal the new government announced that Angola would be given it's independence and the three groups began to compete for power ahead of the scheduled elections. The third force in Angola were the FNLA funded by Mobutu of Zaire (Formerly the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo) They were lead by Holden Roberto Mobutu's incompetent son in law. UNITA was lead by the ruthless and Charismatic Jonas Savimbi who was willing to ally with anyone in order to seize power. He received support from Zambia and South Africa. Lastly there was the MPLA Lead by Agostinho NETO scholar, poet and revolutionary which was the most popular of the three and the only group with a clear vision for Angola's future even according to the CIA themselves. They wanted to develop Angola and since most of the population lived in complete poverty and 90 percent of them were illiterate the MPLA adopted a socialist model even though they were quite happy to do business with western corporations. In fact they were desperate for Foreign investment and Gulf oil (who had an oil concession there) and Boeing (Which had already been paid to supply two passenger jets and and to build an airport) lobbied heavily against the war. During the war for independence the MPLA had made contact with the Cubans who had helped them train and arm a column of fighters and smuggle them across Zaire and into Angola. (See my September Article Che Guevara in the Congo for more on this) In addition to their ties with Cuba, Yugoslavia, and the USSR the MPLA were strongly supportive of independence movements fighting to free the populace from South African Apartheid Client states in Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) and Namibia (Aka South West Africa) . South Africa considered these vital buffer states in maintaining the security of their State founded on racial Segregation, exploitation and oppression. Thus they were determined to crush the MPLA. The US was also determined to keep the MPLA from coming to power because of their relations with the soviets, and to please their allies Zaire and South Africa. Well actually as John Stockwell revealed they weren't so determined to win. They had three options according to the CIA. First they could go in decisively Stockwell recommended that they could bring in some gunships, massive planes armed with computerized machine guns able to cover the area the size of a football field with bullets every six inches which according to Stockwell had been quite "effective" in Vietnam and have been recently used in Iraq and Afghanistan to slaughter the locals in the name of freeing them. However this would have made the American role too obvious. The second option was that they could supply enough weapons to start a war but not to win one. The MPLA in Kissinger's words "must be denied an easy victory." The third option was to stay out of the whole thing. Kissinger decided on the second option. Although in the field the CIA were quite determined to win the war, they were constrained by the small budget provided. This cynical strategy would prove to be a disaster since the Cubans were motivated by the desire to insure the independence of Angola which they correctly saw as a vital step in Freeing all of southern Africa from Apartheid. Thus they wanted to win and fully committed themselves to do whatever was necessary to insure an MPLA victory. In the end this difference would prove decisive.
John Stockwell decided to fly to Angola to meet the various parties. Ridiculously their chief intelligence assets in the country were the leaders of the FNLA and UNITA who were both seasoned liars who provided the CIA with a very distorted and self serving picture of events. They inflated the number of men they had and their successes. Stockwell decided to Fly over and see for himself first arriving in the capital of Zaire where he had a bit of a power struggle with the COS (Chief of Station) Actually one of the most amusing things about the book is the way Stockwell demythologizes the CIA. Instead of engaging in a life in death struggle with the KGB like in the movies, they are engaged in constant Bureaucratic turf wars with each other and the other branches of government. In one part he lays out who a Case officer truly fears. according to Stockwell:
"Actually at least in more routine operations, Case officers most fear the U.S. Ambassador and his staff, then restrictive headquarters cables, then curious, gossipy neighbors in the local community, as potential threats to operations. Next would come the Local police, then the press. Last of all is the KGB in my twelve years of case officering I never saw or heard of a situation in which the KGB attacked or obstructed A CIA operation."
So much for hollywood and it certainly puts recent event in Benghazi in perspective. Thus his primary problem in Zaire was dealing with the veteran COS there who didn't want Stockwell messing with his turf. Next Stockwell flew down to northern Angola where he was almost killed upon arrival because he was pretending to be a journalist. The FNLA was actually being advised by Portuguese Angolans and the Portuguese didn't want their faces in the paper because they worried their families might suffer reprisal. Stockwell defused the situation in a unusual way by tossing his expensive camera into the trash and loudly proclaiming he was CIA sent by Henry Kissinger himself to meet Holden Roberto. The FNLA politely retrieved his camera and treated him with all due respect from then on. Roberto was away at the front so first he talked to the FNLA's Portuguese and Brazilian advisers who were all to willing to bad mouth Roberto. Then he finally met Roberto and inspected the scene of a recent one sided battle where the FNLA had fired on a village that the MPLA had already deserted. Roberto had mistaken it for a major Battle but Stockwell had apparently gained a lot of experience in Vietnam assessing scenes of battle after the fact pieced together what actually happened. Stockwell decided Roberto was an amateur but was impressed by his enthusiasm as he ran around constantly giving orders and micromanaging everything. Of course this would prove disastrous when during the war he constantly ignored his advisers.
Next Stockwell flew down and met Savimbi and was apparently quite impressed with him. Reading Stockwell's book you would never know Savimbi had once worked treacherously with the Portuguese. He is presented as a genuine revolutionary leader who only lost credibility because he sided with the South Africans. Stockwell attended a mass rally for Savimbi who was apparently quite popular among his native Ovimbundu tribe at the time. Stockwell actually wished he could trade places with him. He wished he could be leading a national liberation movement instead of constantly plotting to destroy them. Then he flew back to Washington where he got into another turf battle with his superior who wanted to control exactly what Stockwell would tell Kissinger's 40 committee. Stockwell wisely submitted and was rewarded with an invitation to a party with Washington's powerful foreign policy elite.
Stockwell describes the massive weapons deliveries and how they were arranged in elaborate detail. Outside of San Antonio there was and apparently still is a massive warehouse of weapons from both Western and Soviet bloc countries. It is from this warehouse that the CIA has funneled weapons to fuel wars all over the planet. If they want to hide their role they either shipped out of date US weapons or soviet ones. For decades after the end of world war 2 the CIA was shipping world war 2 era weapons all over the place. In Angola their main problem was transportation the Air Force or Navy would charge them quite a bit to transport the weapons and refused to risk flying into Angola itself. Mobutu loaned them one of his planes but the CIA worried what would happen if it got shot down. This actually happened eventually and the CIA had to pay Mobutu for the damages. Eventually to keep up with the massive flow of weapons the CIA organized hijackings using the FNLA of the corporate jets of the businessmen who made their fortune looting Africa. These were then used to deliver the weapons. The CIA managed to flood UNITA and the FNLA with weapons often pointlessly since their poorly trained troops didn't know how to use or maintain them and their weapons often were quickly rendered useless from neglect. Still the CIA was hopeful early on.
In addition to funneling in weapons the CIA worked closely with South Africa whose intelligence service was the appropriately named BOSS. The US sought to publicly distance themselves from South Africa because it was so unpopular in Africa and indeed throughout the world. However the CIA got along very well with BOSS just like it usually does with secret police aiming to keep the corrupt status quo in place through torture and murder. BOSS knew well how to cloak their racist policies in anti-communist rhetoric and the CIA characteristically viewed the black populace of Southern Africa as dangerous subversives who needed to be kept in place by any means necessary. (They hold similar views about the populations of Latin America and Asia and even North America or Europe.) Thus Stockwell points out that they never took seriously the views the rest of Africa held regarding Apartheid South Africa dismissing them as irrational. Thus the CIA made an unofficial alliance with South Africa in the Angola war. Stockwell and some others had warned of the dangers but were over ruled. The South Africans were asked through some mysterious back channel to invade Angola. The CIA used it's pull with the press to insure that the south Africans were misidentified as mercenaries when in reality they were the South African Army. Upon learning of the South African invasion Fidel Castro decided to send not just advisors but thousands of troops.
In addition to the South African's the CIA authorized the recruitment of groups of mercenaries. They funneled money to a Portuguese Angolan who claimed he had 300 men ready to jump into action at a moments notice. In the end he produced only a dozen or so. The CIA recruited notorious mercenary Bob Denard who demanded a small fortune up front in exchange for setting up a company of mercenaries. Most dramatically Roberto hired a man named George Cullen a complete psychopath. At first this worked to his advantage as he impressed Roberto by killing a bunch of MPLA members but then got him into trouble when he executed a dozen of his own men. He was forced to flee Roberto's wrath and was later captured by the MPLA tried for war crimes and executed.
In addition to setting in motion the physical war the CIA was also involved in what we call today Information war but which was known back then as Psychological operations. Stockwell gives a great inside picture of how the CIA manipulates public opinion. It has journalists all over the world on it's payroll and they will plant false stories which the CIA has other journalists reprint in their papers, until the lies eventually spread all over the world. In Angola for instance the CIA completely fabricated a story in which cuban soldiers went on a rampage and raped a bunch of the local women. Then they fabricated another fake story in which the Cubans were caught and tried by the village and condemned to death. Not only did the CIA plant fake stories CIA agents would be coached on what to say to the press and then flown to New York or Washington while the CIA secretly paid for a press tour.(Contrary to popular belief CIA agents are the contract employees of the CIA actual CIA members are called officers) A delegation from UNITA (who were secretly CIA agents) was quite successful in getting great PR coverage and even at lobbying congress. The CIA was quite devious in their attempts to manipulate congress. They privately assured them that no arms were being shipped directly to Angola by the CIA, and that there were no CIA advisers on the ground in Angola and that the goal was to prevent a conflict. All three assurances were blatant lies. In addition when Senator Clark decided to fly to Zaire and Angola to find out the truth the CIA found out his schedule and sent people ahead of him to coach everyone he planned to meet on what they should say. Luckily Senator Clark was able to see through it and actually managed to temporarily put a stop to the funding of the covert war in Angola. The CIA also concocted a white paper made up of the usual mix of information and disinformation that the FNLA presented as it's own and which was used to manipulate the press and politicians in the US and around the world. The CIA did not hesitate to break the rules regarding operating domestically or propagandizing the public. Today it is no doubt a hundred times worse as this was the CIA at it's most restrained. It was only in the 70's that any real attempt was made to restrain the CIA.(A little known fact is that Nixon had a private war with the CIA and fired around 400 of them.) Ever since the Reagan years they have been completely unaccountable as witnessed by the recent torture scandal for which no one was fired. So be careful when your reading the news you never know when you are being subjected to CIA black propaganda although given the current state of the media I wouldn't be surprised if reporters fabricate even more news then then the CIA these days.
The war went badly for the CIA proxies. After advancing on the Capitol of Luanda the FNLA under Roberto along with a group of Mobutu's Zairean commandos were successfully ambushed at Quifangondo with a massive rocket attack and completely routed. After this they steadily retreated stopping only to terrorize the locals. Although initially successful the South African advance was eventually stopped by the MPLA and the their cuban allies. They too were slowly pushed out of the country. Once the south African invasion was exposed many of the African countries decided to recognize the MPLA as the legitimate government. There was a brief scandal in Washington and Congress voted to cut off aid for the war in Angola by Passing the Clark amendment on the advice of Senator Clark. Unknown to John Stockwell this would eventually lead to the formation of the Safari club which would covertly fund UNITA and more importantly would lead to the the creation of both the Iran Contra scandal and the funding of the group that would come to be known as Al Qaeda. Thus the War in Angola would not only lead to the eventual liberation of southern Africa from Apartheid (According to Andre Vltchek Namibia still suffers under an informal apartheid however) The war in Angola would also lead indirectly to the current war on terror. Ironically John Stockwell himself played a small part in this In 1977 he mailed a letter to the new director Stansfield Turner urging him to purge the (Covert) Operations part of the CIA. Turner have actually taken his advice as he fired hundreds of agents. This would embitter those still left in the Agency against Carter and those fired began to form a privatized network that would play a role in the October Surprise and later the Iran Contra affair and all sorts of shady business. Thus the war in Angola now largely forgotten would have all sorts of important consequences.
As for John Stockwell he decided to resign out of disgust and would spend years speaking around the country calling for an end to the CIA and trying to educate the public about the endless covert wars the US wages around the planet. He called the Cold War, World War 3 a war not with the soviet union but upon the third world. He traveled to Cuba which completely shattered his cold war illusions and he became a staunch defender of the Cuban revolution. Unlike Philip Agee his book didn't seek to blow anyone's cover but the CIA sued him anyway eventually seizing all the royalties. In Response He wrote new books (which I Haven't read yet) . His Second book was A novel "Red Sunset" that correctly predicted the Peaceful end of the cold War and his third was a book exposing the crimes of the CIA called "The Praetorian Guard".
I Definitely recommend "In Search of Enemies" to anyone interested in the CIA or US foreign policy in general. I doubt whoever is in charge of the Covert wars on Libya or Syria will ever dare to write a tell all book about it so this is the one book that gives a first hand account of a Covert war from the top. I also Highly recommend you watch some of the great interviews and lectures Stockwell gave which are available free online. I've watched many hours of them and truthfully John Stockwell is one of the people who inspired me to launch this blog. His other books are the novel red sunset and the non-Fiction Praetorian Guard based on his lectures. I also recommend Phillip Agee's "Inside the Company" I also drew on the work of Peter Dale Scott for discussing some of the consequences of the war in Angola. I highly recommend his books "Road to 9/11" "American War Machine" and "the American Deep State" although he only mentioned Angola in passing he goes into great detail about the Safari Club (Created in part to get around the Clark Amendment meant to end the War in Angola )and the privatized CIA created after Turner fired a bunch of CIA agents in the 70's. I also Highly recommend Jane Hunter's "Israeli Foreign Policy South Africa and Central America" for the usually omitted but extremely deep Israeli role in Southern Africa. For more on Angola I also recommend Piero Glejeses great "Conflicting Missions" and "Visions of Freedom"
This video includes a documentary film on Angola and John Stockwell at the beginning followed by an interview on the Media.
And this one is a long Lecture
A simple search for John Stockwell Youtube or archive.org will yield a wealth of lectures and interviews on all sorts of topics. In addition You can read some excerpts from his book "In Search of Enemies here
And some Excerpts from The Praetorian Guard here
Andrew Gavin Marshall Wrote a great piece based on Peter Dale Scott's work I recommend it if you want to learn more about the safari club and it's connection to 9/11.
Andre Vltchek on the current state of Namibia