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CIA’s role in the arrest of Nelson Mandela

I don’t remember hearing that it was the CIA that had told South African authorities where to find Mandela so they could arrest him.

African National Congress Vice-President Nelson Mandela addressing a rally in Port Elizabeth on April 1, 1990.
REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya

When Nelson Mandela died in December, I paid a lot of attention to the coverage. There was a lot about his long imprisonment by the South Afrrican apartheid regime. But I don’t remember hearing (do you?) that it was the CIA that had told the South African authorities where to find Mandela so they could arrest him.

But it was.

Amy Goodman, the feisty, lefty host of the long-running radio program “Democracy Now,” talked about it at the time and has reported on it and now written about it.

At the time of Mandela’s death, Goodman brushed off reporting from the Cox News Service in 1990, which quoted a former U.S. official “saying that within hours after Mandela’s arrest a senior CIA operative named Paul Eckel admitted the agency’s involvement. Eckel was reported as having told the official:

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“We have turned Mandela over to the South African security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be. They have picked him up. It is one of our greatest coups.”

Most recently, Goodman published an op-ed about an American researcher, grad student Ryan Shapiro of MIT, who filed an Freedom of Information Act request seeking details of the U.S. government’s role in Mandela’s arrest.

The National Security Administration replied to the FOIA request:

“To the extent that you are seeking intelligence information on Nelson Mandela, we have determined that the fact of the existence or non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter.”

Mandela was arrested in 1962. The reasons that the NSA still can’t tell us about it is a little hard to imagine.