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CIA’s role in the arrest of Nelson Mandela

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

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:

“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.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/31/2014 - 09:44 am.


    “Mandela terrorist” and you’ll gets tons of reasons why the CIA would be interested in helping South Africa put Mandela behind bars.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/31/2014 - 12:46 pm.

    Actually, no

    I have no trouble at all imagining why the CIA would like to pretend that documents the might show American involvement in the arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela don’t exist. It’s a little embarrassing to talk about self-determination and democracy on the one hand while admitting that, yes, you’ve helped an apartheid regime imprison a leader of the opposition. Hypocrisy makes for some awkward diplomatic and political situations.

  3. Submitted by Max Hammer on 03/31/2014 - 12:58 pm.

    Not sure the point of this post

    In the context of the time, people around the world clearly viewed the situation in South Africa much differently than they do in hindsight today. If the United States and other countries were firmly opposed to apartheid it would have ended much sooner. What exactly was the purpose of this post? It almost reads like a veiled conspiracy theory trying to implicate today’s CIA with having the anti-Mandela worldview of the 1960s.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2014 - 04:05 pm.

    What’s the point?

    Yeah Eric, why should anyone care what their government did way back in 60s? It’s not like history is relevant or anything. Next thing we know you’ll be telling us that advisers told the presidents to stay out of Viet Nam.

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 03/31/2014 - 08:19 pm.

    Put “your name here”

    next to “terrorist” and you’ll come up with tons of reasons to put anyone behind bars. With drones and “extraordinary rendition” you don’t even have to have any facts or evidence, a trial or anything. Just the accusation and presto, “your name here” is now public enemy number one.

  6. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/31/2014 - 08:38 pm.

    Obama needs to demand CIA declassify; expose its backside

    Mandela’s imprisonment and torture under the most unacceptable conditions – and Obama’s lack of an apology?

    It is no surprise since the CIA under the Bush administration approved and executed torture as acceptable methodology as in black sites and Gitmo etc…abuse of power going far beyond what this agency or any government agency should be allowed to engage in under a democratic system?

    To distance ourselves from the bloody CIA tactics hidden, yet so slowly being exposed, says much for the gullibility of our citizenship and the Bush congress’s conspiracy of silence?

    Who then are we now as citizens who know, yet care so little?

    In Germany it was called the Speisser mentality, that romantic view of a people able or not able to recognize their own devious happenings; by allowing it to happen by not knowing or wanting to know of that sick playground within its leadership; covert or otherwise, by forgetting or ignoring those atrocities?

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