from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


The Angolan intervention is a strong candidate for the most pointless CIA operation ever. Certainly the ratio of blood spilled to goals achieved-to the extent that those goals can even be determined- makes it one of the agency's biggest fiascoes.

In 1975, the collapse of the Portuguese empire left its African colony of Angola with three groups struggling for power. Each had at various times flirted with both capitalism and Marxism, and each had taken aid from both East and West. Zaire (a US ally) backed one faction, the Soviets backed another (the MPLA) and the CIA ended up backing the third, Jonas Savimbi's UNITA.

The main reason for the CIA's involvement in Angola was Henry Kissinger's determination to start another war as soon as possible after the fall of Saigon, to show the world how tough we were. We said we were worried about oil-even though there isn't much of it in Angola, and the MPLA, which has controlled the oil since 1975, has continued to sell it to the West throughout the war. Another absurd excuse: Angola is close to "shipping lanes" (just like every other coastal nation on earth).

No diplomatic option was ever pursued by Kissinger. Instead, the CIA put untold amounts of blood and treasure behind Savimbi-a brutal, bloodthirsty autocrat. Our apparent determination to turn Angola into a Cold War battlefield brought in South African troops, who supported Savimbi, and-in response-Cuban troops, who supported the MPLA with great success.

South Africa's involvement was part of its efforts to destabilize all of its neighbors, in order to delay the inevitable ascension of its black majority to power. Since they were supporting our faction, this caused considerable damage to US relations with black Africa.

After $40 million and thousands of dead, Congress-in a rare display of principle-cut off funds for the Angolan war in 1976, the first time it had ever voted to shut down a CIA operation. Unfortunately, the CIA managed to sustain the killing off-the-books until Reagan took office in 1981. Millions more dollars and thousands more lives were then wasted until, in 1990, the ongoing Angolan stalemate at last resulted in an election.

When Savimbi lost overwhelmingly to the MPLA, he cranked the war right back up again, initially with further CIA funding. Finally, in 1993, the US distanced itself from Savimbi and recognized the MPLA government, but the war still continues. So far, more than 300,000 Angolans have died, 80,000 are crippled, 50,000 orphaned, and the damage to property exceeds $50 billion.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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