Previously classified documents show federal agents continued to monitor Mandela and ANC even after his release from prison
The FBI monitored the interactions between Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress and leftwing groups in the US through the 1980s and 1990s as part of its ongoing investigations into what the bureau deemed to be the communist threat to US national security, new documents reveal.
The batch of 36 pages of previously classified documents, extracted from the FBI under freedom of information laws, show that federal agents continued to monitor Mandela’s and the ANC’s connections within the US even after the legendary South African leader was released from prison in February 1990. The bureau monitored meetings between Mandela and other world leaders, tracked the movements of senior ANC officials as they travelled across the US, and kept a close eye on the anti-apartheid activities of the Communist Party USA (CP-USA).
The declassified documents are marked “secret” under recognised codes for domestic and foreign counter-intelligence investigations. They include a record kept by federal agents of a meeting in Namibia just a month after Mandela’s release from jail between him and the then president of Yugoslavia, Janez Drnovsek. The record notes that a transcript of the proceedings was sent in Serbo-Croat to the FBI’s Cleveland office.
Another document records the FBI’s decision in June 1990, four months after Mandela was set free, to send an informant from Philadelphia to New York to snoop on a meeting that the bureau thought was about to take place between Mandela and Puerto Rican independence activists. “Information contained in this communication is extremely singular in nature and must not be disseminated outside the FBI or existing terrorism task forces,” it stated.
The newly declassified records are the second batch relating to FBI monitoring of Mandela to be obtained by Ryan Shapiro, a freedom of information expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the first set of documents, made public in May, it was disclosed that the bureau had used a confidential informant to gain an inside track on Mandela’s first visit to America in June 1990.
The new batch suggests that the FBI continued to see Mandela and the ANC through a paranoid cold war lens even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and after Mandela had emerged as one of the great democratic figureheads. The bureau’s obsession with categorising Mandela as a threat to domestic national security reached such a pitch that even elements within the FBI were driven to question the bureau’s prevailing analysis.
In August 1990, the FBI’s Chicago field office wrote a secret memo that highlighted the historical ignorance of its sister branch in New York which had classed the ANC as a “known Soviet front group”. The memo complained that “our description of the ANC as a Soviet front is an over-simplification which fails to recognize the complex and paradoxical nature of that particular organization (which was, of course, founded before the Russian revolution).”
Despite such enlightened interventions, the FBI carried on investigating links between the ANC and anti-apartheid and anti-racist groups in the US over many years. In 1984, federal agents kept watch over a senior ANC official, Makhenkesi Stofile, as he made a tour of the US meeting anti-apartheid groups. It also kept records of the involvement of Democratic Congress representatives in the Free Nelson Mandela campaign.
“The documents reveal that, just as it did in the 1950s and 60s with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the FBI aggressively investigated the US and South African anti-apartheid movements as communist plots imperiling American security,” Shapiro said.
Many of the documents are heavily redacted, and Shapiro said he is now pressing for release of the complete uncensored records. He is also continuing to sue the CIA, National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency for all their paperwork on Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement.
Ed Pilkington in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 10 July 2014 18.10 BST
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