- BuyEmpire of Secrets: British Intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire by Calder Walton
Harper, 411 pp, £25.00, February, ISBN 978 0 00 745796 0
It’s pretty obvious why British governments have been anxious to keep the history of their secret service secret for so long. In the case of decolonisation, which is the subject of Calder Walton’s book, revelations about dirty tricks even after fifty years might do irreparable damage to the myth carefully cultivated at the time: which was that for Britain, unlike France, say, or the Netherlands, or Belgium, the process was smooth and friendly. Britain, so the story went, was freely granting self-government to its colonies as the culmination of imperial rule, which had always had this as its ultimate aim – ‘Empire into Commonwealth’, as the history books used to put it. If for no other reason, the myth was needed in order to make ordinary Britons feel better.
[*] Cambridge, 449 pp., £25, December 2012, 978 1 107 00099 5.
Vol. 35 No. 7 · 11 April 2013
From David Lea
Referring to the controversy surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba in1960, Bernard Porter quotes Calder Walton’s conclusion: ‘The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know’ (LRB, 21 March). Actually, in this particular case, I can report that we do. It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’
We went on to discuss her contention that Lumumba would have handed over the whole lot to the Russians: the high-value Katangese uranium deposits as well as the diamonds and other important minerals largely located in the secessionist eastern state of Katanga. Against that, I put the point that I didn’t see how suspicion of Western involvement and of our motivation for Balkanising their country would be a happy augury for the new republic’s peaceful development.
Vol. 35 No. 8 · 25 April 2013
From John Stephenson
Bernard Porter reminds us that MI6 had responsibility for our ex-colonies after independence and also that many of its dirty secrets may yet remain unrevealed (LRB, 21 March). In 1975, Gough Whitlam’s Labor government was sacked by the queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Kerr. The Australian left believed then, and still believes, that the CIA was implicated in some way, but it may be that they’ve only been carrying the can. I was a young philosophy student in Canberra at the time, driving night taxis for spare income. Two weeks before Whitlam was sacked, I picked up a British gentleman from a diplomatic shindig, who, as we drove past the PM’s residence, informed me in perfect detail of everything that was going to happen. Shocked, I asked his name. He replied: ‘I’m not going to tell you my name, young man, but you will remember this night and remember this conversation as long as you live.’
From David Moore
One night in late 2007, at the beginning of a long telephone conversation with Daphne Park about other matters, she told me that Patrice Lumumba was a fine fellow but said and did some crazy things when he smoked too much hashish (Letters, 11 April). She didn’t indicate her involvement in his death. The other matters we discussed concerned her tenure in Lusaka – where, she said, she gained most of her intelligence by holding grand parties on the verandas of a house she rented just outside the city. I had been told that Park – ‘everyone in town knew what she was doing’ – had approached someone with a request that they store arms for the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), which had split from Zimbabwe’s founding nationalist party, the Zimbabwean African People’s Union (Zapu), and eventually became Zimbabwe’s ruling party. This made sense, given Zapu’s ties with the USSR and evidence of support for Zanu in these years on the part of some British foreign policy-makers. If anyone knows whether Park or any of her compatriots ever did run guns for Zanu, I’d love to hear from them.
University of Johannesburg
Vol. 35 No. 9 · 9 May 2013
From Glen Newey
David Lea reports the late Daphne Park’s claim that she ‘organised’ the murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 (Letters, 11 April). Getting Lumumba sidelined was certainly high on UK officials’ wish list. In July 1960 John Profumo, the Foreign Office minister, worried that the Congo would ‘become just the sort of African slum in which Communism would be most likely to take root’. Howard Smith, later head of MI5, considering solutions to the crisis, aired ‘the simple one of ensuring Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him’; another FO official, Alexander Ross, agreed that ‘there is much to be said for eliminating Lumumba.’ The foreign secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, agreed with Eisenhower in wishing that Lumumba ‘would fall into a river full of crocodiles’. Even so, British involvement seems unlikely, if only because no other evidence of it has emerged. Neither Larry Devlin, then CIA station chief in Leopoldville, nor the various Belgians who’ve testified since, have fingered Britain: surely these witnesses would have passed the buck to MI6 if they could have done.
Lumumba’s murder was a Belgian-Katangese job with US facilitation. In October 1960, without telling his government, King Baudouin gave the Katangese secessionist leader Moïse Tshombe the nod to take out Lumumba. The Belgians, with the CIA’s blessing, delivered Lumumba to his enemies in Katanga on 17 January 1961. He was flown to Elisabethville aboard a Belgian-piloted Sabena airliner and met on landing by Belgian gendarmes, who were joined at the killing site by Tshombe and other officials. Belgian officers commanded the Katangese firing-squads that shot Lumumba and two colleagues. The stakes for Nato included keeping Katanga’s mineral deposits – especially uranium – out of Soviet hands. Instead, they continued to be exploited by the Belgian firm, Union Minière.
As MI6 operative in Leopoldville, Park may have helped engineer the UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s death later in 1961. Documents unearthed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa implicate the CIA and British intelligence – including SOE, where Park served in the Second World War – in a plot to remove Hammarskjöld, who was flying to Ndola to broker a UN mandate inside Katanga. By then he had switched the UN’s stance from neutrality over secession to opposition. The British, still the colonial power across the border in Northern Rhodesia, where the UN leader’s plane crashed, wanted Tshombe’s regime as a buffer against expected Communist incursion in the Congo, as did Union Minière.
Since Lea was among those who called for the current UN inquiry into Hammarskjöld’s death he might also, in the interests of clarity, tell us what else Park told him: it’s hard to believe that he left the conversation at that.
From Simon Darragh
A member of the House of Lords tells another, over a cup of tea, that she had organised an abduction and murder. Three years later her fellow member of this august body writes to the London Review of Books about it. How civilised.