Monday 25 February 2008
Larry Devlin is 85 now, suffering from emphysema and tethered to an oxygen tank, his Central Intelligence Agency career long behind him. But he recalls with sunlit clarity the day in Congo nearly half a century ago when he was handed a packet of poisons, including toxic toothpaste, and ordered to carry out a political assassination.
«I was totally taken aback», said Mr. Devlin, sitting in his den, looking out on a small lake in the Virginia countryside. He uttered a mild profanity, he recalled, and asked: «Isn’t this unusual?»
It was 1960, and Mr. Devlin, the C.I.A.’s young station chief, was in the middle of a political maelstrom as Congolese factions fought for control of the newly independent nation and the United States jostled with the Soviet Union for influence and control over deposits of critical metals.
Mr. Devlin had no problems with bribery, blackmail or other varieties of skulduggery — “all part of the game” for the C.I.A. under Allen Dulles at the height of the cold war, he said. But he thought the order to kill Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic Congolese politician the Eisenhower administration feared would become an African Fidel Castro, was both wrong and stupid, a desperate plan that could easily go awry and devastate American influence in Africa.
«Worldwide it would have been disastrous», he said.
So he stalled. And Lumumba’s political rivals eventually killed him without the C.I.A.’s help.