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Angola and South Africa: 1985-88

In 1976 Congress had enacted the Clark Amendment prohibiting covert assistance to the two non-communist parties inAngola, UNITA and MFLN. By 1985, after 10 years of fighting, UNITA had emerged as the principal resistance force, but it had been barely kept alive, principally by the efforts of the government of South Africa. Meanwhile Soviet and Cuban assistance to the MPLA-controlled Angolan government had steadily increased.

In the summer of 1985, yet another infusion of menand material was provided the MPLA, which prompted the South African government to increase its support for UNITA. Concerned with these developments, Congress repealed the Clark Amendment on 8 August 1985, allowing covert US assistance to UNITA for the first time in 10 years. In November, President Reagan signed a new finding on Angola, which, because of objections from Secretary of State Shultz, was initially limited to non-lethal assistance to UNITA. Even so, at the insistence of the White House, it was briefed to the congressional leadership - the "gang of eight" - rather than the full committees.

DCI Casey kept working for a finding that authorized lethal aid to UNITA. To garner congressional support, he had the leader of UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, come to the US in early 1986 to make his case before the intelligence committees and the congressional leadership. After the visit, congressional leaders implored Secretary Shultz to drop his opposition to lethal aid, and Reagan issued a new finding in March, allowing for such aid. This time briefings were provided to the full committees.

The chairman of the HPSCI at the time, Lee Hamilton (D-IN), strongly opposed the new finding, which he believed represented a major escalation of US activity in Angola without the benefit of adequate public or congressional debate. In a letter to the Washington Post on 20 March 1986, Hamilton asserted that covert action should be seen as a means of supporting a policy that was open and understood by the public, not as a means of changing that policy in secret. To prevent this from happening, he introduced an amendment, reported by the committee, barring all assistance to UNITA unless and until Congress had publicly debated and approved such assistance. When theamendment came to a vote on the House floor in September, however, it was defeated, 229-186, largely in response to concerns that the vote would hand the Soviets a victory in Angola.

The committees, in fact, approved a covert program for Angola that beganin 1986 and significantly expanded it over the next two years. It included lethal as well as nonlethal assistance for UNITA. In 1987, the assistance appeared to pay dividends as UNITA won an important victory over the Angolan government in the largest battle of the long war.

Despite this success, the new HPSCI chairman, Louis Stokes (D-OH), became concerned that because of the Angola program, the United States was becoming increasingly tied tothe apartheid regime in South Africa. Although Agency officers attempted toassure him that their interaction was limited and appropriate, Stokes proposed an amendment to the intelligence authorization bill in April 1988, barring all military and intelligence relationships with South Africa. The amendment itself did not pass (broader legislation was pending in the parent body), but the HPSCI did "zero out" the funding of all liaison activities for FY 1989 as a demonstration of its concern. Although this action did not survive conference with the Senate, it did cause concern among Agency officials.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:01 ZULU