FBI kept tabs on Mandela’s first-ever visit to the US, files show

Nelson MandelaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has released for the first time some of its internal files on the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Among other things, the documents reveal that the Bureau closely monitored Mandela’s first ever visit to the United States in 1990. The legendary black campaigner arrived in the United States in June of that year, just four months following his release from prison after 27 years of captivity. The FBI documents include a redacted memorandum from the Bureau’s field office in Atlanta, Georgia, addressed to William Sessions, who was the FBI’s Director at the time. The memorandum notes that the Bureau had been able to recruit an informant inside, or closely affiliated with, Mandela’s inner circle. The source had provided his FBI handlers with a detailed itinerary of Mandela’s 11-day US tour. The memorandum stresses that the “confidential source” was “newly opened” and thus his or her “reliability [was] not yet established”. But Mandela’s travel itinerary, which had apparently been planned by a member of staff in the office of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, was carefully dissected by the FBI. The documents show that the Bureau’s principal concern was safeguarding the life of the South African political leader, who had received countless death threats in the days prior to his arrival. According to the declassified files, the threats originated from various racist skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan, as well as a host of white supremacist organizations. But alongside its concern about “terrorist activity being directed” at the civil rights campaigner, the Bureau was obligated to monitor his activities on US soil because at that time Washington still designated the African National Congress, which Mandela led, as a “foreign terrorist organization”. The designation was finally lifted in 2008. The FBI documents were initially released to Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral candidate, who filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in partnership with Al Jazeera journalist Jason Leopold. The Bureau then posted the documents, which consist of 334 scanned pages, on its website, shortly after Al Jazeera published an exclusive report on their release. The Qatar-based news agency reported that the FBI withheld a total of 169 pages from its file on Mandela “on national security grounds”. Shapiro told Al Jazeera that he is now suing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency for access to their files on the late South African leader.

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