Kirkus Reviews QR Code
CHIEF OF STATION, CONGO by Larry Devlin

CHIEF OF STATION, CONGO

Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone

By Larry Devlin

Pub Date: March 12th, 2007
ISBN: 1-58648-405-2
Publisher: PublicAffairs

A spy comes in from the dripping heat.

Devlin, long retired from The Company, recounts a busy career fending off Soviet ambitions in Africa as a CIA agent and then station chief, a spook’s version of ambassador. In most parts of the world, he writes, that rivalry was an aptly named cold war, whereas in Congo, where he was stationed, it was decidedly a hot one. Newly independent from a once-rapacious Belgium, for whose colonial administrators Devlin has little use, Congo faced its first major crisis when the new leader, Patrice Lumumba, “promised all government employees a pay raise, all, that is, except the army.” In a country where the army has all the guns, that is always a dicey proposition, and Lumumba found himself facing civil war, urged along by the American government, which wanted to see him gone; one memo of Aug. 26, 1960, puts its baldly: “if Lumumba continues to hold high office, the inevitable result will at best be chaos and at worst pave the way to a Communist takeover of the Congo. . . . Consequently, we concluded that his removal must be an urgent and prime objective and that under existing conditions this should be a high priority of our covert action.” By his account conscience-stricken, Devlin resisted doing the wet work. By other accounts, which Devlin cites, he was roundly implicated in the eventual ouster and assassination of Lumumba. Given what seems to be an air of late-in-life candor, it seems reasonable to trust the author, but you can’t ever know for sure. In whatever case, Lumumba’s absence opened the door to long-reigning dictator Mobutu, whom Devlin considers a pretty good guy overall; America’s interests were thus well served, thanks as much to Soviet ineptitude as to anything the CIA did.

An unusually open look at CIA operations in the Eisenhower-Kennedy era, adding an interesting, perhaps controversial, footnote to the still-much-debated death of Lumumba.