'Chief of Station' Recalls Congo During Cold War
Retired CIA field officer Larry Devlin was appointed CIA station chief in Zaire in the Congo in 1960, following the Congo's independence from Belgium. It was also a time when the Congo was a significant pawn in the Cold War.
Devlin has written a memoir about his experiences, Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone.
In January 1960, Congo's Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, apparently for accepting assistance from the Soviets. Devlin insists that the CIA didn't participate in Lumumba's murder, even though the U.S. government had a plan to "neutralize" him.
Other segments from the episode on March 13, 2007
DATE March 13, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Journalist Jeffrey Rosen discusses how new forms of
brain scans are being used as evidence in criminal trials and his
recent government-guided tour of Gitmo
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Brain scans are increasingly being admitted as evidence in criminal trials to
suggest that an impairment in the brain caused the defendant to commit the
crime. This emphasis on neuroscientific evidence is being called neurolaw.
My guest, Jeffrey Rosen, wrote an article on neurolaw and how brain science
could transform our legal system. It was the cover story of Sunday's New York
Times Magazine. Rosen is the legal affairs editor at The New Republic and a
professor of law at Georgetown University Law School. His latest book is "The
Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America."
Jeffrey Rosen, welcome to FRESH AIR.
What are some of the ways that MRIs and other forms of brain scans are being
used now as evidence in criminal trials?
Mr. JEFFREY ROSEN: Right now, they're being introduced in death penalty
litigation. Some lawyers have said that it's almost de rigueur in a death
penalty case to introduce evidence that the defendants' amygdala made him do
it. Now this comes in generally in sentencing, after somebody has already
been convicted, and the standards for introducing evidence at sentencing are
very low. If there's any plausible relevance, the stuff comes in. So
generally it comes in. It doesn't always change the outcome, but in some
cases brain evidence has persuaded jurors to sentence someone to life rather
than death, and both proponents and skeptics think that it will really
increase as time goes on.
GROSS: What are some of the typical problems that the brain scans are capable
of showing that are introduced as evidence in the trial?
Mr. ROSEN: More and more defense lawyers are arguing that people's brain
made them do it. One example was told to me by Ruben Gur, who teaches
psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He began a
career as an expert witness in the 1990s when a colleague asked him to talk
about the trial of the convicted serial killer in Florida called Bobby Jo
Long. He was called the classical ad rapist. He responded to classified ads
placed by women and then raped and killed them in a terrible series of crimes.
He was sentenced to death there after he committed at least nine murders in
Tampa. Gur is called as a national expert in PET scan or positron emission
tomography, and after examining Long's PET scans, Gur testified that a
motorcycle accident that left Long in a coma had severely damaged his
amygdala, and it was after emerging from that coma that Long committed his
first rape. So Gur basically tried to argue that the damaged amygdala made
Long into the monster that he was. The testimony was admitted. Gur said he
didn't think it had a profound impact. The case is still being appealed. But
Gur has testified in more than 20 capital cases since then, and he believes
that this evidence is more and more sought after.
GROSS: How does this relate to the insanity defense?
Mr. ROSEN: The insanity defense for a long time in Anglo-American
jurisprudence has held people responsible for their actions unless they're
unable to appreciate the difference between right and wrong. That standard
came from a famous case called the M'Naughten case in the 1840s where a
paranoid British assassin was excused from responsibility because he was
unable to appreciate the difference between right and wrong.
What the brain scan evidence does is introduce the possibility that someone
may be able to understand the difference between right and wrong but may still
be unable to control themselves in some sense. In other words, if all of our
actions are predetermined by our brains, you may be rational enough to know
that what you're doing is wrong but not be able to stop yourself from doing it
anyway, and that's why the most enthusiastic proponents of this brain evidence
suggest that it would require us to rethink the whole notion of insanity and
criminal responsibility and not punish people because they're bad in some
sense because they deserve to be held accountable for their freely chosen
actions. Instead, the idea is you can keep people off the streets if they're
dangerous in the same way that a car without brakes could hurt someone. But
the whole idea of ascribing moral responsibility to a freely choosing agent,
these people claim, is no longer tenable.
GROSS: So if you follow that through, what would the implications be for the
way we punish people in prison now?
Mr. ROSEN: I think that some proponents of this evidence say that
retribution, which has been the focus of American criminology ever since the
1970s, should go out the window. It doesn't make sense to say you're a bad
person who deserves to be punished. It doesn't even make sense to try to send
society a message that this sort of conduct deserves to be punished, because
we're all in some sense automatons who have the illusion of making free
choices between soup and salad or between virtue and vice, but this really is
an illusion. It's our--brain signals are compelling us to act in particular
ways in some deep sense and therefore rehabilitation may not make much sense
either. The main focus of criminology, according to these proponents, should
simply be deterrence, keeping dangerous people off the streets.
GROSS: How? Does that mean like if you have like a cyst on your brain that
you're not allowed to leave the house? I mean like, how do you do that?
Mr. ROSEN: Well, that's a very--it's not a trivial question at all. In the
most obvious sense, you could just lock someone up in prison for a long time
if they're dangerous. But all sorts of questions arise: Should people be
locked up and not only for crimes they've already committed but for crimes
that they might commit? This is something that American law has struggled
with in the context of civil commitment of sexual offenders right now. You
can keep someone locked up not to punish them but to prevent them from
committing future sex crimes, but imagine as brain scans became more precise
if you could identify a spot on someone's brain that suggested that they might
be likely to commit certain kinds of crimes in the future, could you lock them
up, not because of something they've done in the past but because of something
that they might be likely to do in the future? That obviously poses a
fundamental challenge to the basic idea of Anglo-America jurisprudence that
you're responsible for what you do, not for what you think. And the idea of
preventative detention, based on future proclivities, is just one of the
deepest, most troubling implications of this new technology.
GROSS: And I guess this raises the question over whether privacy issues and
laws protecting privacy would be extended to the brain.
Mr. ROSEN: It really does, and as a privacy junkie, I have to say that my
mind reels at the range of issues that are presented by this technology and
that people have barely begun to think about. Can you get a search warrant
for someone's brain? Can you compel them to take a brain lie detector test
that reveals them to be telling the truth? Can you--moving closer to science
fiction--engage in a kind of memory downloading where you could basically read
out someone's brain and have pictures or--audio account of things that they've
seen in the distant past? Is a brain scan like a stomach pump which the court
has said in some circumstances shocks the conscience if it's done in a
particularly egregious circumstance or is it more like a blood sample, which
the court has said you can get because it doesn't really invade privacy.
These range of issues, even the experts themselves have only begun to think
about. There are no clear answers in the courts and it really will keep the
privacy people as well as the rest of us busy for a long time to come.
GROSS: Well, to understand more about what's involved here, you've submitted
yourself to a couple of brain scans to see what they could learn about your
brain. Tell us about one of those tests.
Mr. ROSEN: Well, it was really quite an experience. This was administered
by a--my friend and law school classmate Owen Jones, who is turning Vanderbilt
University into the Los Alamos of neurolaw. He's this very energetic and
enthusiastic proponent of these technologies, so he offered to make me one of
his first subjects for an experiment that he calls "Harm and Punishment." He's
tried to look at people's brains as they assign imaginary punishments to a
range of criminals and see the way the different parts of the brain interact,
the emotional centers in the amygdala and the more deliberate centers of the
prefrontal cortex. So I went down to Vanderbilt and saw their fancy new
center, a $27 million center which was very impressive and went down into the
magnet, as they call it. I know many people have MRIs. I hadn't before.
It's not a portable technology. This thing is not ready for use in airports
to detect terrorists by any means. This huge metal object--you put on a metal
head cage to keep your head from moving. They really impressed on me the
necessity of being as still as possible and not even moving an eyebrow. So
you get in and you have a panic button. Everything is dark and then a serious
of imaginary punishment scenarios are flashed before your eyes for about 45
minutes, imagining that someone wants to kill his father and tries to
electrocute him but he actually was suffering under delusions and therefore
should be excused. And then you press numbers from zero to nine indicating a
range of possible punishments and then stumble outside the scanner. So I did
this for a good long time and then we looked at my brain and saw how the
various parts of it were interacting.
GROSS: And what were they supposed to learn about you through this test?
Mr. ROSEN: I think Owen Jones and his colleague Rene Marois were trying to
study is do different people's brains interact in different ways when they
read these punishment scenarios. So the first thing they learned about me is
that I'm the harshest punisher they ever had. It was a surprise to me but I
assigned higher rates of punishment than other people. But they also found
that the prefrontal cortex, which is the deliberative center of the brain, has
quite a direct correlation with the level of punishment you'll assign, and
that suggested that maybe that center was more important in predicting what
kind of juror you'd be, what kind of punishments you'd assign and basically
how you approach these legal questions.
GROSS: Now you took a second MRI test. Why don't you describe that one to us
Mr. ROSEN: That was great fun, too. It was simpler. It was thought up on
the fly. I asked them to basically show me a test that they hadn't thought of
before, and they said, `OK, think of faces and places in sequence but don't
tell us what you're thinking of.' So I'm sitting in the scanner and it's very
dark and quiet, and I'm very eager to avoid any improper thoughts because I
thought they would be discovered on the scanner. So I thought of my wife's
face and then of my living room at home and then my sons' faces and then my
parents' apartment, in sequence. This went on for some time and then when I
came back the next day, they were smiling broadly, and Rene and Owen said, `We
think we can tell which one you were thinking of even though you didn't tell
us,' and they showed pictures of the face recognition area of the brain
lighting up like Christmas whenever I thought of faces, and then there's a
place recognition area that was similarly active when I thought of places, and
this implication is a pretty straightforward application of the technology
because the face and place areas are unusually localized. It's not like
there's a chocolate area of the brain or a music area in precisely the same
way, but this could have legal implications because imagine that someone
claimed never to have been to a training area--a training camp in Afghanistan
and were shown a picture of this particular training camp, and the place area
lit up, that might suggest that they were lying or not and be useful in
terrorism investigations. So it's an extremely rich series of possibility.
GROSS: Which raises the lie detector test. I mean, lie detector tests sound
very primitive compared to what you're describing now. So what are the
implications for brain scan technology in terms of how lie detector tests are
administered and used in the courtroom?
Mr. ROSEN: Well, there are two kinds of lie detection technology right now.
One involves something called a P300 wave, which apparently lights up when
people recognize things that they've seen before, and that would work much as
the way that I described the faces/places test where you could show someone a
picture of a particular place and see if this P300 wave could be detected.
Another uses FMRI technology and finds that people's brains light up
differently when they lie than when they're telling the truth, so the man who
invented this test, which is called Guilty Knowledge, gave subjects a playing
card and then told them to lie and say they didn't have it in the scanner and
then looked at the way their brains lit up. If you could develop a profile,
basically, of what the brain looks like when it lies, precisely how it lights
up in this controlled situation, you might be able to administer lie detector
tests to people in the legal setting. Now at the very least, the proponents
of this technology, some of whom are trying to market it with wonderful names
like "No Lie MRI," which is one company, and the other is called Cephos, that
people will just be able to bolster their credibility in legal settings. So
if you're in a divorce trial, you say you're telling the truth, you're
challenged in this, you can introduce MRI showing that you're telling the
truth. Right now, the technology is at about 80 percent accuracy which is
similar to the accuracy rate for polygraphs, and that's not considered
accurate enough to be admitted in most criminal trials, but the proponents
hope that in five years they'll get up to the 90 percent range, which should
be accurate enough, and that could be a useful tool.
GROSS: My guest is Jeffrey Rosen. His article on neurolaw was the cover
story of Sunday's New York Times magazine. His latest book is called "The
Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is journalist and law professor, Jeffrey Rosen. We're
talking about his article on how brain science could transform our legal
system now that brain scans are being used as evidence in criminal trials to
make the case that a brain abnormality led to the criminal behavior. The
article was the cover story of Sunday's New York Times magazine.
Who are some of the people opposing the increased use of this kind of brain
scan technology and what are their reasons for opposing it?
Mr. ROSEN: There are a range of reasons. Certainly, privacy advocates are
understandably troubled about the implication of holding people accountable
for what they think rather than what they do, and Paul Wolpe at the University
of Pennsylvania talked to me very eloquently about these concerns. He serves
on the board of an organization called the Center for Cognitive Liberty. This
center is concerned about the implications of future profiling and want to
resurrect an idea of mental privacy. They want to talk about the skull as a
privacy domain and say that in the past, it was merely the inability to look
through the skull and see the content of thoughts that protected people from
dictatorships and other forms of intrusion. Now that that's a possibility, no
longer science fiction, they want the law and also technology to adjust to
this--what they consider to be a "Brave New World." So that's a series of
Another series of critics of brain scan technology comes not so much from
those that fear that it's likely to be too intrusive but those who think that
it's overhyped, that basically either the hopes and fears of proponents and
skeptics won't materialize and also that it doesn't really fundamentally
require us to rethink our whole idea of responsibility. Stephen Morris at the
University of Pennsylvania is especially eloquent on this question. Morris
says, what's new about this brain scan technology, there have been a whole
series of legal movements in response to technological changes that try to
come up with materialistic accounts of human behavior. Law and genetics, for
example, or law and psychology or the Chicago School of Sociology in the 1930s
that tried to say that structural situations like people's upbringing could
affect their behavior. Morris says this is yet another in a long series of
scientific accounts of the roots of behavior. In some ways, it appears more
scientific because there are prettier pictures and may be more likely to sway
jurors because we have this illusion of understanding something when we see a
picture of the brain lighting up, but it's not fundamentally different from
these earlier accounts.
And Morris came up with a very powerful challenge which impressed me. He
said, generally the law holds you criminally responsible unless you act under
duress with a gun to your head, for example, or if you have a serious defect
in rationality, you're unable to tell the difference between right and wrong.
But the law generally doesn't care why you are unable to tell the difference
between right and wrong or you act under duress. It doesn't matter whether
it's bad mommies and daddies, as he put it, or if your amygdala is mucked up.
Basically there's a substantive judgement about the point at which you should
be held responsibility for your freely chosen actions. So merely
understanding the source of this behavior, said Morris, doesn't mean that the
behavior should be excused for those who believe that responsibility is
possible. Otherwise, that would mean because all behavior is caused in some
sense, all behavior would have to be excused, and that's inconsistent with the
premise of the Anglo-American jurisprudence. So Morris, I thought, was a
voice of reason. He wasn't claiming that the technology was irrelevant. He
said it would lead to modest advances in our understanding of particular
behaviors and functions, but the idea that all of our conceptions of
responsibility, harm and punishment would have to be reconsidered, he thought,
was an example of what he called `brain overclaim' syndrome.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jeffrey Rosen, and we've been
talking about an article that he wrote in this Sunday's New York Times
magazine which is called "The Brain on the Stand: How Neuroscience is
Transforming the Legal System."
Jeffrey, you've been writing some really interesting articles and you had an
article that was a cover story in The New Republic that was called "My
Vacation in Gitmo," and it was basically about a small press junket that you
took of Gitmo that was sponsored by who?'
Mr. ROSEN: This was sponsored by the general counsel of the Department of
Defense, of William Haynes, and he invited a group of seven law professors,
journalists and Bush administration officials to go to Gitmo and reassure
ourselves that it wasn't actually Abu Ghraib. He hadn't been for a while nor
had some the Bush officials. The camp has been reorganized under a new
commander, and I think they feel like they've been getting a lot of bad
publicity for a long time and that there's a gap between the lingering images
of abuse that we remember from the early days of the now-shuttered Camp X-ray
and the reality of Gitmo, which is that it's now being run as a very
professional prison. So we were summoned on a couple of days notice and what
a junket it was. Imagine showing up at the Pentagon at 6 in the morning,
taking a little van to Andrews Air Force Base and then really feeling a little
bit presidential as you walk across that famous tarmac up to a private jet, a
Gulfstream jet, which has United States of America emblazoned on it, soldiers
saluting, the sun is rising, and you go into this extraordinarily comfortable
plane. The military steward comes around and takes your omelet orders and all
of us were in a very jolly, almost giddy frame of mind for our unexpected
little holiday adventure.
GROSS: What were you taken to see once you got to Gitmo?
Mr. ROSEN: We were taken to see, first in the administration building for a
briefing about the camp and the interrogation methods, and then we were taken
to see three of the six prisons. There are six of them. Two of them are
recently built, and they contain the highest value detainees. The first one,
Camp One, looks very much like a open air prison, small cells open to each
other and to the warm tropical air. Each of the cells has a Quran in it and a
arrow pointing toward Mecca. The call to prayer is broadcast five times a
day. All of the meals are halal, according to Muslim requirements, and we
actually ate one of these meals. It was perfectly edible. This was all
presented to us as an example of the sensitivity to the religious needs of the
prison population and the fact that there was no mental torture taking place.
GROSS: Jeffrey Rosen's article on Gitmo was the cover story of last week's
edition of the New Republic, where he's the legal affairs editor. His latest
book is called "The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That
Defined America." He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is Jeffrey Rosen. He's the legal affairs editor at The New Republic.
When we left off, we were talking about his recent visit to Guantanamo, which
was the subject of last week's cover story of The New Republic. His
government-guided tour included a chance to witness the interrogation of a
detainee. Before visiting Guantanamo, he was told what to expect by the chief
counsel of the Office of Military Commissions, Colonel Dwight Sullivan.
Mr. ROSEN: He said, `OK, here's what you're going to see. You're going to
go and you're going to see a detainee in a La-Z-Boy chair, and he will be
having McDonald's fries from the McDonald's on the base, and it will be very
jolly and this will be designed to show you how amicable the interrogations
are.' So imagine my surprise when we walked into Camp Five, which is one of
the recently constructed prisons, modeled after a maximum security prison in
Indiana, I think, if I recall, and there was the La-Z-Boy chair and there was
a VCR-DVD player. We were told that the detainees often watch movies with the
interrogators to relax before the interrogation. "Harry Potter," it turns
out, is especially popular, and then we were taken into a separate room to
watch a closed-circuit television broadcast of an interrogation taking place.
And there it was, there was the smiling detainee in the La-Z-Boy and our guide
said, `Ah, you just missed it. They just had lunch. They had Subway
sandwiches from the base, and they were just taken away.'
So this has been a long-running show, and in fact The New York Times reported
in 2005 that journalists complained that on a series of trips, the same
tableaux of the interrogator and the McDonald's fries or the fast food had
been presented, leading some to charge that these were fake interrogations.
Whether they're real or fake, it seemed to me that the conditions of the
interrogation didn't get to the real objection to Gitmo right now. The real
objection is not the conditions of the interrogation but the procedures that
are used to detain people indefinitely, to decide who gets in and who gets out
and now we see to try people for their lives.
GROSS: What are the trials at Gitmo supposed to be examining?
Mr. ROSEN: Well, for example, Mr. Ham Don, who is accused of being Osama
bin Laden's driver and in the course of that task of furthering his terrorist
aims, will be tried before a military commission. I'm not sure what the
precise charge is. When he was tried under conspiracy the last time, the
Supreme Court said that that trial--that charge was essentially invented and
therefore couldn't stand. But now that Congress has endorsed the commissions,
Ham Don will be tried it again of abetting terrorism in some form, and once
again, the constitutionality of the tribunals will be challenged. I should
say, I'm happy to boast here, Hamdan's last case was argued and won by my
brother-in-law, Neil Katyal. Neil will be challenging the new commissions as
well, which were recently upheld by the US Court of Appeals in Washington and
that may go up to the Supreme Court this spring, and we'll have another round
of seeing whether or not these new commissions are or are not constitutional.
GROSS: Is it awkward to go on a press junket like this, knowing that you are
being shown only things that the military wants you to see and you're being
treated like--very well, which is, you know, a good thing so you are getting a
very--you know, like subjective view of things at Gitmo and you walk away
wondering, at least, I think you suggested you walked away wondering, `Is any
of this staged? How much of this is typical of what goes on there?'
Mr. ROSEN: Yes, it was very awkward. I really can't overestimate the power
of a private flight and a warm omelet, you know, at 60,000 feet in the air.
It's very easy to succumb to just the cushiness of being coddled and the
excitement of being chosen as part of a small group, and also I have to say, I
was impressed in my private off-the-record conversations with the general
counsel of the Defense Department who seemed like an intelligent and
well-meaning person. So it's very easy to get caught up in the giddy sense of
seeing something special. But my response to that was just not to make any
judgments at all about whether or not what we were seeing was responsible. I
feel like I've got no way of judging whether it was staged or not. Whether we
were seeing things selectively or not. There was nothing two-sided about this
tour. My goal in the article is to describe it as neutrally as possible and
then to talk more specifically about the problems with the military commission
rules that seem to me objectively troubling.
GROSS: As you pointed out, your brother-in-law represented one of the men who
was imprisoned at Gitmo, and you describe what it's like for lawyers to have
to travel to Gitmo to see their clients, and you describe it as like a really
grueling trip, and it was just interesting to contrast that with this like
lovely flight with the personally made omelet that you had on the press
Mr. ROSEN: It sure was. Neil was amused to say the least when he heard
about our cushy flight because he had a very different one. He had to get up
at 12:30 in the morning, drive to Virginia, get on a plane, go through hours
of military security in order to get on the base. His research assistants
were given a hard time, too. Then you fly to Jacksonville. You refuel for
eight hours, fly to Gitmo and have to wait hours more for a three-minute
security briefing before finally being taken onto the base. It's--they did
not make it easy for habeas lawyers to see their clients there and that--the
contrast reminded me very starkly about the fact that I wasn't going to trust
everything that I saw and take it at face value.
GROSS: Jeffrey Rosen, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. ROSEN: Thank you for having me.
Jeffrey Rosen's article on Gitmo was the cover story of last week's edition of
the New Republic, where he's the legal affairs editor.
Coming up, a CIA agent who was stationed in Africa during the Cold War.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Former CIA agent Larry Devlin talks about his book,
"Chief of Station, Congo," where he describes as erroneous belief
that he was behind Congo's Patrice Lumumba's assassination
TERRY GROSS, host:
`I didn't do it,' says former CIA agent Larry Devlin, referring to what he
describes as the erroneous belief that he was behind the assassination of
Patrice Lumumba. Devlin became the CIA station chief in the Congo in July
1960, just 10 days after the Congo received its independence from Belgium, and
Patrice Lumumba because the first elected prime minister of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo. Just a few weeks later, Lumumba's government was
overthrown in a coup led by the head of the Congo's army, Joseph Mobutu.
Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu's men and later murdered under mysterious
circumstances. Mobutu remained head of the army until 1965, when he led
another coup and took over as president. Larry Devlin has been credited with,
or blamed for, involvement in that coup, but he insists he was not consulted
or in any way involved. This was during the Cold War, when many African
countries were involved in proxy wars between the US and the Soviet Union.
Mobutu was seen as sympathetic to the West, Lumumba as leaning towards the
Soviet. Larry Devlin tells his story in the new memoir, "Chief of Station,
Congo." He says that although he wasn't involved with the assassination of
Lumumba, he was actually assigned with that task. He received a message from
CIA headquarters that a person identifying himself as Joe from Paris would
arrive in 1960. He's what happened when Joe from Paris arrived.
Mr. LARRY DEVLIN: He told me that he had had instructions--he had received
instructions to tell me that I was to assassinate Patrice Lumumba. I'd been
in the business by that time over 11 years and I just--at this--I'd never
heard of such a thing happening, and I certainly did not want to become
involved, but I listened to him and I said, `On whose instructions do you give
me these orders?' And he said, `The instructions come from the president,
President Eisenhower.' And I said, `Did you hear him? Did he give those
instructions to you?' And he said, `No, I heard that from Dick Bissell.'
Bissell at that time was--had the title of deputy chief of operations. He
was--deputy chief plans, excuse me, at that time was his title. Bissell had
assured Joe from Paris that this was the case and that he was to carry out
these instructions. Joe from Paris happened to be a very competent and highly
regarded chemist, and he pulled out a little package and he said, `You should
have this, and it has the various poisons which you can use.' He explained
each one to me. The one I remember easiest was in a toothpaste, and all I had
to do was get the toothpaste into Lumumba's bathroom, and when he washed his
teeth next time, it would take care of him.
My immediate reaction was I don't like this operation. One, it's not
necessary. Two, it's morally wrong. Three, there's a great danger to the
United States and to CIA specifically, my organization, because if I fail in
this and am caught, then it's just going to cause a bonfire all around the
world, and all of Africa will turn against us and so will much of the Europe
and so will much of Asia, particularly South Asia. It just seemed to be
GROSS: OK. So you thought this was morally wrong and that it would backfire
on the United States and the CIA, but Joe from Paris told you that the
president had ordered you to do this. So what did you do?
Mr. DEVLIN: I used that old bureaucratic operation of stalling. I didn't
say no. I didn't jump with joy either, of course. But I didn't indicate that
I did not approve, because I knew that if I refused I would be recalled
immediately and that someone else would be sent out who would be willing to
take on the job. I felt that I already had some very good operations going
and that person would perhaps not be prepared to pay attention to them and
would only concentrate on the elimination of Lumumba.
GROSS: What effect has it had on your life to be associated with this
assassination, even though you say you didn't carry it out?
Mr. DEVLIN: Indeed, I did not carry it out. I repeat the fact that I did
not carry it out. It's not been easy because there have been--you know,
people--I think people sometimes, when they hear that I was the chief of
station, Congo, when Lumumba was murdered, and they've heard that CIA
allegedly was supposed to have killed him and they think that that's probably
what happened, people get a little bit nervous about being near me I suspect,
although little by little that sort of has disappeared with history. After
all, that was 47 years--almost 47 years ago.
GROSS: Although you say you didn't assassinate Lumumba, you did cooperate in
the coup that removed him from office?
Mr. DEVLIN: That's true.
GROSS: You made a deal with Mobutu who wanted to overthrow him and did.
There were two Mobutu coups. This was the coup earlier, in the early '60s.
What was the deal?
Mr. DEVLIN: The deal was, he just said that he wanted to--my guarantee that
the United States government would recognize his--the government which he
planned to put in power if and when he went ahead with this coup plan. But he
would not go ahead with the plan unless it was guaranteed that the United
States government would recognize this new government.
GROSS: And you gave him America's guarantee?
Mr. DEVLIN: I did not have the authority to do so, but I thought, well, this
is what I've been instructed to do, to get Mobutu--not instructed to do but
I'd already had instructions before the assassination man came up that we
should try and do anything to remove Lumumba from power. So I thought this
will contribute to that, and if it's decided in Washington that we do not wish
to support a military coup, then I'll have ample opportunity to contact him
because he won't be doing it for at least a week.
GROSS: So I should say, just to clarify, there were two Mobutu coups. This
was the first one in the early '60s, yeah.
Mr. DEVLIN: This was September '60, 14 September '60, and the next one was
the 24th of November 1965.
GROSS: There were so many proxy wars in Africa in the '60s and '70s in which,
you know, the Soviets were backing one side and the Americans another side and
in the Congo when you were there, Mobutu was seen as being friendly to America
and the West. Lumumba, who was assassinated, was seen by the United States as
being more sympathetic to the Soviet Union. So the United States backed
Mobutu, and he, you know--a lot of people say he turned into--that he turned
his country in the intervening years into a paradigm of everything that went
wrong in post-colonial Africa. So in retrospect, do you think it was a
mistake for the United States to support him?
Mr. DEVLIN: No, I do not. At the time, I certainly felt very strongly that
we--that Lumumba was a danger indirectly to the United States because the
Soviets were very clearly setting out to establish a position of, if not of
control at least of great influence within the country. Their objective was
always control but if they failed in that, at least to develop great interest,
influence. And it was part of my job to try and prevent that. In fact, it
was a very key factor in my assignment.
GROSS: But, in the process, the Congo ended up with a long rule by Mobutu
turned into quite a dictator.
Mr. DEVLIN: Yes, he became--it was certainly not a purely--he had all the
trappings of a democratic government but it was--he was the key factor. He
was, if you will, a dictator. But no different than so many of the African
countries at that time or that existed at that time or that have come to power
since then. When he took power, I really believed and I think he was,
certainly--he was only 29. He was--he really believed in his country. He was
unhappy to see the Soviets and the military camp authorized by the prime
minister to attack--say that the only true democracy in the world was the
Soviet Union, and they had to be friends with the Congo, etc., etc., along
that line. Typical Soviet propaganda. I think he was a nationalist. He'd
worked on an underground newspaper before the independence, seeking
independence, and as he put it to me the night we made our--had our talk, he
said, you know, `I don't want to give up one colonial master for another.'
GROSS: When you were the head of station for the CIA in the Congo, what was
your official identity there?
Mr. DEVLIN: I was a consul of the United States because I was assigned to
the post shortly before independence when it was a consulate general, so when
I went out, I went out as a consul, as the consul and remained that, such.
Happily I had a--there was a legitimate, if you will, foreign service officer
who served as my vice consul who handled all the paperwork and issuing of
visas and that sort of thing.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you a question that I feel like I need to ask.
Because as a spy you're so good at deception because that's part of what you
have to do, should we believe everything that you're telling us? Do you know
what I mean? It's like, I'm always so wary of interviewing former CIA agents
because you just, I always feel like if you've made your career deceiving
people, how do I know that you're absolutely telling the truth now?
Mr. DEVLIN: Well, I think you have to sort of--when--start with assumption
that possibly I might be telling the truth, which indeed I am at this time.
That was one reason for writing my book...
Mr. DEVLIN: ..is that I get tired of hearing all sorts of things that I
allegedly had done, you know. I'm accused of doing all sorts of things.
There's been a book recently, some years--a few years ago, which I'm referred
to as `the murderous Larry Devlin.' I got tired of that. That's why I wrote
the book. I just--when I joined the service, it was because I was--I had
originally planned to try and teach at the university level. I had obtained
my masters degree and completed all my clock coursework required for the
doctorate and was preparing to write my dissertation when one of my professors
asked me to drop in on a Sunday, and he said he had someone he wanted me to
meet, and it turned out it was McGeorge Bundy, who later became the national
security adviser for President Kennedy and President Johnson. He was there
attempting to recruit people that he felt would fit into this new
organization, the CIA. I accepted because I was impressed--he made the point
that we had to fight a cold war in order to avoid a hot war. And having been
involved in a hot war for all too long--I went through the Mediterranean and
European campaigns in World War II, I agreed that this--we had to do anything
to avoid--anything we could do to avoid an atomic war was fair game, and I
therefore enlisted so I felt that what I was doing was a good thing. All that
is, except, of course, when I was requested to assassinate someone. That I
did not approve of.
GROSS: And speaking of that order that you assassinate Patrice Lumumba when
you were station chief for the CIA in the Congo, who did give the order? Do
you know now? You were told that the president, President Eisenhower, had
given the order. But do you really know for sure, now...
Mr. DEVLIN: No.
GROSS: ...who gave it?
Mr. DEVLIN: No, I do not know for sure. As any of your listeners may be
aware, it came out in 1975. President Ford made a slip of tongue and let go
that the CIA had been involved in assassination matters, and it became a
very--both a political and a congressional problem. The Senate appointed a
special committee headed by Senator Church to investigate the matter. I've
read most of the reports that were produced by that committee and it seems
quite clear that--I think, if you'll remember, there was a king of England who
said once, `Will no one rid me of that priest?' speaking of a matter--this is
a historic matter. Well, I think probably the president must have indicated
that he was dissatisfied with the fact that Lumumba was still there in office
and we hadn't found a way to remove him from office. In any case, it was--I
believe--it was interpreted by Dick Bissell, who was then the deputy director,
plans, meaning that the president wanted him assassinated. Now during the
meeting of the committee--met for some weeks, the president's--Mr. Gray, who
was the president's national security adviser at that time said, `Absolutely
not, the president never would have done such a thing.' Other people who were
present at the meeting where he's alleged to have indicated he wanted
him--something done, said they interpreted it, any means, fair or foul to get
rid of him.
GROSS: So you still don't really know whether there really was such an order
or whether it was just a misinterpretation of something the president said?
Mr. DEVLIN: No. I don't. You have it exactly. It could have been--he
could have made it, the deci--the order--extended the order. Or it could have
been a misinterpretation.
GROSS: My guest is former CIA agent Larry Devlin. His new memoir is called
"Chief of Station, Congo."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Larry Devlin, and he's written
a book about when he was chief of station for the CIA in the Congo.
Now the way you described it, you joined the CIA out of idealistic reasons and
you know, you wanted to prevent a hot war from breaking out. Was it difficult
to remain idealistic in the kinds of situation you were put in in the Congo?
Mr. DEVLIN: I did not have any problem about that. I felt that I was doing
what was necessary. I was contributing, not doing. I was not all by myself
achieving this. The Soviet efforts to move into the Congo were viewed both by
Washington and by me and the ambassador--most of the people, I believe, in the
embassy felt the same thing because the Soviets were making a major effort to
take over the Congo in an effort to take over as much of Africa as they could
to gain control of it. The object, if you will, long-term object, might have
been--we didn't know but it seemed a likely possibility that if they could get
further north from the Congo, they could get into position where they could
put planes and rockets in such a position as to outflank NATO on the South.
In other words, they could control militarily the Mediterranean.
GROSS: What's it like to spend many years doing work that you can't really
tell anybody about?
Mr. DEVLIN: Well, it's sometimes a bit difficult when you have--particularly
when you have a family. I can recall--I would come home sometime and tell my
wife that `Oh, so-and-so'--it was a friend or someone with whom we'd served
abroad--`has just been made an ambassador or deputy chief of mission, whatever
the title they'd recently achieved, and I'd look over at--my poor daughter
would sort of be looking down, and she'd--I knew what she was thinking.
`Everybody gets promoted but my daddy.'
GROSS: She didn't understand that that was just a cover.
Mr. DEVLIN: No, no. She felt so sorry for me.
GROSS: `My dad's a loser.'
Mr. DEVLIN: Yes. And later, she was so happy when she found out where I
worked that I wasn't.
GROSS: When were you able to tell her that?
Mr. DEVLIN: Well, actually, I--she learned quite young. She was only--let's
see, I don't remember, in her early teens when we were going back for my
second tour in the Congo, and my wife and daughter took their--took a physical
elsewhere, not at the CIA, and at the end, when she--when they turned in the
papers, the forms they'd filled out, etc., the woman said, `What cover is your
husband under? State, Army, Navy, AID? Something like that?' So she
kept--afterwards, my daughter kept saying, `Well, what does she mean, what is
Daddy's cover? What does this mean? What does this mean?' She was--so when I
got home that night, my wife said, `You must talk to your daughter about the
facts of life.' And I said, `No, I'd rather have you do that.' And she said,
`No, not those facts. Where you work.' And so I had a little talk with my
daughter and she was just delighted. I think she thought I was 007 or
something like that, and she was--to the best of my knowledge, she never
revealed where I worked or did anything like that. And as you may have
noticed if you read my book that, in fact, she saved my wife's life and my
life on two--my life certainly on two occasions.
GROSS: Well, it's good to have a brave daughter.
Mr. DEVLIN: I do indeed. I'm very, very proud of her.
GROSS: Well, Larry Devlin, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us.
Mr. DEVLIN: Well, it's been my pleasure to be here, Terry. I've listened to
your program so many times. I've enjoyed it many, many times, and I never
expected to be interviewed by you. But I've enjoyed it very much. Thank you.
GROSS: Larry Devlin's CIA memoir is called "Chief of Station, Congo."
You can now download podcasts of FRESH AIR on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.