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In 1960, the newly independent Congo erupted into civil war. Belgium, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union all rushed to influence the outcome. Congo sits atop some of the richest mineral deposits in the world; it was a critical Cold War battleground. The CIA came to the aid of one of the warring parties: the rebel state of Katanga. One of the critical ways they aided Katanga was by supplying otherwise unavailable weaponry. I focus on one instance of arms smuggling in particular: when three fighter jet aircraft were smuggled to the rebel Katangan regime. Historians have not come to a consensus of where these jets came from, or who paid for them. In this study, I make the case that the CIA planned the smuggling through a complex network of front companies, legitimate businesses, and partners in foreign governments.This smuggling was orchestrated by a Zambian arms dealer with complicity from the French and Belgian governments, a French aircraft manufacturer, a Belgian bank, and an American charter airline secretly owned by the CIA. For this study, I collected and read over 1,000 pages of State Department documents from the National Archives, over 1,000 pages from the CIA's archive, 29 pages of never before released UN archival documents, and smaller numbers of documents from many other archives including the National Military Museum of the Netherlands, the Eugene McDermott Library at UT-Dallas, and UNLV Special Collections. I also found great utility in US Air Force and FAA airplane transaction logs, in following paper trails left by smugglers. Thanks to this research, I found the first name and business partner of the Zambian arms dealer, known to other historians by his last name only, and have confirmed that the American airline, suspected of CIA ties by other historians, was in fact covertly owned and operated by the CIA. This helps establish what I believe was a wider pattern of CIA strategy in covert operations throughout the era.


Utah State University

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Congo 1961: Tracking CIA-Backed Weapon Smuggling in Africa's Copper Belt

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