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Interview with Robert W. Hultslander,
former CIA Station Chief in Luanda, Angola
Robert Hultslander served as the last CIA station chief in Luanda,
Angola from July 1975 through to the evacuation of U.S. personnel in early
November 1975 as MPLA troops moved to take power over rival factions in
the Angolan civil war. As part of his research for Conflicting Missions,
in 1998 Piero Gleijeses sent a set of questions and drafts of sections
of the book to Mr. Hultslander regarding CIA analysis and operations in
the Angolan conflict. Hultslander's responses, sent via fax, along with
the questions, which have been reconstructed for the purpose of this posting,
are excerpted below.
Background: I had had no experience in Africa prior to
my selection as Chief in Luanda, in July 1975. I was serving in [another]
country, and had very little time to "read in" prior to assuming the Angola
command in August. I had less than one week with the Angola Task Force
in Washington, and spent two days on my way into Luanda with officers involved
in the Angolan program. My mind was not clouded by many facts, and I had
few preconceptions prior to hitting the ground. Since I would not be directly
involved, I also had only rudimentary knowledge of our covert action program.
I volunteered to remain in Luanda after Angolan independence (November
11,1975), although the Consulate was ordered to close. Initially approved
at the highest levels of State and CIA, Kissinger, afraid of a potential
hostage situation, decided on the day of the last refugee flight, November
3, 1975, that every American diplomat had to leave Luanda immediately.
I strongly disagreed, and pointed out that the MPLA desperately wanted
to keep an official U.S. presence, and would protect anyone who stayed
behind. I lost the argument. The Consulate's convoy to the airport departed
without me; I arrived by motorcycle only minutes before the flight left
for Lisbon, I was only in Angola a few days over three months, but continued
to follow events from Lisbon for over three years.
QUESTION: What kind of knowledge did the CIA have of the Angolan
liberation movements prior to the outbreak of the civil war?
An Agency office was established in Luanda in 1964, chiefly to report
on various African Liberation movements. (Since Angola was a Portuguese
colony, Lisbon had provided coverage, routinely.) This office was closed
in 1967, mainly as you suggest, "to humor the Portuguese," end the Agency
was forced to rely on "off-shore" coverage, mainly from Kinshasa, Lusaka,
and Lisbon. Responding to the worsening crisis following the Portuguese
Revolution, the Agency decided to send a few officers to Luanda on temporary
duty in March 1975. I followed as quickly as possible, arriving in early
August To the best of my knowledge, the bulk of the CIA's reporting in
1974 and 1975 did in fact come from Kinshasa. Holden Roberto was well known
to the US Government which enjoyed good access to Roberto and his chief
lieutenants, facilitated by his father-in-law, Zairian strongman Mobuto.
On the other hand, we had little contact with UNITA (or Savimbi) until
UNITA emerged as the third major power player. Also, as you mention in
your study, Savimbi was not trusted because of his Chinese communist contacts
and his flirtation with Maoist philosophy. The Luanda Consulate reported
in June 1974 that Savimbi was ideologically sympathetic to Maoism. The
Lusaka Embassy also reported Savimbi was pro-Chinese and a racist. The
CIA took issue with these reports, and argued that Savimbi was a nationalist
exploring various means to gain assistance for his own liberation movement,
The Luanda Consulate subsequently modified its critical reporting on Savimbi,
but continued to believe that he was paranoid and self-pitying.
QUESTION: What was your own assessment of Agostinho Neto and
the MPLA? UNITA and the FNLA?
I came to share [U.S. embassy Consul General Tom] Killoran's assessment
that the MPLA was the best qualified movement to govern Angola. Many of
its leaders were educated at the University of Coimbra and, a few at Patrice
Lumumba University in Moscow. Although many outwardly embraced Marxism,
they were much closer to European radical socialism than to Soviet Marxist-Leninism.
Lucio Lara, a mulatto intellectual, was probably a convinced communist
(in the old, Cold War sense). Agostinho Neto, the undisputed leader of
the MPLA, however, was more moderate. A protestant minister, he was married
to a Portuguese, and had many close Portuguese friends. His trusted doctor,
and unofficial advisor, Armenio Ferreira, was Portuguese and lived in Lisbon.
Other senior MPLA leaders were impressive: Lopo do Nacimiento, Paula Jorge,
Nito Alves, Carlos Rocha, and Iko Carreira were smart political operatives.
Chieto and Dangereux were good military commanders, etc. In addition, the
MPLA was the least tribal of the three movements. Neto and most of the
top cadre were Mbundu, but the MPLA welcomed many different tribes, unlike
the FMLN (Bakongo) and UNITA (Ovimbundu). Despite the uncontested communist
background of many of the MPLA's leaders, they were more effective, better
educated, better trained and better motivated. The rank and file also were
better motivated (particularly the armed combatants, who fought harder
and with more determination). Portuguese Angolans overwhelmingly supported
the MPLA. Unfortunately, the CIA's association with the FNLA and UNITA
tainted its analysis. As is frequently the case when intelligence collection
and analysis are wedded to covert action programs, objectivity and truth
become victims of political expediency. I believe this was the case in
Angola. No one wanted to believe the Consulate's reporting, and Killoran's
courageous and accurate analysis was ignored. He sacrificed his career
in the State Department when he refused to bend his reporting to Kissinger's
In the interest of candor, I must admit that Killoran and I were frequently
at loggerheads over what I initially perceived as his MPLA bias. The briefings
and orientation I received prior to arriving in Luanda emphasized the communist
orientation of the MPLA, and convinced me of the urgent need to stop the
MPLA from taking power. I fully agreed with the U.S. policy objectives
as articulated to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 1995.
Since the MPLA was receiving Soviet assistance, I believed that we had
no choice but to counter with our own assistance to its opponents. It was
only after three months in Luanda, that I realized what was really happening….
I had little direct contact with UNITA. My knowledge of this movement
is rudimentary, and thus not worth your consideration. As you are aware,
UNITA had little presence in Luanda, either politically or militarily,
during the time I was there. I was deeply concerned, nevertheless, about
UNITA's purported ties with South Africa, and the resulting political liability
such carried. I was unaware at the time, of course, that the U.S. would
eventually beg South Africa to directly intervene to pull its chestnuts
out of the fire.
I admit that I developed a bias against the FNLA and its leaders, which
I never tried to hide. Its ties with Mobuto merely added to my assessment
that this organization was lead by corrupt, unprincipled men who represented
the very worst of radical black African racism. My personal experience
only served to reinforce my opinions. I was disgusted by the briefings
I received in Kinshasa, and my meetings with FNLA leaders and contacts.
As an aside, which underlines my assessment: our senior FNLA contact in
Luanda tried (unsuccessfully) to use our sensitive facilities to transport
QUESTION: What was your opinion about the CIA covert action
program codenamed IAFEATURE?
Simply put, I was opposed to the covert action program in Angola because
I was convinced it would not succeed, and would badly damage our ability
to work in the future with moderate elements throughout Africa. We were
not prepared to spend the necessary resources to assure victory. Or more
fairly put, we should have realized that our adversaries (Moscow and Havana)
were more determined and much better positioned than we. And, they did
not have a hostile Congress controlling the purse strings. Nat Davis said
it succinctly in his notes to Sisco on July 12, 1995: Kissinger was determined
to challenge the Soviet Union, although no vital US interests were at stake.
We held bad cards, as Davis argued. I like your conclusion, "To `pass'
when no vital interests were at stake and the cards in one's hands were
bad could be been, therefore, a sign of maturity, not of weakness. But
it was not Kissinger's style: his United States must play, and win," How
Instead of working with the moderate elements in Angola, which I believe
we could have found within the MPLA, we supported the radical, tribal,
"anti-Soviet right." You write that, "Kissinger feared that an MPLA victory
would have destabilizing effects throughout southern Africa." Of course
the opposite proved true; it was our policies which caused the "destabilization:"
(Comment: I did my best to argue the U.S. Policy position and defend
the covert action program during my all night session with [Senator] Clark
at Killoran's Luanda residence. My heart was not in it, however, and I
finally admitted that I personally thought our support of Roberto and Savimbi
would prove disastrous. This position, as you can imagine, caused me problems
with my own superiors, and infuriated Kissinger.)
QUESTION: What evidence did the CIA station have of a Cuban
presence in Angola?
I agree with the history as you present it, and with your conclusions
regarding the assistance provided by Cuban forces, which I believe did
not arrive in any numbers until after we departed. […] Although we desperately
wanted to find Cubans under every bush, during my tenure their presence
was invisible, and undoubtedly limited to a few advisors. We knew they
were on the way, however, and I believe we knew about the Britannia flights
through Brazzaville in early November. […] You may be interested to know
that [after we evacuated] a senior Cuban officer, believed to be the DGI
Station Chief, took over my beach apartment and confiscated all my possessions,
including several month's supply of food and my African art collection.
…Since I probably was known to MPLA intelligence, I assume this ironic
twist of fate was not coincidental.
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