Among the many stories declassified last Sept. by the Central Intelligence Agency from its in-house journal, “Studies In Intelligence”, was an interesting tale of courage and daring. That’s what we expect from CIA officers, isn’t it? But, in this case, the hero wasn’t a veteran analyst, but a 14 year old American girl.
In May 1966, an American CIA officer and his family were stationed in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. One night, the 14 year old daughter was awakened by intruders in her bedroom. She feigned sleep as she heard them discussing their plans for her in their native tongue, Lingala. While not fluent in the local language, she was able to understand much of their conversation.
The girl soon realized that she had better distract the three men or else. She got out of bed and spoke to them in Langala. She offered to help them locate valuables, all the while warning them that the Americans had magic ways to identify those who harmed their citizens and that those people were always killed.
Cool and Courageous
They searched a couple of spare bedroom and then went to the parent’s room. Mom and dad woke up, but dad was unable to reach the pistol he had under his pillow. The teen must have gotten her courage from her mother, because the mother harangued the three intruders in French as they ransacked the room taking money, cameras and other valuables.
Being nagged by two women proved too much for the thugs and they confined the family to a bathroom. The Americans then barricaded themselves in, and began calling for help. Eventually the servants heard them and they were released.
The Congolese authorities rounded up all the usual suspects. The cops identified three men as the suspects, tried them, and they were executed. Authorities blamed the men for a string of such break-ins.
The story of the 14 year old girl ends with her receiving an Intelligence Star for her actions that night. She is the youngest to have received that award.
…the rest of the story
Suspicious yet? Why would anyone bring their family to the Congo in 1966, when it had been rife with rebellions just months before? I found some background in an unclassified piece titled “CIA’s Covert Operations in the Congo, 1960–1968: Insights from Newly Declassified Documents.”
Mobutu Sese Seko was the head of the Congolese Army when he took power in 1965. He was very pro-America and the CIA spent millions of dollars over the decades to sustain both his loyalty and his power in the Congo. However, the State Department, the U.S. Ambassador to the Congo and the CIA were not in agreement about maintaining Mobutu’s stipend in May 1966.
George McMurtrie Godley was the ambassador at that time. The piece on covert ops states that he “disapproved of the station’s machinations with local leaders .” Larry Devlin was the CIA station chief at the time. His daughter, Maureen Devlin Reimuller, followed him as a CIA officer. Both of those facts were in the NY Time obituary of Devlin on Dec. 11, 2008.
It seems clear that the family in the story was Devlin’s. Only ranking CIA personnel would have been permitted to bring their family on assignment. By having his family in Kinshasa, Devlin demonstrated his faith and trust in Mobutu.
The reader would do well to note that the home was described as “locked, barred and guarded.” The house would have been well-known to the locals and ought to have been one that petty criminals would choose to avoid. Instead, three men somehow made their way into the locked, barred and guarded house to commit this robbery.
Was this an intelligence operation by a foreign power? Was it some sort of message from a local power broker to Devlin? Was it a friendly reminder from Mobutu that the Americans were dependent on him as much as he was on them? I suppose those details are still classified.