In This Review

Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone
Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone
By Larry Devlin
304 pp, PublicAffairs, 2007

One of the more notorious CIA agents of the Cold War, Devlin has written a matter-of-fact account of his role in the Congo's tumultuous early postindependence years. Although he readily admits that the Eisenhower administration ordered him to plan for the elimination of Patrice Lumumba, the country's first elected prime minister, whom Washington viewed as too pro-Soviet, Devlin claims not to have played any role in the actual assassination, which was apparently undertaken by rival politicians with assistance from Belgian security personnel. Devlin's tale is often entertaining, with lots of cloak-and-dagger drama in a chaotic and largely lawless capital city, Léopoldville. On the other hand, his account of the complicated politics of the era is pedestrian and much too focused on a handful of individuals close to the U.S. embassy. As CIA chief of station, Devlin aggressively promoted politicians he viewed as favorable to U.S. interests; he remains unapologetic about having helped advance Joseph Mobutu, a young, second-tier politician at independence who emerged as the country's undisputed strongman within five years. Devlin seems still quite confident that the alternative to Mobutu's utterly disastrous 30-year rule would have been much worse: Soviet control of central Africa, or, as he calls it, "NATO's southern flank."