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"But isn’t it passe?" Mark Garsin responded when I phoned him recently in New York for an interview about the political assassination of Patrice Lumumba. I was not surprised. Much progress has been made in the last five years in getting to the bottom of the Jeffrey Dahlmer-style disposal of the Congo’s first democratically elected leader in the copper mining province of Katanga 45 years ago.
Garsin is one of a handful of cogent and principal eyewitnesses to the region’s history from that era. He served as director of operations in Kinshasa for a dozen years or more for diamond brokers, Leon Tempelsman & Son (Maurice).
He hasn’t really wanted to address the subject of Lumumba with the media, but says "everyone’s dead now". So I was able to persuade him to share his thoughts with me recently over a glass or two of Merlot at L’Absinthe.
First here’s a recap of what is known about Lumumba’s death. Author Ludo de Witte (The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba (Verso, 2000)) working from official records from Belgium, US, UN, UK, Portugal and France identifies Lumumba’s "actual executioners" as Katangan police: Captain Julien Gat, Lt. Gabriel Michels, Commissioner Frans Verscheure and Sergeant Francois Son, plus a nine-member firing squad. Belgo-Katangan police commander, Gerard Soete, and his brother then hacked up what was left of Lumumba and dissolved the pieces in sulfuric acid, saving a couple of teeth for souvenirs, which were later flashed at a BBC film crew.
There were myriad accomplices. Even the ANC was involved. The mission was codenamed: "Operation Barricuda". And the government of Belgium has now apologized to the Lumumba family for its role in the murder. Lumumba’s son has accepted the apology.
But what role did the CIA and Mobutu play? The Church Committee Report says they each had a hand in his death. It is also believed Mobutu was on the CIA’s payroll. But De Witte lets the CIA off the hook regarding transfer of Lumumba to Katanga and in his mutilation and death by firing squad.
Aside from the mystery of what role the CIA played, there is the issue of why Lumumba had to be taken out at all. Not everyone agrees that the Soviet factor was as significant as it was made out to be.
[Click here: CNN - Map of Zaire ]
Mark Garsin was born in Belgium in 1920. He spent a year in a Spanish prison during World War II — caught fleeing the Nazis. "We lost our visas and it was the only way to escape from Europe to London at the time," he said,
"Franco one day traded 600 prisoners for a boatload of manure from Tunisia and I was set free."
Following the war, Garsin studied agriculture and then ran a plantation in Burundi, beginning in 1953. He first came to the US from Burundi, bordering Congo, when Burundi became unlivable in 1960. He said he decided that he’d "rather sleep with a beautiful woman than with a gun".
He signed on with Belgium-born diamond dealer Maurice Tempelsman (Jackie O’s "beau"), who aside from his own business, also represented the Oppenheimers (De Beers). Garsin then returned to Africa to pursue the company’s interests in "diamonds, copper, everything", running things in Zaire’s capital of Kinshasa until 1976 when Tempelsman replaced Garsin with Larry Devlin — the CIA’s Chief of Station there.
During Garsin’s time in Zaire, he naturally established a working rapport with Mobutu, who he describes as initially "fantastic!" and later as "totally nuts" . [Click here: Social Network Diagram for GARSIN MARK ]
Garsin is an intense but open, amusing and animated man. Medium build with a Belgian mustache. He’s retired from the resource war intrigues, although they are etched in his voice.
At age 84, he prefers to kiss a woman’s hand rather than shake it. He has a vibrant girlfriend named Fern whom he introduced to me at Restaurant Les Sans Culottes ("without pants") on a day in New York when the temperature was minus two degrees Fahrenheit (with wind chill).
He says that his late wife gave him "60 years of happiness". And that
neither of his two grown sons has settled in Africa. Garsin, himself, "can’t imagine ever living anywhere else in the world now but New York".
* * *
Q: Can I ask you first — you were working in what capacity for Maurice Tempelsman?
Garsin: I was in charge of Zaire at the time for Tempelsman.
Q: Did Tempelsman visit you in Zaire or did he pretty much leave things up to you?
Garsin: He left nearly everything up to me. That was the point of being in charge. I did everything I wanted.
Q: And you worked with him during which years?
Garsin: I started in 1961 and finished in 1982 — 21 years. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Q: What was the high point of your career in Zaire?
Garsin: When I got the largest copper mine in the world. I had a consortium behind me. That was the top of my career.
[University of Arizona history professor David Gibbs, who served in the Peace Corps in Africa, mentions Garsin and the Societe Miniere du Tenke Fungurume consortium in his book, The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and the U.S. Policy in the Congo Crisis (U. Chicago Press) and cites a US State Department cable indicating the government was favorable to the consortium.
Gibbs told me that Soviet involvement in Zaire was "brief" and "overrated" by the US government as a political factor, and that there was a "very bitter conflict between the US and Europe" over mineral interests regionally.]
Q: You were saying that in the US people for a long time missed the angle on Belgium and the Lamumba assassination.
Garsin: The Belgians played a major role. But the focus is always on American, Russian, you know. Chinese. God knows. But . . . the one at the time in Zaire that wanted independence were the Belgians.
Q: Wanted the independence.
Garsin: They wanted to give independence to the Congo. Why? Because the large companies started not to like the taxation that Belgium was putting on them. I’ll just give you one example.
I had a chat with the head of the largest, one of the largest companies over there in Belgium and he told me:
"Do you know a Congolese who can measure a log?"
I said, "No. Why?"
"So that’s the idea. Don’t you understand?"
"Oh," I said. "So you would bribe a little bit the guy?"
Q: So they wanted Lumumba.
Garsin: They wanted independence.
Q: They did not want Lamumba.
Garsin: No. Lumumba became a little . . . To start with they were all for Lamumba. To start with. Lamumba start to go a little bit too much on the left of them. Especially he was going to the Russians because he couldn’t find help anywhere else.
Q: And the concern was the diamonds. The mineral wealth of the Congo.
Garsin: Minerals yes. But diamonds were not the first. Copper was much more important.
Q: Copper was more important then diamonds.
Garsin: Much more important. . . . You know, at the time, the Group of Binza — have you heard of the Group of Binza? . . .The Group of Binza was Mobutu, [Justin] Bomboko, Ndele, Victor Nendaka [became Mobutu's Chief of Intelligence Services]. Click here: Social Network Diagram for BINZA GROUP
[The Group of Binza was a Binza-Kinshasa political clique that worked in collaboration with foreign sponsors roughly until 1990 to "develop" the country's mineral wealth. It installed and propped up Mobutu.]
Q: If you go to NameBase.org on the Internet, your name is right in there with Mobutu . . .
Garsin: I don’t get it. What did you tell me? [adjusts hearing aid] . . .
To start with, I was hundred percent for Mobutu. . . . And I still was until he became totally nuts.
Q: Even with the assassination? . . . Wasn’t the assassination at all upsetting? The assassination of Lamumba.
Garsin: Oh well you know. You don’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Everybody wanted Lamumba out! Belgians. The Americans. They paid the guy, the CIA, to kill. He [CIA chief Larry Devlin] didn’t want to do it. He didn’t do it. He was asked to do it. And everybody wanted to get the guy out. So Mobutu had it easy.
Q: What was the feeling in the Congo at that time? . . .
Garsin: It was very racial. Tribal. For instance, Kasa Vubu was back-Congo and the people from Kasai didn’t want to have anything to do with him. You’ve got to realize that the tribalism is extremely important in Zaire, in the Congo. There are 260 tribes that speak different languages as different from each other as Chinese from English. . . .
Q: And did you know the people at the US embassy? Did you know Frank Carlucci?
Garsin: I knew a lot of people at the embassy.
Q: What did you think of him.
Garsin: I’m not going to tell you. [laughs]. . .
I had all kinds of problems with the [US] embassy because we didn’t see the same way. We didn’t act the same way. The ambassador I’m not going to get involved in that. They were at a different level. They were on top of me. I was at a lower level. Talking to the people at the lower level. They were talking at a higher level and behaving differently. Just totally different. . . .
Well, to give you an example, the charge d’ affaires used to come to Zaire and the first thing he said, "Ha! Let’s go and see Mark and find out who sleeps with whom."
The ambassador was absolutely shocked. "Oou! What do you mean?"
This is important! — if you understand what I mean. In French we say tres premier empire First Empire. Napoleon First Empire. . . . Who slept with who was very important. The ambassador was [shocked]! [makes a face] . . .
Q: Did you have some conversations with Frank Carlucci? How was his French? . . .
Garsin: I never met him. Carlucci. I never met Carlucci. I have all the other ones but not Carlucci. . . .
Q: He’s someone people accuse of being involved [in the Lumumba assassination]. . .
Garsin: I never met him. I don’t know. I came later . . . I came in ’63. . . .
[George Wittman, now dead, ran Tempelman's Zaire office before Garsin.]
Q: You were in Zaire with your family?
Garsin: My wife joined me and children. . . . The children came and joined me for vacation. But otherwise they were in college.
Q: Lucy Komisar has written that the government of Belgium has now apologized to Lamumba’s family for the assassination. . . . And then the Church Committee Report revealed that the US and the government of Belgium and Mobutu all worked together to get rid of Lamumba. Very interesting because I think you said you thought Mobutu did it.
Garsin: Sure. . . . Listen. Something you don’t understand. Lamumba was exactly a nobody. A real nobody! But he had charisma. Okay. But he was a total nobody. You can’t call him a Commie. Or you can’t call him anything. It’s ridiculous! Makes no sense. He was a nobody! He was a total zero.
The president of Zaire, of the Congo at the time was Kasa Vubu. But Kasa Vubu was a total zero! A complete zero! The CIA taped him. They had a tape in the chandelier! The guy who told me all about it. But it’s so idiotic what he said and what he didn’t say! It’s so typically idiotic that you can’t imagine. . . .
Mobutu was not zero.
Q: He was not zero.
Garsin: Mobutu had to start. Now you have to understand that Mobutu is the son of a cook. That means nobody! Okay? He was a sergeant in the Belgian army at the time, in the Congolese army. And he was not very brilliant. But when you have the power. The power’s worse than champagne. It’s worse than alcohol. It’s terrible.
In Africa, if you look at all, Nkrumah [etc.] they all became nuts with power. They start very well and all finished completely nuts with power. That happened to Mobutu. But he started very well. He had some good ideas. And the Group of Binza who was behind him. . . .
Q: The Group of Binza. Mobutu, Momboko, Ndele, etc.
Garsin: And Nendaka, who was the guy from the CIA who taped Mr. Kasa Vubu.
Q: He was from the CIA? . . .
Garsin: I still see him in front of me. His name. He was minister of foreign affairs for a long time. A very charming man. These guys were not idiots! They were not idiots! You understand. They proved it after. Then he became governor of the national bank and he did a fabulous job because he listened to the advisers. You understand?
Q: Did they have some plans for the people? Mobutu and the Group of Binza. They cared about the country or they were more interested in the banking sector?
Garsin: They had ideas. Now you like it or not. That’s the difference. But they were good guys in general. And Mobutu was a fantastic man! to start. But then he became nuts. Like all of them with power he became totally nuts. And he behaved like an idiot killing people. That was the end. He became an idiot!
There’s only one that survived. Bongo. Ever heard about Bongo? [Omar] Bongo is the president of Gabon. He’s the most charming man you can imagine! [Laughs] He’s got 40 kids I think.
Q: Very charming.
Garsin: He became a Muslim. Some kind of omam [imam]. I liked him. He’s the only one I really like as a president in Africa. But all the other ones — I met them all.
Q: So, the government of Belgium has now apologized to the Lamumba family. It’s understood that the CIA now because of the Church Committee Report — played a role in the assassination with the government of Belgium and Mobutu. From Doug Valentine’s wonderful book on the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, The Strength of the Wolf (Verso, 2004), we now know that a man by the name of William Harvey — did you ever meet William Harvey? — was in charge of Division D, the CIA’s assassination unit.
Garsin: The one in charge of CIA in Zaire?
Q: He was in charge of Division D, which was the assassination unit. . . . You knew him? . . .
Garsin: No never heard that name. . . . When I was kicked out of Zaire, Larry Devlin was replacing me. He had finished with the CIA, so you know. He got an order to kill Lamumba. . . .
Q: He got what?
Garsin: He got order at the time he was CIA — he was the CIA, the head in Zaire. He got order to kill Lamumba! He never did. He never acted on it.
Q: He didn’t act on it.
Garsin: They sent poison toothpaste [via the CIA's chief technical officer, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb]. . . .
[Former CIA agent John Stockwell who wrote a book about the Agency,In Search of Enemies, revealed that he grew up in the same missionary community in the Belgian Congo as Lumumba. He had this to say about Larry Devlin:
"I had a chance to go drinking with this Larry Devlin, a famous CIA case officer who had overthrown Patrice Lumumba, and had him killed in 1960, back in the Congo [Katanga]. He was moving into the Africa division Chief. I talked to him in Addis Ababa at length one night, and he was giving me an explanatioin — I was telling him frankly, ‘sir, you know, this stuff doesn’t make any sense, we’re not saving anybody from anything, and we are corrupting people, and everybody knows we’re doing it, and that make the U.S. look bad’. And he said I was getting too big for my britches."]
Q: Apparently what happened is that this man William Harvey.
Garsin: That one I didn’t know at all.
Q: He recruited someone by the codename QJ/WIN to assassinate Lamumba.
Garsin: Mobutu didn’t need anybody. . . . The Group of Binza decided to get rid of the guy and and that was it.
Q: He was QJ/WIN. He was supposed to recruit people from the underworld. Valentine writes that Harvey "in considering candidates for the QJ/WIN position, . . . suggested using ‘former resistance personnel’ from OSS days. ‘Corsicans were recommended, . . . as Sicilians could lead to the Mafia’." [They didn't want to bring in the Mafia because they were protecting the Mafia as payback for their help in WWII, etc.]
Garsin: It’s very complicated. It was just very simple.
Q: William Harvey was the Division D CIA Foreign Intelligence Branch person. And he hired this man QJ/WIN on November 1, 1960 in Frankfurt for the Lumumba operation. It’s believed that he was either a man by the name of Jose Marie Andre Mankel ("FNU Mankel")
Garsin: Never heard of him.
Q: Or a Russian
Q: Mozes Maschkivitzan [Valentine cites author Richard Mahoney, whose father was a CIA officer in Africa at the time, who says QJ/WIN was Maschkivitzan, a Russian emigre living in Luxembourg].
Garsin: They didn’t need all that. Mobutu and the Group of Binza wanted to get rid of him and the CIA may have helped. I don’t know. But they didn’t need all that help. Believe me. They wanted to get him. They got him.
Q: Did you see the film Lamumba?
Garsin: No. Was it good?
Q: I thought it was good, not having been in Congo . . .
Garsin: These guys were so zero . . .
Q: But this fellow QJ/WIN chosen for the Lamumba operation — he was very well known in Parisian circles. A double agent during WWII.
Garsin: Larry Devlin was in charge of the CIA in Zaire. And he refused to kill Lamumba. He got orders to kill Lamumba. He refused to kill Lamumba. He refused to get involved. And when I was kicked out of Zaire, he took over for me. [Devlin now lives in Washington, D.C.]
Q: When was that? What year was that?
Garsin: 1975, 1976 [George H.W. Bush became CIA Director in 1976.]
Q: Why were you kicked out of Zaire?
Garsin: I was kicked out by Mobutu. At the time, he was involved with sorcellerie. Sorcery. Witchcraft.
One of them [his people] was very powerful. A fellow from West Africa. He put in Mobutu’s bed a lovely girl from Niger. I knew the father very well.
Messr. Jacques Bongoma was the chief of cabinet of Mobutu and a good friend of mine, especially his wife was adorable. And I invite them for dinner and he said I’m going to come with Mobutu’s girlfriend. He set exactly what was going to happen. The girl didn’t show up. . .
I said "Mobutu could do better". That was repeated to Mobutu. And Mobutu kicked me out. . . . Very high politics. . . .
I got a summons to go to security and they told me "You’re fired".
Q: But you weren’t working for them, you were working for Tempelsman. Couldn’t Tempelsman cover for you?
Garsin: No. Absolutely not. They wanted me out. They got me out. Okay? . . . They met me at the airport. They put me in the plane. Shook hands with me and said "Bon voyage, Mr. Garsin. Thank you very much."
Q: Devlin was CIA Chief in Zaire for a long time.
Garsin: Yes. Very long time.
Q: You were working with Maurice Tempelsman until when?
Garsin: 1982 . . . I enjoyed every minute of it. After Africa they [Tempelsmans] sent me to South America. That was much better. Peru mostly. Chile. I was there of course when there was a revolution! I’ve got great fond memories to speak about Messr. Pinochet. . . .Let me tell you that the Allende years were not the sweetest years you could imagine. . . .
Tempelsman was quite involved with the Kennedys.
Q: It’s been said that Maurice Tempelsman was also seeing Madeleine Albright. . . .
Garsin: That must have been after my time. In my time it was Jackie. She was a lovely woman. . . . And she loved Maurice. She really loved him. . . .
She learned her trade the hard way. Campaigning. . . . She was so good at it.
Who am I? . . . But when I was in the room with her — I was number one. She was fantastic at doing that! Pushing your guy up. . . . She knew how to do it. She was a great woman!
Maurice had this crazy way of always asking questions. And one day we had the Russians for lunch. The Russians were here to buy wheat. New York was in a terrible financial state at the time and Maurice asked the Russians —
"What would you advise New York to do?"
And the Russians said, "If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it."
And I had it here [thinking to say], "If you don’t have the wheat, don’t eat."
And Maurice knew me very well, and he knew what was coming. And Jackie was there. He looked at me as if to say, "Shut up!" He didn’t say it but he didn’t have to say it.
At his place I met nearly every Senator, every member of the House — for lunch the ones important. And I tell you something, there is not one who had it! The people who are governing us are idiots. Believe it or not.
. . .
Tempelsman had the biggest fundraiser [and I was introduced]: "Mr. Garsin from Kinshasa". And they’d say — "Where’s Kinshasa?" People who were in charge of foreign affairs! At a time when there was a big business [in Africa] . . . Where’s Kinshasa. . .
Solarz. You remember Solarz? He was a member of the House from Brooklyn. He asked, "Where is Kinshasa?" He was a member of the foreign affairs committee.
It’s a bunch of zeroes! It’s a bunch of zeroes! All of them. The only one who made me laugh was Koch. . . .
Q: Sally Quinn was on Charlie Rose after the inauguration talking about how George Bush may have a "learning disability". . . .
Garsin: Clinton was not better you know. I know people who told me. I’m not going to tell you who told me — but they said I’ve been a friend of this guy for 15 years but I’m not going to vote for him.
And you go abroad and it’s even worse. Even worse! Politicians. All of them. More than 50% of the House in Belgium after the war were checked for collaboration. And those people are trying to teachs us morals? Perfectly crooked . . . My son for a while was living in Holland. You can’t live in that country anymore.
Garsin: If you’re robbed you’ve got to say thank you. It’s not going to last. It’s not going to last. We’re going to see a binge one of these days like in Chile.
Q: What do you think about all the security now here in the US? Overreaction?
Garsin: What’s the opposite solution? . . . I don’t know. I don’t like to get a bomb every time I cross the street. Something has to be done. But what? How?
Q: Organized crime. William Colby, former Director of the CIA before he died, said it’s possible that organized crime is "calling the shots" at all levels of government. And then he died mysteriously.
Garsin: It’s obvious.
But when they speak about torture, it’s hypocrisy! It’s been going on for years. I was talking to a Frenchman, a veterinarian who was taking care of all the animals for Mobutu. Mobutu had a zoo at the time. . . . He told me — "We did that in Algeria. We tortured people." And he was the sweetest guy I ever met. . . .
And I asked him, "How can you do that [torture]?"
He said, "I promise you — you’d do it."
"I would do it? Why?"
"You know that the guy knows something that’s going to kill your friends — you’ll do it."
I’ve been thinking maybe he’s right. I don’t know. He was the sweetest guy you could imagine. And you realize — he said to me, "I torture people" . . .
SUZAN MAZUR covered developments in science and technology in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia in the 1980s for Omni magazine. Her reports have also appeared in the Financial Times, Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox television programs. Email: <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org.