Larry Devlin was raised in California, enlisted in the army reaching the grade of captain in World War II, joined the CIA in 1949 and was appointed Chief of Station Congo in 1959. He subsequently served as Chief of Station, Laos and Chief, Africa Division and retired in 1974. He resides in Virginia and Provence, France.
Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zoneby Lawrence Devlin
Larry Devlin arrived as the new chief of station for the CIA in the Congo five days after the country had declared its independence, the army had mutinied, and governmental authority had collapsed. As he crossed the Congo River in an almost empty ferry boat, all he could see were lines of people trying to travel the other wayout of the Congo. Within his first two weeks he found himself on the wrong end of a revolver as militiamen played Russian-roulette, Congo style, with him.
During his first year, the charismatic and reckless political leader, Patrice Lumumba, was murdered and Devlin was widely thought to have been entrusted with (he was) and to have carried out (he didn't) the assassination. Then he saved the life of Joseph Desire Mobutu, who carried out the military coup that presaged his own rise to political power. Devlin found himself at the heart of Africa, fighting for the future of perhaps the most strategically influential country on the continent, its borders shared with eight other nations. He met every significant political figure, from presidents to mercenaries, as he took the Cold War to one of the world's hottest zones. This is a classic political memoir from a master spy who lived in wildly dramatic times.
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WOw. What a strange and interesting book. Interesting due to the subject nature and author - Congo in the 1960s and the efforts of CIA's Chief of Station there to keep the country from falling to Soviet-assisted communists in the first salvo of the Cold War fired in Africa. Mr. Devlin provides highly readable historical background and person vignettes from his years as one of the key US players there (some would say "the" key player). I am amazed this book has not seen greater sales or publicity. Strange in that it appears to be an old man's apology or last hurrah to clear his name. The book was published in 2007, Mr Devlin died in 2008 at the age of 86. I suspect he had a ghost writer that helped him put the book together. Mr. Devlin had long been accused as being involved in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the left-leaning early Prime Minister of the Congo who ran afoul of Mobutu and others. Despite admitting that the CIA had ordered him to poison Lumumba, Devlin emphatically states that not only did he not do that, he also was not involved in his subsequent death at Congolese hands, apparently in Katanga province. And yet...unanswered questions remain. He admits his subordinate there in downrange Congo cabled him his sarcastic "thanks" for Lumumba arriving in Katanga, but said it was just humor, and CIA was not involved otherwise. Yet John Stockwell (In Search of Enemies), another CIA officer later famous (infamous?) for operations in Angola, claims he was told years later by a CIA officer who had been on the scene that Lumumba's body was in his car and he had to get rid of it. None of that is mentioned or clarified by Mr. Devlin. In addition to attempting to argue his proper role in the Lumumba affair, Mr. Devlin also attempts to justify the support given Mobutu, essentially arguing that given the stakes at the time and the alternatives, the US made the proper choice. I'd agree, though Mr Devlin's comment that at least Mobutu was never a tyrant on the scale of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia is faint praise indeed. Mr Devlin also goes extremely light over the US military support for Mobutu, though it is mentioned. Curious that CIA appears to have done very little work the US Defense Attache Office during this whole period, with CIA being given the lead on establishing mercenary air and ground forces in Congo to support the govt there (including working with legendary mercenary leader Mike Hoare, who the author may also have worked with in Laos). Other books have suggested US special forces operated in the Congo, but again, no mention of that by Mr Devlin. Mr. Devlin lived a long and extremely full life. Before becoming a CIA legend, he served as a US Army officer in North Africa and France in WWII. After leaving the Congo, he ran CIA's secret war in Laos during the Viet Nam war years, drawing upon his OJT expertise in running mercenary armies that he gained in the Congo. All of that would have made for a very interesting autobiography. Yet, his book covers only about 6 years in the Congo. He says this is because of the importance of Congo in the Cold War, as it is a little understood victory in that conflict, as opposed to "hot" wars he was in that were of a different nature. Again, a book well worth reading. I just can't shake the feeling it was the result of an old man seeking to clear his name (and perhaps of CIA as a whole) before he died, so he limited the focus of the book. RIP.