Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa
by Susan Williams
Hurst and Company London (2016)
This book details the author’s extensive investigation into a suspicious 1961 air crash that killed the second UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold. Her first edition, published in 2011, would trigger a new UN investigation, in 2015, into the cause of his death. In 2016, UN investigators concluded that Hammarskjold died as a result of foul play. However owing to US and UK refusal to release classified files, they couldn’t conclusively identify the individuals responsible.
The book begins by setting the stage for what was clearly an assassination. Williams describes in detail the role of foreign mining companies in fighting full independence of the Congo from Belgian rule. Belgian officers loyal to these companies continued to command Congolese troops following “official” independence in 1960. When these troops mutinied, the UN declined a request for assistance from Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba.
His appeal to the Soviet Union (and the arrival of Soviet troops) would lead Katanga province (where most of the mines were located) to secede – with the support of Belgian troops and a bevy of white mercenaries from Rhodesia, South Africa, Britain and France.
At this point, the UN Security Council passed resolution 143, ordering Belgian troops to withdraw and installing UN peacekeepers in Katanga to prevent civil war. The CIA’s response was to assassinate Lumumba and Install their protege Mobutu Sese Seko (who would brutally ruled the Congo/Zaire from 1965-1997) as chief of Congo’s military.
Mobutu, in turn, arrested, tortured and executed all the senior members of the Congolese senate. The Security Council responded with Resolution 161, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign advisors and authorizing the UN to take “all necessary measures” to prevent civil war. This included supplying armed UN troops to protect the Congolese government.
When it was became clear the UN troops (who had significantly inferior weapons) had no chance against the mercenaries’ superior fire power and Belgian air support, Hammerskjold set out for Nolda in Northern Rhodesia to try to negotiate a ceasefire with Katanga’s acting president Moise Tsombe. The secretary general’s jet mysteriously crashed as it approached Nolda airport.
In additions to hundreds of eyewitnesses (including a crash survivor who spent a week in hospital before he died) who saw Hammerskjold’s plane explode before it crashed, the most intriguing evidence comes from radio traffic between a pilot (reporting his attack on Hammerskjold’s jet) picked up by a US NSA operative in Cyprus and an Ethiopiann short wave operator and mysterious telexes* discovered in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation files in 1998. The latter refer to the plot to assassinate the Secretary General as “Operation Celeste,” run by shadowy South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAMIR) mercenaries.
As best as investigators can reconstruct, Operation Celeste planted a bomb on the DC-6 prior to its departure from Leopoldville.** When it failed to explode on take-off, two smaller planes were sent to intercept the jet and prevent it from landing. One pilot fired shots at the DC-6 that triggered the bomb to explode.
* Prior to the advent of the Internet, the telex network was an international system of teleprinters electronically interconnected by telephone lines.
**Leopoldville has since been renamed Kinshasha.