CIA to Help Angola Rebels, Congress Reportedly Told

Times Staff Writers

The Reagan Administration has formally notified Congress that it intends to give covert CIA aid to Angolan rebels battling the Cuban-backed government in Luanda, congressional sources said Thursday.

A secret “finding” on covert support was delivered to the House and Senate intelligence committees last month, arguing that covert aid to rebel leader Jonas Savimbi would push the Luanda regime toward negotiations with him, the sources said.

Savimbi met with President Reagan at the White House on Thursday and declared himself pleased with the Administration’s evolving policy toward his decade-old insurgency.


“I am satisfied,” Savimbi said.

“We want to be very helpful to what Dr. Savimbi and his people are trying to do,” Reagan told reporters as their 15-minute meeting in the Oval Office began. “What we’re trying to arrive at is the best way to do that. We want to be very supportive.”

Congressional sources said they do not know whether the CIA has yet delivered any money or supplies to Savimbi, whose guerrilla army, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), has been fighting with South African support.

“We understand that they have been working out the logistical problems of how you get supplies there,” one said.

But the sources said that as much as $15 million could be given to Savimbi from CIA reserve funds without explicit congressional approval. Congress could attempt to block the plan, but leading Democrats said it would be difficult and time-consuming.

In 1975, Congress halted a secret CIA program of military aid to Savimbi. That ban was lifted last year.

Administration officials refused to confirm the decision to send covert aid, although Reagan told reporters publicly last November that he favors such a plan.


The chairmen of both the House and Senate intelligence committees say they oppose secret CIA funding for Savimbi’s guerrillas and would prefer a public debate over open aid. Conservatives also have applied intense pressure on the Administration to give overt aid to the rebels--in some cases, demanding that the United States help them to a military victory over the regime.

Initial Resistance

Secretary of State George P. Shultz initially resisted aid for Savimbi, arguing that it could become an obstacle to his efforts to negotiate a compromise between the guerrillas and the Angolan government.

Shultz has said that such a settlement would include a share of political power for the guerrillas, withdrawal of the estimated 35,000 Cuban troops in Angola and withdrawal of South African forces from neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa).

Last year, however, Shultz agreed that covert aid to Savimbi should be readied if the Luanda regime failed to offer concessions.

“Diplomacy requires, to be effective, a degree of pressures that drive the parties toward a political compromise,” Chester A. Crocker, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters earlier this week in a veiled reference to the covert aid program. Crocker said his talks with Angolan officials Jan. 8 and 9 “produced no breakthroughs.”

Shultz and Crocker have said they oppose conservative proposals in Congress to mandate overt aid to Savimbi--in part, aides say, because it would deprive them of the flexibility to halt the aid if that might help negotiations.

Problems With Neighbors

A White House official said overt aid also would cause problems for Angola’s neighbors because the United States would want to use their territory for shipping supplies.

Instead, the Administration has asked Congress for a resolution expressing political support for Savimbi but leaving the question of aid to the CIA.

Administration officials took pains Thursday to argue that Savimbi--unlike his conservative U.S. backers--believes that his group is incapable of a clear military victory and that his goal should be a negotiated settlement.

“We found it interesting and reassuring that Dr. Savimbi takes very much that stand himself,” said a senior official who sat in on the guerrilla chief’s talk with Reagan. “He seeks negotiated solutions, and he supports our own diplomatic efforts.”

Asked whether Reagan prefers negotiations to military aid, the official said: “He doesn’t mean anything of the sort. In fact, we don’t see the two as in contradiction to each other. If you are going to have diplomacy, you’ve got to have the pressures in place that make it successful.”

A White House official said that one problem with the aid is how to deliver it. He said the Administration had agreed that it would be politically impossible to ask for help from the white-minority government of South Africa.

“If you move something into Angola, the only acceptable place is through Namibia,” he said, even though Namibia is ruled by South Africa.

He said Reagan is not worried by the fact that Savimbi was trained in Communist China and once proclaimed himself a Maoist.

“Savimbi wants an independent, anti-Communist, probably neutralist nation,” the White House official said. “Conservatives don’t have any problem with that. The fact he was trained by the Chinese is no problem; after all, we’re friends with the Chinese now.”

Savimbi’s 10-day visit to Washington, reportedly paid for by conservative U.S. backers, also included separate meetings with Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger and CIA officials, sessions with dozens of congressmen, appearances on all major television networks, interviews with The Times and other major newspapers, and several public speeches.