Truth Commission Spotlights CIA Role -- Our Man in South Africa
He was a big, blustery man with twinkling eyes and a demonic chortle, and when he showed up at a super-secret office of South African intelligence in 1985, he had a box of dirty tricks as big as the Pentagon.Millard Shirley, according to those who worked with him, was a longtime "Africa hand" with the Central Intelligence Agency, a senior covert action specialist who had lived and worked in southern Africa for a quarter of a century when he came out of retirement to help the white regime neutralize anti-apartheid activists. A South African "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," which has been hearing senior former Pretoria police officials tell how they carried out political assassinations against opponents of the white regime, is looking into Millard Shirley's activities. "The CIA man's arsenal of tricks was varied and inventive, drawn from highly classified Pentagon manuals on psychological warfare," according to Mike Leach, a South African who worked with Shirley. "One of the items was a recipe for prussic acid, a clear compound which, if inhaled, would give a massive coronary," Leach recalled. "If a doctor's not looking for prussic acid, he'll put (the cause of death) down to natural causes."Leach's description closely resembles the manuals the Pentagon used to teach assassination techniques to Latin American military officers at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, which caused an uproar when they were revealed in September."The manuals had (U.S.) Department of Defense stamped on their covers," said Leach, who worked for a secret unit called Stratcom (Strategic Communications), organized to disrupt and destroy anti-apartheid groups. Shirley was hired to train the unit's operatives. "One of the things Shirley did during the negotiations with unions was to doctor the water on the table with chemicals to induce stomach cramps, to bring about a point where the union officials would want to hurry up the negotiations and just settle because they were physically uncomfortable." Another trick was to launder anti-apartheid tee shirts in a fiberglass solution and hand them out to demonstrators, who would soon be convulsed in uncontrollable itching.Shirley was "the top CIA operative in South Africa for many years," according to Gerard Ludi, a retired senior South African intelligence agent and close friend.It was Shirley who tipped off the South African police to the whereabouts of Nelson Mandela in 1962, allowing them to throw up a roadblock and capture him, according to Ludi."Shirley had a high-ranking 'deep throat', a Durban-based Indian, within South African Communist party ranks," Ludi told the Johannesburg Sunday Times in 1990. "This man was obviously close to Mr. Mandela shortly before his arrest, and gave Shirley detailed information about Mr. Mandela while he was on the run."I can only guess that Shirley was instructed by his government to supply the information to the South Africans because it was in America's interest to have Mr. Mandela out of the way." The Times story had followed an initial report of CIA complicity in Mandela's arrest by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, published a week earlier. The Journal-Constitution story did not identify Shirley, who died in an automobile accident in 1990, as the CIA officer who supplied the tip. Nor did it mention his involvement in domestic South African dirty tricks.After Shirley initially retired from the CIA in 1973, he and Ludi were business partners in a private security firm, Ludi said. Then, in 1985, came the call from Stratcom."The South African intelligence services didn't have decent training materials," Ludi said. "They asked Millard to update and do a proper training manual. Then he might've gone there as a freelance thing. He did it for a year -- off and on for a year." Asked whether his friend was still working for the CIA at that point, Ludi answered, "Who knows? Shirley tried to retire many times, but the CIA kept calling him back to duty. We gave him about 20 retirement parties."A CIA spokeswoman said it was against agency policy to comment on its employees. A former CIA African Division chief, Claire George, said he couldn't recall Shirley's name.The CIA also offered training in bugging and wiretaps, according to an official involved in an internal audit of past intelligence operations by the South African telecommunications agency, or Telcom. "They were sent to America to be trained in certain areas of monitoring," he recalled. "It went beyond monitoring of lines to the placing of devices in rooms, some of which Telcom is still uncovering." The CIA also sent South Africans to a facility in Taiwan for advanced psychological warfare training, according to Mike Leach. The auditing official called the alleged wiretap training "very sinister." He suspects the CIA used the program to develop its own spies in Telcom, to protect its assets in the country at this time. "The American government wanted to know which way the cookie would crumble," he said.