‘FBI spied on Mandela during his historic 1990 visit to United States’

The FBI spied on South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela during his historic visit to the US, following his release from prison after 27 years, according to newly released files.

An FBI memo dated May 30, 1990, from the Atlanta field office to then?FBI Director William Sessions about Mandela’s upcoming visit noted that the bureau had cultivated a confidential informant close to his entourage, who had provided logistical information about his travel itinerary.

The South African leader arrived in the US in June 1990, four months after his release from 27 years in prison, as the world’s most celebrated political prisoner and liberation icon for his struggle against apartheid.

At the time of his visit, Mandela’s party the African National Congress (ANC) was still designated by the US as a ‘terrorist organisation’. The ANC was not removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organisations until 2008.

Also, it was widely alleged that the CIA had provided information to the apartheid authorities in South Africa that led to Mandela’s arrest in 1962.

The memo says the FBI was told by its informant (who is described as ‘newly opened, and whose reliability is not yet established’) that Mandela was in contact with Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The partially redacted FBI documents were turned over to Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral candidate who studies the policing of dissent, in response to his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The 334 pages of records, which Shapiro provided to Al Jazeera, largely cover the June 1990 time-frame and represent the FBI’s first interim release of files on Mandela. The FBI withheld 169 pages in their entirety on national security grounds.

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