The FBI has admitted to spying on Nelson Mandela on his first visit to the United States after he had served 27 years behind bars.
Agents recruited an insider from the South African’s entourage to get the itinerary for his 1990 visit, files have revealed.
Mandela, freed four months previously, was the leader of the African National Congress, a group the U.S. had designated a “terrorist organization.”
A May 30, 1990, memo – from the Atlanta office to then-FBI Director William Sessions – notes that agents had an informant.
Another memo among 334 pages of files shows plans for Mandela’s trip included a meeting with Coretta Scott King, widow of murdered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The informant also said Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan wanted a meeting with Mandela – but this didn’t happen until 1996 when Mandela was South Africa’s president.
The documents, of which the FBI withheld 196 pages due to national security, were released after a Freedom of Information request from campaigner Ryan Shapiro.
But he accused the FBI of editing the files, adding: “There’s virtually no discussion of U.S. intelligence community involvement prior to Mandela’s 1990 release.”
As exclusively reported by journalist Jason Leopold of Al Jazeera, the CIA has been accused of providing data to apartheid authorities in South Africa that led to Mandela being jailed in 1962.
But in 1990, the FBI was also nervous after death threats against Mandela.
A letter to a Houston newspaper read: “Remember John F. Kennedy in Dallas?
“Bring this black murderer to Houston and we will give him a welcome the world will not forget!”
Mandela, the first president of South Africa in the post-apartheid era, died aged 95 in December.