How did Dag Hammarskjöld die? The CIA and Indonesian connection

Nov 12, 2022
U.N. SECY. GEN. DAG Hammarskjöld

More than six decades after his plane crashed it remains the great Cold War mystery: Was UN secretary-general (1953-61) Dag Hammarskjöld killed by sabotage, a technical fault, pilot error or air attack? If he was assassinated who was the mastermind?

Dr Greg Poulgrain, who teaches Indonesian history at the University of the Sunshine Coast, suggests the Swedish peacemaker was killed under directions from the US Central Intelligence Agency’s hard-right director Allen Dulles (1893-1969).

The Australian academic’s theory has been given weight by the little-noted release in August of a UN investigation into the death of Hammarskjöld and the 15 passengers and crew on 18 September 1961.

The chartered Douglas DC-6 started from Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) where it had been parked unattended.

It was heading to cease-fire negotiations in Ndola between UN forces and local militia when it smashed into a forest in Zambia (then Rhodesia) during the landing approach.

The 100-page UN report recommends further disclosures from governments, including the US and UK which allegedly hold unreleased air traffic records. Poulgrain suggests the altimeter records be re-checked and technicians traced.

The UN investigation led by former Tanzania Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, was initiated by new info about the tragedy.

A 2019 Danish documentary Cold Case Hammarskjöld suggested the DC-6 was harassed by a small fighter plane during descent, though it seems no bullet holes were found in the wreckage.

Researchers on the film told Othman of documents from the South African Institute for Maritime Research. Despite the benign title, it claimed this was a pro-apartheid clandestine militia linked to a foreign intelligence agency,

This information surfaced apparently by chance during South Africa’s 1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu released a folder from the National Intelligence Agency.

Inside were letters referring to a plan to assassinate Hammarskjöld and involving Dulles. It was called Operation Celeste (heavenly, as in celestial).

Othman never saw the originals so they haven’t been authenticated. This is despite several requests to SA authorities.

The UN inquiry’s other source is Poulgrain’s 2020 book JFK vs. Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia.

The author interviewed two UN officials, the Irish intellectual and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien, and Australian diplomat George Ivan Smith, ‘Hammarskjöld’s right-hand man’.

They claimed the Secretary-General had been intentionally killed. Smith asserted there were two CIA planes on the Ndola tarmac waiting for Hammarskjöld’s flight, one full of communications gear, though it’s unclear what this implies.

Poulgrain also cited 14 inquiries on US intelligence activities led by US Democrat Senator Frank Church (1924-84). Some referred to Operation Celeste and this extract:

‘UNO is becoming troublesome and it is felt that Hammarskjöld should be removed. Allen Dulles agrees and has promised full cooperation from his people.’

Most theories about the plane crash involve hostility to Hammarskjöld’s mediation efforts during the Congo civil war (1960-65) following the new nation’s liberation from Belgium.

Poulgrain links the alleged assassination to Indonesia. He says Smith revealed that before heading to the Congo, Hammarskjöld had been focused on the sovereignty of West New Guinea.

The Indonesian Republic under first President Soekarno wanted to seize the resource-rich western half of the island of New Guinea, then Dutch territory.

The dispute was eventually resolved in 1969 through a referendum (‘An Act of Free Choice’). The Indonesian military selected 1,025 village chiefs who voted to join the Republic.

Poulgrain suggests that Dulles as head of the CIA wanted Hammarskjöld removed because he favoured ‘the independence of the Papuan people.’

His policy was supported by President John Kennedy but opposed by Dulles who was also involved with a company that had discovered massive gold deposits in West Papua, now the Grasberg mine.

Dulles was a heavy-duty anti-Communist Republican who specialized in forceful regime changes. Under his rule, the CIA engineered coups in Iran and Guatemala and failed assassination attempts against Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

A US Senate investigation found Dulles responsible for the death of Congo PM Patrice Lumumba in the same year Hammarskjöld died.

The disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by CIA-funded Cuban exiles led to Dulles forced resignation.

Hammarskjöld was the opposite, a poet and philosopher as well as a diplomat. He was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

London University researcher Dr Susan Williams, author of Who killed Hammarskjöld? called him ‘a courageous and complex idealist, who sought to shield the newly-independent nations of the world from the predatory instincts of the Great Powers’.

After the Swede’s death Kennedy commented: ‘I realise now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century.’

Former Democrat President Harry Truman told a journalist Hammarskjöld ‘was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said ‘when they killed him’.’ He would not elaborate.

A clearly frustrated Othman thinks the truth has still to be found. His report urges the UN to continue pushing its members to release info he sought:

‘The passage of time has not reduced the significance of this matter to the families of the victims of flight SE-BDY, who died serving the noble aims of the UN.

‘Nor has it become less important for the organisation itself that a true accounting of history be made.

‘My assessment remains that it is of the highest probability that specific and important information exists, but that it has not been disclosed by a small number of member states.’

The Danish doco Cold Case Hammarskjöld starts with the statement: ‘This could be the world’s biggest murder mystery – or the world’s most idiotic conspiracy theory’.

That was written before Donald Trump claimed his 2020 election loss was a fraud. Either way the case stays open.

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