MIT PhD Candidate Sues CIA for the Records Surrounding the 1962 Arrest of Nelson Mandela

[WASHINGTON, DC]  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the Central Intelligence Agency over the spy agency’s failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on recently deceased anti-apartheid activist and South African President, Nelson Mandela. Shapiro wants to know why the CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the Agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to secure racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

President Obama on Robben Island Prison

President Obama and the first family solemnly reflect during a visit to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island.  Photograph, Pete Souza.  

Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the policing of dissent and the political functioning of national security. His pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro also has FOIA requests for records on Mandela in motion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Shapiro is represented by FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Two Key Issues Regarding Today’s Filing Against the CIA:

1) The CIA is widely and credibly believed to have been involved in Mandela’s 1962 arrest that led to his decades-long incarceration. Yet, the Agency has never admitted its role in this affair, and little specific public information exists on the matter. Shapiro’s FOIA efforts will begin to fill this massive hole in public knowledge of U.S. intelligence operations.

2) Despite longstanding public knowledge of U.S. intelligence assistance to apartheid South Africa in general, and in Mandela’s arrest in particular, much of the U.S. and world press has paid distressingly little attention to these issues. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, these issues, including the fact that Mandela remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008, have for the most part remained ignored or discounted. Shapiro’s efforts will bring much-needed attention to these vital topics, as well as to the U.S. intelligence community’s continued outrageous aversion to transparency.

According to Shapiro:

“Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement. Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long understood to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either. Further, despite now being universally hailed as a hero and freedom fighter against gross injustice, Mandela was designated a terrorist by the United States government and remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008.

In bringing suit against the CIA to compel compliance with my Freedom of Information Act request, I seek access to records that will begin answering the following questions:

What was the extent and purpose of the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in Mandela’s arrest and prosecution? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and for what objectives, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil Mandela following his release from prison? To what extent, if any, did the U.S. intelligence community continue providing information regarding Mandela to the apartheid regime following Mandela’s release from prison? What information did the U.S. intelligence community provide American policymakers regarding Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and to what ends, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil the anti-apartheid movement in the United States? How did the United States government come to designate Nelson Mandela a terrorist threat to this country? How did this designation remain unchanged until 2008? And what was the role of the U.S. intelligence community in this designation and the maintenance thereof?”

FOIA LawsuitYou can read the full text of today’s court filing against the CIA HERE.


To arrange an interview with Ryan Shapiro please email or text Andy Stepanian at or 631.291.3010. You can follow Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

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3 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Joanna Zilsel,

    Thank you so much for this excellent article, and for all the deeply intelligent and ethical work that you do: I am so moved and inspired by the breadth of your scope, in particular your understanding that animal rights are an inextricable component of the struggle for social and environmental justice. Your definition of ‘vegan’ is superb–the best I’ve seen!

  2. Ed Nelson,

    We can be fairly sure that the CIA will (after great and extended struggle) try to offer some claim of [a] the national threats the nation faces and [b] some glorious and dedicated struggle to protect you and I. These will be presented as the basis for our authorities’ self-sacrificing battle to protect us all. So let it happen. The picture of these klutzes swimming through the swill they’ll offer can do nothing, it seems to me, other than make a more interesting picture. Shapiro deserves a salute from every one of us.

  3. From.Alexis Maestre-Saborit
    Hipocrecy of the United States Government.
    CIA Help in Nelson Mandela Arrest in 1962.
    No More Hipocrecy Mister Obama.

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