Confidential

The Safari Club

Safari Club
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David; via Middleeastmonitor

The Safari Club would have likely never existed had it not been for the ideas of Karl Marx.


“Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing socials conditions…”, he writes.

Marx’s magnum opus, the “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei“, the source of the quote, is a thread in the revolutionary fabric woven with his philosophies. Packaged in its words is a rhetorical battle-cry; a call-to-arms directed by Marx to the workers of the world.

Those philosophies have resulted in violent political uprisings spanning multiple continents, and claiming millions of lives in their wake.   

And although his manifesto hit circulation in 1848, its opening words remain relevant.

A spectre is haunting Europe”, Marx writes, “the spectre of communism”.

This so-called spectre was still translucent in its written form, but as decades passed, Marx’s infectious ideas morphed into transparency. Transparency then reordered into the form of revolution. 

In 1917, Russia became the first nation to adopt communism as its political ideology. Between 1917 and 1979, Marxist revolutions would reach the Baltic region of Europe, China, and Cuba, and Africa. This spread was not without opposition, and large-scale conflicts between communist regimes and their belligerents erupted in the Korean Peninsula (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1955-1975).

Safari Club
Karl Marx (wikicommons)

Watergate and the Spirit of the Age

In a global sense, the United States has historically been near the apex of the vanguard fighting communism.

US actions in the Vietnam War are evidence of this, although its intervention inspired a national protest from a disenfranchised public.

Within American culture, Vietnam anti-war demonstrations are synonymous with the historic countercultural movement, both being crucial elements of the 1970s zeitgeist.

The military campaign in Vietnam was far from the only conflict within the American sphere during this period, and certainly not the sole causation of protest and unrest among the public.

A domestic political war was being waged in parallel.

The battle: President Richard Nixon vs. the checks and balances system granted by the US Constitution.

The battleground: Watergate. 


The revelations of the Watergate scandal unearthed a conspiracy at a presidential level.

On the 8th of August 1974, President Nixon resigned from the office, as he faced an inevitable impeachment trial for his corrupt actions. Nixon’s Vice President, Gerald Ford, swore into the presidency the following day.

Ford completed the final two years of Nixon’s elected term, but his re-election campaign fell short. The partisan pendulum had shifted to the other side of the political spectrum, and Jimmy Carter, a democrat, won the 1976 primary race.

A New Approach


Soon after inheriting the oval office, President Carter invoked hardline reforms on the intelligence community. The Watergate scandal and other controversies darkened the reputation of the intelligence community, including spying on citizens and controversial international assassination plots.

Carter appointed Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1977. Director Turner swiftly invoked serious reforms, and on the 31st of October 1977, he announced the deconstruction of over 800 positions in the clandestine operations wing.


In the time following, hundreds of other intelligence workers left the community because of involuntary retirement and job termination.


Turner synchronously mandated the CIA to resign the use of human intelligence gathering methods (HUMINT) and switch to primarily signals and communications gathering (SIGINT & COMINT).


Presidential driven reforms during Turner’s tenure as director changed the methods intelligence operations traditionally used. Gone were the days of covert operations and limited accountability, in were the days of increased bureaucracy, accountability, and “by the book” standard operating procedures.

The CIA became alike Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe’s work The Cask of Amontillado.

It was entombed.

Safari Club
Stansfield Turner being sworn in by President Jimmy Carter, 1977 (wikicommons)

The Safari Club was a multi-lateral Cold War Era clandestine group with the mission of fighting the global spread of communism.

Not Your Average Safari or Club

“the club sat on ninety-one acres of magnificent landscape, with Mount Kenya as a backdrop. There were mountain streams, rose gardens, waterfalls flowing into quiet pools… Peacocks, storks, ibexes, and exotic birds strolled about…”

Ronald Kessler, “The Richest Man in the World”

Exotic animals were not the only rare entity to grace the Mount Kenya Safari Club’s breathtaking backdrop.


In 1976, a clandestine meeting of international intelligence professionals would convene there with a serious agenda.


That meeting drafted the architectural design of a covert task force whose mission was to fight the Eastern Bloc’s advancement in Africa and Asia.


The rapid spread of the communism was unprecedented. That spread, coupled with the state of the Turner era intelligence community, set the conditions that led to the creation of a new multi-lateral covert group: The Safari Club.

Count Alexandre de Marenches is a revered patriot of France, and the former director of the SDECE: the French external intelligence services. In 1976, Marenches dedicated substantial time to building relationships in the Middle East and acknowledging the threat Communism posed to the free world.


Marenches was a long-time friend to the US and had taken part in joint intelligence and military operations dating back to World War II. Through his connections, he also knew of the current state of the CIA, and was quite familiar with the threat Eastern Bloc powers presented to South Asia and Africa. To navigate through strict governmental oversight, Marenches contacted an array of trusted intelligence heads who were friends of France and the US.


The request – to help in countering the communist threat without direct US support – was an early building block in the club’s construction.


The group rendezvoused at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, where they gained their infamous moniker. Five members attended this meeting:

  • Count Alexandre de Marenches, French SDECE
  • Ahmed Dlimi, Director of Moroccan Intelligence
  • Kamal Hassan Ali, Director of the Mukhabarat (Egyptian Intelligence)
  • General Nematollah Nassiri, SAVAK (Iranian Intelligence)   
  • Kamal Adham, Director of Saudi Intelligence
Safari Club
Mt. Kenya Safari Club (wikicommons)

The Scope Is Set


Morocco, Iran and Egypt contributed to the effort with troops and arms. France supplied the security and communications equipment. Saudi Arabia was the primary funder, using their prolific revenue from the oil trade to the club’s advantage.


By authorization of President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, Cairo became the Safari Club’s de facto command operations center, which included a physical space with its own support, planning, and operations sections.


With all the requirements for conducting covert missions in place, the Safari Club was finally on their way to carrying out the operations that would define their legacy.

On the 1st of September 1976, the official Safari Club charter reached legislation. It was time to embark on a safari into metaphorical land – or scorched earth hellscape – of communism, and to confront the violent militant movements that follow its ideology in unison.

Director Turner may have thought he impeded the CIA’s involvement in shadowy affairs, but the Safari Club had the strength derived from a shared goal. A goal of that magnitude has its way of being achieved. The club understood the reality of the mission, how it transcended the confines of bureaucracy, and that required a multi-lateral partnership.

For America, rebellion against Turner was a requirement.

Crooks, Criminals, and International Banks

In Hollywood cinema, hyper-dramatized portrayals of covert operations are doctrine.


Dead drops, wire taps, shell companies laundering money through corrupt banks to avoid state mandated restrictions – all elements of a good plot.


If the creation of the Safari Club was not mythical enough, they took directly the primary way they financed it out of a Hollywood producers’ playbook.

Prior to President Carter’s appointment of Director Turner, future President George H. W. Bush was at the CIA’s helm. Although Bush’s tenure was during the final year of the Ford administration, he used his role to help bolster the agency and its global operational capabilities.


Sheikh Kamal Adham from the Saudi Arabian Kingdom was a founding member of the Safari Club, and a close associate of Director Bush. Adham and Bush had alternative agendas in the realm of intelligence, yet determined that the establishment of a clandestine bank network would be beneficial for both states, despite conflicting motives.


On his end, Bush cleverly circumnavigated the Washington D.C. bureaucracy in partnership with Adham. He prayed for a clandestine guardian angel, and thus came arabella.

Beyond Blood Money

Its name was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI): a front for the agency’s most covert operations, and Bush’s shield from governmental oversight.

BCCI was once a small merchant bank of Pakistani origin. Under Adham’s watch, the bank expanded and began purchasing and absorbing small international banks, forming a rapidly growing network.


Funding covert operations was not the BCCI’s only practice, and a later investigation would end up exposing its internal structure. Its true nature sounded more like a mafia operation.


For instance, some of the more infamous clientele of the bank were Saddam Hussein and the Medellin Cartel. In 1991, Time Magazine published an expose on the BCCI, and claimed it contained a paramilitary wing that conducted assassinations.

Despite the highly questionable ethical, BCCI was the perfect front for the Safari Club’s work.

Safari Club
Bank of Credit and Commerce International building in Karachi, Pakistan (wikicommons)

The Safari Club Enters Zaire

The first account of the Safari Club’s activities took place in the African state of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo).


Somewhere between 1977 and 1978, East Germany and Cuba contributed to the breakdown of stability within Zaire, in the political and social spheres. When the opportunity arose, they exploited Zaire’s vulnerabilities for strategic gain. Societal breakdown led to Zaire being the target of an invasion from across the border of Angola. The Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC) was the invading force.

The FNLC’s primary objective was to remove the Zairian president, Mobutu Sese Seko, from office.

Enemy of My Enemy


Although lack of concise evidence makes it difficult to clarify, Seko’s public rhetoric claimed that Cuba allegedly trained the FNLC in Angola, both militarily and ideologically. This exposed a deeper motive for the invasion, one that alluded to a higher involvement, rather than a tribal conflict. Despite having a “peaks and valleys” sort of relationship with the US, Seko shared their anti-communist stance. He understood the necessity of having a powerful ally on his side. Especially one that understood the potential ramifications if Zaire fell into the hands of the Eastern Bloc.

The Shaba Province of Zaire was a location of French and Belgium mining operations. Its natural resources were bountiful, and ripe for exploitation by historic colonizers of the continent.


In 1977, the FNLC made their way through the country and ended up in Shaba, where they faced resistance from Seko’s men. French and Belgium mining operations were under threat, and the Safari Club had the resources to help.

The club finally had a mission and began exporting their resources to Zaire. France spearheaded the transportation effort using their air assets, with Morocco and Egypt supplying muscle on the ground.


The Safari Club’s intervention ultimately led to a turning of the tide in Shaba and became the first victory, showcasing the versatile nature of their multilateral operations.

Safari Club
FNLA forces training Zaire; via KonflictCam

Ogadenia

European colonialization devastated Africa. 


Although formal colonialization is relatively over, the fractures and land disputes caused by it remain as a residual and traumatic reminder of the past.


France, Italy and Britain were three of the nations who had colonies in Africa going back to the mid-19th century. Their empires claimed large parts of the continent and its natural resources (also known as the Partition of Africa). 


Not long after World War II, European powers transferred land back to the control of the African people.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 were the impetus of that transfer and constructed an agenda to assist the process. Docket items included finding solutions to border disputes and awarding financial reparations to nations affected by the war. Ethiopia and Somalia were two of the affected countries. Both nations were survivors of European colonialization, and subjects of the peace treaties.

Reorganizing the boundaries of Ethiopia and Somalia was far from simple. The authors of the treaties drew lines in the Horn of Africa between the Italians (Italian Somaliland), the British (British Somaliland), and Ethiopia.

The proposed border solutions became highly contested. Ethiopia gained the Ogaden region from the British during the re-partition. This decision led to a territorial dispute. Tensions rose and morphed into a military campaign between Somalia and Ethiopia.

Beyond the Borders

Historically, the Soviet Union and Cuba supported both Somalia and Ethiopia with advisory training and other forms of aid. With much deception, the promise of Soviet and Cuban support was a smaller fragment of a bigger goal: the spread of Marxism and projection of power.

The Soviet Union and Cuba viewed Somalia and Ethiopia as a potentially unified socialist state. As tensions between the two African nations escalated, Cuban President Fidel Castro organized a summit in Yemen. Castro wanted to find a solution to the conflict, with reconciliation and peace as the end-state. 

Not long after the summits conclusion, Somali forces, under the order of President Siad Barre, invaded Ethiopia, with reclaiming the Ogaden as the primary objective, which sparked the Ethio-Somali War (1977-1978).

Cuba and the Soviet Union took Ethiopia’s side, abandoning the prior support for Somalia. Gone were Castro’s hopes for a diplomatic resolve; in was an Ethiopian state bolstered by two established communist powers.

The Safari Club intervened to support President Siad Barre and Somalia. Early help came as arms dealings. Egypt had a hefty surplus of old soviet weapons to sell and Saudi Arabia used their limitless surplus of Petro-dollars for financial support. Iran, under a directive of the Shah, assisted through the export of anti-tank and mortar systems.

The Club refrained from deploying Moroccan or Egyptian militants, as they did in Shaba, in contrast to the opposition.

Thousands of Cuban and Soviet soldiers and an abundance of military hardware supported Ethiopia, and despite the Club’s attempt at helping Somalia, money and military hardware alone wasn’t enough.

In March 1978, Somalia conceded, bringing an end to the conflict, and a loss to the Club. 

Safari Club
Siad Barre meeting with Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia (wikicommons)

Diplomacy on Safari

Fighting communism may have been the Safari Club’s primary goal, but they wielded influence in other arenas, including a knack for diplomacy and mediation between countries at odds.

Egypt and Israel have a history of tension going back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, the United Nations attempted to partition Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews. Israel, as a nation, was born from that divide, as did a military response from the Arab world, who passionately disapproved of it.

The Israeli state faced the Arab League, a coalition of Middle Eastern countries formed in 1945, as well as foreign fighters sympathetic to their desire for the partitioned land. The war lasted for almost ten years until the belligerents signed an armistice agreement in 1949. This began a long period of military and diplomatic tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Those tensions continue to this day.

A Hidden Correspondence


Within the ranks of the Safari Club, Morocco had established intelligence back-channels with Israel going back to the 1950s. King Hassan II of Morocco had a historically favorable opinion towards the idea of peace between the Arab world and Israel, and supported grafting the latter into the Arab League.


By the 1970s, murmurs of a peace agreement swirled in Middle Eastern diplomatic circles. Israel was transparent of their desire to strike a peace deal with Egypt, who were both a club member and belligerent to Israel during the 1948 war.

In 1977, using the Moroccan Safari Club representative as a proxy, Israel informed Egypt of a Libyan grown assassination plot. This came as an act of charity and symbol of intent for peace between the nations.

Israel’s act of benevolence had a warm reception from Egypt and was arguably the pivoting moment in the diplomatic relations between the nations. King Hassan began hosting talks between Israeli and Egyptian intelligence leaders, which led to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visiting Jerusalem in 1977, and the eventual Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. 

Safari Club
King Hassan II and President Jimmy Carter (wikicommons)

An Unexpected Revolution

The beginning of the Safari Club’s end involved revolution, although not of communist origin. 

In the 1970s, the Iranian public had enough. Progressive policies invoked throughout the Shah’s reign created disdain among the Islamic clergy, and the human rights abuses of the SAVAK (Iranian intelligence agency) revealed a vast power disparity between the people of Iran and their government. Safari Club member Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his SAVAK intelligence force became targets and rebranded as the enemy of the people.

In the mid to late 1970s, anti-government protests circulated across the Iranian capital of Tehran. These protests – which were overwhelmingly peaceful – drew millions of citizens. The rhetoric of the protests expressed the public’s desire for the Shah to step down. Ayatollah Khomeini, an exiled Shia cleric who strongly opposed the Shah, was the intended replacement. 

On the 16th of February 1979, the Shah and his wife left the country, never to return. Less than a month later, Ayatollah Khomeini came out of exile and returned to Iran, intending to dismantle the government, rebuild it to align with fundamentalist Islamic values.

With the Shah in exile and the SAVAK dissolved, the Club lost one of its strongest members.

Safari Club
Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Iran from exile (wikicommons)

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

The Iranian Revolution was a pivotal shift in the Safari Club. Despite the string of setbacks, remaining members continued their work.


Alexandre de Marenches shifted his focus to the Soviet’s interest in Afghanistan in what would arguably be one of the club’s last interventions.

Afghanistan is a vast land full of natural resources. Although it is geographically land-locked, the Soviet Union saw it as a strategic point in their effort to establish a warm water port. A successful conquest of Afghanistan could give the Russia a launching pad for an eventual push to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan or India.

An ideological shift in Afghanistan was needed to prepare.


In 1978, the Soviet Union influenced a communist revolution in Afghanistan, installing their own proxy into power. 
Marenches knew that this was a serious threat, which was confirmed by other international intelligence agencies.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. This was the beginning of a nine-year war that would not end well for the Russian bear.

In 1989, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Their puppet government dissolved, setting conditions for the eventual rule of the Taliban.

Another corpse in the so-called “graveyard of empires”.


The Safari Club had a limited role in the war effort against the Soviets. Facilitating the funneling of money and arms to the Mujahideen was the extent of their involvement. They achieved that primarily through the BCCI, along with the passing of intelligence between Safari Club members and their allies.

The Safari Must End

Following the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the Safari Club’s time reached its course.

1981 marked a watershed moment for US intelligence agencies following Ronald Reagan’s victory in the presidential race. Reagan appointed William J. Casey to replace Director Turner at the CIA post, which shifted the pendulum back to the pre-Turner days.

Director Casey carried out his own reforms in the intelligence community. Agencies were, once again, unchained. The Safari Club was no longer needed to carry out covert operations.

Through its time, the club played a vital role in the fight against Marxism throughout Africa and South Asia. As a whole, its actions directly contributed to the outcomes of various international conflicts, in both a positive and negative way.


The Safari Club did what they thought was right to preserve the integrity of nations they operated in, and in opposition to the monumental threat of communism.


 Revolutions may come and go, but the legacy of the Club is forever.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

Karl Marx

Author

Michael Ellmer

Michael served as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the Corps, he completed his undergraduate studies at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in communications. He is currently a graduate candidate at Brunel University, where he is pursing a master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence Analysis.

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