ON 29 JULY 1975, a U.S. C-141 military transport aircraft left Charleston, South Carolina, en route to Kinshasa, the Zairian capital, and onward to southern Zaire, which served as the rear base for the supply line to the U.S.-backed Angolan rebel movement, Uniaõ Naçiõnal para la Indepencia total de Angola (Unita; the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), led by Jonas Savimbi. It was carrying a cargo infinitely more deadly than the combined firepower of the 25-ton loads of weapons stored in its hold. It was carrying the first dose of a poison that was to be fed into the veins of Africa, to support a war that was unwinnable and was the least promising means of resolving a political conflict that had riven Angola by the time independence was hurriedly foisted on the country on 11 November 1975. The plane took off after depositing its lethal cargo, and the first piece of a regional network was thus put in place by the United States. The network, created to feed U.S. allies in Angola and beyond, was dependent upon the enthusiastic complicity of African states, states whose despotic strengths and institutional weaknesses laid the groundwork for the collapse in the post—Cold War era of entire regions.
By 1975, the CIA already had a firm ally in Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of Zaire, whom the agency had bankrolled since 1960 and helped bring to power in 1965. A mere six-hour meeting with Jonas Savimbi and other Unita officials by a CIA official convinced the agency that the organization deserved military support in the fight over the future of Angola. The supply chain depended upon the support of neighboring Zaire, and Mobutu became