The Safari Club was a covert alliance of intelligence services formed in 1976 that ran clandestine operations around Africa at a time when the United States Congress had limited the power of the CIA after years of abuses and when Portugal was dismantling its colonial empire in Africa.[1] Its formal members were the pre-revolution (Pahlavi) Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and France. The group maintained informal connections with the United States, South Africa, Rhodesia and Israel. The group executed a successful military intervention in Zaire in response to an invasion from Angola. It also provided arms to Somalia in its 1977–1978 conflict with Ethiopia. It organized secret diplomacy relating to anti-Communism in Africa, and has been credited with initiating the process resulting in the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty.


Alexandre de Marenches initiated the pact with messages to the four other countries—and to newly independent Algeria, which declined to participate.[2]

The original charter was signed in 1976 by leaders and intelligence directors from the five countries:[3][4][5]

The charter begins: "Recent events in Angola and other parts of Africa have demonstrated the continent's role as a theatre for revolutionary wars prompted and conducted by the Soviet Union, which utilizes individuals or organizations sympathetic to, or controlled by, Marxist ideology."[3]

The group's purpose was therefore to oppose Soviet influence by supporting anti-Communists.[6][7] The charter also says that the group intends to be "global in conception".[8] Its formation has been attributed to interlocking interests of the countries involved (which were already cooperating to some degree). Alongside ideological pursuit of global anti-Communism, these included the more concrete goals of military strategy and economic interests. (Examples include international mining operations and investments in apartheid South Africa's Transvaal Development Company.)[9][10]


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: The Story of Adnan Khashoggi, 1986

Khashoggi's Mount Kenya Safari Club, from which the alliance derives its name.

The Safari Club takes its name (reportedly de Marenches' idea)[7] after the exclusive resort in Kenya where the group first met in 1976. The club was operated by Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi—also a friend of Adham's.[11]

The original charter establishes that an operations centre would be built by 1 September 1976 in Cairo.[8] The group made its headquarters there, and its organization included a secretariat, a planning wing, and an operations wing. Meetings were also held in Saudi Arabia and in Egypt. The group made large purchases of real estate and secure communications equipment.[2]

The creation of the Safari Club coincided with the consolidation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). The BCCI served to launder money, particularly for Saudi Arabia and the United States—whose CIA director in 1976, George H. W. Bush, had a personal account. "The Safari Club needed a network of banks to finance its intelligence operations. With the official blessing of George Bush as the head of the CIA, Adham transformed a small Pakistani merchant bank, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), into a worldwide money-laundering machine, buying banks around the world in order to create the biggest clandestine money network in history."[12]

BCCI also served as an intelligence gathering mechanism by virtue of its extensive contacts with underground organizations worldwide. "They contrived, with Bush and other intelligence-service heads, a plan that seemed too good to be true. The bank would solicit the business of every major terrorist, rebel, and underground organization in the world. The invaluable intelligence thus gained would be discreetly distributed to 'friends' of the BCCI."[13]

United States involvement

The United States was not a formal member of the group, but was involved to some degree, particularly through its Central Intelligence Agency. Henry Kissinger is credited with the American strategy of supporting the Safari Club implicitly — allowing it to fulfill American objectives by proxy without risking direct responsibility.[14] This function became particularly important after the U.S. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973 and the Clark Amendment in 1976, reacting against covert military actions orchestrated within the government's Executive branch.[15]

An important factor in the nature of U.S. involvement concerned changing domestic perceptions of the CIA and government secrecy. The Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee had recently launched investigations that revealed decades of illegal operations by the CIA and the FBI. The Watergate scandal directed media attention at these secret operations served as a proximate cause for these ongoing investigations. Jimmy Carter discussed public concerns over secrecy in his campaign, and when he took office in January 1977 he attempted to reduce the scope of covert CIA operations.[16] In a 2002 speech at Georgetown University, Prince Turki of the Saudi Arabian intelligence service described the situation like so:

Theodore "Ted" Shackley (left) was a key CIA contact for the Safari Club

In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies, it could not write reports, and it could not pay money. In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting Communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Iran. The principal aim of this club was that we would share information with each other and help each other in countering Soviet influence worldwide, and especially in Africa.[17]

As the Safari Club was beginning operations, former CIA Director Richard Helms and agent Theodore "Ted" Shackley were under scrutiny from Congress and feared that new covert operations could be quickly exposed.[18] Peter Dale Scott has classified the Safari Club as part of the "second CIA" — an extension of the organization's reach maintained by an autonomous group of key agents. Thus even as Carter's new CIA director Stansfield Turner attempted to limit the scope of the agency's operations, Shackley, his deputy Thomas Clines, and agent Edwin P. Wilson secretly maintained their connections with the Safari Club and the BCCI.[16][19]

Undercover operations without congressional oversight

The Safari Club used an informal division of labor in conducting its global operations. Saudi Arabia provided money, France provided high-end technology, and Egypt and Morocco supplied weapons and troops.[20][21][22] The Safari Club typically coordinated with American and Israeli intelligence agencies.[2]

Debut: Shaba Province of Zaire

Malachite from Kolwezi in Shaba Province, the province was renamed by Mobutu in 1972 is rich in copper, cobalt and radium and uranium (Shinkolobwe).

The Safari Club's first action came in March–April 1977, in response to the Shaba I conflict in Zaire after a call for support was made in the interest of protecting the French and Belgian mining operations in the country. The Safari Club answered and came to the aid of Zaire—led by the Western-backed and anti-Communist Mobutu—in repelling an invasion by the Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC). France airlifted Moroccan and Egyptian troops into Shaba province and successfully repelled the attackers. Belgium and the United States also provided material support. The Shaba conflict served as a front in the Angolan Civil War and also helped to defend French and Belgian mining interests in the Congo.[23]

The Safari Club ultimately provided US$5 million in assistance for Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).[24]

Egypt–Israel peace talks

The group helped to mediate talks between Egypt and Israel, leading to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977, the Camp David Accords in 1978, and the Egypt–Israel peace treaty in 1979.[25] This process began with a Moroccan member of the Safari Club personally transporting a letter from Yitzhak Rabin to Sadat (and reportedly warning him of a Libyan assassination plot); this message was followed by secret talks in Morocco—supervised by King Hassan II—with Israeli general Moshe Dayan, Mossad director Yitzhak Hofi and Egyptian intelligence agent Hassan Tuhami.[26][27][28] Immediately after CIA Director Stansfield Turner told an Israeli delegation that the CIA would no longer provide special favors to Israel, Shackley (who remained active in the Safari Club) contacted Mossad and presented himself as their CIA contact.[29]

Ethiopia and Somalia

Map showing Ogaden region of Ethiopia in relation to Somalia

The Safari Club backed Somalia in the 1977–1978 Ethio-Somali War after Cuba and the USSR sided with Ethiopia. This conflict erupted when Somalia attempted to gain control over the (ethnically Somali) Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Prior to the war, the USSR had supported both states militarily.[30] After failing to negotiate a ceasefire, the USSR intervened to defend Ethiopia. The Soviet-backed Ethiopian forces—supported by more than ten thousand troops from Cuba, more than one thousand military advisors, and about $1 billion worth of Soviet armaments—defeated the Somali army and threatened a counter-attack.[31] The Safari Club approached Somali leader Siad Barre and offered arms in exchange for repudiating the Soviet Union. Barre agreed, and Saudi Arabia paid Egypt $75 million for its older Soviet weapons.[32] Iran supplied old weapons (reportedly including M-48 tanks) from the U.S.[33][34]

The events of Somalia brought unique divergence between the official policies of the U.S. and the Safari Club.[35] Carter, perturbed by Somalia's unexpected aggressiveness,[36] decided against publicly backing Somalia, and the shah of Iran was forced to deliver the message from Carter that "You Somalis are threatening to upset the balance of world power."[37][38] But on 22 August 1980, Carter's Department of State announced a broad plan for military development in Somalia, including construction of a base as well as economic and military aid to the Somali army.[citation needed] This policy would continue into the Reagan administration.[39]

Arming and funding the Mujahideen

Safari Club members, the BCCI, and the United States cooperated in arming and funding the Afghan mujahideen to oppose the Soviet Union.[40] The core of this plan was an agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia to match each other in funding Afghan resistance to the USSR.[41] Like military support for Somalia, this policy began in 1980 and continued into the Reagan administration.[7]

Further developments

President Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran in White House, 15 November 1977.

The Safari Club could not continue as it was when the 1978–1979 Iranian Revolution neutralized the Shah as an ally.[2] However, arrangements between the remaining powers continued on the same course. William Casey, Ronald Reagan's campaign manager, succeeded Turner as director of the CIA. Casey took personal responsibility for maintaining contacts with Saudi intelligence, meeting monthly with Kamal Adham and then Prince Turki.[16] Some of the same actors were later connected to the Iran–Contra affair,[42] and Saudi Arabia provided the funds for the attempted assassination of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.

The existence of the Safari Club was discovered by the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, who was permitted to review documents confiscated during the Iranian Revolution.[4][5][43] [44]

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels, The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2016
  2. ^ a b c d Cooley, Unholy Wars, p. 17.
  3. ^ a b Heikal, Iran: The Untold Story (1982), p. 113.
  4. ^ a b Cooley, Unholy Wars, p. 15.
  5. ^ a b Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), p. 84. "The existence of the club came to light after the 1979 Iranian Revolution when Mohamed Heikal, a highly respected Egyptian journalist and onetime advisor to President Nasser, was given permission by the new Khomeni government to go through the deposed Shah's archives. Heikal came upon an agreement setting up a formal association, dated September 1, 1976, and signed by the heads of several intelligence agencies, all strategic allies of the United States in the Cold War.
  6. ^ Miglietta, American Alliance Policy (2002), p. 20. "The Shah provided covert assistance to groups seeking to destabilize the governments of Soviet allies in the region such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as providing assistance to pro-Western governments such as Oman and South Vietnam. In an effort to further advance these goals, the Shah associated Iran with a group of conservative Middle Eastern and African states in an informal organization known as the Safari Club. This group was dedicated to blocking the spread of Soviet influence in the third world."
  7. ^ a b c Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia, London: Penguin, 2009; ISBN 9781101140734; p. Google Books preview.
  8. ^ a b Heikal, Iran: The Untold Story (1982), p. 114.
  9. ^ Cooley, Unholy Wars, p. 16.
  10. ^ Heikal, Iran: The Untold Story (1982), p. 112.
  11. ^ Scott, The Road to 9/11 (2008), pp. 62–63. "The Safari Club met at an exclusive resort of the same name in Kenya, which in the same year, 1976, was visited and eventually bought by Adham's friend Adnan Kashoggi.
  12. ^ Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 104.
  13. ^ Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 105.
  14. ^ Cooley, Unholy Wars, p. 15. "The Carter team adopted a method of avoiding the stigma of direct CIA involvement in covert operations which could go wrong and backfire on the United States. It was a method which Henry Kissinger, first as President Richard Nixon's national security advisor, then as Secretary of State, had refined and applied with skill: get others to do what you want done, while avoiding the onus or blame if the operation fails."
  15. ^ Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), pp. 80–84.
  16. ^ a b c Peter Dale Scott, "Launching the U.S. Terror War: the CIA, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Central Asia", Asia–Pacific Journal 10(12), 16 March 2012.
  17. ^ Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, February 2002, quoted in Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 102.
  18. ^ Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 113–114. "Shackley, who still had ambitions to become DCI, believed that without his many sources and operatives like Wilson, the Safari Club — operating with Helms in charge in Tehran — would be ineffective. Shackley was well aware that Helms was under criminal investigation for lying to Congress about the CIA in Chile. Shackley had testified before the same grand jury. Unless Shackley took direct action to complete the privatization of intelligence operations soon, the Safari Club would not have a conduit to DO resources. The solution: create a totally private intelligence network using CIA assets until President Carter could be replaced."
  19. ^ Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 314. "The Safari Club was run by the Saudis. It was a club to serve their purposes through the CIA. Shackley and Wilson were not members; only nations could belong. Shackley and Wilson were men who served the club in exchange for power, influence, and money."
  20. ^ Bronson, Thicker than Oil (2006), p. 132. "Each Safari Club member brought unique capabilities. France supplied technical equipment for communications and security. Egypt and Morocco provided weapons and manpower. Saudi Arabia financed the group's efforts. The club worked because it reinforced preexisting arrangements. The Saudis were already buying French Mirages for Egypt's arsenal and providing Morocco with financial aid, which by 1980 amounted to around $1 billion a year."
  21. ^ Issandr el Amrani, "Security Policy and Democratic Reform in Morocco: Between Public Discourse and Reality"; in Arab State and Neo-Liberal Globalization : The Restructuring of State Power in the Middle East, ed. Laura Guazzone and Daniela Pioppi; Ithaca Press, 2009; ISBN 9780863723391; p. 307. "[Morocco] took part in an informal intelligence-gathering and military operations network known as the 'Safari Club', a late 1970s US-led effort at destabilization of pro-Soviet Sub-Saharan African countries involving France, Egypt, (pre-revolutionary) Iran and Saudi Arabia, created to some extent to enable parts of the American intelligence community to conduct undercover operations without congressional oversight. Morocco's role in that particular initiative was to provide 'muscle' for counter-insurgency operations, as it did in 1978 in Kowelzi, a mining city in southern Zaire that had been overtaken by rebels."
  22. ^ Ibrahim Warde, The Price of Fear: Al-Qaeda and the Truth Behind the Financial War on Terror, London: I.B.Taurus, 2007; ISBN 9781850434245; p. 133. "The various members of that group contributed in different ways. Saudi Arabia's contribution was by and large limited to providing money. Under such 'checkbook diplomacy,' the Saudi government would finance, with no questions asked, covert operations in countries such as Angola and Nicaragua."
  23. ^ Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), p. 85. "The club's first success was in the Congo. Faced with a rebellion in mineral-rich Katanga (now Shaba) province in April 1977 and a plea for help from French and Belgian mining interests conveyed through their close ally Mobutu, the club combined French air transport with logistical support from diverse sources to bring Moroccan and Egyptian troops to fight the rebellion."
  24. ^ Elaine Windrich, "The laboratory of hate: The role of clandestine radio in the Angolan War", International Journal of Cultural Studies 3(2), 2000; accessed via Sage, DOI: 10.1177/136787790000300209.
  25. ^ Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), p. 85. "The club registered an even greater success when it helped bring about the historic rapprochement between two strategic American allies, Egypt and Israel, laying the ground for Anwar al-Sadat's pathbreaking November 1977 visit to Jerusalem."
  26. ^ Heikal, Iran: The Untold Story (1982), p. 116. "In a way, however, the Club could claim responsibility for President Sadat's initiative which took him to Jerusalem in November 1977. The first letter suggesting a meeting came from Rabin when he was still Israeli Prime Minister and was carried to Sadat by Ahmed Duleimi, the Moroccan representative in the Club, and it was under the auspices of King Hassan that an initial meeting took place in Morocco between Moshe Dayan and an Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister."
  27. ^ Cooley, Unholy Wars, pp. 17–18.
  28. ^ Xavier Cornut, "The Moroccan connection", Jerusalem Post, 22 June 2009.
  29. ^ Trento, Prelude to Terror (2005), p. 110. "According to Crowley, Shackley 'went out, dropped a quarter in the telephone, and contacted Mossad. He went around Turner and contacted Mossad and said he would be their man in the Agency. Shackley moved quickly to fill the Angleton void."
  30. ^ Lefebvre, Arms for the Horn (1992), pp. 179.
  31. ^ Gebru Tareke, "The Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977 Revisited", The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 33(3), 2000; accessed via JStor.
  32. ^ Bronson, Thicker than Oil (2006), p. 134. "Encouraged by Saudi Arabia, Safari Club members approached Somali president Siad Barre and offered to provide the arms he needed if he stopped taking Russian aid. Barre agreed. Egypt then sold Somalia $75 million worth of its unwanted Soviet arms, with Saudi Arabia footing the bill."
  33. ^ Miglietta, American Alliance Policy (2002), p. 78. "American military goods were provided by Egypt and Iran, which transferred excess arms from their inventories. It was said that American M-48 tanks sold to Iran were shipped to Somalia via Oman."
  34. ^ Lefebvre, Arms for the Horn (1992), p. 188. "Washington had done little to control, and seemingly had encouraged, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to take advantage of the more liberal policies of other Western states and make third-party arms transfers to Somalia. Reports surfaced that U.S.-made M-48 tanks, originally sold to Iran, had reached Somalia by way of Oman."
  35. ^ Ofira Seliktar, Failing the Crystal Ball Test: The Carter Administration and the Fundamentalist Revolution in Iran, Westport CT: Praeger, 2000; ISBN 9780275968724; p. 53. "Iran became a crucial player in the Red Sea Entente—known as the Safari Club—which also included Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Egypt. In the early seventies the shah put down a leftist rebellion in Dhofar and helped Morocco fight Polissario guerrillas in Sahara. However, when the shah moved to help Somalia in its struggle with Marxist Ethiopia, the Carter administration rebuffed his effort, signalling that the Entente was dead."
  36. ^ Lefebvre, Arms for the Horn (1992), pp. 176–177.
  37. ^ Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), p. 86.
  38. ^ Miglietta, American Alliance Policy (2002), p. 78. "This led the Red Sea Entente countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Somalia, to view Washington as having let them down and backing away from its commitments at the last moment."
  39. ^ Roy Pateman, "Intelligence Operations in the Horn of Africa"; in Disaster and Development in the Horn of Africa, ed. John Sorenson; Houndmills & London: Macmillan, 1995; ISBN 0-333-60799-6; p. 61. "France had some influence in Somalia, both through its presence in neighboring Djibouti and via its membership of the Safari club, that played a key role in persuading Siad Barre to expel the Soviets in 1978 in exchange for arms (Faligot and Krop 1989:257). For a while, after the Soviet ouster, the US developed Somalia as a regional base. According to the former US Chargé d'affaires in Mogadishu, in ten years the US spend $50m on Somalia; $17m was devoted to construction of a massive communications centre at the embassy, and much of the rest in retooling a Soviet-built radar complex (Rawson:1992)."
  40. ^ Scott, The Road to 9/11 (2008), p. 64. "A key example would soon be the 1980s CIA support of the resistance in Afghanistan, where CIA's disastrous favoring of drug traffickers had grown directly out of the Safari Club arrangement and was partly handled through BCCI. This loss of control will emerge as a major factor in our nation's slouching toward the tragedy of 9/11".
  41. ^ Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, New York: Penguin, 2004; ISBN 9781594200076; pp. 81–82.
  42. ^ Scott, American War Machine (2010), p. 172. "It is certain that, with the blessing of Casey—who had his own direct contacts with Rappaport, BCCI, and the global drug connection—Shackley, Khashoggi, and their contacts led to Iran–Contra. At least one member of Shackley's group, Richard Secord, then created an airline that brought Islamist mujahideen to Afghanistan. Another, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, contributed not only to Iran–Contra but also, with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, to the creation of the Project for the New American Century."
  43. ^ David Seddon, "Safari Club", Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East, London: Europa (Taylor & Francis), 2004; ISBN 9781857432121; p. 590.
  44. ^ Alan Parrot, "Obummer Whistleblower", 2020; p. [1].