SUSPECTED Zimbabwean state security agents trailed a political activist who was meeting with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials and US Embassy officials at a café in Harare and gave them a movie-style road chase, it has emerged.
US Senator says CIO agents “harassed” the CIA
The incident incensed U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who sent a letter to US President Joe Biden informing him of the harassment and car chase his staffers experienced recently in Harare.
According to an American diplomatic publication Foreign Policy, the two CIA agents “work for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and were on an official visit to the southern African country organized in concert with the U.S. Embassy to meet with human rights advocates and other civil society leaders”.
The publication said the CIA spooks were in Zimbabwe “to hear firsthand accounts of Zimbabwe’s deteriorating political and human rights situation under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.”
They also had requested meetings with the Zimbabwean government, most of which were declined.
The date of the dramatic car chase is not indicated, but is only cited as “on a late morning in mid-August.”
Says the report: “… two U.S. Senate aides were sitting at an outdoor cafe in Harare, Zimbabwe, with a civil society activist, when someone approached them with a warning.
“They were being tailed and filmed by another man in the cafe, whom the spotter suspected was a member of the Zimbabwean government’s security services.”
The CIA agents flee Zimbabwe in a hurry
It is said that after departing their meeting with the unnamed activist, they got into a U.S. Embassy vehicle, one of a fleet of clearly marked American government cars with diplomatic plates driven by an embassy staffer.
They were driving away when several cars slotted into the road in front of them, to the side, and behind them. Suddenly, their car was boxed in by operatives believed to be members of Zimbabwe’s dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
At one point, they tried to call the U.S. Embassy for help, but their phones all lost reception, apparently simultaneously, indicating the possible use of signal jammers by CIO operatives.
“They were on their own,” reads the report. “After a tense standoff, as the phalanx of cars crawled along the road, the driver of the U.S. Embassy car saw an opening and swerved onto a side road to escape the tail.
“They rushed back to the U.S. Embassy compound before the pursuing cars could intercept them. From there, the U.S. Embassy worked to quickly ferry the two Senate staffers out of the country without further incident.”
US diplomats stunned by the ordeal
The ordeal is said to have “stunned U.S. diplomats and left them questioning what would have happened to the two Senate aides had the embassy vehicle not been able to make its escape”.
The officials, who suspected Zimbabwean security services orchestrated the entire incident, said it underscored the increasingly brazen tactics of President Mnangagwa’s government to suppress and intimidate political opponents and civil society activists as he strengthens his grip on power ahead of national elections next year.
However, all of the officials cautioned that they couldn’t say with certainty who followed the staffers and chased the U.S. Embassy car.
In the letter, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez urged Biden to step up U.S. attention on the “dire” repressive political atmosphere in Zimbabwe and boost support for the country’s increasingly embattled civil society organizations and pro-democracy activists.
“This blatant aggression towards congressional staff, one of whom—as the Zimbabweans surely know served as a senior advisor to you for many years when you were Chairman and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee—was meant to intimidate the staff themselves, and to send a message to the United States: our support of Zimbabweans working to defend democracy is unwelcome by those who hold power,” Menendez wrote in his letter to Biden dated September 12, 2022.
Menendez did not name the two staffers in his letter.
“Such outrageous behavior highlights the Zimbabwean regime’s reckless disregard for international norms.
“If American officials are deliberately targeted, you can well imagine the violence that will be directed to Zimbabweans who dare to criticize the government.”
Ramaphosa piles pressure on Biden
Menendez in his letter pushed Biden to bring up the political situation in Zimbabwe with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during their scheduled meeting at the White House on Friday.
However, meeting Biden at the White House on Friday, Ramaphosa called on the US to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, arguing the sanctions were crippling the Zimbabwean economy and sending economic refugees into South Africa.
But a day before Ramaphosa met Biden, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on a senior Zimbabwean security officer, Stephen Mutamba, for his role in the pressure and intimidation campaigns against political parties that oppose Mnangagwa’s rule.
Meanwhile, Menendez and his Republican counterpart on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator James Risch, publicly cheered the sanctions on Mutamba.
Risch suggested in a tweet that the Biden administration should consider blocking the Zimbabwean foreign minister, Frederick Shava, from being invited to the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in December.
“The United States continues to stand with the Zimbabwean people against unjust actions against political opponents or assaults on Zimbabwe’s democracy by the ZANU-PF,” Brian Nelson, the U.S. undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement announcing the new sanctions.