Leaked Cables Hint at Involvement by US Representative in Mercenary Conspiracy Against Togo

In October of 1977, the people of Lomé, Togo began to grow suspicious as security precautions meant that every white person was being stopped at multiple checkpoints, and those who could not prove their identity were detained overnight. Increased military and police protection was being placed around the US and French embassies, and Togo's president, Étienne Eyadéma, had canceled a scheduled trip to his hometown of Pya. 

President Eyadema
On the 26th of October, the president delivered a speech, proclaiming that on: "October 13, the President of the Republic [of Togo] was informed by the authorities of certain powers of the recruitment of mercenaries in their countries. The recruited mercenaries would have intervened after October 15 to overthrow the regime by [my] assassination." [1]

President Eyadéma was convinced that the plot against his life and the Republic of Togo was being hatched by neighboring Ghana, but leaked diplomatic cables indicate that the plot was most likely hatched in neutral Switzerland, in an unidentified city referred to as "Zuenullrich" that not even German intelligence could provide information on. [2]

As the United Kingdom did not enjoy a diplomatic presence in Togo, the information that weapons had already arrived in the country for use by mercenary conspirators was passed on to President Eyadéma via the US Embassy in Lomé, who could only confirm that Her Majesty's Government had made plans to prevent a flight of "British, American, Italian, and French-Canadian nationals" from taking off. [3]

Togo, between Ghana and Benin. WKM
President Eyadéma was fortunate that he was friends with the US Government, as other African presidents have not traditionally been warned of coup plots being hatched in their countries. The warning and derailment by the UK government was enough to throw off the conspiracy, and on the 9th of November, Alec Hartley published an article in the Guardian -- Britons Behind Assassination Bid -- reporting that the "hit team" was composed of "three Italians, two Americans, two Canadians, and two Britons that had entered Togo in early October but had not been heard from since." US embassy officials deduced that Hartley had gotten his information from "mercenary sources." [4]

Hartley further reported that a "second wave" of mercenary forces composed of Togolese exiles was waiting in France, ready to return to the country after the assassination of President Eyadéma. 

As the months passed, President Eyadéma gained what the US dubbed "hard evidence," and a March 1978 cable details US concerns about extraditing the two Americans involved in the plot against Togo. The two Americans, identified as Bleming and Clenedennen in the cable, become the subject of a lengthy discussion on the legality of their actions, with US embassy officials clarifying that it was not "illegal for US citizens to murder the President of Togo." [5]

It seems that in response to the actions of Mr. Bleming and Mr. Clenedennen, the US Senate decided to add a provision to the Criminal Code Reform Act of 1978 -- Conspiracy Against a Foreign Power -- making it a criminal offense for US citizens to take part in a conspiracy to kill a foreign head of state. The bill passed the Senate, but died in the House of Representatives, indicating that someone in the House wanted to protect Mr. Bleming and Mr. Clenedennen.

By August of the same year, the conspiracy had come fully undone, and a group of mercenaries had voluntarily turned themselves in to the government of Togo. The Togolese asked US embassy officials that they not talk to reporters, but Wikileaks has made the story available for posterity. [6]

John Banks and David Tomkins, two British nationals, reported that the conspiracy started when former Canadian Army officer, Colonel Tom Finan, was contacted by members of the Olympio family (former President of Togo assassinated in 1963.) Colonel Tom Finan then traveled to the UK and began hiring former Special Forces soldiers to help him organize a coup d'etat against Togo. 

According to Banks and Tomkins, the Olympios provided the weapons, which first landed in Togo on a US-registered Constellation N-273-R, again hinting at why the House did not pass the 1978 assassination conspiracy law. 

Even after the failed October, 1977 plot, Tomkins confirmed that he was still trying to assassinate the President of Togo with an Improvised Explosive Device in the middle of the road to the Presidential Palace. Tomkins said that he changed his mind about overthrowing the government because he felt he had been misled by Colonel Finan, who told him that President Eyadéma was as bad as Idi Amin.

With Tomkins' confession, the case was closed, the financing of the whole operation was attributed to the Olympios, the American plane carrying arms was lost to history, and President Eyadéma asked Tomkins for advice on improving his security, which no doubt led to him dying in 2005 as Africa's then-longest serving head of state.  

Tomkins would later go on to write a book -- Dirty Combat: Secret Wars and Misadventures -- revealing that the whole plot came undone because two of the Special Forces conspirators got into a fight on the plane to Africa. 

Tomkins detailed in his book that the airplane used to carry the weapons were purchased by Florida-registered Teshi Team International -- Colonel Finan's company -- and that the flight crew was American.

The strongest indication of involvement by someone in the House of Representatives, however, comes from Jimmy Carter's signing of Executive Order 12036. Signed a few months after the Togo misadventure, it reads: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." 

Togo only had 800 soldiers when Colonel Finan's men landed, and his failure was largely fortuitous. The Colonel's company, Teshi Team International, has since relocated to the Bahamas.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 [Warning to US personnel: public disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.]