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NSA evidence may be key to Hammarskjold mystery

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

LONDON — America's National Security Agency may hold crucial evidence about one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the Cold War — the cause of the 1961 plane crash that killed United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, a commission of prominent jurists says.

Widely considered the U.N.'s most effective chief, Hammarskjold died as he was attempting to bring peace to the newly independent Congo. It's long been rumored that his DC-6 plane was shot down, and an independent commission set up to evaluate new evidence surrounding his death on Monday recommended a fresh investigation — citing radio intercepts held by the NSA as the possible key to solving the case.

“The only dependable extant record of the radio traffic, if there is one, will so far as we know be the NSA's,” Commission Chairman Stephen Sedley said in his introduction to the report. “If it exists, it will either confirm or rebut the claim that the DC-6 was fired on or threatened with attack immediately before its descent.”

Hammerskjold's aircraft went down on the night of Sept. 17, 1961, smashing into a forested area just short of Ndola Airport in modern-day Zambia. A host of hard-to-answer questions about the crash have led to a glut of conspiracy theories.

Among them: Why did it take 15 hours to find the wreckage, just a few miles from the airport? Why did Hammarskjold's bodyguard, who survived the crash for a few days, say that the plane “blew up”? Why did witnesses report seeing sparks, flashes or even another plane?

Hammarskjold was flying into a war zone infested with mercenaries and riven by Cold War tension. Congo won its freedom from Belgium in 1960, but foreign multinationals coveted its vast mineral wealth and the country was challenged by a Western-backed insurgency in Katanga, which hosted mining interests belonging to the United States, Britain and Belgium. They also were jockeying for influence with the Soviet Union, which was trying to spread communism to the newly independent nations of Africa.

All four powers had a stake in the outcome of Congo's struggle, and all have been fingered as potential suspects in Hammarskjold's death.

Three investigations have failed to settle the matter, and the publication of “Who Killed Hammarskjold?” by Susan Williams in 2011 set off a renewed round of speculation.

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