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1961 crash of UN chief’s plane: Can NSA solve the mystery?

DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD was on a peace mission to broker a cease-fire in the newly independent Congo when his plane mysteriously crashed in 1961. In the years since, conspiracy theories have swirled around the death of the United Nations’ second secretary-general, including that the Swedish diplomat was assassinated over colonial greed or a Cold War rivalry. A new report has determined the National Security Agency’s classified archives may hold key evidence as to the cause of the crash, suggesting American intelligence could help resolve once and for all whether the UN chief died as a result of an accident — or malfeasance. Those records should be made public.

John F. Kennedy described Hammarskjöld as the “greatest statesman of our century,” and he is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. His death has long been one of the greatest mysteries of the Cold War era. Yet three investigations have failed to resolve why Hammarskjöld’s plane suddenly went down in Zambia, none sufficiently accounting for inconsistencies such as why it took 15 hours to locate the wreckage just a few miles from the airport.


Radio traffic monitored by the NSA, or even the CIA, on Sept. 18 and 19, 1961, may have picked up cockpit communication and other evidence of what happened aboard the DC-6 aircraft. This latest report, written by four international lawyers, calls on the United Nations to reopen its inquiry into Hammarskjöld’s death, but the United States should also cooperate as much as possible to ensure the truth is finally revealed.