The anti-apartheid revolutionary and future president of South Africa was arrested by police in 1962 while posing a chauffeur to avoid detection, and the possibility of CIA involvement in tracking his whereabouts at that time has long been a subject of speculation. He was jailed in Johannesburg and went on to spend the next 27 years of his life behind bars.
The allegation of the CIA's involvement in arresting Mandela came from the mouth of former CIA agent Donald Rickard, who acknowledged tipping off police to Mandela's whereabouts to British filmmaker John Irving this year. The ex-spy was unrepentant about his actions, calling the beloved civil rights leader, "the world’s most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union." Rickard, who was 88 years old at the time the interview was given, died on March 30 of this year.
Rickard also allegedly called Mandela "a toy of the communists" in the interview.
"That revelation confirms what we have always known, that they are working against [us], even today,” African National Congress party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said to BBC Africa. "It's not thumb sucked, it's not a conspiracy [theory]. It is now confirmed that it did not only start now, there is a pattern in history.”
A request for comment from the CIA by ABC News was not immediately returned.
Critics of the CIA, like Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute, took to social media to voice outrage of the CIA's alleged involvement in Mandela's incarceration.
"Stop all CIA covert ops NOW," Sachs wrote on Twitter. "They are disastrous for the world -- including US."
Covert operations by the CIA, like the alleged monitoring of Mandela that took place prior to his arrest, have long been a source of criticism for activists. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders received criticism in February when it was revealed that as 33-year-old protester of the Vietnam War in 1974 he had urged that the agency be abolished.
Although many observers had long suspected the involvement of the CIA in Mandela's arrest, no one from the agency, past or present, had ever acknowledged it until now. Rickard himself denied the allegations as recently as 2012 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
"It's not true," he told the paper over the phone. "There's no substance to it."