[Source: facebook.com]

On its opening weekend, the movie Bob Marley: One Love sold more tickets than any other movie in the United States, far outpacing other films in the theaters. While the film appeared to stay away from U.S.’s involvement in Marley’s death in order to get wider distribution, the question as to whether the CIA orchestrated the reggae music icon’s early death at 36 years old deserves an exploration.

Marley Rose to Musical Stardom with Revolutionary Lyrics as Jamaicans Elect a Socialist Leader

Blacks around the world hailed reggae superstar Bob Marley for his revolutionary lyrics. Having grown up poor in Jamaica and rising quickly to musical stardom, Marley never forgot his humble beginnings, as he sang for people to “Get Up, Stand Up” for their rights against exploitation and government oppression.

Jamaica had gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962. The CIA, wanting to gain a U.S. economic foothold in the country, was particularly worried about Marley helping socialist Prime Minister Michael Manley win re-election against the candidate it backed, Edward Seaga (spelled “CIAga” in Jamaican graffiti).[1]

Edward Seaga, right, clasping hands with Michael Manley, left, and Bob Marley during the One Love concert at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, on 22 April 1978.
Edward Seaga, right, clasping hands with Michael Manley, left, and Bob Marley during the One Love concert at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, on April 22, 1978. [Source: theguardian.com]

Bob Marley grew up in a squalid Jamaican home. He met Peter Tosh and formed a singing group called The Wailers in the mid-1960s. By the mid-1970s they broke into the American and British music world.

Their 1974 Burnin’ album was known for its Black Power songs such as “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” and the aforementioned “Get Up, Stand Up.” His next album’s “Revolution” was particularly incendiary in saying that there was no political change without revolutionary struggle. [2]

A guide to the original studio recordings of Bob Marley and the Wailers
Bob Marley and the Wailers. [Source: thevinylfactory.com]

Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and their friends in the Rastafarian community preached that Jamaicans should resist U.S. interventions. They also, for better or worse, preached for the use of marijuana. They said it was to resist the use of heroin and cocaine that conservative political forces had contributed to becoming part of the country’s trade.[3]

Democratic socialist leader Michael Manley had won the 1972 election as the Prime Minister of Jamaica with his People’s National Party (PNP). Manley lived near Bob Marley and was friends with him, spending many nights at his house.[4]

A person sitting in a chair with a person in his lap

Description automatically generated
Bob Marley and Michael Manley [Source: todalmusicadenueestrasvidas.blogspot.com]

Marley Lyrics Put Down the CIA, As Gunman Says It Trained Him to Kill Marley

Despite U.S. government denials, researchers found covert interventions used against Manley’s government that included arson, bombing and assassination. Manley’s forces intercepted at least one shipment of 500 machine guns coming from a right-wing paramilitary faction with CIA roots and leaders convicted of drug trafficking. This right-wing group reportedly aided the trafficking of cocaine and heroin into Jamaica.[5]

Evidence supports that the CIA acted on increasing concerns about Bob Marley, who singled out the CIA with revulsion in political songs such as “Rat Race,” where he sang, “Rasta don’t work for no CIA!”

A person with long hair wearing a hat and yellow shirt

Description automatically generated
[Source: facebook.com]

In 1976, Prime Minister Michael Manley said the CIA-supported groups fueled unrest to influence the results of the upcoming elections. The Governor-General of Jamaica declared a state of emergency. The government police fought this unrest that Manley claimed was organized by CIA-backed opposition leader Edward Seaga and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).[6]

Close to the day of the 1976 election, Prime Minister Manley planned a free concert with Bob Marley, sponsored by the Jamaican Ministry of Culture. A number of weeks before the concert, the “Shower Posse,” a CIA-linked paramilitary gang that supported opposition leader Edward Seaga’s JLP, had held Marley at gunpoint and extorted regular payments from him.

A group of people walking on a street

Description automatically generated
[Source: boswellbooks.com]

Manley’s PNP sent gunmen to guard Marley’s home and ward off the extortionists.

Days before the concert, Shower Posse gunmen broke into a neighbor’s home where they shot Marley, his wife Rita, and his manager, Don Taylor.[7]

Police scared off the attackers before they could kill the Marleys. Miraculously, they all survived after hospitalizations.

Don Taylor said that Rastafarians eventually captured four of the gunmen who shot them and held a people’s court with them. Taylor said that “One, a young man I knew only as Leggo Beast, told the ghetto court that four of them had been trained by the CIA and given guns and unlimited supplies of cocaine to do the assassination.”[8]

Witnesses Believe the CIA Director’s Son Poisoned Marley with a Cancer-Causing Agent

Prime Minister Manley had police, soldiers and Rastafarians escort the Marleys and Wailers band members to a secluded mountain encampment where they were guarded.

Several days after his recovery, Marley appeared at the concert on stage with Manley. He and his PNP handily won the election.[9]

Those present at the encampment said an unarmed right-wing agent did get past the guards to attack Marley covertly. A group was making a documentary on Marley and the concert. Unknown to anyone on the film crew at the time, the cameraman, Carl Colby, was the son of CIA Director William Colby.[10]

Cinematographer Lee Lew-Lee, a former Black Panther, was part of the film crew. Lew-Lee, who later gained acclaim as cameraman for the Academy Award-winning documentary The Panama Deception, was close with members of the Wailers.

Present when Carl Colby came into the encampment, Lew-Lee said that Colby brought a new pair of boots for Marley. The reggae star tried the boots on immediately—a reported customary gesture among Rastafarians. Sticking his foot in, the singer exclaimed “Ow” as something jabbed him. Marley pulled out a length of metal wire that was embedded in the boot.[11]

A person in a suit and tie

Description automatically generated
Carl Colby [Source: washingtonlife.com]

Lew-Lee said he thought nothing of the boot incident at the time, but became suspicious when Marley was playing soccer five months later and broke his toe on that same foot. When the bone would not mend, doctors found it was cancerous. The cancer quickly metastasized throughout Marley’s body.

Marley’s manager, Don Taylor, also claimed in his memoir that a “senior CIA agent” had been planted among the pre-election concert film crew as part of a plan to “assassinate” Marley. A theory holds that the wire in Colby’s gift boots was either made out of a radioactive metal or contained a highly carcinogenic chemical element on its tip (The New York Times cited U.S. possible use of this tactic elsewhere).[12]

Philip Agee on ABC in 1987.
Philip Agee [Source: nytimes.com]

The IMF Squeezes Jamaica’s Economy as Ex-CIA Agent Agee Describes CIA-Trained Terrorism

After Michael Manley’s socialist PNP won that 1976 election, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reportedly “came down on Jamaica,” causing economic havoc, according to NPR radio host and writer Roger Stephens.[13]

The Emmy-nominated documentary film Who Shot the Sheriff? presented former Cuban intelligence agent, Osvaldo Cardenas, who said that Manley was good friends with Fidel Castro. The film also had Roger Stephens saying that the U.S. was behind JLP head Ed Seaga, and that the CIA labeled Bob Marley as a subversive in their heavily redacted file on him.[14]

Cuban agent Cardenas further said that the CIA was bringing in “guns and training streetfighters against Manley,” through the gangs in Jamaica.[15]

ReMastered: Who Shot the Sheriff? (TV Movie 2018) - IMDb
[Source: imdb.com]

CIA agent whistleblower Phil Agee (co-founder of CovertAction Magazine) said that “these gangs used paramilitary tactics. They would go into shanty towns and seal off whole blocks. They’d hold the police department and fire department at bay while they burned down the whole block. In some cases they would throw children and babies back into the flames. This served to turn the people against the government of Michael Manley.”[16]

Marley Beloved in Europe and Africa as He Supported African Anti-Colonialist Struggles

By 1981, despite serious illness from his progressing cancer, Bob Marley had become a hero for Africans. A New York radio network owner said in 1980 that, in Europe and Africa, Marley was “bigger than Christ and Muhammad combined.”

Marley played concerts for leftist leaders such as Marxist Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Marley also supported leftist struggles in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. New York’s Black Liberation Movement-aligned WLIB radio worked to get Marley’s next album, Uprising, nationwide play on conservative-controlled Black radio.[17]

Watch Bob Marley Perform Live For Zimbabwe Independence
[Source: woldcnews.com]

The CIA and its collaborating forces, bent on defeating the democratic socialist People’s National Party in Jamaica in the 1980 elections, threatened Marley in his last days and democracy thereafter. Marley performed despite his approaching death and CIA operatives’ threats to not come back to Jamaica before the election.

The Gleaner helped the pro-American, reactionary JLP finally defeat Manley’s socialist PNP in the 1980 election. (The CIA reportedly worked inside the Inter-American Press Association to influence the right-wing transformation of the Jamaican newspaper, The Gleaner.)[18]

Bob Marley died in May 1981, and 30,000 mourners attended his Jamaican wake. The JLP-linked Shower Posse paramilitary group resumed perpetrating violence after the PNP regained leadership in 2000, as attacks continued against Marley’s bandmate, Peter Tosh.[19]

[Note: this article is partly adapted from chapters of the author’s book Drugs as Weapons Against Us (2015).]

  1. Seen in the Emmy-nominated Who Shot the Sheriff? (2018) directed by Kief Davidson and co-written by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist.

  2. On growing up poor, see Timothy White, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), pp. 49-55. On his Burnin’ album’s songs, pp. 260-61, 268. On CIA and conservative government forces, election and Tosh, see pp. 264-65, 304, 317-18, 364-65. Also see Alex Constantine, The Covert War Against Rock (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2001), pp. 134-36, 144.

  3. White, Catch a Fire, p. 307, and Clarence Lusane, Pipe Dream Blues: Racism and the War on Drugs (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1991), pp. 112-13.

  4. White, Catch a Fire, pp. 264-65.

  5. “Despite U.S. government…into Jamaica.” Ellen Ray and Bill Schaap, “Massive Destabilization in Jamaica,” CovertAction Information Bulletin, no. 10, August-September 1980, pp. 13, 16. William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History (London: Zed Books, 1986), p. 301. Jerry Meldon, “The CIA’s Dope-Smuggling ‘Freedom Fighters,’ Veterans of the CIA’s Drug Wars, Profile: Luis Posada Carriles,” High Times, December 18, 1998.

  6. “Evidence supports that…no CIA!” White, Catch a Fire, pp. 285, 304.

  7. “Coming up to the…manager.” White, Catch a Fire, p. 318.

  8. Don Taylor, Marley and Me: The Real Bob Marley Story (Fort Lee, NJ): Barricade Books, 1995), pp. 168-69.

  9. White, Catch a Fire, pp. 288-93.

  10. White, Catch a Fire, p. 291. Carl Colby admitted being part of that film crew in the Netflix movie Who Shot the Sheriff?

  11. Constantine, The Covert War Against Rock, pp. 135-36.

  12. Constantine, The Covert War Against Rock, p. 136. On U.S. use of carcinogens for assassination regarding a former KGB spy who died within three weeks of the suspected poisoning, see Alan Cowell, “Planes tested for radioactivity in link to death of the former Russian spy,” The New York Times, November 29, 2006. Also see, H.P. Albarelli Jr., A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2009), p. 292. Albarelli cited a “CIA Memorandum for the Record for DD/P through C/SE, Subject: Radiological Warfare, 28 October 1954.”

  13. Stated in Who Shot the Sheriff?

  14. Who Shot the Sheriff?

  15. Idem.

  16. Idem. at 35:41.

  17. “By 1980, despite dying…Black radio.” On ‘’bigger than Christ” quote, support for Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and WLIB radio support, see White, Catch a Fire, pp. 1-3, 304. On support of lefist struggles in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa, see Marley’s song “War,” in Constantine, The Covert War Against Rock, p. 135.

  18. “By 1980, Bob…wake.” White, Catch a Fire, pp. 304, 317-18. In his bibliography, White cites Fred Landis, “The CIA and The Media: IAPA and the Jamaican Daily Gleaner.” CovertAction Information Bulletin, no. 7 (December 1979-January 1980), and “CIA Media Operations in Chile, Jamaica and Nicaragua.” CovertAction Information Bulletin, no.16 (December 1981).

  19. David Gonsalez, “Violence Subsides in Jamaica, but Wounds Still Fester,” New York Times, July 11, 2001. This article also claims JLP leader Seaga as a victim of PNP police death threats, though in the context of JLP-linked murders of Marley, Tosh and others, the PNP reaction might be better understood. Former Wailer Peter Tosh collaborated with Rolling Stone’s lead singer Mick Jagger after Marley’s 1981 death. Tosh continued his political “message music” until he was murdered, along with two friends, by gunmen in 1987’s JLP-led Jamaica. Tosh’s producer, Wayne Johnson, cited an unnamed government official who told him that one of Tosh’s murderers was a police officer. The government ended up only arresting and convicting one man, who reportedly was not carrying a gun. Tosh’s New York apartment was cleared out by “burglars.” A New York public administrator then gained possession of Tosh’s master tapes and hid them in a warehouse for years. Eric Williams, “Who Kiled Peter Tosh?” High Times, no. 221, January 1994, p. 18, for warehoused tapes. This and other facts cited in Constantine, The Covert War Against Rock, p. 144.

CovertAction Magazine is made possible by subscriptionsorders and donations from readers like you.

Blow the Whistle on U.S. Imperialism

Click the whistle and donate

When you donate to CovertAction Magazine, you are supporting investigative journalism. Your contributions go directly to supporting the development, production, editing, and dissemination of the Magazine.

CovertAction Magazine does not receive corporate or government sponsorship. Yet, we hold a steadfast commitment to providing compensation for writers, editorial and technical support. Your support helps facilitate this compensation as well as increase the caliber of this work.

Please make a donation by clicking on the donate logo above and enter the amount and your credit or debit card information.

CovertAction Institute, Inc. (CAI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your gift is tax-deductible for federal income purposes. CAI’s tax-exempt ID number is 87-2461683.

We sincerely thank you for your support.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s). CovertAction Institute, Inc. (CAI), including its Board of Directors (BD), Editorial Board (EB), Advisory Board (AB), staff, volunteers and its projects (including CovertAction Magazine) are not responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article. This article also does not necessarily represent the views the BD, the EB, the AB, staff, volunteers, or any members of its projects.

Differing viewpoints: CAM publishes articles with differing viewpoints in an effort to nurture vibrant debate and thoughtful critical analysis. Feel free to comment on the articles in the comment section and/or send your letters to the Editors, which we will publish in the Letters column.

Copyrighted Material: This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. As a not-for-profit charitable organization incorporated in the State of New York, we are making such material available in an effort to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. You can read more about ‘fair use’ and US Copyright Law at the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.

Republishing: CovertAction Magazine (CAM) grants permission to cross-post CAM articles on not-for-profit community internet sites as long as the source is acknowledged together with a hyperlink to the original CovertAction Magazine article. Also, kindly let us know at info@CovertActionMagazine.com. For publication of CAM articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: info@CovertActionMagazine.com.

By using this site, you agree to these terms above.

About the Author


  1. SAINT BOB, would have us act positively, loving these thugs & playing ‘our-game’, not theirs.
    To keep count of or trying to figure-out, the western fake metal-coin ‘money’ (Greek ‘mnemosis’ = ‘memory’) Oligarch directed CIA, FBI, Mossad, Mi6 & NATO many 1000s of: Assassinations, Government overthrows, destabilizations, financing, arming & training mercenary thugs, Psychological-Media Lies & Operations, threats & intimidations of people PER YEAR keeps us all in REACTION, while they are busy planning & executing their next 100 atrocities. Oligarch Finance, Media, Religion, Education, Military-Industrial, Legislative, Judicial, Pharma-med & Agri-business COMPLEX acts confidently because of a next to complete control of institutional ‘economy’.
    However, we seemingly divided & conquered individuals are still caught in their pattern of ‘exogenous’ (Latin ‘other-generated’) REACTION of the last 7000 violent hierarchal colonial years since their role in Babylon’s demise.
    OUR GAME (What made Bob & the Wailers so amazing at music, football & Rastafarian
    Humanity’s better cultivating our own ancient many 10s of 1000s of years of ‘indigenous’ (L. ‘self-generating’) processes of PRO-ACTION distributed among ourselves & all life’s Biosphere.
    India’s ‘Swadeshi’ (Hindi ‘Indigenous’ aka ‘self-sufficiency’) movement exemplified by Mohandas Gandhi describe this as “Becoming the change, we want to see in the world”.
    As we join together in Livelihood for our essentials of food, shelter (~100 person Ashram), Khadi clothing, warmth & Ayurvedic health in our natural Multihome-Dwelling-Complexes (eg Apartment, Townhouse & Village-cluster) where 70% of people live today), we employ our complementary strengths, meet our needs in collaborative proximity. We become more welcoming & inclusive in Circular RELATIONAL-‘ECONOMY’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’ + ‘namein’ = ‘care-&-nurture’). Our self-reliance means we stop feeding the cabal monster.
    In India, Swadeshi accelerated between 1917-1947, rebuilt local livelihood sovereignty & when just 5% of the parasite British (USA, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Netherlands) colonial Empire import & export to Indian trade had been reduced, many 100s of empire Corporations went bankrupt & empire backed off. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/relational-economy
    Few among us are still connected with all humanity’s worldwide indigenous practices of decentralized, distributed ‘Fractal’ (Fraction, multiplier, building-block, where-the-part-contains-the-whole’) interdisciplinary Cultural system referred to as the CIRCLE-of-LIFE on every continent & island. All humanity’s ancestral indigenous ancestors & 1st Nations here honored the GREAT-GOOD-WAY-OF-KINDNESS, GREAT-LAW-OF-PEACE, CONSTITUTION, CIRCLE-OF-LIFE, MEDICINE-WHEEL Indigenous practices provide checks & balances ECONOMIC MEMORY over many 10s of 1000s of years of vibrant, abundant, distributed wealth in loving societies. ‘Money’ (Gk ‘mnemosis’ = ‘memory’) is supposed to be a recognition accounting for every person’s contributions, experience, expertise & decision-making-acumen https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/a-home/3-indigenous-circle-of-life
    We best structure our interventions, in our social, economic & political system similarly to the ‘AUTONOMOUS’ system of the body, a reflection of the gene, cell, tissue & organ autonomy, with each part’s expert memory retention, decision-making & implementation but carrying love of the whole. The brain is only one of several Nexus-of-communication for facts & actions, learning mostly after expert parts have already implemented their decisions & action. Neurology today knows, for example now how the digestive system contains many times more memory & implementation neurons than the brain. Distributed ‘ECONOMIC’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’ + ‘namein’ = ‘care-&-nurture’) agency & MEMORY are core to the holistic function of the body. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/d-participatory-structure/3-economic-memory
    TIME TO TURN TO OUR LOVED ONES, FRIENDS, FAMILIES & NEIGHBOURS TO KNOW WHO WE ARE? Today 70% of people live in Multihomes within an average of 32 dwelling units = ~100 people. Multihomes are the 1st Fractal of collaborative ‘economic’ Livelihood. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/c-relational-economy/1-extending-our-welcome-participatory-multihome-cohousing 20% of Multihome-dwellers are extended-families living intentionally in proximity for social & economic collaboration. Multihome-extended-family contribute 2 trillion$ of the most individually appropriate goods, services, sharing caring/ year, as Turtle-Island, N-America’s largest essential Economic sector, albeit unrecognized by government, education & institutions.
    DO-WE-KNOW-WHO-WE-ARE-? http://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/d-participatory-structure/9-do-we-know-who-we-are web-based Community-Circular-Economy software supports individuals, family, extended-family & community recognition:
    A) CATALOGUE complementary talents, goods, services, resources & dreams intake form. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/a-home/7-membership
    B) MAP local proximal collaborative relations for complementary economic concertation. Historical Eg. Baseline mapping of 105 Mohawk, Wendat & Algonquian Placenames in Tiohtiake, greater Montreal archipelago https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/a-home/5-tiohtiake-mohawk-placenames
    C) ACCOUNT for collective contributions, buying, selling & co-investment. https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/c-relational-economy
    D) BOTH-SIDES-NOW, Equal-time, Recorded & Published Dialogues aka COUNCIL PROCESS for creating understanding, working agreements/ contracts & Dispute-Resolution https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/d-participatory-structure/1-both-sides-now-equal-time-recorded-dialogues

  2. Thank you very much for your gracious comments.

    The assassination of Robert Kennedy was definitely a CIA operation.

    It is not clear whether President Johnson actually ordered it but there is certainly no doubt that he approved of it.

  3. Thanks for bringing these related assassinations up Tony. I cover the evidence of the CIA’s involvement in John Lennon’s assassination, as well as Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, in my book and film, Drugs as Weapons Against Us.

  4. Certainly worth taking a good, hard look at.

    Cancer-causing agents were developed, I believe, by the CIA for use in the planned assassination of Fidel Castro.

    It is also interesting to note that Jack Ruby died, reportedly of cancer, just before he was to have been re-tried for the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. He had also implicated President Johnson in the assassination of President Kennedy.

    President Nixon was indeed very fortunate that the CIA abandoned its plans to assassinate him rather than resort to an alternative method.

    And yes, I am now convinced that the CIA was behind the assassination of John Lennon and that Mark Chapman was a patsy like Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan were in respect of earlier assassinations.

    Lennon was actually shot from the front after he had entered the Dakota Building. 3 bullets then exited his body and went through the vestibule door. In prison, Chapman was visited by a number of people with CIA connections.

    Further reading:

    “Mind Games: The Assassination of John Lennon” by David Whelan.

Leave a Reply