LIFTING OF PINOCHET'S IMMUNITY RENEWS FOCUS ON OPERATION CONDOR
OPERATION CONDOR DOCUMENTS INDICATE 1976 TERRORIST ATTACK IN WASHINGTON MIGHT HAVE BEEN PREVENTED
DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS FILL IN CENSORED DEBATE
IN LEADING JOURNAL FOREIGN AFFAIRS
CONTROVERSY AT COUNCIL on FOREIGN RELATIONS LEADS TO RESIGNATION
Washington D.C. June 10: Despite denials by the office of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the argument advanced by Council on Foreign Relations Latin American specialist Kenneth Maxwell that the September 1976 car-bombing in Washington D.C. might have been prevented is bolstered by declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive. The declassified State Department records chart U.S. foreknowledge of Operation Condor, a network of Southern Cone secret police agencies that coordinated terrorist attacks against political opponents of their regimes around the world in the mid and late 1970s.
Operation Condor has received renewed international attention over the last several weeks. On May 28 a Chilean court stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution for Condor-related crimes.
The documents are among the evidence that Maxwell, the director of the Council's Latin American program and senior reviewer for its journal, Foreign Affairs, used in a rebuttal to a letter from Henry Kissinger's former assistant secretary of State, William D. Rogers, which appeared in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. As reported in the New York Times on June 5 ("Kissinger Assailed In Debate on Chile"), and in The Nation magazine ("The Maxwell Affair") the prestigious journal has refused to publish Maxwell's response and he has resigned in protest.
The censored debate in Foreign Affairs centers on Operation Condor and what actions U.S. officials took in response to CIA intelligence that the Pinochet regime, along with other military governments in the region, had "plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians, and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad," according to agency sources. The progression of documentation shows that the CIA withheld information from the State Department on Condor plotting for weeks in the summer of 1976. In late August Henry Kissinger's office belatedly sent out a diplomatic warning to the Southern Cone military governments that was not, in the end, actually delivered. A September 20th cable from Kissinger's top deputy on Latin America, discovered by Archive analyst Carlos Osorio, instructed U.S. ambassadors in the region to "take no further action" on deterring Condor plots because "there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme."
The next day, a bomb planted by agents of the Chilean secret police exploded under the car of Pinochet's leading critic in the United States, Orlando Letelier, killing him and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt. Until the attacks on 9/11, the Letelier-Moffitt assassination was considered the most egregious act of international terrorism ever committed in Washington D.C.
The documents were used in two recently published books, The Condor Years, by Columbia University professor John Dinges, and The Pinochet File, by Archive senior analyst Peter Kornbluh, both published by The New Press.
Kornbluh's request to submit a rebuttal to Rogers in Foreign Affairs was also denied. The unpublished letter written by him and Dinges is posted below, along with the declassified documents.
|To the Editor: |
The refusal by Foreign Affairs to print Kenneth Maxwell's response to William D. Rogers' letter ("Crisis Prevention," March/April 2004 issue) is not only unjust to Maxwell but, more importantly, to the truth regarding an egregious act of international terrorism that took place on the streets of Washington D.C. As the authors of two books that document what Henry Kissinger's office knew and what it did and didn't do about the network of Southern Cone secret police operatives known as Operation Condor, we believe that the Rogers letter should not be allowed to stand uncorrected.
The focus of the Rogers letter is on the September 21, 1976, car-bombing on Massachusetts Avenue, carried out by agents of Gen. Pinochet's DINA, that took the lives of former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Rogers dismisses Maxwell's assertion that "this was a tragedy that might have been prevented" and scoffs: "by whom, one might ask?"
The answer is that it could have been prevented by Secretary of State Kissinger's office and by the CIA, both of which had advance intelligence on Operation Condor assassination plots. The declassified CIA and State Department records are absolutely clear on this point. The CIA obtained concrete intelligence in early June 1976--months before the Letelier-Moffitt assassination took place, that Southern Cone military intelligence officials were coordinating their repression against perceived enemies in Latin America and abroad, and that their operations included international assassinations. The documents show that on July 30, 1976, a CIA briefer told Assistant Secretary Harry Shlaudeman about "disturbing developments" in the "operational attitudes" of an organization codenamed Operation Condor.
The intelligence reports cited by Shlaudeman did not indicate the Condor plans involved the United States. But we now know that such reports existed: both the CIA and the State Department received reports from the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay that two Chilean agents, using false passports and false identities, had requested visas to travel from Asuncion to Washington D.C. in late July. In addition, the CIA has acknowledged in a letter that it learned of a threat by Uruguay to kill U.S. Congressman Edward Koch in reprisal for his legislative efforts to cut off military aid to that country. The threat, made by an officer now known to have been a Condor operative, was also received in late July, around the same time the CIA was developing its intelligence conclusions about Condor.
Shlaudeman and his two deputies, William Luers and Hewson Ryan, recommended action. Over the course of three weeks, they drafted a cautiously worded demarche, approved by Kissinger, in which he instructed the U.S. ambassadors in the Southern Cone countries to meet with the respective heads of state about Condor. He instructed them to express "our deep concern" about "rumors" of "plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad."
This cable was dated August 23, 1976--four full weeks prior to the bombing that killed Letelier and Moffitt. In effect, Kissinger's warning placed the Condor regimes on notice that the United States had detected their assassination plans and wanted them stopped. It is reasonable to conclude that if the demarche had been delivered to Chile, the Pinochet regime would have aborted the assassination mission that was already underway.
In his first letter published in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rogers asserts that "Kissinger's warning was delivered in robust fashion to the Argentine president--there are cables to prove it…and probably to Pinochet's underlings in Santiago." That is incorrect. In fact, there are no such cables.
In the all-important case of the Pinochet regime, which sponsored the plot to kill Letelier, we have a cable dated August 24 from U.S. Ambassador Popper advising against talking to Pinochet because he "might well take as an insult any inference that he was connected with such assassination plots." Popper requested approval for an alternative plan: to send the CIA station chief to talk to the head of the Chilean secret police. Although there is an August 30 document indicating that Shlaudeman favored Popper's approach, Popper received no reply, at least not until after the assassination. This lack of reply is confirmed by available documents and by interviews with those involved. One official, Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Boyatt, said he has a distinct memory that no reply was received.
Boyatt had no explanation for this failure of communication: "This says Shlaudeman has decided by August 30 not to go to Pinochet. So what's the big secret? Why couldn't we be put into action [the next day]. And I don't know the answer to that….But going to [DINA chief] Contreras [the next day] would have made a difference, I think. Or at least it might have."
In the case of Argentina, there are two memoranda [Document 10 and Document 11] chronicling a conversation that occurred on September 21, between Ambassador Robert Hill and General Jorge Videla. These cables indicate a general discussion of human rights took place but make no mention of Condor or of the serious U.S. concerns about reports of international assassination plans. How could it be that the ambassador ignored specific instructions from Secretary of State Kissinger?
The answer seems to lie in a secret cable sent by Shlaudeman from Costa Rica to his deputy in D.C. William Luers, on September 20--the day before the Hill/Videla meeting and the car-bombing. The one-paragraph cable is titled "Operation Condor" and is marked for relevance to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Shlaudeman states: "You can simply instruct the Ambassadors to take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme."
Maxwell suggests that the timing of this cable, sent only eighteen hours before Letelier's car was blown up in downtown Washington, was "a cruel coincidence." No one argues that the cable indicates complicity by any U.S. official in Letelier's death; Rogers' inference to that effect is absurd and a red herring. The point is not that the assassination might have been prevented at that late hour. The importance of the cable is that it is documented evidence that an initiative to counter terrorism had been aborted before it was ever carried out. Thirteen days after the assassination Shlaudeman belatedly sent his approval to Ambassador Popper's suggestion that the CIA station chief present the Condor demarche directly to DINA's Contreras instead of to Pinochet. We believe that this cable raises the question of whether those involved may have been attempting to cover up their failure to act on the Condor threat prior to the assassination.
The paper trail is clear: the State Department and the CIA had enough intelligence to take concrete steps to thwart Condor assassination planning. Those steps were initiated but never implemented. Shlaudeman's deputy, Hewson Ryan, would later acknowledge in an oral history interview that the State Department was "remiss" in its handling of the case. "We knew fairly early on that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning, or at least talking about, some assassinations abroad in the summer of 1976. … Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don't know," he stated in reference to the Letelier-Moffitt bombing. "But we didn't."
At a time when our nation is once again examining whether there was enough intelligence to detect and deter the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is imperative that this earlier act of terrorism be understood for the lessons it holds, rather than distorted by commission or omission. To do anything less would be to dishonor two people whose deaths might have been prevented.
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This "immediate action" cable is the State Department reaction to a succession of violent deaths of major exile leaders in Argentina following the military coup on March 24, 1976. It instructs ambassadors to report any evidence that the governments of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil are making "international arrangements" to carry out assassinations of exile leaders. The assassination victims up to this point include: Edgardo Enriquez, leader of the Chilean MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and the leftist coalition, the Junta de Coordinacion Revolucionaria (JCR); Zelmar Michelini, Uruguayan senator; Hector Gutierrez, president of Uruguay's house of deputies; and Juan Jose Torres, former president of Bolivia.
This is the first document, of those that have been declassified, to mention "Operation Condor." The CIA reports that the six governments (listed above) met in Santiago in June and agreed to coordinate operations in Argentina. It also mentions a joint operation involving security officers from Chile and Uruguay to raid a human rights office in Buenos Aires and steal records of refugees. The arrest of Edgardo Enriquez is mentioned, and the summary reports that the leftist leader was "subsequently turned over to the Chileans and is now dead."
Document 3: Montevideo 2702, July 20, 1976 [Obtained by John Dinges]
In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay, Ambassador Ernest Siracusa argues that the military governments' "increasingly coordinated approach to terrorism" is understandable in light of the coordination of the leftist organizations in the JCR. He adds: "The U.S. has long urged these countries to increase their cooperation for security. Now that they are doing so our reaction should not be one of opprobrium. We must condemn abhorrent methods, but we cannot condemn their coordinated approach to common perceived threats or we could well be effectively alienated from this part of the world."
CIA officials meet with their counterparts at the State Department and inform them for what is believed to be the first time that Operation Condor is more than a mere exchange of intelligence: It is now involved in "locating and 'hitting' guerrilla leaders." Other documents specify that "hits" are being planned in Paris and London. This report, in its firm conclusion that Condor is an international assassination organization, goes considerably beyond previous speculations about a link between the countries and the series of assassinations carried out in Argentina.
This 14-page memo was written by Assistant Secretary for Latin America Harry Shlaudeman, who had been following the reporting on intelligence coordination in recent months and had several times solicited reports on the subject from the ambassadors. He combines the information on Condor and other disturbing trends in a report addressed directly to Secretary of State Kissinger. Shlaudeman states that the Southern Cone governments see themselves as engaged in a Third World War against terrorism and that they "have established Operation Condor to find and kill terrorists … in their own countries and in Europe." Their definition of terrorist, however, is so broad as to include "nearly anyone who opposes government policy."
This is an action cable signed by Secretary of State Kissinger. It reflects a decision by the Latin American bureau in the State Department to try to stop the Condor plans known to be underway, especially those outside of Latin America. Kissinger instructs the ambassadors of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to meet as soon as possible with the chief of state or the highest appropriate official of their respective countries and to convey a direct message, known in diplomatic language as a "demarche." The ambassadors are instructed to tell the officials the U.S. government has received information that Operation Condor goes beyond information exchange and may "include plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad." Further, the ambassadors are to express the U.S. government's "deep concern," about the reports and to warn that, if true, they would "create a most serious moral and political problem."
U.S. ambassador to Chile David Popper answered the Kissinger Condor cable immediately. He has met with the CIA station chief Stewart Burton and deputy chief of mission Thomas Boyatt and they have decided that Pinochet would be "insulted" if the Ambassador raised the issue of assassinations with him. Popper offers an alternative: that Burton present the warning to DINA chief Manuel Contreras. Popper than writes: "Please advise." (The names of Burton and Contreras are blanked out in the cable, but have been confirmed in interviews with former officials.)
This heavily redacted memo concerns the CIA-State Department meeting on Condor which followed Kissinger's cable instructing the ambassadors to take action. Most of the substance of this important discussion is redacted, but two points are clear: Shlaudeman reports on the concerns that led to the drafting of the Kissinger cable and the strategy of "making representations concerning Operation Condor" which, according to interviews, was a strategy originally advocated by Undersecretary of State Philip Habib. The second point is that Shlaudeman announces that "we are not making a representation to Pinochet as it would be futile to do so." There appears also to be discussion of alternatives to confronting Pinochet.
Document 9: San Jose 4526, September 20, 1976, "Operation Condor", addressed "For ARA-Luers from Shlaudeman" [Obtained by Carlos Osorio]
Writing to his deputy, William Luers, Shlaudeman orders him to "instruct the ambassadors to take no further action." The title and filing "tags" identifying Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as the countries of relevance make clear that the "action" Shlaudeman refers to is the August 23 demarche to those countries' heads of states that the United States knows about Condor assassination plans and opposes them. This key document was sent from San Jose, Costa Rica, where Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman was visiting at the time. The crucial cable to which Shlaudeman is responding, referenced as "State 231654," has been somehow "lost" from the State Department filing system.
These documents are the reports by Ambassador Robert Hill of his first meeting with military ruler, General Videla, on September 21, 1976. It would have been Hill's opportunity to present the demarche warning about Operation Condor, if that instruction had been still in force. But these cables provide no evidence that such a representation was made. The discussion on human rights is notable for another reason. In the second cable, Hill presents strong criticism of the recent murder of a priest and what appeared to be mass killings at a nearby town and reminds Videla that the US Congress is taking a strong stand against governments perceived to be human rights violators. Videla dismissed the criticism by pointing to the recent visit by his foreign minister to Washington: "President said he had been gratified when Fonmin Guzzetti reported to him that Secretary of State Kissinger understood their problem and had said he hoped they could get terrorism under control as quickly as possible. Videla said he had impression senior officers of USG understood situation his govt faces but junior bureaucrats do not."
Dated 13 days after the Letelier assassination, this cable from Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman to ambassador Popper is the long belated reply to Popper's "Please advise" cable of August 24. Shlaudeman, over Kissinger's signature, approves Popper's proposed plan to bypass Pinochet with the Condor warning and go directly to DINA chief Contreras. The six week delay in replying to Popper is unexplained. And it is further mystifying that this cable, concerning a warning about Chile's reported plans to kill dissidents abroad, would make no reference to the actual assassination of Letelier only a few days before. (Other cables make clear that the two redactions refer to CIA station chief Stewart Burton.)
Two additional documents establish that there were other channels of intelligence indicating that Condor countries Chile and Uruguay may have been planning operations in the United States.
Document 13: "Condor One" cable to Paraguay, July 17, 1976 [Obtained by John Dinges]
Around the time the CIA was detecting the assassination plans of Operation Condor, Chile's chief of intelligence, Col. Manuel Contreras, made use of the new Condor system to prepare for the planned assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC. This document is an FBI transcript in English of a telex message sent by Contreras, identified as "Condor One," to his counterparts in Paraguay, seeking their assistance. The Paraguayans provided false passports to two Chilean agents who intended to use them to travel to the United States. The mission was leaked to the US ambassador, who reported the planned Chilean mission (whose actual purpose he did not know) to the CIA.
In late July 1976, amidst the other intelligence about Condor's assassination plans, the CIA station chief in Uruguay learns that two Uruguayan officers have threatened to kill U.S. Congressman Edward Koch, a prominent human rights critic. The information is reported to CIA headquarters but no action is taken because the treats were delivered while the men were drinking, and because the CIA did not believe the Southern Cone governments were capable of such a mission in the United States. Only after the Letelier assassination did the CIA reconsider and inform Koch of the threat made two months earlier.
Ryan, one of Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman's deputies, participated in many of the meetings at which Operation Condor was discovered. In this interview several years before his death, he expresses regret that the warnings on Condor were never delivered to the heads of state of the Condor countries and raises the possibility that "we might have prevented this [the Letelier assassination]. There are some differences in his recollections of the events, compared to the cable record. He recalls that he tried unsuccessfully to get a cable cleared to warn the countries on Condor. In fact, the cable was drafted by another deputy assistant secretary (William Luers) and sent to the ambassadors. The end result was the same as Ryan recalled: the Condor demarche was never delivered to the three countries planning assassinations.