Orlando Letelier

from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


"Are you the wife of Orlando Letelier?" asked the anonymous caller. "Yes," she answered. "No," the caller said, ~ you are his widow."

A week later, on September 21, 1976, the exiled Chilean diplomat and prominent critic of the CIA-backed Pinochet regime was torn to pieces by a car bomb on the streets of Washington DC. Also killed was Letelier's American aide, Ronni Moffit. Her husband, blown clear of the car, immediately began shouting that Chilean fascists were responsible for the atrocity.

He was right, but those fascists had powerful allies in Washington. An FBI informant knew of the plot to assassinate Letelier before the fact but the FBI did nothing to protect him. After the bombing, CIA Director George Bush told the FBI that there'd been no Chilean involvement whatever. The CIA was certain of this, he said, because it had many reliable sources inside the Chilean secret police, DINA.

Actually, the CIA had known that a DINA hit squad was in the US and headed for Washington. After the bombing, the agency purged its files of photos of the assassins. The CIA and DINA then began planting stories in the press suggesting that Letelier had been killed by leftists seeking to make a martyr of him.

The FBI figured out the identities of Letelier's assassins within weeks, but didn't charge them until the CIA's cover-up unraveled several years later. The unraveling began a month after the killing, when a Cuban airliner was bombed, killing 73 passengers. That bombing was done by a violent group of CIA-linked Cuban exiles who were connected with the Bay of Pigs and the JFK assassination and who went on to do similar things in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Investigators into the airliner bombing discovered that both it and the Letelier/Moffit killings were planned at the same meeting, which was organized by a man with longtime CIA connections and was attended by other FBI and CIA men.

Apologists argue that no one can prove that Letelier's convicted assassins, "former" CIA agent Michael Townley and two Cuban exiles, were acting under agency orders. But if they weren't, why did the CIA immediately begin covering up for them?

This case is so complex that, in 1991, the Chilean Supreme Court (post-Pinochet) asked George Bush if he'd mind submitting to questioning. You'd better believe he minded.

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