by Peter Kornbluh
The Nation magazine, August
9 / 16 1999
In September 28, 1973, seventeen days
after the bloody coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power,
two Chilean military officers approached the US Embassy with a
request: The new regime required "advisor assistance from
a person qualified in establishing a detention center for detainees
which they anticipate will be retained over a relatively long
period of time."
In a secret cable to Washington, Ambassador
Nathaniel Davis noted that detailing a US adviser to assist the
protracted imprisonment of civilians more than 13,500 people had
been detained for the crime of supporting the democratically elected
government of Salvador Allende-"provides obvious political
problems." However, he recommended, the State Department
might "consider feasibility of material assistance in form
of tents, blankets, etc. which need not be publicly and specifically
earmarked for prisoners."
This cable was among some 5,800 US documents,
many of them recording Washington's casual attitude toward the
repression after the coup, declassified by the Clinton Administration
on June 30 in response to pressure from Congress, Pinochet's victims
and human rights groups. Totaling over 20,000 pages, the release,
"Human Rights in Chile-Tranche One," is the first of
several on the long-hidden history of the United States and Chile.
The documents, the work of the special
"Chile Declassification Project," constitute the first
US government policy statement- however indirect-on Pinochet's
fate. Detained last October in London, the 83-year-old former
dictator remains under house arrest pending hearings on extradition
to Spain. Pressed to abandon its "neutral" posture on
Pinochet's prosecution for crimes against humanity, the Administration
has decided, says one White House aide, to "declassify what
we can so that we can say we did our share".
Pinochet, God and DINA
In an unusual move, the Administration
released the documents simultaneously in Washington and Santiago.
While the documents are conspicuously lacking in information about
the US role in helping Pinochet take and consolidate power, they
are rich in detail about the inner workings of his bloody regime.
Chileans, long misled by Pinochet's propaganda, will learn the
secret history of their own country between 1973 and 1978. Their
more immediate value, however, will be to empower Chile's human
rights movement and provide concrete evidence for legal proceedings
that are beginning to be brought in Santiago against former officials
in the Pinochet regime.
The declassified State Department, CIA
and Defense Intelligence Agency reports name names, places and
events. One DIA analysis, titled "Covert Counter-subversive
Activities in Chile," reveals for example that the bombing
of two houses in Santiago during the first week of November 1977
was the work of Chile's Army, Navy and Air Force intelligence
services, not of the left, as the regime claimed at the time.
The use of bombs, the DIA source explained, was "a conscious
decision by the service intelligence chiefs that the best way
to deal with the safe house problem is by blowing them up, if
possible, with the terrorists present. Arrests and prosecutions
would 'take months'; an explosion would produce speedy results."
Another intelligence report, dated November
20, 1975, describes a meeting between the heads of the Chilean
military intelligence services-all named-to address "illegal
detentions" by the Air Force, Navy and military police. At
the time, according to the CIA, Pinochet had issued "a secret
decree" ordering that only the Directorate of National Intelligence
(DINA) was supposed to engage in detaining and interrogating political
prisoners. DINA was responsible for many of the kidnappings, torture
and disappearances inside Chile, as well as acts of international
terrorism in Argentina, Italy and the United States. The US documents,
which include a comprehensive "organizational diagram,"
reveal the structure, operations and abuses of DINA in more detail
than was previously known. More important, CIA and DIA intelligence
reports demonstrate that these atrocities continued because Pinochet
alone protected this sinister force from being shut down or restructured
by other members of the junta.
Document after document records near unanimous
criticism of DINA chieftain Col. Manuel Contreras and DINA's unaccountable
power-from inside the regime itself. "The apprehensions of
many senior Chilean military authorities regarding the possibility
of DINA becoming a modern-day Gestapo may very well be coming
to fruition," the US military attaché informed the
Pentagon in April 1975. There were three sources of power in Chile,
according to one Chilean official: "Pinochet, God and DINA."
Moreover, US intelligence explicitly placed
Pinochet at the top of the chain of command overseeing DINA's
bloody operations. A May 1977 CIA "Regional and Political
Analysis" report, for example, contained a detailed section
on "Chile: Violations of Human Rights." The report stated
that DINA was "behind the recent increase in torture, illegal
detentions, and unexplained 'disappearances,' and identified Manuel
Contreras as a "close confidant of Pinochet: Contreras answers
directly to the President, and it is unlikely that he would act
without the knowledge and approval of his superior." Indeed,
Pinochet was briefed every morning at 7:30 on "the coming
events and status of existing DINA activities," a "very
senior DINA official" informed the US military attaché
in Santiago. According to a DIA intelligence report dated July
10,1975, the source stated that "the President issues instructions
to DINA; is aware of its activities; and in fact heads it."
The documents on Pinochet and DINA will
be among the first that Spanish investigative magistrate Judge
Baltasar Garzon is likely to review as he prepares to file extradition
briefs in London at the end of August. Garzon will also focus
on declassified records that reveal what the United States knew
about Operation Condor-a sinister cabal of Southern Cone intelligence
services, led by Chile, that collaborated on tracking, kidnapping
and assassinating opponents of the military regimes.
For more than twenty years, the only known
US document on Condor was an FBI cable, sent from Buenos Aires
on September 28,1976, seven days after the Washington, DC, car-bomb
murder of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague
at the Institute for Policy Studies, Ronni Moffitt. Now it is
clear that US intelligence generated numerous reports and alerts
on Condor-referred to in the documents as a "counterterrorism
Chile, which created the operation in
1974, was Condor One; Ecuador, the last country to be incorporated
into the organization, in 1978, was Condor 7. Argentina, Uruguay,
Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia filled out the membership, according
to the documents. The seven intelligence services used a special
communications system, known as CONDORTEL, to facilitate intelligence
sharing and operations. A Condor center was created in Buenos
Aires, and agents were trained in Santiago. According to CIA sources,
at one point Condor had a European operations plan, "to be
centered in France," where many Chilean exiles lived. French
intelligence, according to another CIA cable, "was aware
of the existence and some objectives of Operation Condor."
So was US intelligence. In the weeks prior
to the Letelier-Moffitt murder, we know now, the CIA issued a
series of reports on Condor operations that identified the possibility
of "government planned and directed assassinations within
and outside the territory of Condor members." Instead of
going public in denouncing such planned acts of terrorism-which
might have deterred the Washington bombing-Secretary Kissinger's
office decided to issue a secret "roger channel" cable
in August 1976 to US embassies in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
US ambassadors were to meet with "appropriate officials,"
including heads of state, and tell them that while Washington
understood their security concerns assassination would "further
exacerbate public world criticism of governments involved"
and "create a most serious moral and political problem."
In the case of Chile, the cable recommended that the CIA station
chief-whose name is deleted-make a "parallel approach,"
presumably to DINA chieftain Contreras.
It is not known what meetings took place
as a result of the cable or what was discussed, but Condor operations
escalated rather than abated. Four days after Letelier and Moffitt
were murdered, on September 25, 1976, by Chilean secret police
assassins, Argentine and Uruguayan Condor teams collaborated in
a sweep in Buenos Aires against OPR-33, a Uruguayan leftist group.
That week, the head of Argentina's State Secretariat for Information
traveled to Santiago to "consult with his Chilean counterparts
on Operation Condor," according to a declassified DIA report.
And in December, the CIA reported, representatives of all Condor
countries gathered in Buenos Aires for three days to "review
past activities and discuss future plans," particularly "coordinated
psychological warfare operations directed against leftist and
Still Secrets of State
The Condor documents raise more questions
than they answer. If the US ambassador made a demarche to the
Chilean regime on assassination plots before the Letelier-Moffitt
murder, where is the memorandum of conversation recording that
meeting? If the CIA station chief conferred with Contreras on
Condor, is there documentation on what they discussed? Why weren't
the intelligence reports that prompted the State Department to
issue its alert on Condor declassified now?
These are among hundreds of documents
that are conspicuously missing from the June 30 release. Key records
on such important cases as the Letelier-Moffitt assassination
and the execution of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi (two US
citizens arrested and killed following the coup), as well as CIA
operational files on its "liaison relations" with DINA
and internal policy memorandums about covert operations after
the coup, continue to be withheld-leaving huge gaps in the documentation
and the whiff of a historical cover-up.
In the Letelier-Moffitt case, all documents
implicating Pinochet were located, reviewed and then deliberately
pulled by the Justice Department. The CIA, for example, cited
one report in the original list of documents to be included in
the release: "Pinochet intercession w/Sup Crt to Prevent
Extradition of officials re Letelier"-which presumably documents
obstruction of US efforts to extradite Contreras-but noted "FBI
Requests Withhold." In a June 28 letter to Michael Moffitt,
the sole survivor of the bombing, Assistant Secretary of State
Harold Koh explained that "a limited number of documents
that are relevant to your wife's murder have been withheld...because
their release would be detrimental to the ongoing investigation
and criminal case in connection with the car-bombing." The
decision to withhold the documents provides the first substantive
indication that the Justice Department is actively pursuing evidence
that Pinochet was ultimately responsible for this heinous crime.
Other documents, however, remain secret
without explanation. Among them are two possibly key cables-a
State Department request to the CIA station in Santiago for information
on contacts with the Chilean military in the days following the
coup, and the CIA's response. These cables may hold the answer
to why Horman and Teruggi were singled out and executed, the two
men's families believe. Indeed, not a single document that illuminates
the close operational relations between the CIA station and the
Chilean regime and its intelligence apparatus was released. Nor
were hundreds of internal memorandums from Langley headquarters
that record policy decisions to assist the new regime covertly
with equipment, training and logistics.
US officials insist that many more documents
will be released in the future and that the bureaucratic battles
with the keepers of the secrets over the most sensitive documents
will be fought | | before the final declassification. Documents
covering US - Chile relations from 1968 to 1973-a period which
includes massive US intervention against the presidency of Salvador
Allende-are being reviewed for release in the fall. Thousands
of other records from 1979 through the end of the dictatorship
will be considered for declassification next year.
To its credit, the Clinton Administration
has pushed and prodded the secrecy system into actually divulging
some significant classified records. But whether that will lead
to an honest and complete disclosure of the US role in Chile remains
to be seen. The White House will have to overcome a recalcitrant
CIA-the agency with the most to offer but also the most to hide-in
order to truly shed light on this dark history.
Nevertheless, the Chile Declassification
Project is a tacit admission that the United States can only rectify
its shameful role in Chile's past by making the secret evidence
available for use in the present. "In the minds of the world
at large, we are closely associated with this junta, ergo with
fascists and torturers," one State Department official noted
in a July 1975 memo protesting Kissinger's pro-Pinochet policy.
By declassifying the full record on Chile, the US government can
show the world that it is finally, if belatedly, disassociating
itself from Pinochet's crimes.