Operation Condor (Latin America)

excerpted from the book

The Real Terror Network

by Edward S. Herman

South End Press


In 1976 six National Security States of Latin America- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay- entered into a system for the joint monitoring and assassinating of dissident refugees in member countries. The program was directly initiated under the sponsorship of Chile and its head of the secret police (DINA), Manuel Contreras. Chile provided the initial funding, organized a series of meetings in Santiago, and provided the computer capacity and centralized services. However, the United States deserves a great deal of credit for this important development, partly as the sponsor and adviser to DINA and other participating security services, but also because Operation Condor represented a culmination of a long sought U.S. objective-coordination of the struggle against "Communism" and "subversion." In 1968, U.S. General Robert W. Porter stated that "In order to facilitate the coordinated employment of internal security forces within and among Latin American countries, we are...endeavoring to foster inter-service and regional cooperation by assisting in the organization of integrated command and control centers; the establishment of common operating procedures; and the conduct of joint and combined training exercises." Condor was one of the fruits of this effort.

Under Operation Condor, political refugees who leave Uruguay and go to Argentina will be identified and kept under surveillance by Argentinian "security" forces, who will inform Uruguayan "security" forces of the presence of these individuals. If the Uruguayan security forces wish to murder these refugees in order to preserve western values, Argentine forces will cooperate. They will keep the Uruguayans informed of the whereabouts of the refugees; they will allow them to enter and freely move around in Argentina and to take the refugees into custody, torture and murder them; and the Argentinians will then claim no knowledge of these events. Under this system, two former Uruguayan Senators, one a former President of the Senate, Zelmar Michelini and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz, were kidnapped and murdered in Buenos Aires. We also note, just to keep the reader abreast of the quality of this cooperative enterprise, that both Michelini and Ruiz were tortured before being murdered, and that Michelini's daughter Margarita was also seized and "disappeared.

By July 1976 some 30 Uruguayan exiles, registered as refugees with U.N. officials in Buenos Aires, had been taken into custody and disappeared, surely murdered. Subsequently, several hundred more Uruguayans were picked up and have not been heard from since. Argentine authorities did not acknowledge these arrests, in conformity "with the policy of the security forces to withhold information on arrests involving investigation of subversion" (Juan de Onis of the New York Times, parroting the language of fascist terrorism). Many other cross-country disappearances have also occurred. As reported by de Onis,

"Chilean exiles also were handed across the border to Chilean secret police and have not been heard of since. Gen. Juan Jose Torres, a former President of Bolivia, was kidnapped in Buenos Aires and found dead in an automobile trunk. Gen. Carlos Prats Gonzalez, commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army under the late President Salvador Allende Gossens, was killed by a bomb in Argentina. A similar network of intelligence [sic] operations has also worked between Brazil and Uruguay. Persons abducted in the southern Brazilian state of Rio do Sul, with cooperation from local political police, wound up in Uruguayan jails."

Data are sparse, but the six country murder network toll starts with abduction-murders of Uruguayans alone numbering in excess of two hundred. This terror network threw fear into the hearts of the many thousands of political refugees who had resettled in the Operation Condor states, as they saw themselves now without a safe haven or any protection by legal process. They were now benefiting from that "coordinated employment of security forces" that General Porter described earlier as one of the prime objects of U.S. efforts in Latin America. As this extensive and terrible form of transnational terrorism flowed from U.S. policy efforts and perceived interests, it has not received much notice in the U.S. mass media.

This murder network soon extended its operations beyond the borders of the six participating countries. A secret report of an FBI agent assigned to Buenos Aires, describing Operation Condor, called attention to "a more secret phase" which "involves the formation of special teams from member countries to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions, [including] assassinations, against terrorists or supporters of a terrorist organization from Operation Condor member countries." It is worth noting that the FBI agent reporting on this matter not only approves the enterprise (which he thought "a good operation") but falls easily into accepting the notion that the victims of its murder squads are "terrorists." Data are lacking on the scope of this global phase of Operation Condor, which is difficult to distinguish from unilateral international terrorism carried out by the Argentine or Chilean secret police or one of their contract agents, often members of the Cuban exile terrorist network. Kidnappings, murders and attempted murders in Mexico and Italy have been proclaimed by the Cuban Squad Zero from 1975 onward, some surely under contract with DINA, although others were apparently to divert attention from the real (DINA) killers. Orlando Bosch has worked for and been protected by DINA. The Letelier-Moffitt murders in Washington, D.C. were carried out by a Cuban-Chilean agent team that may have been part of Operation Condor.

The CIA was well aware of the internal (member country) use and global extension of Operation Condor and headed off its activities in several allied countries like France and Portugal by informing the authorities. The CIA did not head off the Moffitt-Letelier murders, although it knew that DINA trigger men had entered the United States. Why? It is possible that the CIA knew of the prospective murders, and let them happen because it was murder of the right people-people such as Operation Condor and the Free World's secret police kill daily. It is also conceivable that the CIA suspected something fishy about to happen, but chose not to inquire, because of their "faith" in the choice of their fascist counterpart. It is also possible that the CIA bungled and made no inquiry, and that Pinochet and DINA murdered on the streets of Washington, D.C. assuming that Washington would not mind; after all, both DINA and Operation Condor are U.S. offspring. How was Pinochet to know that bringing his death squads right into the heart of the Free World was unseemly?

With its hand forced, and obligated to proceed in the case of a well-publicized murder in Washington, the U.S. government did a great deal to subvert the case. Documents were leaked to the press which linked Letelier to Cuba, effectively smearing him and creating a false red herring that was used both to justify murder and to divert inquiry away from our warm friends in Chile. Although the CIA knew from the day of the murder that DINA agents had come in to do a job, this was hidden from the press and from other parts of the government as long as possible, and the false trail of suggestions of a left-terrorist murder was pushed by people who knew this was a lie. Thus the prosecution of the murderers was carried out by a government that was so compromised by its own lies and suppressions and hamstrung by its own involvement and collaboration with the Cuban and Chilean assassins, that it was inevitable that the case would be conveniently "lost." The United States government chose not to interfere with the death squad at work on U.S. soil before the fact-and it was therefore not going to be able to prosecute successfully after the fact. The United States was one of the sponsors of Operation Condor, had trained the Cuban terrorist trigger man, and had been instrumental in bringing into existence the Pinochet regime. This set of relationships, with its potential for "gray-mail," and its connection with our "security interests," means that the terrorists of Operation Condor, like the Cuban refugee terror network are our progeny. We are not likely to hurt our own.

Real Terror Network