Monday, December 03, 2007

The CIA and the assassinations of Orlando Letelier and Carlos Prats

Orlando Letelier (1932-1976)

Manuel Contreras, who was director of the Chilean secret police, DINA, under the dictator Augusto Pinochet, has publicly stated in Chilean television that the CIA cooperated with DINA in the assassinations of Carlos Prats in 1974 in Buenos Aires and Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C. in 1976 (La CIA actuó en dos atentados contra opositores en la dictadura de Pinochet El Mundo 03.12.2007). He named Vernon Walters, then deputy CIA director, as the CIA official with whom they worked directly. Both Letelier and Prats had been officials in the democratic government of social-democrat Salvador Allende, which was overthrown with active CIA instigation in 1973.

Letelier at the time of his death was working at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). He was killed by a car bomb, which also killed Ronni Karpen Moffitt, a fundraiser for IPS. As the IPS Web site puts it, "it was the most infamous act of international terrorism ever to take place in our nation's capital." The Transnational Institute also provides Web resources on the Letelier assassination.

The murders of Letelier and Moffitt in the nation's capital occurred during the administration of the famous "healer" Gerald Ford. At the time, Rummy was Secretary of Defense and Dick Cheney was Ford's chief of staff. I'm just saying.

I'm not current enough on the Letelier-Moffitt case to know how Contreras' claim fits in with the record. It will be interesting to hear what those still close to the case have to say about it.

The Arlington National Cemetery Web site obituary for Vernon Walters says:

General Walters had an uncanny ability to be present at large events. As an aide to Truman, he was the note-taker when the president fired Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. He was in Tehran in 1953 when the CIA staged a coup in support of the shah of Iran and in Brazil when a group of generals staged a coup in 1964.
Letelier had been the Chilean Ambassador to the United States at the time of the coup. In 1972, along with their burglaries related more to domestic politics, the infamous Plumbers, the rogue secret police unit Nixon established under direct control of the White House, repeatedly broke into Letelier's office at the Chilean Embassy, as John Prados describes in his excellent 2006 study of CIA covert operations, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA.

Prados writes, "In particular there is clear evidence that the Letelier assassination could have been prevented [by American officials] but was not." He also describes relations between Walters and Contreras as follows:

The deputy director for central intelligence, Gen. Vernon Walters, came to Santiago in March 1974 to assay Pinochet's spies. With him were the brass of WH Division [the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division]. The Americans talked of help to Chile on foreign threats but acknowledged this could be adapted to the alleged internal challenge. A new station chief came at this time. Stewart D. Burton went on picnics with Colonel Contreras and within a year recruited him as a CIA source. A special agency team arrived in Santiago in August and stayed for months training DINA, during the very period the Chileans worked up to their assassination of General Prats.

In the summer of 1975 Contreras visited the United States twice. On both trips he saw Walters, once for lunch in the executive dining room at Langley. That October Contreras hosted a conference in Santiago for heads of the spy agencies of the Southern Cone. A formal "convention" a month later created a multinational anti-subversive campaign called Operation Condor. The intelligence agencies of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, later joined by Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, shared information, exchanged representatives, informed one another when dissidents were expelled, and coordinated propaganda.

There would be murders or attempted assassinations in Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Portugal, Argentina, and on the streets of Washington, D.C., where Orlando Letelier died when his car blew up in Sheridan Circle, just across the street from the Chilean embassy, in September 1976. An American citizen, Ronni Moffitt, died with him, and her husband Michael suffered injuries. The reluctance of U.S. authorities to investigate links between the Letelier assassination and DINA is a measure of the collusion at that point between Washington and Chile. Condor became in effect a terrorist network, a characterization only rendered stronger when DINA began working with anti-Castro Cubans. The number of victims has yet to be established, but incidents continued through 1980. (my emphasis)
Yes, this was during the administration of that famous "moderate" and "national healer" Jerry Ford that this went on. Did I mention that first Rummy and then Dick Cheney served as his chief of staff? That would be the same Dick Cheney who now claims the President can do whatever he wants with the CIA or any other part of the federal government regardless of the law or the Constitution.

When she was Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright did acknowledge that the United States had committed terrible errors in the whole rotten business of cooperating with the Pinochet dictatorship. (Los errores de Washington por Yolanda Monge El País 11.12.2007.

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