Operation Condor and the United States: A Network of Southern Cone Assassination and American Avoidance


Operation Condor, the system of cross-country military alliances formed in the mid-1970s among the rightwing dictatorships of the Southern Cone, has become one of the most sensational “discoveries” of the past ten years. In truth, it is not really a discovery at all – knowledge of its existence has been held by various top officials in the United States government almost since its inception in 1975. But the growing wealth of documents released by our National Security Archive and comparable institutions in other foreign governments over the past five years reveal just how permissive and involved previous US administrations were in the monitoring and operation of these nefarious regimes. This paper aims to present an overview of the historical particulars of Operation Condor – when it was formed, what its goals and actions were, who were the key participants, what were their responsibilities, etc. – as a basis of illustrating the depth of US knowledge and their involvement in the program’s activities, a relationship made all the more damning in light of the havoc the group wrought.

There is a dearth of academic literature on this subject, despite the fact that this project’s existence is undisputed, was incredibly expansive, and has lain dormant for well over twenty years. Case in point, there are somewhat amazingly only two books that address this topic in any detail or length, and only one that deals with it exclusively -- Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File[1] represents the delegation for the former, while John Dinges’ The Condor Years[2] is the sum of the latter.  In addition to these two men, there is only one other person, J. Patrice McSherry, who has written extensively on the subject, their names popping up again and again during the researching of this project. These three represent the only sources available for in-depth, frequent information on Condor, and thus this paper relies heavily on their findings to construct its narrative.[3]

The other limitation to researching this subject is the amount of data that remains hidden away and classified in the government archives of the six participating countries, in addition to those of our own. None of the governments from the Southern Cone countries, barring Paraguay and Brazil,[4] have released any documents from this era,[5] and our government has only recently begun doing so, partially opening its files on US involvement in Chile in 2000 while following suit with a more limited offering on Argentina the following year.[6] Yet while there are still major gaps in intra- and intergovernmental communication from those years, there are sufficient enough pieces of information that we are able to cobble together a timeline and transcription of the workings of Operation Condor here within.

Through an examination of the firsthand research done by the triad of authors mentioned before,[7] in addition to utilizing recently declassified documents not included in those works, we will be able to track this story first from its roots in the anti-Communist struggle of the early 70s, to the details surrounding its 1975 formation, the activities carried out during its three year reign,[8] and its demise as a result of eradicated support, both domestically and internationally, for these regimes with the advent of the 1980s. This paper will sketch the key events in Condor’s history before closing by looking at the influence and involvement of our own government in that narrative.

In today’s global war on terror, understanding an organization such as this is paramount. It sheds light on how complicity and compliance on the part of our government can lead to egregious acts of violence and systematic human rights violations, in addition to the ultimate failure of achieving our political goals. Because of the permissiveness of the US government, Condor was allowed to act with virtual impunity on three continents, killing and torturing hundreds of alleged insurgents without the due process of law.  By exploring this past, we will see the modern implications that inaction in the face of tyrannical regimes can bring and the dangers of aggressive ideologies that are allowed to use violent, unrestrained means to achieve their ends.


The Runup to Cooperation

As author John Dinges notes, Latin America during this era was experiencing something of “a reverse domino effect,” with country after country falling to rightwing military rule and devastating programs of political repression after having shifted towards leftist, liberal leadership.[9] He continues,

It is a coincidence that September 11 would gain even greater infamy with the World Trade Center bombings in 2001…The first September 11 was a day after which everything changed in Latin America. Pinochet’s coup was not just another military takeover, of which there had been dozens in previous decades. It was the beginning of a total war justified as a “war on terrorism,” whose principal targets were the political forces perceived by Pinochet and his allies as infecting their countries with the alien cancer of Communist revolution.[10]


By the time that first date rolled around, two parts of Condor’s eventual foundation were already in place, including one for close to twenty years. General Alfredo Stroessner’s regime in Paraguay had been in power since 1954 when he had seized power from Federico Chavez, spending the intervening years ruthlessly cracking down on all opposition to the ruling Colorados.[11] In Brazil, a coup in 1964 had installed General Humberto Castello Branco in place of the ousted Joao Goulart, which started an over 20 year reign for the military in power that was similarly, if not as violently, repressive towards it opponents.[12] With the start of 1970, though, the region entered a state of flux as the executive branches of the four other Condor countries rapidly changed with a series of coups and contested elections.

The first to go in this second stage was General Juan Jose Torres in Bolivia when Colonel Hugo Banzer took over with a military coup in 1971, ending a rather turbulent decade in Bolivian politics.[13] Uruguay was the next country where power changed hands as Juan Maria Bordaberry Arocena was elected in 1972,[14] quickly followed by Pinochet’s aforementioned ascension in Chile. By the time the final coup in Argentina installed General Jorge Rafael Videla in 1976,[15] the military had a firm grip on power in all six countries and the stage was set for Condor’s formation. The battle in the first “war on terrorism” was about to begin.


The Mania of the Right, The Threat of the Left

            Once all these pieces were in place, it was time to redouble the efforts of the region in the growing fight against leftist insurgents. The governments viewed this battle to be against more than just the nuisance of average left-wing guerrillas. Indeed it was a fight upon which the fate of the entire nation depended. Argentine journalist Stella Calloni described it as “a holy war against the left,” one which included “anyone challenging the status quo, armed or not. Thus, nuns, professors, students, workers, artists and performers, journalists, even democratic opposition politicians” were deemed threats to the nation and dealt with accordingly.[16] A State Department report from Assistant Secretary for Latin America Harry Shlaudeman to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger characterized the governments as suffering from a “siege mentality shading into paranoia,” one that was a natural result of their having been “badly shaken by assault from the extreme left.”[17] He continued:

The military regimes of the southern cone of South America see themselves as embattled on one side by international Marxism and its terrorist exponents and on the other by the hostility of the uncomprehending industrial democracies misled by Marxist propaganda.[18]


Shlaudeman warned that this, along with Uruguayan Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Blanco’s[19] describing the struggle as a “Third World War,” was a dangerous proposition because it justified “harsh and sweeping ‘wartime’ measures,” along with the ability to “exercise power beyond national borders” to fully contain the threat. [20] It also “magnified the isolation” of the military from the rest of society, he said, allowing them to act with virtual impunity against the latter without hesitation or remorse, a freedom that would be capitalized upon repeatedly in the years to come.[21]

The burgeoning threat that was causing such unease among the Latin governments was the formation of the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta (JCR), a union of forces from the various homegrown leftist organizations in the Southern Cone – the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the MIR in Chile, the ELN in Bolivia, and the ERP in Argentina -- into a single group. Their reason for allying themselves, despite ideological and logistical differences, was simple -- to enhance their efforts to topple the rightwing governments dominating the region. As Dinges explains,

The JCR was no mere alliance, nor was it a merger of the separate organizations…No country’s revolutionary movement would be subordinate to another’s. Each group would fight according to its own timetable and with its own methods. [They] would choose when and how to take up arms. But together they would create an infrastructure – an international apparatus to provide mutual logistical, financial, and military support.[22]


Reports on the JCR differ in hindsight -- both in terms of the extent of its existence and its actual efficacy[23] -- and it is unclear how much of this was truly believed by the governments involved and how much was a convenient justification for their repressive tactics, but in the end the veracity of these claims is unimportant. What matters is that the leaders of these countries decided an appropriate response was necessary, and they settled upon a course of action that led them towards a similar conglomeration of power.


A Plan of Attack and the Fruits of Cooperation

Under the leadership of General Pinochet and Colonel Manuel Contreras, the head of Chile’s National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), the decision was made to coordinate the efforts of the nearby dictatorships to counter the threat the JCR posed. Contreras extended an invitation for the leaders of the region’s secret police to come to Santiago in October 1975, all expenses paid,[24] to discuss the prospect of an alliance while Pinochet himself – notoriously averse to traveling outside of Chile – flew to Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay to test the response of their leaders to the idea.[25] To this point several of the governments in the area had created bilateral agreements to coordinate the fight against guerrillas – Chile and Argentina had one since two months after Pinochet’s ascension[26] and Paraguay and Chile had one since at least May 1975[27] -- and this meeting was to be an attemptt to formalize and expand upon those existing accords.

There are three key examples of this cooperation in action prior to the proposed meeting, all of which took place in the year before the assembly. The first two dealt with the attempted assassinations of two men, Carlos Prats and Bernardo Leighton. Both men were Chilean exiles – Prats was a “constitutionalist, anticoup” general under Allende, [28] the former head of the armed services that Pinochet replaced in the 1973 coup, who was peacefully exiled to Buenos Aires;[29] Leighton was a quite popular and extremely anti-Pinochet Christian Democratic leader [30] who was exiled to Rome. The former, despite “living peacefully in Buenos Aires” and having “faithfully carried out” the terms of his exile according to CIA reports from the time,[31] was considered a threat by Pinochet of becoming “a government in exile” thanks to his continued respect by the Chilean army.[32] Leighton, on the other hand, was still an active critic of Pinochet despite living thousands of miles away and thus a much more logical target.

Regardless of the merits, Pinochet had marked both men as in need of silencing. Prats, after being tailed since the spring of ’74 by members of DINA and its Argentine counterpart SIDE (Servicio de Inteligencia del Estado) and actively targeted for three weeks by DINA’s star hitman Michael Townley,[33] was killed on September 30, 1974 in a brutal car bomb that killed both Prats and his wife outside their home in Buenos Aires. Leighton and his wife were shot and severely wounded on October 6, 1975 – Leighton in the back of the head, his wife through the spine[34] -- after Townley hired the Italian fasciists of Avanguardia Nazionale to carry out the hit near their house in Rome.[35] These events were the direct progenitors of Operation Condor and bore two of its hallmarks – cross-national cooperation and international reach – that would soon be incorporated and refined in the formal guise of Condor’s intelligence network.

The final example reveals the existence of the Paraguayan-Chilean alliance prior to the group’s formation and deals with the arrest and detention of two Paraguayan men – Jorge Fuentes Alarcon and Amilcar Santucho. The pair was arrested as they tried to cross the border from Argentina back into Paraguay in May 1975 and were considered a prize catch as they were members of the aforementioned (and until then unknown) JCR. Alarcon was a member of the MIR in Chile and a sociologist, as well as a purported courier for the JCR;[36] Santucho was the brother of Roberto Santucho, Argentina’s most notorious guerrilla leader,[37] the head of the ERP. The two were interrogated extensively by the Paraguayan police and brutally tortured to find out more information about the JCR before being handed over to members of DINA three weeks later.[38]

DINA’s head, Contreras, was apparently so pleased with this effort that he wrote a letter two days later to his Paraguayan peer expressing his “most sincere thanks for the cooperation.”[39] Fuentes was later seen in Chile’s infamous prison, Villa Grimaldi,[40] badly beaten but alive, before being taken away in January 1976 and presumably killed.[41] This was the last step – the final “success” -- before Operation Condor’s formation and bears a final trait (along with the cross-national cooperation discussed before)[42] that was characteristic of its eventual tenure – a paranoid mania by the region’s leaders over guerrillas in their midst, in this case of the JCR, the strength and size of which were often grossly exaggerated.


Rise of the Condor

Due to the success of those three actions, both in terms of communication and implementation, Contreras and Pinochet decided to bring together key players from the other countries in the region to create a more expansive system locally. Five of the six countries’ heads of secret police accepted the invitation towards the end of November 1975 (Brazil did not formally attend)[43] and flew to Chile for the “First Inter-American Meeting on National Intelligence,”[44] a “strictly secret” meeting that sought to create “excellent coordination and better action…[to] benefit the national security” of their respective countries.[45] The agenda described its intent as “something similar to Interpol in Paris, but dedicated to Subversion;”[46] a State Department document from a year later characterized it as a system of “extensive FBI-type exchanges of information on shady characters.”[47]

Copies of the meeting’s minutes lay out a series of recommendations and agreements made between the parties – the opening and sharing of “subversive information” from their intelligence archives, a process to be continued as new files are generated; the creation of a “coordinating office” to streamline this exchange, ostensibly to be located in Santiago; and the systemization of these meetings, to be held periodically to monitor and regulate the flow of information.[48] They also reveal a three-phase implementation of the program that the men agreed upon, the first phase entailing the creation of an all-encompassing database of the countries’ intelligence personnel (both “names and addresses,” somewhat chillingly)[49] so Condor members could request information directly from agents and speed up its transfer. This process was to be a “priority” when coming from a partner country, “swift and immediate” when dealing with the travel of “suspicious individuals” outside the country, and encrypted at all levels, among other structural and stylistic issues.[50] The remaining two phases dealt with the need for more expansive communication systems, the possibility of future entrants, and funding.[51] Chile would provide the initial funding, computer space, and centralized location of the operation -- all the other members had to provide was the information.[52]

An FBI report from the time describes the formal structure the group was to have, a multi-tiered model that could employ a wealth of possible actions.

The first [level] was mutual cooperation among military intelligence services, including coordination of political surveillance and exchange of intelligence information. The second was organized cross-border operations to detain/disappear dissidents. The third and most secret, “Phase III,” was the formation of special teams of assassins from member countries to travel anywhere in the world to carry out assassinations of “subversive enemies.” Phase III was aimed at political leaders especially feared for their potential to mobilize world opinion or organize broad opposition to the military states.[53]


The assassination of Prats and its botched counterpart against Leighton[54] show the potential scope and efficacy for the nefarious final phase, and subsequent missions would run the gamut from basic information transfers (the only level of participation by Brazil, who was shortly brought into the fold formally) to the more active and violent detention, torture, and/or killing of “Subversives” used by the remaining five members.[55] Once these final considerations were settled on, the agreement was unanimously signed by the five men in attendance, set to spring into action on January 30, 1976. It would ominously be named Condor “in honor of the host country” [56] and its national bird, the carrion-hunting vulture of the Andes.


The Path to Inauguration: A Gathering of Momentum

The heads of the various intelligence services did not wait until the formal launch date to spring to life, though. Soon after the first Condor meeting, operations began in earnest and these organizations began to spread their wings a little, testing the range of their newfound group’s capabilities. They organized missions both across the continent and abroad as well, infiltrating groups and planning assassinations in Mexico, Italy, Portugal, France, and the United States, to name a few.[57] Discretion was a necessity for their survival, and this flurry of activity heightened that need. The Argentines and the Chileans, the group’s most prolific members, were forced to implement a well-oiled program of obfuscation and misdirection to cover their tracks.

Put in place shortly before the November meeting in the summer of 1975, the ruse was called Operation Colombo. Its purpose was to thoroughly confuse outsiders investigating the countries’ human rights abuses while reinforcing the government’s increasingly specious claims of continued leftist terrorism and intensifying activity. The program sought to achieve its goals through “the reappearance of the disappeared, through the placement of unrecognizable, supposedly Chilean corpses on Argentine soil” while “generating press coverage indicating that these Chileans had been killed while operating outside of Chile – by their leftist brethren or in armed conflicts.”[58] This meant that bodies would show up on the streets of Buenos Aires that were mutilated, burned, or otherwise disfigured to prevent recognition, typically with the rumpled identification cards of Chilean desaparacidos in their pockets and notes fastened to the bodies indicating the fictitious cause of death – “Brought down by the MIR” or “Executed by the MIR,” for example.[59]

The other aspect of the program, its press saturation, started in concert with the appearance of the bodies. The Chilean press, with the help of its Argentine counterpart, began reporting on the incidents and printing lists of Chileans who had died in supposed standoffs with Argentine security forces, another flimsy attempt by the Pinochet government to provide themselves political cover for their actions. This is because the catalog of victims – the so called “list of 119,” a master list of these deaths printed in various Argentine papers and Chilean newsletters[60] -- turned out to be fabrications, being debunked almost immediately by the Chilean Committee for Peace and American news sources who showed that the victims had been imprisoned in Chile before suddenly appearing on the streets of Buenos Aires.[61]

In addition to their attempts at domestic obfuscation, Condor members began plotting schemes overseas, looking to capitalize on the connections made in the Leighton assassination attempt. Besides the contacts Townley had made with the Italian neofascists of that attempt the group also made ties internationally with the Corsican Brotherhood, Fascist International, French terrorist Albert Spaggiari, along with several groups of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the United States.[62]

This ability to branch out was primarily a result of Pinochet’s unbelievable efficiency in eradicating dissent in the domestic arena. Dinges states that he had become “an anti-Communist avenging angel. With aggression and brutality never before seen in South America, he decimated the region’s largest and best organized leftist establishment,” which by late 1975 was almost totally erased.[63] It was at this moment that Pinochet and Contreras, content with their “almost total victory inside Chile,” began searching for the enemy abroad and planning international missions,[64] their most famous and dangerous one – an assassination within the United States -- less than a year away.


1976: An Apex of Flight

1976 was by far the busiest and most violent year of Condor’s short existence, starting with a number of smaller operations before building to its most notorious attack towards the end of the year, the September assassination of Orlando Leighton in Washington, DC. Before this happened, though, a second Condor convention was held in May 1976 to evaluate the group’s progress thus far and to discuss the coordination of future projects. This time the original five members were joined in Santiago by a prospective sixth – Brazil – where they discussed the status of the previous accords: the database of intelligence officers, the communication system, etc., and ended with them agreeing to incorporate Brazil into the fold as a full-time member.[65] They also decided to create a special tiger team of international assassins, assigning Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile to attack the problem of JCR members assembling and plotting against the Condor countries in Western Europe.[66]

Kornbluh describes how the group proceeded to make Paris its second base of operations in the subsequent months, with its members scouring the city for JCR leaders, Chilean exiles and journalists, and even Carlos the Jackal.[67] The group also became intent on streamlining its operation and making it more efficient, creating a two month training course in Buenos Aires for agents from the three task force countries, where they dealt with “urban search and destroy” and surveillance techniques to use on the ground in Europe.[68]

The list of group activities from the early part of the year are quite impressive in their quantity and ostensibly a result of the Argentine coup that year, which set off an exodus of refugees fleeing the country to neighboring locales, a classic case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire” as the environment they encountered upon arrival was often every bit as bad as the one they’d just left. Two Uruguayan legislators – Zelmar Michelini, leader of the leftwing Broad Front political alliance, and Hector Gutierrez Ruiz, Chamber of Deputies president and member of the centrist National Party – were kidnapped, tortured, and killed after fleeing to Argentina in the wake of the Bordaberry coup;[69] Dinges lists 46 Uruguayans who were disappeared there during the course of the year and never seen again;[70] the former president of Bolivia, Juan Jose Torres, was kidnapped and assassinated, a killing quickly attributed to Condor operatives;[71] William Whitelaw and Rosario Barredo, two founding JCR members and onetime Tupumaros, along with their three children, were kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires.[72] The group was so active in killing off its opponents that even the seemingly innocuous, natural deaths of former political adversaries -- former Brazilian presidents Goulart and Kubitschek, for example -- have been called into question.[73]

This explosion in activity was all a prelude to the group’s most notorious act in September 1976, though, the assassination of Chilean exile Orlando Letelier in our nation’s capital. This was, as Kornbluh notes, the worst act of terrorism ever committed in Washington until the attacks of September 11, 2001[74] and the choice of location was not the sole reason the attack was seen as so audacious -- its target added to the incredulity as well. Letelier was an incredibly well respected diplomat in DC, one who was extremely active and visible, according to all accounts. He was also one of the most outspoken critics of Pinochet’s human rights violations, so his elimination was considered a double affront. Laudatory descriptions of him abound -- he was “the most respected and effective spokesman in the international campaign to condemn and isolate the Pinochet dictatorship;”[75] “Pinochet’s most formidable opponent in exile;”[76] “a first rank political foe of the junta,”[77] and his name appears in virtually every description of Condor available. Letelier was extremely close to Salvador Allende, acting as both his foreign and defense minister for his short-lived government and its first ambassador to Washington. These accolades, along with his outspoken activism upon his exile, made him a prime target both for international admiration and for Pinochet’s ire.[78]

The assassination took place on September 21, 1976 and was the culmination of over three months of work by Condor agents.[79] After extensive surveillance, the help of two exiled Cuban terrorists hired here for the job, and a cautious three week delay in light of US knowledge of Condor’s presence in the country and several inquiries towards its ends,[80] the mission ended 14 blocks from the White House[81] when a car bomb set by Townley destroyed Letelier’s car as it drove past the home of the Chilean ambassador. Letelier was cut in half by the blast and killed instantly; his two passengers, Michael and Ronni Moffitt -- coworkers with Letelier at the Institute for Policy Studies -- were both injured, with Ronni bleeding to death on the sidewalk shortly after the blast.

Condor had struck again, and for the last time in such a large-scale manner. The high profile of this case, coupled with the outrage it generated and the dwindling support for these rightwing regimes back home, meant that Condor’s days were numbered and was soon to disappear.


A Shadowy Web of Involvement: US Participation

            The depth and frequency of US involvement in Condor operations has been the source of much debate and is the primary reason for revisiting this history. For years it was assumed that US knowledge of Condor only came to light in the wake of the Letelier assassination.[82] Recent revelations, though, show that our government’s knowledge of Condor’s existence dates far before that, to even before the group was formally assembled. With the discovery of Paraguay’s so-called “Archives of Terror” and the National Security Archive’s release of over 30,000 documents transcribing government communication and meetings on Argentina and Chile over the past three years, we now know that US, and more specifically CIA, involvement was much more extensive than previously imagined and was present virtually every step of the way.

            One of the more vociferous critics of our government’s actions during that time, Edward S. Herman, avers in his book on US complicity in the perpetuation of global terrorism, that US actions of this era were often highly inconsistent. They would be publicly harsh or neutral about the reported human rights violations of various regimes, while being permissive (or worse, assisting) of them behind the scenes. Herman states that the CIA was “well aware” of Condor and its actions, going so far as to alert French and Portuguese authorities when they learned of assassination attempts in those countries,[83] yet they did nothing to stop the Letelier-Moffitt killings despite knowing DINA hitmen were in the country and ready to attack.[84] In fact, he argues the government spent most of its energy on concealing its involvement rather than investigating and stopping Condor missions. Consider this passage on the US’ response to the public’s learning of its rumored ties to the Letelier bombing:

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 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.[85]


            Judging their complicity solely on the specific key events detailed here – the actions against Prats, Leighton, Fuentes and Santucho; the formative meeting; its international activity and terrorist connections; the activities of early 1976 and the ultimate assassination of Letelier -- in addition to more minor aspects such as Townley, the JCR, and the “list of 119,” government documents indicate much more than a passing understanding of the group and its activities, one that dates far before the traditionally recognized start date of one week after Letelier’s murder.[86]

According to a CIA intelligence report dated October 25, 1974 (less than a month after the actual incident), Prats’ murder was described as the probable “work of Chileans, an acknowledgment that its cover story of being carried out by the Argentine ERP was false;”[87] an FBI interrogation report on the attempted assassination of Leighton dated April 9, 1980 links Townley to both the Italian neofascists and the shooting itself;[88] the letter from FBI agent Robert Scherrer to General Baeza in Chile dated June 6, 1975 (a month after the incident) acknowledges both the arrest of Fuentes and Santucho, their “interrogations,” and the JCR;[89] a DIA report dated October 1, 1976 details the specific structure and operations of the group – both its phases, its international tag teams and targets, and its two major meetings[90] -- while a State Department document froom nearly a month before talks about its expanded, “more activist role,” hinting at even earlier knowledge of the group;[91] a US embassy cable dated August 8, 1975 (mere months after the list’s publication) expresses doubt about the “list of 119” and the alleged extranational activity of Chilean extremists being true;[92] a US embassy cable from September 21, 1976 (the very day of the attack) hints at some level of responsibility by the Chilean government for Letelier’s murder and refers to the attacks on Prats and Leighton as the basis for its assessment;[93] and Shlaudeman’s large report to Secretary of State Kissinger dated August 3, 1976, reports on most of the above – the original meeting, the group’s structure, its ideology and its tactics -- over a month and a half before the Letelier-Moffitt killing.[94] All of this evidence shows undeniably that the US government knew of both the group and its actions for each of the key events described above and did so well before the previously understood date of September 28, 1976, yet chose to do nothing the majority of the time.

The list goes on – there’s the letter discovered in Paraguay’s archives dated December 1976 from FBI Director Clarence Kelly to Pastor Coronel, the notorious heart of Stroessner’s repressive regime, thanking him for his assistance and wishing him a “truly joyous Christmas;”[95] there’s the 1976 report of an Argentine military source telling the US embassy that the CIA helped establish the computerized communication system for the group’s Condortel network;[96] there’s the State Department transcript of a conversation between Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti on October 7, 1976 where Kissinger tells him that the US won’t cause them any “unnecessary difficulties” over their human rights violations, and urges them that the sooner they finish what they’ve started, the better;[97] there’s the cable from the US embassy in Montevideo to both Shlaudeman and Kissinger dated July 20, 1976 that acknowledges the existence of Condor and says that its formation was along the lines the US had “long urged” and that to react with “opprobrium” was not recommended because it could lead to the US being “effectively alienated from this part of the world.”[98] Again and again, the lion’s share of this information comes before the traditionally established date of discovery[99] and implicates virtually every key department of our government – the State Department, the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense, our embassies in the area. Whether explicitly on Condor or dealing with the closely related abuses of the Argentine or Chilean governments,[100] the US government had extensive knowledge of the situation on the ground and repeatedly adopted a position of passive acceptance rather than active resistance. As Dinges found in numerous interviews with the key Condor military leaders and participants, their refrain was consistent – “The US was our leader.”[101]

The CIA’s extensive examination into its involvement in Chile in response to government legislation in 2000 requiring it to do so continues the trend and found repeated instances where agents or officials knew of key incidents involving Pinochet, Contreras, and/or Condor, yet chose to do nothing.[102] The report constructed a detailed timeline for members of Congress showing what the CIA knew and when – it found that CIA officials knew of Pinochet’s plans for a coup in 1973, including as late as the day before, and did nothing to stop it;[103] they knew he was conducting “a severe campaign against leftists and perceived political enemies” mere months after the coup;[104] they knew he was coordinating with other intelligence services in the area to track and/or kill those same people within the year after the coup.[105] The report also found that an order had been passed down for “all CIA staff to collect clandestine information on torture in Chile” as early as January 1974,[106] another indicator of their passive approach to the problem and their advance awareness of it.

            Perhaps the most damning evidence of all the report unearths, though, surrounds Contreras and his connection to the government. In one of its more explosive revelations, the Hinchey report found that between 1974 and 1977 Contreras was actually a CIA asset that met repeatedly with top officials, including several times with Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Vernon Walters.[107] Meetings were allegedly “infrequent” in 1976[108] and occurred roughly a half dozen times in 1977, despite knowing by April 1975 that Contreras was “the principal obstacle to a reasonable human rights policy.”[109] Dinges reports that Contreras and DINA members had “CIA training on site in Chile and material support” from March 1974 to at least August of that year[110] and that Contreras received, due to internal miscommunications over its cessation, a one-time payment of an undisclosed amount for his services.[111] So not only was Contreras actively monitored and engaged by the US government, he was paid for his services and remained an asset for them for an entire year after the Letelier-Moffitt bombing.[112]

            This growing mountain of evidence adds up to a blistering record of responsibility for the US government,[113] one that should cause extreme anxiety and outrage in the general public. For the case of Condor is illustrative not only of what can happen when deviant regimes like those of Pinochet, Videla, Banzer, Stroessner, and others are permitted to operate without censure, but also of what our own government is capable of, expending untold energy on efforts to cover up, ignore, or encourage the activities of those regimes. In an era where the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib still plague the news, the echoes of programs like Condor can still be heard behind the din of these latest offenses of state transgression and obfuscation. Condor was more than simply a cross-national network of rightwing military regimes that cooperated to search out, torture, and destroy the opposition (perceived or real) wherever it lay, killing untold hundreds in the process and wounding scores more. It was also an illustration of what distasteful ends our government will go to to achieve its goals when the threat is characterized in terms of an all or nothing, fate of the nation ideology, a parable that should serve as a cautionary reminder of what it possible with today’s war on terror.










[1] Kornbluh, Peter. The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. New York: The New Press, 2003. Kornbluh’s book, besides his examination of the wider issues and history of Pinochet’s reign, is invaluable because of its collection and reprinting of key original Condor documents that are cited extensively below. The appearance of this book so frequently in the footnotes may be the cause of some alarm, but the majority of the citations are for these original documents and not Kornbluh’s text directly. These documents are undoubtedly scattered throughout sites on the web – I have found them at the State Department and the National Security Archive websites, among others, yet they are conspicuously missing from academic sources – and thus the decision was made to use his book primarily for the ease its centralized location provides in referencing the various files.

[2] Dinges, John. The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. New York: The New Press, 2004.

[3] Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and head of their Cuban and Chilean documentation projects, having written on the subjects in Foreign Policy, the New Yorker, and The New York Times. (NSA Website: National Security Archive Staff and Fellows. September 20, 2004. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/arc_staff.html) Dinges is a journalist and scholar who has covered Latin American affairs for years, particularly Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua as a foreign correspondent and editor for the Washington Post, Time and NPR. He is also a senior fellow at National Security Archive and the only person to have written extensively on Condor and the Letelier assassination, publishing two books on the subjects. (John Dinges website: Biography. September 24, 2004. http://www.johnDinges.com/condor/biography.htm)

[4] McSherry, Patrice. “Operation Condor: Clandestine Inter-American System.” Social Justice, vol. 26: 4 (Winter 1999): 144.

[5] And then not substantially, with the exception of Paraguay. Their discovery of the “Archives of Terror” in December 1992 was a treasure trove of information, consisting of nearly two tons of documents and over 700,000 individual pages of data – 8,369 detention files, 400 interrogation transcripts involving torture, 10,000 prisoner photos, and numerous surveillance reports  -- covering 35 years of Stroessner’s dictatorship. (Nickson, Andrew R. “Paraguay’s Archivo del Terror.” Latin American Research Review, vol. 30:1 (1995): 125.) The archive also had extensive documentation on alleged insurgent activity – 574 filing cabinets full of reports on political parties and trade unions, in addition to 543 audiotapes of various meetings, speeches, and conferences of alleged leftists. (UNESCO website: Memory of the World Register. September 24, 2004. http://www.unesco.org/webworld/mdm/2001/nominations_2001/paraguay/terror_files_form.html) Keith Slack’s 1996 article contains a more detailed description of the archives’ contents and is particularly instructive. (Slack, Keith M. “Operation Condor and Human Rights: A Report from Paraguay’s Archive of Terror.” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 18:2 (May 1996): 492.) Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered certain military and intelligence service files be declassified in March 2000 to aid an Argentine investigation. (McSherry, Patrice. “Breaking News: Operation Condor.” NACLA Report on the Americas. North American Congress on Latin America, Jul/Aug 2000.)

[6]NSA website: Chile project. September 24, 2004.  http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20001113/ (Chile) and NSA website: Argentina section. September 24, 2004. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB73/  (Argentina) The government has been criticized by some for being less than forthcoming with the sum of their documents from this area, releasing only what some call the “worthless” portions of their archives in lieu of full disclosure. (Ratner, Michael. “The Pinochet Precedent.” Foreign Policy Brief, Vol. 4:6, February 1999. http://www.ciaonet.org.proxyau.wrlc.org/pbei/fpif/ram01/index.html )

[7] By Dinges’ own admission, his book on Condor – the fruits of four years of intense investigation and interviews (“it is all hard investigative work – you won’t find anything useful in the secondary literature”) – was to be “the definitive account on Condor” and is thus one of the key documents used to create our narrative. (Personal conversation with author. November 10, 2004.)

[8] Exact dates of operation are unavailable and highly dependent on what is being used as the date of origin. The group did not formally meet until November/December 1975 and did not formally launch until January 1976, but had been executing bi- or trilateral missions since early 1974. Any of these dates can be validly used when discussing the group’s term of operation. As for the date on the other end of the spectrum, the group’s formal demise is extremely uncertain. Their last large scale operation, the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC, occurred towards the end of 1976 (September 21), and there were plans to assassinate former Congressman Ed Koch shortly thereafter that were never carried through. (Koch wrote the Justice Department in October of that year to ask for additional information along with protection after being told of the plot by then-CIA chief George H.W. Bush. (From original letter dated October 19, 1976, reprinted NSA website. September 24, 2004.  http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB112/koch01.pdf) This plot is an example of the less frequent occurrences of assassination plans benefiting someone other than the Chileans, the founders and driving force behind Condor, in this case the Uruguayans. Koch had sponsored legislation that criticized Uruguayan human rights violations and proposed cutting off funding to them as a result, thus earning the ire of the Uruguayan secret police and military and the devising of this plan.) Other reports detail continued monitoring and surveillance well past the 1980 date of primary operations Dinges posits. Paraguay’s archives show continued surveillance of opposition leaders until well past Stroessner’s fall in 1989 (Nickson, 126) while James Petras and Steven Vieux aver in their article that remnants of the network still existed in 1994, continuing to enable the guilty parties “to defy local authorities, to escape prosecution, and to commit crimes with impunity in the other countries.” (Petras, James; Vieux, Steven. “Transition to Authoritarian Electoral Regimes in Latin America.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 21:4 (Autumn 1994): 12-14.) By and large, though, primary operations were done well before this date. Kornbluh seems to agree with Dinges’ assertion, citing “one of the last recorded cases” as June 12, 1980. (Kornbluh, 340.)

[9] Dinges 2004, 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Stroessner would not be removed from power until 34 years later by a coup in 1989.

[12] The military ruled until 1985 and endured a series of coups/power turnovers during that time – Artur da Costa e Silva in 1967, Augusto Hamann Rademaker Gruenewald and Emilio Garrastazu Medici in 1969, Ernesto Geisel in 1974, and Joao Baptista Figueiredo in 1979. (Skidmore, Thomas; Smith, Peter H. Modern Latin America, Fifth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001: 169-172; 428.)

[13] There was a coup in 1964 by General Rene Barrientos Ortuno who died five years later in 1969. He was replaced by his vice president, Luís Adolfo Siles Salinas, who was quickly removed from power by General Alfredo Ovando Candia’s coup later that year. Ovando was ousted by Torres in 1971 who was promptly removed one a year later when Banzer took over. Banzer calmed the turmoil and ruled for the next six years, the longest in twenty years. (Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. “Country Studies: Bolivia.” LOC’s Country Studies website. September 24, 2004.  http://countrystudies.us/)

[14] Shortly after his inauguration he declared a state of martial law in response to attacks by the Tupumaros and brutally hunted the group’s members to near extinction. Bordaberry ruled until June 1976. (Ibid., “Country Studies: Uruguay.”)

[15] This final coup in Argentina was the cap on an extremely turbulent period in its history. The military had formally been in power since 1966 but undergone a series of coups in 1970, 1971, and several turnovers in 1973 (this included the election of the deposed Juan Peron) that kept a string of generals in the head office. Peron’s death a year later in 1974 and the subsequently ineffective rule of his wife, Isabel, led to the final coup in 1976 and the start of the dirty war, which was strongly tied to the actions and ideology of Operation Condor. The coup of Videla made the ties to Condor and its members more explicit, but the military had long been involved in cross-national cooperation with other intelligence and military groups in the region, even during the return of Peron and Isabelita as will shortly be shown. (Skidmore and Smith: 93-100.)

[16] Disinfopedia.com website. September 24, 2004. Taken from Calloni, Stella. "Operación Cóndor, Pacto Criminal." Ediciones La Jornada, Ciudad de México, 2001.

[17] Shlaudeman doc, 1.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Blanco is interestingly described in the same document as “one of the brighter and normally steadier members of the group” by Shlaudeman, yet one who still saw the situation as warranting aggressive, violent methods to ameliorate. (Shlaudeman, 3.)

[20] Ibid., 3. This document goes on to state immediately after this, though -- underlined for effect, no less -- that “the threat is not imaginary,” but may be exaggerated. Even this, one of the more temperate, rhetoric free documents released from the dogmatically anti-Communist era, refused to fully criticize these regimes and say that they were egregiously overreacting to the guerrilla threat. Others to be discussed later are far more permissive of the governments and antagonistic towards the leftists within their midst.

[21] Ibid., 2.

[22] Dinges 2004, 51. He adds that “the JCR was for Latin America what the Third and Fourth Internationals had been for the world Socialist movement growing out of the Russian Revolution…[it] was to be the fulfillment of the strategic vision of Che Guevara.” (Ibid, 51-2.) Dinges spends an entire chapter, more than any other source I was able to locate, on the JCR and its tactics that is quite instructive, detailing some of the group’s more intriguing aspects -- their prolific funding through kidnappings by the ERP in Argentina, a process that resulted in them having too much money (59); their initial proposed budget for operations totaling over $20 million (55); their 1974 meeting with Fidel Castro to seek guidance and approval (56-7). Their efficiency in obtaining money in spite of considerable disorganization eventually grew to such proportions that Dinges describes them at one point as “a kind of revolutionary funding organization, a crypto-Rockefeller Foundation of the radical Marxist left, receiving proposals and doling out grant money.” (Ibid., 86.) Despite having access to a veritable mountain of cash – every guerilla group’s fiscal pipe dream – the group experienced little operational success. (See Dinges 2004, 41-62; 85-98.)

[23] Former JCR members interviewed by Dinges state that the Condor governments “thought [the JCR] was much bigger than it actually was, and they reacted very rapidly, with devastating force.” They add, “We were in diapers, with lots of problems, and never really had the opportunity to do what we set out to do.” (Dinges 2004, 54.)

[24] Kornbluh, 323.

[25] Ibid., 327.

[26] Ibid. 325

[27] Dinges, John. “Pulling Back the Veil on Condor.” The Nation, July 24-31, 2000. This article also indicates US knowledge of the agreement in June of that year per a communication between FBI agent Robert Schemer and a Chilean police official. The extent of US involvement and knowledge will be explored towards the end of the paper and the specific case it refers to – the kidnapping of Jorge Fuentes Alarcon and Amilcar Santucho – will be addressed just below.

[28] McSherry, Patrice. “Cross-border Terrorism: Operation Condor.” NACLA Report on the Americas. North American Congress on Latin America, May/June 1999.

[29] Kornbluh, 325.

[30] Ibid., 333.

[31] Ibid.,326. Taken from CIA. “Assassination of Former Chilean General Carlos Prats. Weekly Situation Report on International Terrorism, October 2, 1974. The document indicates that indeed, after heavy surveillance there was “no indication of any effort to openly oppose the Pinochet regime” by Prats.

[32] Kornbluh, 326.

[33] Townley is an interesting story. An American expatriate, he soon became the most notorious of Condor’s international hitmen and the star of DINA’s “External Section.” The Prats killing was the first execution of the External Section and what would turn out to be Condor (Kornbluh, 326.), but he would soon be involved with not only the Leighton murder, but also the most infamous attack of Condor, the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC. Townley repeatedly claimed he was a CIA agent when he was in Chile (a claim he also expressed in his eventual trial for the Letelier murder), but was reportedly not a direct agent, instead being a member of the CIA-funded death squad, Patria y Libertad, active in Chile in addition to being a US Embassy informant. (McSherry, Clandestine. Taken from Dinges, John; Landau, Saul. Assassination on Embassy Row. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980; Valenzuela, Arturo; Constable, Pamela. A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.)  Dinges’ description of Townley’s backstory is particularly interesting and, again, the most expansive account I was able to locate. (Dinges 2004, 73-81.)

[34] Kornbluh, 333.

[35] While neither Leighton nor his wife died, both were permanently crippled by the attack suffering brain damage and paralysis, respectively. (Ibid.)

[36] Ibid., 334.

[37] Dinges 2000.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid. The full quote, from the letter dated September 25, 1975, states, “[I wish to extend] the most sincere thanks for the cooperation given us to help in the mission my agents had to carry out in the sister republic of Paraguay, and I am sure that this mutual cooperation will continue and increase in the accomplishment of the common objectives of both services.”

[40] The house was a mansion dating back to the colonial era before being turned into a restaurant and popular dance hall in the years before the coup. Its close proximity to a civilian airport made it a choice spot for the armed forces in need of an easy means of disposal for the bodies of its victims when they started arriving in December 1973. When Contreras and Pinochet began their DINA-led repression in earnest, the building was taken over as the headquarters of the Brigada de Inteligencia Metropolitana (BIM) and its name changed to Cuartel Terranova. During its time of operation, around 5,000 prisoners were brought to Villa Grimaldi to be beaten, tortured, and/or disappeared. Of these, the remains of 142 are still missing and presumed dead. (Aguilar, Mario I. “The Ethnography of the Villa Grimaldi in Pinochet’s Chile: From Public Landscape to Secret Detention Center (1973-1980).” Prepared for delivery at Latin American Studies Association; Dallas, Texas; March 2003: 7-9.) http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~caguirre/aguilar.pdf)

[41] Dinges 2000.

[42] In addition to the obvious involvement of the Paraguayan security forces, Santucho’s interrogation also included questioning by Argentine, Uruguayan and Chilean officers, according to his testimony. (Dinges 2004, 97.)

[43] Minutes from the meeting do not show the presence of a Brazilian delegation – the signees were Jorge Casas, a navy captain from Argentina, Carlos Mena, an army major from Bolivia, Jose Fons, an army colonel form Uruguay, Benito Guanes, an army colonel and one of the heads of the Armed Force’s High Command from Paraguay, and Contreras from Chile. Dinges contends that there were a few members from a Brazilian delegation present in an observational capacity. (Dinges 2004, 15.) (From original meeting minutes, reprinted Kornbluh, 357-60.) 

[44] From original meeting minutes, dated November 28, 1975, reprinted Kornbluh, 357,359.

[45] From the original invitation of Contreras to General Francisco Brites, the Paraguayan chief of police, reprinted Kornbluh, 356.

[46] Ibid., 323. Numerous documents of this era from the Latin parties refer to the problem of “Subversion,” the capitalization implying the formality and grandeur they believed this fight to entail. I have kept it as they described throughout this paper as another window of understanding into their mindsets.

[47] Shlaudeman, 3. A US embassy telegram describing European news reports from the mid-80s characterized it this way – “A continental organization with a supragovernmental mechanism for destroying democracy and for carrying out political assassinations in Latin and Central America [that] is closely connected with the CIA in the US.” (From original US embassy cable, dated June 1986. http://foia.state.gov/documents/foiadocs/308d.PDF )

[48] From the original meeting minutes, reprinted Kornbluh, 357-360.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid. Other things mentioned include the completion of encrypting all existing information, using a system of liaisons with people outside the group, “especially outside the continent, to obtain information on Subversion” (Ibid.), and the date, location, and number of people to attend the next conference. (One week before the meeting of the Commanders in Chief of the armies, Chile, and no more than three, respectively.)

[51] Ibid.

[52] Herman, Edward S. The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda. Boston: South End Press, 1982: 70. Taken from Dinges and Landau: 231.

[53] McSherry, Patrice. “Operation Condor: Deciphering the US Role.” Crimes of War, August 2001; Human Rights in Latin America website: Plan Condor. September 24, 2004. http://larcdma.sdsu.edu/humanrights/rr/Latin%20America/PLA.html) 

[54] While Leighton and his wife survived the attack, they were never quite the same. Both were permanently handicapped and Leighton was never able to resume his political campaign against Pinochet, thus they were effectively silenced and the mission a qualified success.

[55] A Department of Defense report from just over a year later (October 1, 1976) describes the workings of Phase III in more depth: “Should a terrorist or a supporter of a terrorist organization from a member country be identified, a special team would be dispatched to locate and surveil the target. When the location and surveillance operation has terminated, a second team would be dispatched to carry out an operation against the target. Special teams would be issued false documentation from member countries, could be composed either of individuals from one member nation or of persons from various member nations…Team members would not be commissioned or non-commissioned officers of the armed forces, but rather ‘special agents.’ Two European countries, specifically mentioned for possible operations…were France and Portugal.” (From original DOD document, reprinted Kornbluh, 361-2.) The report goes on to describe the Argentine team already in place as being “much like a US Special Forces team with a medic (doctor), demolition expert, etc.” (Ibid.)

[56] From original meeting minutes, reprinted Kornbluh, 357-360.

[57] Dinges 2000.

[58] Kornbluh, 329.

[59] Ibid. Kornbluh describes several cases of bodies planted on sidewalks without heads or hands, others whose faces and hands were so badly disfigured they were unrecognizable.

[60] Ibid., 330.

[61] Ibid. He cites the Washington Post, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Time as having “easily determined” that the lists were planted by the Pinochet government. The Human Rights Watch report on this says that the security forces covered up these “cross-frontier transfers by making it appear the detainee had been arrested locally, or had died abroad. To cover up transfers and assassinations, it stage-managed incidents that were then ‘reported’ in the local media, making it appear that the victims had been killed in political disputes.” (Human Rights Watch. Argentina -- Reluctant Partner: The Argentine Government’s Failure to Back Trials of Human Rights Violators.” HRW Press: Vol. 13:5 (December 2001): Chapter IX. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/argentina/argen1201-09.htm - P542_151819 )

[62] Kornbluh, 332-3.  These Cuban exile groups were integral to the execution of the Letelier assassination and among the strongest ties Condor and DINA formed. Three key leaders – Orlando Bosch, Dionesio Suarez, and Guillermo Novo – were notorious terrorists in the 70s and 80s. (See Dinges 2004, 128; 190-1 for more on their exploits.)

[63] A conversation between Kissinger and Shlaudeman on the increasing Argentine human rights violations from July 9, 1976 reiterates this position, stating, “The Chileans eliminated their opposition, really, in the first 24 hours; but nobody in Argentina is in control of anything. And this is a bad situation.” The two go on to agree “we can really do nothing at the moment” (Shlaudeman) because “the operational consequence of telling the government to lay off [would] be that the terrorists take over.” (Kissinger) Shlaudeman concurs, stating that to do so would be “fruitless.”  (From original transcript of July 9, 1976 meeting, reprinted NSA website. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB133/19760709.pdf )

[64] Dinges 2004, 12. This is yet another instance showing who was truly in charge of Condor operations. This shift towards international activities, the early operations against Prats and Leighton and the subsequent attack on Letelier (all perceived threats to Pinochet’s sustained rule in Chile) show this was much more than an equitable federation of like-minded powers. Cooperation and equal enthusiasm are undeniable, but this was first and foremost a Chilean operation, both by creation and implementation -- where Pinochet and/or Contreras drove, Condor followed. (Although there are some reports – from the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) group and the CIA -- that hint at internal discord over this expansion, most specifically with Brazil being reluctant to participate in overseas actions. (Dinges 2000.)

[65] One of the aforementioned US embassy cables (June 1986) describes the “bloody Condor list” of members that contained “six presidents, 14 generals and 48 prominent political leaders who in one or another way threatened democracy in America’s backyard.” (From original US embassy cable, dated June 1986, reprinted on State Department website. http://foia.state.gov/documents/foiadocs/308d.PDF)

[66] Kornbluh, 337.

[67] Ibid. Carlos the Jackal was initially involved mistakenly as a result of information gained during the Fuentes/Santucho arrest and torture. A name in Santucho’s address book, thought to belong to his brother, the head of the ERP, instead led them to Carlos the Jackal. Eventually, though, he became a direct target as Contreras and Condor tried to “rid the world of all manner of terrorists” internationally, eventually leading to one of the instances where the US government got involved to stop a proposed Condor mission. (Dinges 2004, 92-3; 220-2.) A State Department document from the time supports the notion that the JCR was operating in Paris, citing that location as its possible headquarters. (Shlaudeman doc, 4.)

[68] Kornbluh, 337.

[69] Montero, Daro. “Uruguay-Argentina: Stalking Operation Condor, 28 Years On.” Global Information Network, May 20, 2004.

[70] Dinges 2004, 294n212.

[71] Ibid., 154.

[72] Ibid., 145.

[73] Goulart died of an apparent heart attack in 1976 and Kubitschek was killed in a car accident the same year, but rumors have increased in recent years suggesting that Condor influenced both deaths. (Ibid., 229; McSherry 2000.)

[74] Kornbluh, 341.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid., 342.

[77] From original Ambassador Popper cable, September 21, 1976, reprinted Kornbluh, 373-4.

[78] Dinges notes that Letelier had just helped deal two blows to Pinochet before the attack – “legislation in the US Congress making respect for human rights a condition for aid, and the cancellation of major Dutch investments in Chile.” (Dinges 2004, 7.) These allegedly infuriated Pinochet and helped cement his conviction that Letelier was an enemy of the Chilean state.

[79] Dinges’ aforementioned 1980 book on the subject, Assassination on Embassy Row, details the planning and execution of the assassination extensively and is instrumental in deciphering this audacious and complex mission.

[80] This has been the subject of much debate, both by Dinges and Kornbluh in their myriad offerings, among others. The longtime consensus was that the US did not know about Condor and the Letelier killing until it was too late, but recent documentation has shown otherwise. Both men cite State Department documents from June-September 1976 as proof of advanced knowledge, particularly one from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that asks the leaders of the Condor countries about any extranational activities planned and hints at his disdain for doing so, allegedly issued in response to his learning about several Condor operatives having gained entry into the United States. (From original documents, reprinted Kornbluh, 385-94.) These communications caused the operation to be put on hold for several weeks to see if it was “blown” (Kornbluh, 343), before finally get the green light on September 21.  Dinges deals with this extensively in his 1980 book and in a chapter from his 2004 work (Dinges 2004, 175-198); we will explore the topic of US culpability and knowledge in the following section.

[81] Kornbluh, 344.

[82] As Kornbluh notes, for twenty years FBI agent Scherrer’s cable a week after Letelier’s assassination was considered the first instance of US knowledge on the subject of Condor since it was the only declassified document available. (Kornbluh, 346.)

[83] Dinges 2004, 219-22. This occurred right around the time of the Letelier assassination and included the CIA notifying French and Portuguese intelligence about the plot against Carlos the Jackal, among others.

[84] Herman, 72. Cites Dinges and Landau, 239. This knowledge caused the aforementioned delay in the plan’s execution by the Condor countries who were afraid the particulars had been discovered.

[85] Herman, 72.3. Cites Dinges and Landau, 386. Dinges seconds this notion of deliberate obfuscation saying, “[they] put out erroneous information minimizing their foreknowledge about Condor’s assassination attempts…in order to direct attention away from the possibility that they could have prevented the…Letelier assassination.” (Dinges 2004, 5.)

[86] Dinges calls the government’s knowledge on Condor “amazingly complete and intimate.” (Dinges 2004, 5.)

[87] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 363-5.

[88] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 369. This was the most delayed date of knowledge for any of the events and came about as a result of Townley’s testimony to the FBI during investigations into Chile’s human rights violations.

[89] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 370-2.

[90] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 361-2.

[91] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 382. This document, describing a meeting between Shlaudeman and the CIA, among others, refers to Condor’s original purpose “as a communications system and data bank to facilitate defense against the guerrilla [group] JCR” before noting its more “activist role, including specifically that of identifying, locating, and ‘hitting’ guerrilla leaders.” The acknowledgment of this shift indicates an even earlier knowledge of the group and its actions than previously thought, which taken in concert with the previously mentioned document still come just a year after its formation.

[92] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 366. It states that the portrayal by the Chilean government was “probably untrue” and adds that “the most plausible explanation…is that GOC [government of Chile] security forces acted directly or through a third party, planted reports in obscure publications to provide some means of accounting for disappearance of numerous violent leftists. GOC security forces may have killed some or all of them.”

[93] From original document, reprinted Kornbluh, 373-4. It states, “We would guess that the GOC would hasten to deny all responsibility. It may well suggest the affair is a leftist provocation designed to hurt the GOC. This is not inconceivable, but is unlikely to be widely accepted in the absence of any confirming evidence.” It goes on to admit that “it is difficult…to believe that even its rather fanatical leaders would expose themselves to the consequences of being implicated in a terrorist act in Washington” before immediately referring to the other, more likely possibility judging by its tone that a group like Condor (“some rightist group located outside Chile. We have in mind possible cooperation by Southern Cone government security authorities to eliminate enemies abroad”) was responsible.

[94] Shlaudeman doc.

[95] Slack, 494; taken directly from the Paraguayan archives. The letter thanks him for “the assistance you have so willingly given the FBI” and extends wishes for “a truly joyous Christmas and a New Year filled with all the good things you so richly deserve.”

[96] McSherry, Patrice. “Operation Condor: New Pieces of the Puzzle.” NACLA Report on the Americas. North American Congress on Latin America, May/June 2001. Taken from Landau, Saul. The Dangerous Doctrine: National Security and US Foreign Policy. Boulder: Westview Press, 1988. Dinges reiterates this point citing an interview with Contreras where he said both the CIA and FBI knew about this system and its data bank, contributed to it, and pulled data from it for themselves. (Dinges 2004, 13.)

[97] From original State Department Memorandum of Discussion, dated October 7, 1976, reprinted NSA website. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/Doc6%20761007.pdf  Kissinger says, “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems, but not the context. The quicker you succeed, the better…We want a stable situation. We won’t cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better.”

[98] From original embassy cable, dated July 20, 1976, reprinted NSA website. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB125/condor03.pdf. It says, “The US 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.”

[99] The fact that there is so much data is also a crucial point as the previously held belief was that all of the government’s knowledge spun out from a single cable, not the numerous sources shown here.

[100] Indeed, it is almost pointless to distinguish between the two since the methods and actions of the former were part and parcel of the wider system of abuse in each of the countries. To assume that tolerance of abuse in the one case does not apply to the other employs shoddy logic. There is no reason to believe that a lack of condemnation for the wider system of abuse did not also apply to the smaller system of Condor.

[101] Dinges 2004, 20.

[102] The Hinchey report, created by the amendment of the same name, is most notable for is response to the question of US involvement in the 1973 coup that overthrew Allende. It found that while there was active participation in the 1970 election to prevent his victory, going so far as to support a coup aimed at stopping him from taking office once he won, arming its participants and agreeing on the need to kidnap General Rene Schneider to succeed, there was no similar activity in 1973. To quote, “[CIA] was aware of coup-plotting by the military [in 1973], had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and – because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970 – probably appeared to condone it.” (From original Hinchey report, 2; reprinted State Department website. http://foia.state.gov/Reports/HincheyReport.asp)

[103] Ibid., 6.

[104] Ibid, 3. Under subsection titled “Knowledge of Human Rights Violations.”

[105] Ibid. Under subsection titled “Knowledge of ‘Operation Condor’.”

[106] Ibid., 7.

[107] Ibid., 8.

[108] Only two or three times.

[109] Ibid. The report states that despite this knowledge, “an interagency committee directed the CIA to continue its relationship with Contreras. The US Ambassador to Chile urged [Walters] to receive Contreras in Washington in the interest of maintaining good relations with Pinochet. In August 1975, with interagency approval, this meeting took place.” This was only one of the meetings that was detailed in the report, but is telling because of its occurrence in spite of well-acknowledged atrocities.

[110] Dinges 2004, 68-71.

[111] Ibid; Hinchey report, 8.

[112] McSherry, August 2001. She notes that CIA assertions that they had no idea about Condor until after Letelier are preposterous because besides their working so closely with Contreras himself, they helped “organize and train” DINA in 1974 and had extensive knowledge of previous assassination plots detailed above.

[113] One further avenue for later exploration of the US’ influence on Condor involves the School of the Americas (SOA), its Latin American officers training school, that has produced some of the worst human rights violators from the continent and was a key breeding ground for US-compliant figures, ideologies, and tactics. Leslie Gill’s book on this subject is particularly solid. (Gill, Leslie. School of the Americas: Military Training, Political Violence, and Impunity in the Americas. Duke University Press, 2004.)