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The “terror archives”

By Dr George Venturini

Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.

In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”

The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.

Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Nineteen. Here is the link to Part Eighteen; Who were the real assassins?

Recently released documents show that the C.I.A. had close contact with members of the Chilean secret police, D.I.N.A., and its chief Juan Manuel Contreras, who was the head of Operation Condor. In fact, Contreras was on the C.I.A. pay-roll (It was later stated this was an administrative mistake).

A 1978 cable from the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, Robert White, to the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, was released in November 2000 by the Clinton Administration under the Chile Declassification Project. In the cable Ambassador White reported a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay’s armed forces, who informed him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor kept “in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covered all of Latin America.” White feared that the United States connection to Condor might be publicly revealed during the investigation into the murder of Letelier.

John Dinges argues that “The paper trail is clear: the State Department and the CIA had enough intelligence to take concrete steps to thwart Condor assassination planning. Those steps were initiated but never implemented.” Hewson Ryan, who worked for Henry Kissinger, later admitted that: “We knew fairly early on that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning, or at least talking about, some assassinations abroad in the summer of 1976 … Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don’t know. But we didn’t.”

The F.B.I. eventually became convinced that Michael Townley had organised the assassination of Orlando Letelier. In 1978 Chile agreed to extradite him to the United States. Townley confessed he had hired five anti-Castro Cubans exiles to booby-trap Letelier’s car. They were eventually indicted for the crime.

Townley agreed to provide evidence against these men in exchange for a guilty-pleading to a single charge of conspiracy to commit murder and was given a ten-year sentence.

On 9 January 1979 the trial of three of the five co-conspirators Guillermo Novo, Ignacio Novo and Alvin Ross Díaz began in Washington. All three were found guilty of murder: two to life imprisonment, and the third to eight years in gaol. General Pinochet refused to allow the other two, two D.I.N.A officers, to be extradited. Soon after the trial Townley was freed under the Witness Protection Program.

On 22 December 1992, torture victim Martín Almada and José Agustín Fernández, a Paraguayan judge, visited a police station in the Lambaré suburb of Asunción to look for files on a former political prisoner. They found what became known as the ‘Archives of Terror’, documenting the fates of thousands of Latin American political prisoners, who were secretly kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The archive has a total of 60,000 documents, weighing four tons and comprising 593,000 microfilmed pages. The archives provided details of 50,000 people murdered, 30,000 ‘disappeared’ and 400,000 imprisoned.

Operation Condor – Operación Cóndor: in numbers

Some of these countries have relied on evidence in the archives to prosecute former military officers.

According to these archives, other countries, such as Peru, cooperated by providing intelligence information in response to requests from the security services of the Southern Cone nations. While Peru had no representatives at the secret November 1975 meeting in Santiago de Chile, there is evidence of its involvement. For instance, as late as June 1980, Peru was known to have collaborated with Argentine agents of ‘601 Intelligence Battalion’ in the kidnapping, torture and ‘disappearance’ of a group of Montoneros living in exile in Lima.

The ‘terror archives’ also revealed a degree of cooperation by Colombia and Venezuela. (For instance, Luis Posada Carriles was probably at the meeting which organised Orlando Letelier’s car bombing. A Colombian paramilitary organisation known as Alianza Americana Anticomunista may have cooperated with Operation Condor. Brazil signed the agreement later, in June 1976, but refused to engage in actions outside Latin America. Mexico, together with Costa Rica, Canada, France, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom received many people fleeing as refugees from the terror regimes. Operation Condor officially ‘ended’ in 1983, when Argentina returned to democracy.

On 6 March 2001 The New York Times reported the existence of a recently declassified State Department document revealing that the United States facilitated communications among South American intelligence chiefs who were working together to eliminate left-wing opposition groups in their countries as part of a ‘covert programme known as Operation Condor’.

The document, a 1978 cable from Robert E. White, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, was discovered by professor J. Patrice McSherry, who had published several articles on Condor. She called the cable “another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that U.S. military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor.”

In the cable, Ambassador White relates a conversation with General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, chief of staff of Paraguay’s armed forces, who told him that the South American intelligence chiefs involved in Condor “keep in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America.” This installation is “employed to co-ordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries.” White, whose message was sent to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, is concerned that the U.S. connection to Condor might be revealed during the then ongoing investigation into the deaths of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt who were killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. “It would seem advisable” – he suggests – “to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in U.S. interest.”

The document was found among 16,000 State, C.I.A., White House, Defense and Justice Department records on the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile released the previous November, and the American Administration’s role in the coup which had brought his Junta to power. The release was the fourth and final ‘tranche’ of records released under the Clinton Administration’s special Chile Declassification Project.

“This document opens a Pandora’s box of questions on the U.S. knowledge of, and role in, Operation Condor,” said Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project.

The Archive published a second document – a page from a C.I.A. cable regarding Brazil’s role in Operation Condor – that Kornbluh said contained information that could shed light on the issue. The undated page refers to ‘CondorTel’ – the ‘communications network established by the Condor countries.’ Kornbluh pointed out that the entire next line has been censored by the C.I.A.

The National Security Archive called on the U.S. intelligence community – National Security Agency, C.I.A., D.I.A. and other Defense Department bureaus at the U.S. Southern Command – fully to divulge their files on communications assistance to the military regimes in the Southern Cone.

Operation Condor was active in complete secrecy, even to the exclusion of some of the participants. Its goal, as mentioned, was to seek and kill ‘enemies’ of the ‘Revolutionary Coordinating Committee’.

Thus, for instance, a special force was sent to Buenos Aires from Uruguay to kill the remaining members of a group called OPR-33 who had taken refuge in Argentina. The details of that ‘operation’ came to light on the thirtieth anniversary of the coup, when new declassified elements of the repression by, and American support for, the Argentine Junta were posted by the National Security Archive. The S.I.D.E also assisted Bolivian General Luis García Meza Tejada’s Cocaine Coup in Bolivia, with the help of the Italian Gladio operative Stefano Delle Chiaie and fugitive Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.

General Carlos Prats González, a Chilean Army officer and minister in the Salvador Allende’s government, went into voluntary exile in Argentina after the coup. The following year, he and his wife were assassinated in Buenos Aires by a car bomb, revealed as committed by the D.I.N.A. D.I.N.A. civil agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel, who was prosecuted in Argentina for crimes against humanity in 2004, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder of the Prats. It has been suspected that Delle Chiaie was involved in the murder as well. He and his co-conspirator Vincenzo Vinciguerra testified in Rome in December 1995 before Argentine federal judge María Servini de Cubría that D.I.N.A. agents Clavel and Townley were directly involved in this assassination.

When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 in response to Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón’s request for his extradition to Spain, additional information concerning Condor was revealed. One of the lawyers seeking his extradition said there had been an attempt to assassinate Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party. He said that Pinochet met Italian neo-fascist terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie during Franco’s funeral in Madrid in 1975 and arranged to have Altamirano murdered. But the plan failed.

In June 1999, by order of President Bill Clinton, the State Department released thousands of declassified documents revealing for the first time that the C.I.A. and the State and Defense Departments were intimately aware of Condor. One Department of Defense intelligence report dated 1 October 1976, noted that Latin American military officers bragged about it to their U.S. counterparts. The same report described Condor’s “joint counterinsurgency operations” which aimed “to eliminate Marxist terrorist activities”; Argentina, it noted, created a special Condor team “structured much like a U.S. Special Forces Team.”

A summary of material declassified in 2004 states that “The declassified record shows that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was briefed on Condor and its ‘murder operations’ on August 3, 1976, in a 14-page report from [Harry] Shlaudeman [Assistant Secretary of State]. ‘Internationally, the Latin generals look like our guys’. Shlaudeman cautioned. ‘We are especially identified with Chile. It cannot do us any good.’ Shlaudeman and his two deputies, William Luers and Hewson Ryan, recommended action. Over the course of three weeks, they drafted a cautiously worded démarche, approved by Kissinger, in which he instructed the U.S. ambassadors in the Southern Cone countries to meet with the respective heads of state about Condor. He instructed them to express ‘our deep concern’ about ‘rumors’ of ‘plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad.’ ” (See the already reported 3 August 1976 briefing of Henry Kissinger by Harry Shlaudeman, State, National Security Archive).

Ultimately, the démarche was never delivered. Kornbluh and Dinges suggest that the decision not to send Kissinger’s order was due to Assistant Secretary Harry Shlaudeman’s sending a cable to his deputy in Washington which states “you can simply instruct the Ambassadors to take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme.” Professor J. Patrice McSherry adds: “According to [U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert] White, instructions from a secretary of state cannot be ignored unless there is a countermanding order received via a secret (CIA) backchannel.” (J. Patrice McSherry,The Undead Ghost of Operation Condor’, Logos: a journal of modern society & culture. Logosonline (Spring 2005).

Kornbluh and Dinges conclude that “The paper trail is clear: the State Department and the CIA had enough intelligence to take concrete steps to thwart Condor assassination planning. Those steps were initiated but never implemented.” Shlaudeman’s deputy Hewson Ryan later acknowledged in an oral history interview that the State Department was “remiss” in its handling of the case. “We knew fairly early on that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning, or at least talking about, some assassinations abroad in the summer of 1976. … Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don’t know,” he stated in reference to the Letelier-Moffitt bombing. “But we didn’t.”

According to reports which appeared in 2006, resulting from trials of top officials in Argentina, Operation Condor was at its peak in 1976 when Chilean exiles in Argentina were threatened; many went underground or into exile again in other countries. Chilean General Carlos Prats González had been assassinated by D.I.N.A. in Buenos Aires in 1974, with the help of former C.I.A. agent Michael Townley. Cuban diplomats were assassinated in Buenos Aires in the Automotores Orletti torture centre, one of the 300 clandestine prisons of the Junta. These centres were managed by the Grupo de Tareas 18, headed by former police officer and intelligence agent Aníbal Gordon, earlier convicted of armed robbery, who reported directly to General Commandant of the S.I.D.E., Otto Paladino.

Automotores Orletti was the main base of foreign intelligence services involved in Operation Condor. José Luis Bertazzo, a survivor of kidnapping and torture who was detained there for two months, identified Bolivian, Chilean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan nationals held as prisoners and who were interrogated by agents from their own countries. The 19-year-old daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman was tortured at ‘Orletti’ along with her husband, before being transported to a Montevideo prison. There she delivered a baby that was immediately stolen by Uruguayan military officers and placed for illegal adoption with friends of the regime. Decades later, President Jorge Luis Batlle Ibáñez ordered an investigation and, finally, María Macarena Gelman was found and recovered her identity.

According to Dinges, Chilean prisoners in the Orletti centre who had been members of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria – The Revolutionary Left Movement, told José Luis Bertazzo that they had seen two Cuban diplomats, 22-year-old Jesús Cejas Arias and 26-year-old Crescencio Galañega Hernández, tortured by Gordon’s group. They were interrogated by a man who had travelled from Miami to interrogate them. The Cuban nationals had been responsible for protection of Cuban ambassador to Argentina, Emilio Aragonés. They were kidnapped on 9 August 1976 by 40 armed S.I.D.E. agents, who blocked the street with their cars. (John Dinges, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his allies brought terrorism to three continents, The New Press, New York 2004).

Thirty years after the coup another document was seen for the first time. Dated 26 March 1976, two days after the coup in Buenos Aires, it contains the transcript of a staff meeting under the chairmanship of Kissinger. Pages 1 and 19-23 regard Argentina.

They show that two days after the military coup, Secretary of State Kissinger convened his weekly staff meeting. In this declassified secret transcript of the first conversation on Argentina, Assistant Secretary for Latin America, William D. Rogers informs Kissinger that for the Argentine generals’ government to succeed, they will make “a considerable effort to involve the United States – particularly in the financial field.” Kissinger responds “Yes, but that is in our interest.”

Rogers advises that “we ought not at this moment [to] rush out and embrace this new regime” because he expects significant repression to follow the coup. “I think also we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they’re going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.” But Kissinger makes his preferences clear: “Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement … because I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.” (On 30th Anniversary of Argentine Coup: New Declassified Details on Repression and U.S. Support for Military Dictatorship) [Emphasis added].

On 5 March 2013 twenty-five former high-ranking military officers from Argentina and Uruguay went on trial in Buenos Aires, charged with conspiracy to kidnap, ‘disappear’, torture and kill 171 political opponents during the 1970s and 1980s. Among the defendants were former Argentine ‘presidents’ Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, from the period of El Proceso. Prosecutors were basing their case in part on U.S. documents declassified in the 1990s and later, and obtained by the National Security Archive.

Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia eventually established a precedent concerning the crime of ‘permanent kidnapping’: since the bodies of victims kidnapped and presumably murdered could not be found, he deemed that the kidnapping was thought to continue, rather than to have occurred so long ago that the perpetrators were protected by an amnesty decreed in 1978 or by the Chilean statute of limitations.

New information on Operation Condor appeared on 6 May 2015 when the National Security Archive released more documents. Documents revealing Condor precedents were produced for the first time in a court of law.

In a historic trial in Buenos Aires of former military officers, Carlo Osorio, analyst in charge of the Southern Cone research project, submitted one hundred documents into evidence for the court proceedings. His testimony was profiled on 3 May in a major feature article published in the Buenos Aires daily, Pagina 12. (Alejandra Dandan, Director del prestigioso Proyecto Documentación Cono Sur del Archivo de Seguridad Nacional en Washington, habló en el juicio en Buenos Aires, Pagina 12, 3 May 2015).

Among the 25 high-ranking officials originally charged were former Argentine presidents Jorge Videla (subsequently deceased) and Reynaldo Bignone.

The 25 defendants had been charged with conspiracy to kidnap, ‘disappear’, torture and kill 171 opponents of the regimes which dominated the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the victims were approximately 80 Uruguayans, 50 Argentines, 20 Chileans and a dozen others from Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru who were targeted by Condor operatives.

The Federal Tribunal No. 1 requested Osorio’s testimony, which took place over two days on 6 and 8 March 2015, and included presentation of an Excel data base of 900 documents drawn mostly from United States government sources and from the ‘Archive of terror’ in Paraguay. Osorio focused on 100 declassified records selected for the tribunal, which was presided over by Judge Oscar Amirante.

The National Security Archive had obtained the U.S. documents through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents were coming primarily from the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department. Other notable records had originated from the Chilean former secret police, D.I.N.A. (National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 514).

“We have been working on Operation Condor for years,” Osorio said “sifting through archives in many continents and building a body of knowledge and a trove of documents.”

The Pagina 12 feature entitled ‘The Evolution of Condor’, described Osorio’s presentation of ‘dozens’ of documents to the Tribunal, and the contribution the documents made in educating the judges on the genesis and evolution of coordinated repression in the Southern Cone. Osorio’s testimony covered a range of topics including the breadth of Condor operations, the United States knowledge of those operations and the authenticity of the records being introduced into evidence.

The Pagina 12 article highlighted one document Osorio presented which revealed the bilateral precedent for what would become a multilateral system of regional repression: a secret accord between the Argentine and Paraguayan military intelligence services to “Collaborate in the struggle against subversion…” and the “… internment [of dissenters]…” The agreement was dated 12 September 1972 and signed by Paraguayan intelligence officer Col. Benito Guanes Serrano. (Document 1. Asunto: Acuerdo Bilateral de Inteligencia FF.AA. PARAGUAY/Ejército ARGENTINO, September 12, 1972).

Three years later, Guanes would also be one of the five original signatories of the secret Condor accords. Osorio discovered the document in the ‘Archive of terror’ in Paraguay.

In September 1975 an assessment by a United States State Department intelligence analyst had concluded that “The national security forces of the southern cone surpass the terrorists in cooperation at the international level …” (Document 2. Department of State, Ninety-first Meeting of the Working Group/Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism, Confidential Minutes, September 5, 1975 [Source: Digital National Security Archive, Argentina, 1975-1980: The Making of U.S. Human Rights Policy, document no. AR00087]).

Six weeks later, in Santiago, Chile, intelligence chiefs from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay signed an ‘Acta’ officially establishing Operation Condor. Osorio introduced that pivotal document- provided to the Archive by a source in Chile – into evidence as well. (Document 3. Acta de Clausura de la Primera Reunion InterAmericana de Intelligencia Nacional – Minutes of the Conclusions of the First InterAmerican Meeting on National Intelligence. Secret, 28 November 1975.

Two declassified U.S. documents presented to the Tribunal underscored the contradictory response of high U.S. officials as they became aware of Condor operations in the summer of 1976. One was the well-known 13 page memorandum of conversation between Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral César Guzzetti date 10 June 1976, which revealed Kissinger’s endorsement of the regional collaboration to repress people of ‘the Left’. After Guzzetti informed Kissinger that the Southern Cone regimes were engaged in “joint efforts” to fight “the terrorist problem”, Kissinger essentially supported this approach: “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you should get back quickly to normal procedures.”

“We want you to succeed. We do not want to harrass [sic] you.” Kissinger concluded. “I will do what I can … ” (Document 4. Department of State, Memorandum of Conversation between Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister Adm. Cesar Guzzetti, Secret, June 10, 1976, obtained through Freedom of Information Act upon request filed by Carlos Osorio).

After a C.I.A. briefing to Kissinger’s top aides in late July 1976 on the Condor countries’ plans to send assassination teams around the world to eliminate opponents, the Secretary of State authorised a démarche to General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, General Jorge Videla in Argentina, and other military leaders in the region calling on them to cease and desist. “Government planned and directed assassinations within and outside the territory of Condor members has [sic] most serious implication which we must face squarely and rapidly.” stated the secret 23 August 1976 cable to U.S. ambassadors in those nations. But the démarche was never delivered to any of the Condor regimes. (Document 5. Department of State, “Operation Condor”, secret cable, August 23, 1976. [This was obtained through a Clinton Administration special declassification on Chile]).

The U.S. ambassadors raised objections about presenting the démarche to the generals, on 16 September 1976. Kissinger rescinded it, and ordered “that no further action be taken on this matter.” Five days later, former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt, were assassinated in Washington D.C. by a car bomb planted by Condor operatives.

In addition to Osorio, the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, had testified in the Operation Condor trial for five hours in December 2014. Archive Advisory Board member John Dinges had presented evidence in April 2015.

In November 2015 the Chilean government acknowledged that Pablo Neruda might have been murdered by a person calling himself Dr. Price, but in fact impersonated by the professional assassin Michael Townley, acting upon commission by the Pinochet regime.

On 27 May 2016 fifteen ex-military officials were found guilty. Reynaldo Bignone was sentenced to 20 years in gaol. Fourteen of the remaining 16 defendants were sentenced to eight to 25 years. Two were found not guilty. Luz Palmás Zaldúa, a lawyer representing victims’ families, declared that “this ruling is important because it is the first time the existence of Operation Condor has been proved in court. It is also the first time that former members of Condor have been sentenced for becoming part of this criminal organisation.”

In conclusion, as prof. McSherry succinctly put it: “Operation Condor also had the covert support of the US government. Washington provided Condor with military intelligence and training, financial assistance, advanced computers, sophisticated tracking technology, and access to the continental telecommunications system housed in the Panama Canal Zone.” (J. Patrice McSherry, Chapter 5: ‘Industrial repression and Operation Condor in Latin America”, in Marcia Esparza, Henry R. Huttenbach, Daniel Feierstein, State violence and genocide in Latin America: The cold war years (Critical terrorism studies). Routledge, London 2011 at 107).

Next installment Saturday: “The Consultant”

Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at


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