National Security Archive

SEPTEMBER 20, 2006
4:36 PM

CONTACT: National Security Archive
Peter Kornbluh, 202/994-7000

Letelier-Moffitt Assassination 30 Years Later
National Security Archive calls for Release of Withheld Documents Relating to Pinochet's Role in Infamous Act of Terrorism in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 1976

WASHINGTON - September 20 - On the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt, the National Security Archive today called on the U.S. government to release all documents relating to the role of General Augusto Pinochet in the car bombing that brought terrorism to the capital city of the United States on September 21, 1976.

Hundreds of documents implicating Pinochet in authorizing and covering up the crime were due to be declassified under the Clinton administration but were withheld in the spring of 2000 as evidence for a Justice Department investigation into the retired dictator's role. After more than six years, according to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive's Chile Documentation Project, it is time to release them. "If there is not going to be a legal indictment," Kornbluh said, "the documents can and will provide an indictment of history."

The Archive today released a declassified memo to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reporting on a CIA approach in early October 1976 to the head of the Chilean secret police, Manuel Contreras, regarding U.S. concerns about Operation Condor assassination plots. The secret memo, written by Kissinger's deputy for Latin America, Harry Schlaudeman, noted that Contreras had denied that "Operation Condor has any other purpose than the exchange of intelligence." While the car bombing in downtown Washington, D.C. that killed Letelier and Moffitt took place on September 21, 1976, the memo contains no reference to any discussion with Contreras about the assassinations--even though DINA was widely considered to be the most likely perpetrator of the crime. In 1978, Contreras was indicted by a U.S. Grand Jury for directing the terrorist attack.

The document was obtained by Kornbluh under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memorandum to Kissinger adds to a series of documents that have been obtained by the National Security Archive that shed light on what the U.S. government knew about Operation Condor--a collaboration of Southern Cone secret police services to track down, abduct, torture, and assassinate opponents in the mid and late 1970s--and what actions it took or failed to take prior to the Letelier-Moffitt assassination. On August 23, 1976, Kissinger's office sent a carefully-worded demarche for U.S. ambassadors in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay to deliver to their host governments to halt assassination missions. But the next day, U.S. Ambassador to Chile David Popper balked at approaching Pinochet because "he might take as an insult any inference that he was connected with such assassination plots." Instead Popper requested permission to send the CIA station chief to talk to Contreras. For reasons that remain hidden in still-classified documents, Schlaudeman did not authorize that approach until October 4, two weeks after the car bombing in Washington.

Indeed, on September 20, 1976, the day before the Letelier-Moffitt assassination, Schlaudeman ordered his own deputy to tell the Southern Cone ambassadors "to take no further action" on pressuring the Condor nations to halt assassination plotting, because "there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme." In his October 8 memo to Kissinger transmitting the CIA memorandum of conversation with Col. Contreras, Schlaudeman argued that "the approach to Contreras seems to me to be sufficient action for the time being" because "the Chileans are the prime movers in Operation Condor."

The Archive also released a second memo from Schlaudeman to Kissinger reporting on a cable from U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Ernest Siracusa voicing his concerns on presenting the Condor demarche. Siracusa, the memo suggests, feared that he would become a target of Operation Condor if he followed his diplomatic instructions, and recommended that Schlaudeman approach Uruguay's ambassador to Washington instead. In his memo to Kissinger dated August 30, 1976, Schlaudeman spelled out the U.S. position on Condor assassination plots: "What we are trying to head off is a series of international murders that could do serious damage to the international status and reputation of the countries involved."

Kornbluh noted that neither the CIA memorandum of conversation with Contreras nor the Sircusa cable has been declassified and urged the Bush administration to release all records relating to Operation Condor and the Letelier-Moffitt case. "Amidst today's ongoing effort against international terrorism," he noted, "it is important to know the full history of the failure of U.S. efforts to detect and deter a terrorist plot in the heart of Washington, D.C."